The van door slams shut and we are ready to go to the airport.
Well, “ready” is a relative term. It’s 4:45am in Sitka, Alaska, and barely light even in the late-summer season. The cold nips through a van full of polyester skirts and starchy pilot uniforms. We yawn into our paper cups of weak hotel coffee and blink away the sleep in our eyes. It has been a short layover, and it’s only Day One of Four.
Welcome to #RegionalLife.
Except that today, we are joined in the van by some Mainline gals. They sit in the front, tapping away at their iPhones, their uniforms somehow a lot nicer looking than ours.
“How was your layover?” I venture into Small Talk land.
“Oh, greeee-aaat. Only seventeen hours, hardly enough time to shop, sleep and get ready again for the day,” one lady offers without looking up from her phone.
“Oh wow, we only get ten hours, seventeen must be nice! Did you go out with your crew?”
The woman looks up from her phone and does that thing: she glances at my badge and wings and suddenly realizes that I’m a Regional girl.
“Oh, honey, I’ve had this overnight so many times, I’m really over it.” She pauses. “You should really come over to Mainline, you know. You’d get hired in an instant.”
The current scene fades away and my mind rewinds back to a year ago. I have just begun my career at a Regional airline and everyone is asking me what my “next move” is going to be.
Regionals are fine for a while, but you have to think about the future.
You want to fly International, right?
Apply at Mainline, and get out of Regional flying as soon as you can.
And so I do it. I update all my Mainline applications, I do phone interviews, video applications, face-to-face. I am flown all over. I put on my interview outfit and get ready to leave Regionals behind forever.
A ripple of laughter interrupts my thoughts. My two pilots are giggling over something they saw on Facebook. Our other flight attendant in our small crew of four leans over and laughs loudly. The three of them say something in unison and fold over in heaves of laughter. An inside joke. I smile. We’ve flown together so many times before, we’re like family.
My phone buzzes. It’s one of my best flight attendant friends. She knows that I’m working this trip and will have an hour at Sea-Tac before my next flight. “Coffee and gossip?” she texts, already knowing the reply.
I think back to last week, when I was spending an amazing weekend up in Calgary with one of my favorite crews. The two pilots, a married couple, happen to be my neighbors and the other flight attendant an old friend from when I was based in Minneapolis. Our crew spends a rainy afternoon playing cards in our hotel room and laughing ’til we cry over the silliest things. At night, we brave the rain to go try out a hole-in-the-wall Korean food joint and we stay up late talking about life.
My mind snaps back to the present. I suddenly realize that the four Mainline flight attendants are in the van alone, without their pilots. “Hey, where is the rest of your crew?” I ask, looking around.
“Oh, they stay at a different hotel, and we switch pilots almost every leg. We never see them,” Mainline Flight Attendant says.
“Oh, that’s really too bad.” I frown. I couldn’t imagine a trip without my pilots. They’re like my big brothers and sisters, sometimes getting a little bossy in a time crunch, but always there with an encouraging word and a coffee when you’re having a tough day.
I think back again to a year ago. Tempe, Arizona. My name has just been called, along with four other names. The day started off with 140 applicants and has dwindled down to this. We go into a small room, where the recruiters are saying something about a “confirmed job offer.” People are hugging. There are tears. Someone tells me that I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.
I have just been hired by Mainline.
After all the craziness has died down, I sneak off to the restroom. I look into the mirror above the sink and wonder, “Am I really ready to go to Mainline?”
A stall door opens and one of the recruiters steps out.
“So you’re a Regional girl, aren’t ya?” She smiles genuinely. I nod.
“Well, don’t ever forget your time at Regionals. Before I came to Mainline, I was a Regional girl too.” She pauses, her brow furrowed. “Yeah. That was one of the best times of my life. Small crews. Those tiny towns. The little planes. It’s not all bad, you know? I sort of miss it.”
She smiles and walks out the door.
And I look at myself.
And then I walk out the door. Out of the headquarters. Away from the job offer. Back to the airport. I fly home and back to my Regional life.
I look at my schedule for the next month: Boise, Idaho. Fresno, California. Edmonton, Alberta. Not exciting places. But my crews are like my family. I have their phone numbers, know their kids’ names, how they like their coffee and what their hopes and dreams are.
The shuttle van lurches to a stop at the tiny airport in Sitka and I am thrown forward a year in time, to the present once again. My pilots grab my suitcase for me and the other flight attendant runs off, telling everyone she’ll bring them coffee.
This is our ritual, trying to do everything for each other. It’s like a game, with all of us taking turns doing coffee runs and tipping the van driver. At the end of the day, we fight over the bar tab and laugh when one of us wins. Outside of work, it’s the same. There are BBQs, crew reunions, boating excursions, baby showers, weddings and yes, even memorial services at times. We are all so mixed up in each others’ lives, it’s like a family.
And I love it.
I’m a Regional Flight Attendant.
And I’m not going anywhere else anytime soon.