My everyday life is not unlike most people. There are a few differences, of course. For example, I often go to bed in hotel rooms instead of in a house. Those hotel rooms are usually in a different city than the one I woke up in. Also, they’re usually in different cities than the ones my family and close friends are in. Mundane details, but important ones nonetheless.
That being said, an average day in a flight attendant’s life has more going on behind the scenes, to prepare for their day at work, than most working people do. Especially when said flight attendant is working reserve for the month, which will be the scenario I describe (because all flight attendants start out on reserve).
When working reserve, it isn’t uncommon to get woken up at 0300 by a phone call from scheduling. The day then proceeded as follows:
Scheduling would tell me that I had a trip to some city, somewhere.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to make up a hypothetical trip. We’ll just say that I got sent to Newark on a two day trip with a twenty-four hour layover in EWR. My report time to the airport is 0500 for the 0600 flight.
That’s right, I have two hours to get to the airport and be ready to start boarding a plane.
Two hours isn’t very long, so by 0330 I am out of bed and showered. I then have to do my hair and makeup so that I am compliant with the uniform standards of my company. Where I work, we have to have our hair up and mascara, blush, and lipstick on at all times. I have pretty much gotten my morning routine down to a science, so it only takes me twenty minutes to do my hair and makeup. It’s now 0350.
Time to pack and get dressed.
On a long layover like that, I would need to pack my bags with the necessities for going into the city. I have all my clothes in a bin under my bunk bed in my crash pad, and it is all organized so that I can quickly grab the clothes I need and throw them in my luggage.
Of course, even with months of traveling every day under my belt, I still over pack like a newbie.
By 0400 I have five outfits and three pairs of shoes for my two day trip. Whatever. Judge me. Then, I throw on my nylons, heels, and uniform and head downstairs to put food in my lunch bag so I can be out the door and in my car to the airport by 0415.
By the time I get downstairs, I’ve already ripped my nylons, so just give me a second while I run back upstairs to change into new ones. BRB.
Okay, now for the fun part: the airport.
Once I park, the shuttle from employee parking is slower than what is practical for an industry that relies on on-time performance. It usually takes anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes to get to the Known Crew Member podium at TSA.
Now it’s 0445 and I have fifteen minutes to report. Once I’m there, I have to get through security (which is an expedited process for us because we get background checked by Homeland Security before getting the job) and head to the company crew room to check in for my trip.
My crew and I then have a pre-flight briefing which includes information on the flight, security questions, and other important details. At 0515, we are on the plane and have started the boarding process. This generally takes anywhere from fifteen to forty minutes, and yes, it is my least favorite part of my day.
People tend to check their brains with their bags.
This is always proven to be accurate during boarding. We have many responsibilities during this time, including checking our onboard emergency equipment, taking inventory of catering, and helping passengers with miscellaneous things like helping them figure out where 14B is. Hint: it’s the fourteenth row, in the seat marked B by the placards right over the row.
I know most of y’all know your ABCs and 123s, so I don’t know why it’s so damn hard for you to just sit down.
By 0600, if everything goes off without a hitch (aircraft is in mint condition, no medical emergencies, the boarding process goes smoothly, the plane is cleaned and catered on time, and all the passengers are cooperative), the plane is then being pushed back from the gate.
And, we’re off!
We do our final compliance check to make sure that rows are clear, passengers are buckled up, and electronics are stowed away properly. Then, we secure our galleys and sit down in our jumpseats for takeoff.
Once in the air, a typical SFO-EWR flight is anywhere from four and a half to six hours depending on weather conditions. During that time, we have to prepare our galleys for service, which for some airlines includes full meals and drinks. My airline does a cart service, which means that after takeoff, we are setting up the carts with all the necessities and getting everything organized in a timely matter so that those obnoxious call bells don’t start going off incessantly.
“Where’s my diet Coke?” Your Coke is coming, dude, I promise I haven’t forgotten about you and the other one hundred fifty people that want drinks.
Some flight attendants are quicker moving than others, so please be patient with us. If you have a feeling you’ll be hungry or thirsty, get yourself some snacks and a water bottle in the terminal while you wait for your flight. It’s not hard to be prepared for traveling, I pinky swear! Service takes about an hour, which means that at this point is it 0730.
After service, one flight attendant will break down the carts and tidy the galley. The other flight attendants will give the flight deck a break, so they can use the restroom and stretch their legs. Once the pilot break is done, we collect garbage, and continue service for people that want another drink or food item.
All of our tasks are a team effort and require communication and compliance from everyone in the crew and the passengers we interact with. Towards the end of the flight, around forty-five minutes before landing, we have to secure our galleys by putting all the service items away and locking the carts and carriers.
During descent, all crew members are fully engaged in preserving the safety of our passengers and ourselves. When the seatbelt sign gets turned on as we’re descending, that’s not a suggestion. The plane is literally pointing at the earth, blasting through the air at five hundred miles per hour ground speed. We have to focus on securing and cleaning the cabin and making sure everything is prepared in case of an emergency.
Once on the ground, taxiing to the gate is still considered a critical phase of flight because a lot of variables are working when in taxi. Only when the plane is connected to the jetbridge are we finally able to get up and move around comfortably.
Our job doesn’t stop once the plane gets to the gate.
When all the guests deplane, we still have to clean seatback pockets, seat cushions, and fold seatbelts to prepare the cabin for the next flight. I always tell guests, “If you don’t clean up after yourselves, we do,” because for some reason, some passengers sincerely don’t know how to eat/drink/exist without leaving massive amounts of garbage and crumbs for the flight teams to clean up.
Finally, after cleaning up, we are free to enjoy our layover!
With twenty-four hours in Newark, I often take the NJ Transit into Manhattan to see my New Yorker friends and enjoy the city. I have the whole layover to do whatever I please, as long as I am not drinking past the legal time limit as determined by the FAA. I would go out, enjoy my time in New York, then head back to my hotel to sleep, and do the whole thing again the next day.
It’s a long day, but it’s a good life.