Flight Attendant To Pilot

I never thought that I would want to fly— as a pilot. It didn’t interest me that much. I never thought that I would want to be a flight attendant. That didn’t interest me in the slightest. Well, I am a flight attendant. I’m also getting my pilot’s license.

There are a few things about the combination of my job and the direction I’m taking my life now that I haven’t disclosed here. I have wanted to share but have not felt qualified to tell you ‘what it’s like’ to become a pilot when, truth be told, I really don’t know. I really don’t know what it’s like becoming (or being) a pilot because I’m so close to the beginning of training that it mostly feels like I haven’t even started. 

But I have started. I’ve started and stopped. And started. And stopped. And started and stopped. The flight lessons began at sixteen when I decided that I wanted to solo my Dad’s Cessna 150; the cute red and white two-seater plane he bought so that my older brother could learn to fly. I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could fly an airplane by myself. My personality has changed little since then. My career as a corporate flight attendant is proof of that. I chose the job because I wanted to see if I could do it. At sixteen, flying around the pattern alone once, was enough. I did it. Check box, move on. 

Fast forward to living in Florida in my late 20s. I started flight lessons. Again. It was fun, but I was broke working for the airlines. When asked, “What makes airplanes fly?” The correct answer is always, ‘Money.’ When I switched companies to go and work for a European, international airline, I became even more broke. Flight training simply was not worth continuing. I enjoyed flying, but I had yet to fall hopelessly for it. I had yet to want to fly airplanes more than I wanted to breathe. My desire to become a pilot needed to grow deeper than the sacrifices required to see that outcome through. There had to be more drive in my soul than “just to see if I could do it.” There will always need to be a deeper reason to your direction if you hope to discover meaning along your path.

It was four months ago when I felt a shift, switch, and change. Finally, I did not only like learning to fly, or conveniently want to continue training, my heart fell. I was driving home from the little country airport where Tinkerbelle lives; the green and white Piper Cherokee 180 that my Dad and Uncle Marshall own. I had spent the late afternoon practicing takeoffs and landings. I had done this many times; taking off and landing again. I have so many hours for someone who only has her student pilot’s license. This time, this lesson, something was different. The experience had been fulfilling. Peaceful. Freeing. I had found myself completely lost in the moment; my heart content and happy. Alone in my car, reflecting on the day, a smile spread across my face and pierced the darkness. I can fly that plane, I thought to myself. That was as fun as kiteboarding. As great as surfing. As much my favorite as gelato and perfect cappuccinos. Learning to fly was a favorite in my world. Everything had changed. Loving flying unfolded; unforced and unexpectedly. I had reached the point when I finally believed that, “I can do this and I can be good at this.”  More than that, I understood why people pursue a pilot profession.

Before this moment, I had liked learning to fly but loving it snuck up on me. I didn’t believe that I would ever feel this way about flying. Flying had been my brother’s love. I had always been around airplanes, so I didn’t think that I could like it more than I already did. I had considered becoming a pilot a good way to get out of the successful corporate flight attendant career that I had built, because I couldn’t imagine grocery shopping and plating food for the rest of my life. Becoming a pilot seemed like a logical career move. What I failed to realize was that— to create a successful career as a professional pilot— one must discover an almost illogical love for aviation. An adoration that transcends the years of investment that an aviator’s path demands. The reason people survive incredibly shitty experiences, horrible jobs, and seasons of life that are less than ideal is that they have a purpose that roots them more solidly than money, status, fame, or ambition. They have love.

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I’m now in my mid-thirties. I’ve re-started flight training for the third time. I’ve soloed for the second time. I’ve taken my private pilot written test over a year ago and completed all of my solo requirements for my private pilot check ride. My check ride is on the near horizon, but I hesitate to schedule the verbal and practical test. I’m so close but feel impossibly far away. I sat this week, tears streaming down my face— sectional charts and papers scattered across my parent’s dining room table— completely intimidated by this goal. I’m not even talking about all of the ratings and time and money that getting to a professional pilot career entails. I’m only talking about the daunting feelings of moving past step one— the private pilot certificate. Flying isn’t difficult per se, but I am challenged. Sometimes, I look into the past noting the many other ways that I should have done pilot life. Go to an intensive school like ATP. Rewind time so that aviation was my college experience. Skip all that flight attendant life stuff. There are so many ways I wish I had done this flying thing, but I am so so so beyond thankful that I’m in flight training now, even when it’s harder to juggle due to life responsibilities.

I am a corporate flight attendant who travels and works trips from five days a month to twenty-five days per month. That means, I’m gone a lot. My schedule is sporadic, unpredictable, stressful, and often all-consuming. I feel as if I live in multiple worlds. One week, I am a girl in flight training on a baby plane. The following weeks, I go around the entire world, literally, as a professional cabin attendant on a fancy Gulfstream. I forget that flight training, a personal life, surfing, or anything beyond my job matters. Because, nothing else really does matter. I don’t have the time or energy to study on some of these work trips. Then, I get home and struggle to find my footing in my real life. I struggle to find my motivation again. I struggle to get through these goals, even when I love them.

After almost a month away, I go up in Tinkerbelle. I’m still so new into being able to pilot an airplane by myself that I forget that I can actually fly. There’s a part of me that forgets that love feeling that flying brings when I’m away for awhile. Sometimes, we need to make ourselves go ‘do things’ that remind us of what we love and why we love it. Maybe you are a flight attendant who is struggling to remember why you became a flight attendant and why you loved it. Go use your flight benefits to travel somewhere for fun. Maybe you are a successful pilot with the best job, but find yourself uninterested in aviation. Go rent a small airplane, get your float plane license, or learn to fly helicopters. Or challenge yourself in a completely unrelated way! I don’t know what it is but go reinvent your dreams and your days. Do something that makes you find your love again. It’s there; buried under routine and success.

I’ve been afraid to say that I am going to be a professional pilot, because a) I know the industry all too well and b) I feel as if I’ll have to ‘trade dreams.’ I want to have a family someday. I don’t want to be gone all the time. Will it be Flying vs. Family? A well-paying pilot job for the truth that I’m away all the time? A successful professional piloting career where I push buttons instead of aviate the old-fashioned stick and rudder way, the way that entices aviators into aviation in the first place? Is becoming a pilot really what I want when I already make six-figures as a corporate flight attendant?

But the thing is, I now know that I miss it when I don’t fly airplanes. I now know that I feel calmer and more complete when the plane responds to the inputs that I give her. I can’t explain what flying feels like but for those who fly airplanes out of sheer love get it. I don’t think true all-in and all-in love aviators ever completely fall out of love with flying. I believe in burn out. I believe in toxic work environments. I believe that the more successful you become in life, the more boredom you can experience in the areas of your success.

When I ask myself if becoming a pilot is worth the investment, my honest answer is, “I don’t really know.” But I know enough today to continue. You know enough today to continue facing and fighting; failing and fulfilling your wildest dreams. I know I love learning new things. I feel inspired in seasons of growth. I build confidence in myself when I do hard things. I also know that I don’t like cooking and fancy food and grocery shopping, and that is what my entire flight attendant job feels like sometimes. Maybe we all need to accept that some adventures have expiration dates.

I don’t know if I’ll stop flight training after getting my private pilot’s license, or if I’ll be in the cockpit of a Gulfstream or Dreamliner years down the road. I’ll know when I need to know. For now, I love where this pilot experience is taking me. That is enough to get me through the moments of crying at the dining room table. The moments when I feel stupid and don’t understand. The moments when I am so distracted by everything that I forget that I know how to fly an airplane by myself.

If there is anything that I’ve learned from being a corporate flight attendant it’s this— don’t quit. All those baby steps and micro-successes add up to the point where you are up in an airplane, alone, thinking, “I am so thankful I chose to learn. I’m so thankful I kept working.” My flight training progress is definitely slow and non-linear. Such is life. I’m still here, and I’m not giving up. Years have come and gone, and I’m somewhere between completely fucking clueless and progress. I’m pretty sure I just described living. Guess there are worse places to be. 

About the Author Kara

Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.

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