Let me start by saying one thing: Life isn’t always about soaring above the clouds. There are moments when the fog is heavy, everything seems to be distorted and it’s hard to see what lies ahead. You have to slow down, take your time and maybe even stop flying for a little while.
For flight attendants, this is easier said than done. There are a lot of reasons for keeping your feet on the ground, even if just for a little while.
1. Your health. Flying every day is exhausting, both mentally and physically. Getting sick is common, especially during the winter months. Listen to your body, pay attention to the signs. If you are starting to get ill, load up on vitamins, water and sleep. Have your Chief Flight Attendant and Crew Scheduling on speed dial. If it gets bad, do not hesitate to call out, and the more notice you can give, the less stress for everyone. A perfect reliability record is nice, but your health is more important.
2. On-the-job injuries. Most airlines encourage proper use of equipment and ways to prevent strains and pulled muscles. Listen to what your training has taught you! It might seem silly to stand with your back against the bulkhead, squatting while you pull out an atlas, but there is a reason for it. If you are working and suspect that you may have hurt yourself, even just a little bit, make sure to fill out an OJI report, and call your Chief Flight Attendant. If you do need to take some time off work in the future because of an injury, having an initial report will make getting short-term disability so much easier.
3. Emergencies. Life doesn’t get put on hold when you become a flight attendant. Apartments sometimes flood, grandparents still get sick and at times, pets unfortunately go up to the big pearly gates in the sky. But don’t think that your airline won’t let you take a day off. Even if you are still on probation (usually the first year of work), you can usually take what is called a Personal Emergency. With bigger issues such as fire, flooding or theft, you can fill out the paperwork to get your time away from work properly excused. Again, call your union or your Chief Flight Attendant and talk it out. They are there to help.
4. FMLA. The US Department of Labor allows employees to take time off work for a variety of reasons — protecting their job for you until you are ready to return to work. If you have a medical or emotional condition that you suspect will keep you out of work for a while, look into this.
5. Furlough. The aviation industry is ever changing, and with that comes changes in staffing needs. Which translates to: “Here today, gone tomorrow.” If your base is shrinking, you may be furloughed, reassigned or just get a month or two off work. Don’t fret. Talk to your union rep and figure out your options. You might end up switching bases or getting a six-week long vacation, so take this time to recenter yourself. This is the industry; eventually things will go “up” again.
6. Switching jobs. Like I said before, change is inevitable. Sometimes you realize that being a flight attendant, with its crazy schedules and being away from home is not for you. Don’t give up on the industry (and its benefits!) Try out being a gate agent, working in reservations or even at your flight attendant training center. If you like your company, stick with ’em. That being said, not every company is the same. If you get an opportunity to move over to an airline that is more in line with your career goals (Mainline, International, better bases/pay, etc.), don’t hesitate! This is your dream, go get it!
7. Training. At least once a year, flight attendants get a refresher on their training, and this often involves several days or a week back in ground school. If you are switching jobs or companies, you might find yourself back at a six-week training class, or “boot camp” as we fondly like to think of it. Ground school is tough, because most of us are just itching to get in the air again. But don’t be impatient for your time on the ground to be over. Embrace training and really absorb what the instructors have to offer. You might end up learning something new!
8. Maternity/Paternity Leave. I often hear flight attendants say that they would never continue to fly if they were planning on having a baby. I also hear people wonder how mothers could possibly leave their kids at home and go off on a four-day trip. Well, I personally believe that if someone wants to have a baby and a career, then kudos to them! Being a flight attendant and a mother are not mutually exclusive. The other day, I flew with a good friend who is eight months pregnant. She had been very healthy throughout her pregnancy and was happy to be staying active by flying. Although in her final week of flying before taking off for maternity leave, she already had a plan: her husband and her would stagger their work schedules in order to cut down on the amount of time the child would need to be in daycare. As with anything else, balancing life and a job can be a challenge, but its one that can be done.
9. Life. Flying is tough. It’s a crazy adventure. Unforgettable. Life-changing. An incredible opportunity. Yet it’s not for everyone. Turnover happens, especially in the first year of this career. But if you worked hard to get the job, survived training and then started your career only to find out that it’s not for you, don’t worry. It happens. Don’t mourn the loss of time that you spent attaining this job; think of it as an incredible life experience and a challenge. Think of all the hurdles you had to jump to get where you are now. You’re not walking away; you’re not quitting. You’re going to keep climbing.
Who knows where you’ll end up.
writer // dreamer // adventurer // flight attendant