The Backup Plan

Tourists and locals meander along a seaside accented by a pink and tangerine splashed sky while the French Riviera sun dips below the Antibes peninsula. I have dipped into more wonderment and adventure than I ever imagined possible. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome; as an International Cabin Crew Member and now a private jet flight attendant. But, I’m not sure if I am happy. “Why did you quit Norwegian?” my pilot asks as a signature Red Nose finds its approach to Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. I watch the plane disappear below the horizon and allow a soft giggle to escape my lips before answering. “I left Norwegian because I was gone too much.” We both wait a beat before tossing our heads back in laughter— a toast to the irony of life.  

When I was an airline girl

Stephen— one of the pilots on this twenty day European trip— is young, easy going, positive and encourages both my cappuccino addiction and gelato obsession. I’m grateful that he and the other Captain are able to maintain such good outlooks when we are gone so long and so much. Their personalities, kindness, and ability to make the best of anything has changed this entire trip for the better. Maybe that’s life experience in reality. Maybe it’s maturity on display. Maybe I have so much to learn about how to thrive as an aviation professional, because I don’t understand how pilots or flight attendants make it twenty plus years in this; with the only prospect being this. 

Doesn’t every crew member constantly contemplate ‘The Backup Plan’— what they might do (or will do) once they don’t do this? 

Both of the pilots on my trip have families and young children at home, and I admire how they have made this trip enjoyable when they could have found every reason to complain. Being away seventeen to twenty-five days per month (consistently) challenges every part of my soul, but at least I live in the beauty of being single, solo, and free. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself. I fear that I am trading the family and future that I want for all of these magical destinations; magical destinations that are beginning to blur together like the buzz after a night out. “You are dating your job,” my friend Kate tells me in a text message. Tears well up. I sniffle and send a quick, ‘Yeah. I know.’ Well, Sweet Badass ‘Dream Job.’ Never will you find a better “work girlfriend” than me. For better or for worse, you have (sadly) become so much of my everything.’ 

What an amazing ‘everything.’

I think this is the point when many flight attendants begin to lose hope that they can balance their career, personal life, and unspoken dreams. The dreams that seem a little impossible. The ones that you never say. The secret life that just might be better than the amazing travel career you have been blessed to experience. I think this must be the place we meet where work starts to numb our soul and what once made our hearts skip— cathedrals in Europe, pristine Caribbean beaches, or that cute little snow bunny town— is another benchmark of jet lag and another hotel room number we always seem to forget. Pressing floor five when you are on floor three…damn. That was last week’s layover. Or wait, was that yesterday? It’s hard to keep track. “I can’t remember if I’ve been there,” Jeff, my Captain says. “I probably have. I just don’t remember.” I smile because I get it. It’s not that the places don’t mean anything or that the work isn’t meaningful, it’s only that it feels like work. Before, it had a novelty to it. Or, you’re overworked. Or you’re sick of reserve. Or you just want to be able to say, “Yeah. I can totally be at your wedding.” 

You begin thinking of ‘The Backup Plan’ to get away from the job that is so intoxicating, it has become your drug. You swing wildly between loathing and loving, but living without seems about near impossible. What will you do if you don’t want to fly anymore or what happens when you stop ‘Flight Attendant Life?’ Whenever I begin overthinking my exit strategy, I know I’m out of balance in my career. Leaving two airlines, taking a minimum wage job that I hated, breaking my ankle and being financially broke has taught me a lot about my personal happiness. It can look like I have “the dream everything,” and quite honestly, I probably do. The thing is, looks to someone else doesn’t overpower the feels for you. Your dream doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else. Hell, it’s ok if it doesn’t even make sense to you. Just believe in it, and believe in you.

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My friend Jordan, a corporate pilot, made a good point a couple of weeks ago. In his typical direct and somewhat abrasive manner, he told me that I need more hobbies and that all my life is is work. Like the reaction to Kate’s observation, again, I almost started crying. I would have probably raised my voice in response, but he was in North America— home in that cute little Southern California Beach town we both live in (but the one he lives in much more than I do). “I’m home four days a month, Jordan! My whole life is work!” My text message shot back with fury from somewhere in the South of France. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” he responds. And I know, he’s right. 

Then, the excuses flow. Corporate and commercial flight attendants know them. “But, I have seniority. But, my travel benefits. But what could be more exciting than this? But, I don’t think there is any other job I could do that would make this much money or let me work only three days a week.”

But what if there was? And what if you believed in yourself enough to find it?

I’m not saying that your concerns are unfounded— I’m just saying that I had so many fears when I left Norwegian. Ultimately, my life turned out better. I am better. The months after leaving the airlines were some of the most difficult and character building of my entire life, but as a corporate flight attendant, I don’t want to return to what I left. I miss it, but not in the way that ‘regrets.’ I miss it in the way that appreciates it for the time and season I lived it. My current feelings towards my career have more to do with burnout and being overworked than not liking my job. I’m not ready or wanting to leave. My job is amazing, but I also want a life. My own words and silent dialogue becomes deafening.

“You are meant for more. Time is so precious. Don’t let your side hustle become your only hustle. Live the life YOU imagined. Don’t be afraid that you will let anyone down, make a mistake, walk away from something too good to find again. I just want you to be happy and hope-filled. Find your happy.” 

If you are debating your backup plan and think there is nothing more exciting than what you are doing now, or that could possibly pay you as well (if you are in corporate already), I want to challenge you (and myself) to think much bigger and believe more. Commercial flight attendants— you do realize it’s harder to get into Harvard than get a job at Delta, right? Corporate flight attendants, the odds that you actually have a sustainable career are impossible. Seriously. There are no jobs, and you found your way. You will always find your way. Stop allowing everyone else’s priorities define your dream. And, if they don’t understand, as my Aviation Dad Cliff would say, “Fuck em.” 

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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