“Before a Work Trip:” Truths of being a corporate flight attendant

“I don’t like who I become before a work trip.” The text glares defiantly; a statement black and white, yet softened by the sky blue iMessage cradling my truth. The truth is— my dream job has felt like a nightmare for as many moments as it has existed as a dream. “I’m always so anxious and stressed when prepping for flights…Every. Time. I hate it.” My thumb taps the circular blue arrow, forever sending my secret away with a signature pinging swoosh. I think back to working at the airlines and don’t remember this level of pressure. Whether self-imposed or simply part of what being a corporate flight attendant is about, I wonder if the battle I wage in my psyche—before jetting away to incredible destinations on other people’s vacations— are feelings only felt by me or resonate industry wide. Can I simply not handle my shit or is this what I signed up for when I decided to call a private jet my office?

Before becoming a corporate flight attendant, I had no idea what was involved in working on private jets. I thought I knew that it couldn’t be that hard to get into the career or succeed at the job. I was incredibly wrong. Often, I have a difficult time explaining why working on private jets as a flight attendant can be such a challenge. Maybe it’s because everything is always changing. Maybe it’s difficult due to plans coming together last minute, while you make it appear as if the details were together a month ago (Who cares that you found out only two hours prior that the trip was going). Maybe the job stresses you for the reason that you don’t really know what to expect but have to be prepared to expect anything. Overthinking and overanalyzing are your confidantes. You know the quote about the rocking chair and worry and that it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere? Well, it’s a nice idea not to worry but you still do it all the time. Eventually, you begin to wonder, “Why the fuck do I care so much?” 

Flightess posted a quote the other day. I looked at it. And looked at it again. “Corporate Flight Attendants have two moods,” it read. “1) constant panic and worry about every tiny detail. 2) it is what it is.” I sighed. I must not be the only one that feels a little crazy in this career. I don’t know if I’ve consciously ever whispered ‘It is what it is’ when all is going wild, but I have hit the point of surrendering to the moments that I can’t control. The days when nothing seems to be going right and you begin to hit the mark of ‘Too tired to worry.’ There was that one time that I had 45 mins before departure and had to run to a Walmart in New Jersey to buy a DVD player. Come to find out, the store wasn’t legally allowed to sell DVD players on a Sunday. WTF?!? Of all the things I hate New Jersey for, not selling DVD players on Sunday was now added to the list. “This is NOT happening right now! This cannot be happening!!!” I kept repeating these words to myself as if by not accepting the current reality I would somehow escape it. After an incredible amount of begging, panic, and wide-eyed frantic pleading, I ran out of the store, DVD player in hand; triumphant. Or, there was another time when I landed in a city only to have the client text me that he needed a part of the computer that was still at a different city.  My heart sank. I knew that what he was asking for was not sold at Best Buy or easy to find. “Why can’t we just have one drama free day??” I thought to myself. Without the help of my colleague, I would have been fucked. The computer equipment was sent, by her, on a two hour uber ride to meet the aircraft at the next city. Thank God for Lauren. Oh. And the best part about both of these stories? The items needed were not even used. Smh. All that panic was for not. At least I didn’t have to tell the clients, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it.” ‘Not possible’ or ‘no’ is not part of a corporate flight attendant’s vocabulary. I don’t think I ever have felt resigned to the circumstances of my job but I deeply wish I didn’t feel that tightening panic in my chest when this career throws a curve ball. Because it always throws a curve ball. 

It’s an emotionally demanding and uncertain job. One that can have me looking forward to a booked trip that garnishes $10k, only to have the entire trip cancel. In seconds, I fall back to making zero dollars for the month. The ups and downs, highs and lows are exhausting. Outsiders that don’t understand the job don’t get this. Even pilots, at times, don’t get this. Some think that our jobs are so easy in comparison to the compensation level. In some ways, they are right but they are also very wrong. Why is your struggle to get to success as a professional pilot different than my struggle as a flight attendant? I think it’s much more difficult to be a professional mind-reader than a professional button pusher. In complete honesty, part of the reason I want to be a pilot is because the career path has more opportunity than the one I am in now. If you haven’t become a flight attendant yet, or are thinking of transitioning from commercial to corporate, just skip corporate cabin attendant and become a pilot. Same lifestyle. More respect. Better pay. Wider variety of opportunities.

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There is much unknown, much instability, and much always ‘up-in-the-air’ in aviation. As hard as that is, that is also what draws me in and holds me near. There’s an excitement to this mad, mad life. When I feel like I’m really crumbling under the pressure of the uncertain schedule and work responsibilities, I tell Sara. We met because of corporate aviation, she mentoring me and then us mentoring each other. Your life as a corporate flight attendant will be impossible to hell if you do not have a support system of friends and colleagues that you can reach out to for advice and love. You need a strong community. You need your tribe.

I tell Sara about the grey areas of aviation, relationships, and dating that scratch at my heart and nag at my soul. Over coffee dates in Southern California, workouts at the gym in our little beach town, or text messages sent across the world, we share the ways in which we are fighting and thriving. We get what is really going on below the surface of our perspective dream jobs. I stare at my iPhone and read her simple response as tears slip silently down my cheeks. “I hear you. I feel that, too.” My tears transform to a half-smile of gratitude. How world changing it is to simply know that you are not alone. 

As corporate flight attendants, it’s as if we are trained to put on the face that we know what we are doing all the time, pretend the chaotic flights never happened, and get through on the facade that we ‘totally have it all together.’ Nothing is supposed to phase us as it’s in our job descriptions to handle anything. I have handled a lot more than I thought I could, but I also need to understand I’m a human and it’s ok to be human. It’s ok to let things go. Doing your best— amidst the circumstances handed out— is all that you can really ask of yourself. 

My commercial aviation background is helpful for what I do now but it’s my personality, perfectionism, ambitious drive, work-ethic, and determination that has been the foundation upon which I’ve built my career. I also pray a lot and sincerely believe that God has blessed me in big ways. I care about what I do and the way that it gets done. ‘Care’ will get you farther than training certifications, culinary classes, or years experience. Your years of experience may even be your downfall as there is something unstoppable about being ‘hungry.’ If you want to succeed as much as you want to breathe, who will stop that? I was that girl; the girl who wanted to fly more than anything. I cared so incredibly much. I still do, but I wish to care less. I want to care about other things more. I care about time off. I care about friendships. I care about being home. I care about having a world away from private jets. Now, what I want more than anything is to create a life that can sustain a beach house and a dog, and that won’t happen as a corporate flight attendant. I feel stuck between who I am now and who I want to become.

After three years, the job stress has changed or I have changed with the experience. I don’t know which, but experience does and will help in navigating your aviation career. What helps even more are two things: 

  1. What I’m putting into my mind and 
  2. Who I’m letting into my circle. 

Be very aware of how you spend your time and who you spend your time with. It matters what you are putting into your mind as your energy at work is palpable. Anyone can be trained to serve and plate food, but your presence is unique and precious to you. One of the best books I’ve read, that helps me in navigating the anxieties caused by work, is the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy. In it, Amy talks about bringing your boldest self to life’s biggest challenges. Other ways I attack work stress is through surfing, kiteboarding, reading and journaling. Every morning, I take about 20 minutes to read a bible verse or quote that is positive and encouraging. Then, I write three things I’m thankful for that day. Even on days I don’t feel grateful or want to simply crawl back into bed, I try to make an effort to put my mind in the healthiest place that I can, so that I can show up for the people around me in the best way possible. 

Many people will envy your job or wish they had it. Some may downplay that what you do is really work. Let’s get one thing straight. Working on a private jet is NOT a constant vacation. It can be REALLY hard work with REALLY long hours. It sometimes comes with shitty hotels, working on every holiday, staying up for 48 hours straight, getting yelled by clients, and feeling so alone that your body literally aches from your heart to your toes. Flight attendants are NOT on vacation all the time. It is work. Don’t envy others for the appearance of adventure in their lives. If you walked a moment in their shoes, I think you would quickly see how the right fit is much more important than you initially realized. Without a fit, the steps of life become uncomfortable and awkward.   

I’ve chosen the stress of being a corporate flight attendant because even on the tough and challenging days, it’s an incredible opportunity. Loving it or hating it is irrelevant to the fact that I can always be grateful for how it changed my life and what it allowed. I’m glad that I had no idea how much this career would humble or challenge me. The challenges have lead to growth. The career has transformed my life.

There is a fit for you. It may be beyond the discomfort of the shoes you are currently attempting to squeeze into. It may be good to stay for a while. Learn. Adapt. Humble yourself. But, never settle. Don’t ever ever settle for a place, person, or situation that does not match your vision for yourself and your life. The money is only appealing for so long. Pay your soul by honoring your hard work and strength. Trust yourself. Trust that God, the universe, has the best in store for you. That friends will have your back. That you will land on your feet, running:) You’ll be ok regardless of what next step you take. I mean, look what you’ve made it through already? 

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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