Excuse me Stewardess, is there a movie on this flight?

In 2007 I was working at The Q, and had been for the past 2 years. There was no opportunity for growth, and I was feeling stagnant in my position. I decided I wanted a change, so I weighed my options and decided on becoming a Flight Attendant. I loved to travel, and I wanted a job where I could be able to relocate. I applied at American Airlines and after a phone screening, I was selected to fly up to Dallas for an in person interview. I was worried as my flight up to Dallas was early in the morning, and the interview was set for 1PM, but my flight back to Austin was at 3PM. It was either going to be a very short interview, or I was going to miss my flight home. I don’t know why I was so worried, as I was applying at the airlines, they booked me the flight, so they would be able to book another if I missed my return flight. I had went out and bought a brand new suit for the interview, which didn’t get too wrinkled on the flight up. My new suit, my smile radiating from ear to ear and my sleek attaché case, I was ready.

I walk into a room that had about 30 chairs in it, with a few cubicles lining the walls. On the cubicles were large flat screen TVs playing videos of flight attendants talking about how much they love their jobs, and what a reward it is to work for American. The room quickly filled up and once the last person arrived two staff members came out and said that we would be doing some group exercises. First we all had to go stand against the wall and raise our hands up to reach a height line, if we couldn’t reach the line, we wouldn’t be able to help customers put their bags away and couldn’t be a flight attendant. Luckily for me, I was able to touch it. Being only 5’5″, I was somewhat scared about this test. They divided the room in to two portions and one staff member went with each group. We were then asked about our customer service experience, what we have for hobbies and how we like to enjoy our free time. I was uncomfortable in this type of group interview, it reminded me of when I auditioned for the Real World and we all had to make ourselves stand out the most.

They returned us all to our originally seating and told us that they would then conduct one on one interviews. They told us to bring our belonging with us in to the cubicles. As I sat there, I saw staff members come out and call names one by one to go in to the small cubicles. They were not calling names alphabetically, I’m guessing they did it by who applied for the position first. After waiting for five minutes, my name was finally called. I grabbed my items and followed the gentleman who called my name. He asked me about my resume, my experience, why I wanted to be a flight attendant and so forth. He then walked me towards a door in to a small room. He asked me to wait there for further instruction. The room only had 3 other people waiting in there. One other guy and two women. We sat close to one another and were taking guesses at what was going on. As so many people had been called to go to the interviews already, we assumed that we were accepted, but had no confirmation of it. Three more people were shown in to the room and finally two staff member came in. “Congratulations to you all, you have been accepted in to the Flight Attendant academy!” All of us in the room were very excited. The staff then told us that we were going to start doing our medical evaluation right away, and they said that they will reschedule all of our flights home for a later hour in the day.

We were taken in to the medical section of the building and started getting weighed, height checked, vision tested, etc etc etc. I had a small issue with my depth perception, and I was told that I would need to get corrective lenses if I wanted to be a flight attendant. I was worried about this, but I thought glasses would be a great accessory, so I wasn’t to upset, just as long that I could be a flight attendant. The last of the test were done, and we were told that we would be called later in the week with details for our starting days.

After a few weeks of nervousness, having to fax over my eye-glass prescription to the airlines, I was confirmed to start classes on August 7, 2007. During the month of training, I would be staying at a hotel, fully paid for by the airline, the hotel provided a free breakfast, along with a food credit for lunch each day, and a dinner card to eat at Bennigans each evening, which was the only restaurant near the hotel. From Bennigans alone, most of the class put on about 15-20 pounds.

Our group had 24 people in it, our class number was 0707. We had to attendant classes Monday through Saturday 8am to 6pm, if we missed the bus from the hotel to training, we would be ejected from the program and sent home. Our class had 6 gay guys in it, which was not a good idea. Two of the guys decided they wanted to hook up, unfortunately they were not roommates and when the roommate came back to his room and found them in the shower together, these two guys were made to leave. One of the guys was a nice guy from Chicago, the other was just a bitch. It was sad to see the nice guy leave, but the airlines had very strict rules.

The first week of class we were told to select two cities that we would want for our base city. The options were: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City. We were told that LA, Miami and NYC rarely had openings, so we shouldn’t hope too hard on getting them first. I selected Boston, as I had never been to Boston before, and I really wanted to try something new. After we made our selections, they told us that we would be informed of our city on graduation day. Because nothing says excitement like not knowing where you’re going to live for a while.

The classes we had went over everything from learning what happened during the September 11th attacks, to CPR, plane maintenance, self-defense and more. Each week we would have a test, usually about a different type of plane. We would have to know the exact name, location and function of almost everything on the plane. If we did not score a 95% on the test, we would be removed from the program and sent home. The trainers were a nice group of people, some very sweet. I was not impressed, actually I was appalled by the woman who was the director of Flight Attendants, as she came in to our class on the first day and told us that the Flight Attendant motto was “If you can’t make a home, break a home!” Apparently she was a flight attendant decades ago and that is how she met her husband…and after he divorced his first wife, they were married. So yeah, that was the level of class it takes to get a higher position with American Airlines.

As we were such a small group of people, and forced to live together, we all got pretty close. A group of us stayed up late one night to watch a lunar eclipse, unfortunately it was too cloudy out to witness, but we all had a fun time staying up until 3am talking and getting to know each other better. We made our way to downtown Dallas for a night out at the gay bars, which brought us even closer than before. That night was Gabby’s birthday, so Mark and I went to the nearby mall and bought her a necklace. she was  such a sweetheart, but the next day she told us that she planned on leaving training as she was missing her family too much. We were all sad by this, but we all could understand it too.

The day for our uniform fitting had come, and I was excited about it. I wanted to wear a cute vest and my wings pin picturing the glamorous looks of Flight Attendant uniforms from decades past…Boy was I disappointed. The uniform no longer had a vest, it was a horrible shade of blue, was a boxy cut, and it was 100% polyester…I wanted to go home and cry in to my pillow. The only thing that made it somewhat bearable was that we got to select our luggage that we wanted to use.

Our last test was a grueling affair, this test was a composite of every test we had taken before, with some new questions added in. We were all on tenterhooks. Mark and I had figured out that if we both did well on this test, we would have the highest average in the class, and should both be the valedictorians of the class. As we all sat in the large room, each at our own table, we took our test, which we  only had 45 minutes to complete. Everyone in the class had finished in about 35 minutes, except one woman. This woman was about 50 years old, and claimed to be a flight attendant who had been furloughed. She was a heavy smoker as anyone would know from hearing her frog like voice. This annoying woman would speak up in class every now and then and explain stuff to us, even though nobody asked her to do so, and usually her information was outdated. Today, on this test, she was struggling. She kept looking up hoping someone would give her eye contact and help her with answers, but she only had one friend in the class. He was a chubby, caddy gay boy, who mirrored her smoking habits. He was seated on the other side of the room and was unable to feed her answers.  The staff member who we had never seen or met before, was sitting in the room, was seated in the back of the room, grading the rest of our test. The old woman got up and walked over beside the staff member and started asking her questions. As she was asking questions, she seated herself right beside the staff member and was saying that the question(s) didn’t make any sense. The staff member, who must have been new, started to indicate the correct answers for her, helping(cheating) her pass the test.

We all witnessed this, and were disgusted that the rest of us had worked so hard to get where we were, but this woman was able to cheat her way through. Mark and I vowed to never take a flight with her, as she would put everyone at risk. American Airlines, should not have allowed this person to be a flight attendant, as she was a liability.

Our test came back to us and Mark and I both received a perfect score, which means we had the highest grades in the class and were the valedictorians. Our graduation had finally come, some of the class had their families come in for graduation. My family was unable to because of work, but it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. After the ceremony, we were all  given a piece of paper that had our Base City on it. I was so excited to learn I had gotten Boston. We were sent back home for 1 week before we were all sent off to our base cities. Only two other woman from my class had chosen Boston as well, but one was not happy because she wanted to really be in Chicago. Just two months later she was transferred to Chicago.

The Airlines gave us a packet of information on finding crash pads in our cities. A crash pad is an apartment or house that has multiple flight attendants staying there, as we travel so much, and paid so little, none of us could afford our own apartments by ourselves. When I got to Boston, the airlines set everyone up in a hotel for the first two nights. The hotels we were set up in, in our base city and when we had layovers, were not nice. Most of them were run down and old, mold on the walls, water and lights that didn’t work, and completely away from downtown of any city we were in. In movies you see flight attendants staying at nice hotels right downtown…that is not how American Airlines operates. So I dropped my bags off at the hotel and wandered around the city.

My first crash pad was in a gorgeous old house about 20 minutes north of Boston, but close to the airport. The house was owned by an old woman who rented out 4 bedrooms, but each bedroom had two bunk beds in them. It was cramped, there was no room for anything but yourself and your suitcase. This was not the glamorous life. But I didn’t let it get to me, I was on a new adventure, and I would have to adapt. I didn’t care for the woman who owned the house, as she was very cold and had strict rules about coming in late, etc. So I found a new crash pad that was better located and had more space. I was pretty happy here.

When you start out as a flight attendant, you are on stand-by for usually the first year or two. That means that you only cover shifts when someone is unable to make their shift. Line holders are people who know where they are going, and these people rarely give up their lines. I was very lucky though, as I usually got to pick up some exciting flights.

One weekend, I was flying with my crew and we landed in Nova Scotia on Friday morning, and didn’t have to fly out until the following Monday morning. The captain took the first officer and myself out around town, and bought us some amazing food and lots of drinks. Getting to know the pilots was a lot of fun for me, as they always came from different types of backgrounds, and had plenty of exciting stories to tell. Some of them were unhappy to get me, as I was a not a hot young girl, but most of the time we were all very happy with each other.

The office staff at the airport was pretty cool too, one woman who did quality control told me that we should go to lunch one day, in Paris. I agreed with a huge smile on my face, and two weeks later, when I had a weekend off, she and I took a flight to Paris, had lunch on top of the Eiffel tower and returned to Boston the next day. That was the glamorous life I had been waiting for, and I loved it.

One of the great perks of being a flight attendant was that our Airline was part of the group of airlines, that allows the flight attendants to travel for free on their flights. I could walk up to any airline counter that was in our network and say I’d like a seat going to (fill in the blank) and they would book me a seat. That was a feeling of power, I never wanted to lose.

The airline did not have a good system worked out for alcohol sales on the plane. Each flight attendant had to report the sales once we returned to our base and deposit the money from those sales in to a large drop box in the office. The plane would be refilled with the small bottles of liquor at each stop, and there was no way to monitor sales. A number of flight attendant would just take the small liquor bottles from the plane, put them in their own bags and walk off. I can honestly say that I never did this, as I would not want to be caught and fired. Most of them would justify that we weren’t paid enough, or that it was just a few bottles, it didn’t matter. I just don’t understand people like this, if it’s not a great loss of money, why not just buy your own liquor? Although I saw this happen usually once a week, I wasn’t going to narc on anyone, I had just started the job. I did make a few suggestions on better ways to monitor and control liquor sales to the managers, but they were not interested.

As much fun as I was having travelling around the world, I wanted something more stable in my life, and I was missing being able to volunteer for different organizations. I asked the managers if we could have a team gather for the Breast Cancer Walk, but was told that we could not because nobody can get guaranteed time off and raising money for a cause was not “Who we are.” I was upset by this last comment, and decided that I wanted to get back in to public health.

Just a couple of months later I turned in my badge and returned to the life of HIV prevention. I can admit that I romanticized the life of a flight attendant, from what I saw in movies, and photos, I was expecting a glamorous life, but after the September 11th attacks, that had all changed, and I had not counted on that. Being a flight attendant in the 2000’s is not was it was in the 1900’s.

It was an exciting few months in the sky, and I will always remember it fondly.

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