The allure of routine travel to exotic locales makes a career as a flight attendant especially appealing to many job seekers. So much so, in fact, that more than 20,000 people recently applied with American Airlines to fill just 1,500 flight attendant jobs, prompting the airline to largely quit accepting new applications.
But what is it really like to work as a flight attendant these days? Is it worth enduring the intense competition for one of these jobs? Recently a Reddit user claiming to be a flight attendant posted her experiences on Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" subsite, where Reddit readers can ask questions of notable and not-so-notable people. [Note: Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" section uses anonymous sources, which can't be verified. Excerpts that appear here retain their original spelling and grammar.]
The contributor, who claims to work for a "4 star rated airline" (a group that includes Air France, Emirates, British Airways and several others), notes that being a flight attendant is "as crazy as you think." The user, who refers to herself as a stewardess, goes by the handle c0ffeetea0rme. She claimed to have received "crazy" requests from passengers, such as "a bag to spit in," "soft food I will have rice" (though rice wasn't on the menu), "hot fried chips," and "my [phone] number."
Reddit users asked about whether the "Mile High Club" exists, and c0ffeetea0rme confirmed that couples do, indeed, attempt sex on planes. But she didn't advise it. "Let me tell you something, those toilets are FILTHY. Absolute FILTH." She also offered some tips on how to get upgraded, noting an instance in which a passenger several times changed seats to accommodate families and a couple traveling together. "So we moved him to business class. Lesson, be nice!" c0ffeetea0rme wrote.
Her job pays about $38,000 a year, she says, plus she receives "free rent transport and bills, all I pay is internet and taxi. 90% Off tickets." At that wage, c0ffeetea0rme nearly earns exactly the median $37,740 annual salary published in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. The entry also notes that a high school diploma is all that's required to become a flight attendant, though many U.S. airlines prefer applicants to have a college degree.
Some 90,000 Americans make a living as flight attendants, according to the Handbook, which forecasts little or no growth in the number of jobs in the field through 2020. What's more, reports suggest working conditions have only gotten worse as many airlines struggle financially.
Despite the avalanche of applications it received, American Airlines, in fact, is in bankruptcy, and it has changed flight attendants' contracts, requiring them to work more hours and pay more for medical insurance, according to the Dallas Morning News.
With airlines flying fewer flights, flight attendants also have experienced increased stress, as they try to accommodate more and grumpier passengers, ABC News reports.
Being human, flight attendants don't always handle that stress so well. Take the case of American Eagle flight attendant Jose Serrano who roughly invited passengers to deplane in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., last June. "If you have balls to want to get off, I'll let you get off. Get off," he said into the plane's PA system.
There's also the case of Steven Slater, the JetBlue Airways flight attendant who infamously slid his way out of a job two years ago. The 20-year airline veteran chewed out a passenger on the plane's PA system and then announced he was quitting. Slater then grabbed a beer before making his grand escape down the emergency slide. He was later arrested.
"Due to 9/11, the job has become more stressful, because when passengers get on they're already stressed," Sheila Dail, a US Airways flight attendant told ABC News. Dail was among three flight attendants aboard flight 1549 when it left New York City's LaGuardia Airport in 2009, struck a flock of Canada geese and was forced to land in the Hudson River.
Dail was unable to sleep for days and felt isolated after the ordeal because she had no one to talk to about it. The experience prompted Dail to found a hotline, called Critical Incident Response Hotline, or CIRP, to aid flight attendants who find themselves in crisis.
The training that flight attendants (and pilots) receive during their years of service helps to prepare them to handle emergencies -- but not necessarily the aftermath, US Airways CEO Doug Parker told the network.
It can "still be a traumatic event when it happens," he said, and having peers to talk with helps flight attendants better deal with the experience.
Fortunately, for most flight attendants their memorable experiences tend more to be humorous or ridiculous rather than tragic, which has prompted no shortage of tell-alls about the profession (not unlike those of c0ffeetea0rme).
Other confessors include Heather Poole, who has worked as a flight attendant at a major airline for more than 15 years, and has written a book about her experiences, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet.
Among her many insights, Poole notes one reason that many flight attendants quit so early in their careers: low pay.
"No one becomes a flight attendant for the money!" Poole recently wrote on AOL Jobs' sister site, Gadling.com, where she pens the "Galley Gossip" blog. "While $20 an hour may look good on paper," she says, "the reality is it doesn't add up to much."
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