(The following is a reflection piece for one of my writing classes in school.)
Here is a rare glimpse into the otherwise ‘fascinating’ and ‘glamorous’ world of being a flight attendant. And trust me, it really isn’t all that glamorous or fascinating once you’ve been in it for a while!
I believe anything you need to know, can be learned from flight attendant training!
Lesson 1: Always pack a bathing suit. *This could also be called preparing for the unexpected or having an alternate*
Before any plane takes off, the pilot has to file a flight plan with their intended destination, as well as an alternate landing spot in case things don’t go according to plan. As flight attendants, this is why we ALWAYS pack a bathing suit – we would love to go mechanical somewhere warm!
For a long as I can remember, I planned on becoming a lawyer. In high school I even took a pre-law course on my own. Just before my graduation, I wrote to about 50 law firms in Winnipeg asking for a chance to work for them in the summer. Only 3 wrote back, but one of them set an interview with me and hired me. I ended up working at that law firm for 2 years while I was going to school, which is where I learned that I didn’t really want to go into law after all. I had done everything I was supposed to – filed my flight plan, so to speak, but I didn’t have an alternate. I didn’t think I’d need one. This is how I ended up becoming a flight attendant – it was just something I was doing until I figured out what I wanted to do. For 7 years I carried around a bikini in my suitcase, but the only places I’ve gone mechanical were Thunder Bay & Newark, New Jersey. Not exactly the warm weather I was hoping for!
Lesson 2: Check the manifest *Also known as conduct a briefing or do your research*
Before any flight, there are a number of briefings that happen. There’s the flight attendant briefing, the pilots briefing, and the briefing between the two. Any and all relevant information is discussed at this time, so everyone is on the same page. We also get a manifest – which is a print out listing the passengers, medical conditions, or any other special notes about the people on our flight. Knowing this stuff proves helpful. I used to scan the manifest for passengers listed as doctors and find out just what kind of doctor they were once they boarded. You never know when you might need a medical doctor on board!
When I started flying, I lived in Toronto and I really didn’t like it. I decided I wanted to move to the Montreal base and was amazed when I got my transfer. The catch? I had 3 weeks to find a place to live and move. I found a roommate who worked at the airline and everything seemed to be going according to plan. However, once I drove my u-haul truck the 6 hours to Montreal, I found out the apartment wasn’t actually in Montreal – it was 30 minutes away! I didn’t own a car at that time, so that was remedied the very next day. Wasn’t exactly planning on having to buy a car at that time, but because I hadn’t done my research, I had to. That was the lesson in getting as much information and research done as possible BEFORE committing to anything!
Lesson 3: Reserve sucks, but you’ll get through it *Working your way up the ladder*
With the exception a very few, flight attendants start out their flying careers on reserve – which is being on call for 20 days of a month! You have to be able to get to the airport within 2 hours of a call out. If you didn’t have a cell phone or a vehicle, you were stuck at home. You can be on call for as much as a 7 day stretch at a time. You never knew when you got called out when you would be home, how long you’d be gone for, or where you were going. The only thing that was certain was that because you were the newbie, anything that could go wrong probably would. Reserve can be good if you know how to work the system, but generally it is not a good time. I’m lucky in that I never really had to sit on reserve at either company!
In life, you will almost always have to start at the bottom and work your way up. This definitely applies to my political life! There may be times when you’ll be able to bypass a few bottom rungs of the ladder, but you should remember that this doesn’t happen too often. Unexpected things happen, and you need to be ready to take advantage of them. Back in 2008 I got a call telling me if I wanted to meet Belinda Stronach and members of the Ottawa press corps, I had to get down to the restaurant in 20 minutes. This was definitely not an opportunity to be passed up, but I did not wake up that morning thinking that was going to happen!
The last thing I remember from training? “Lips for landing”. Our trainers were sticklers for grooming, and we always had to look our best. Always look as fresh coming off the plane as you did going on it, even if you don’t feel like it!
These 3 lessons have become so ingrained in me, that I often don’t even think of them anymore. From having an alternate to checking the manifest to sucking it up and making it through reserve, it’s just a part of who I am. Aviation is not a career, it’s a lifestyle; not everyone is cut out for it, but once it’s in your blood, it’s there forever.
“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” With thanks to Robert Fulghum who wrote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”