My Flight Attendant Career – Back after Seven Years

The new airline-inspired Pan Am television series launch is only a week away. The show takes place in 1963, during an era when the stewardess career appeared glamorous and the young ladies had to be model-like to even be considered for the job. Of course, times have changed. When I started my flight attendant career in the 1990’s weight restrictions were slowly vanishing, but hot meals were still being served in coach, blankets and pillows were still available for every class on almost every airline, checked baggage was free and security screening was pretty much a breeze.

Seven years ago I retired my flight attendant wings for the world of motherhood and the work-from-home career of freelance travel writing. It was a fun experience and I am grateful that I could stay home with my children.

As I discovered, nothing lasts forever, and this fall both of my children are in school full-time. As the saying goes, you can take the flight attendant out of the airplane, but you can’t take the airplane out of the flight attendant, and that was certainly the case for me. That’s why I ended up spending the last five weeks immersed in inflight training with my fourth airline.

Emergency equipment, fire fighting, evacuation commands, jumping down slides, CPR, self-defense tactics and much, much more consumed my days and nights. I made great friends and had a lot of laughs with my classmates.

I loved every moment. The best part, however, was upon completion of the training program: the re-pinning of my flight attendant wings.

Last weekend I boarded the plane for my IOE (initial operating experience), which is how flight attendants prove they are capable of performing the job – then they’re official.

From the moment I walked on the plane I felt at home, but there were several differences I picked up on during those four days of work. For example, while standing in the airport security line, I observed that the passengers weren’t nearly as agitated as they were in 2001 to 2004. Men and women calmly stood in line removing their shoes and holding bags of 3-1-1 liquids along with their IDs and boarding cards or cell phones (for their paperless boarding pass). Seven years ago passengers were still adjusting to the changes triggered by 9-11. Today, passengers know what to expect and have managed to adapt to the changes quite nicely.

During my “compliance checks” (ensuring seat backs are up, seat belts are fastened, electronics are turned off) I marveled at the variety of electronic devices. Technology is ever changing. Formerly, cell phones and the occasional smartphone and iPod had to be powered down. Now, it’s iPads and Kindles and a variety of hand-held games and computerized electronics. Passengers were Facebooking and playing Angry Birds. At one point in flight, it appeared almost every passenger was immersed in some kind of electronic device.

My weekend was filled with helping passengers find luggage space and passing out drinks and snacks. But the best part was reuniting with my passengers. I chatted with grandmothers who were flying to see their grandchildren, cooed over babies, listened to  business men and women tell about their hectic schedules, and congratulating proud (yet sad) parents who were returning from dropping their children off at college.

During those hours on the plane I did observe one thing that hasn’t changed… there are still decent people in this world. Passengers offered to switch seats so couples could sit together, assisted the elderly in retrieving their canes from the overhead bins upon landing and many said kind words or gracious thank yous as they exited the aircraft.

Of course, there was also a lingering sadness that hung in the air. That weekend was the ten-year anniversary of 9-11 and every flight and cabin crew in America flew with heavy hearts. One TSA agent made eye contact with me as I passed through security and as she wished me a good day, I knew the words meant more more than a simple pleasantry. We were feeling the same thing.

Once on board, our captain addressed the passengers, standing in front of the cabin, as he always does, but that day he addressed the somber anniversary with reflective and inspiring words, causing the passengers to break into applause and thank him upon exiting the aircraft.

On Sunday evening we brought a full plane from Newark to Minneapolis. Many, if not most, of the passengers had been at Ground Zero that day. Eyes were puffy and many passengers had 9-11 memorabilia. Even my airline’s crew members wore American flag pins in honor of the lives lost.

As expected, times have indeed changed. But returning to the skies as a flight attendant has reminded me that although policies and aviation regulations are stricter than they once were, and technology is continuing to advance, there are still good people in the world. Yes, it’s great to be back.

17 Comments on "My Flight Attendant Career – Back after Seven Years"

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I can relate to going back into a career as well. At the moment I am deciding whether I should go back into the merchant navy or not.

  2. Welcome back Beth! After a few months more I think you’ll notice a few other of the changes that have occurred in the last several years, but even with some of the unpleasantness that crops up every now and again, I can’t imagine not flying. People ask me when I want to retire, and I can honestly say that as long as I can physically and mentally do the job, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

  3. I can relate to this having left my career for motherhood. I am looking forward to the day when I will go back to work. Once a career woman, always a career woman.

  4. Great post, Beth! Love your insight – there are decent people in the world. The world needs to hear more of this and we’re so glad you’re out there sharing the experience. Safe travels! Doug at the Authentic Seacoast

  5. Thanks for your insightful post, Beth. You’re now seven year wiser and will take that wisdom to work. Safe travels and keep in touch.

  6. It’s incredible to see the changes ourselves as passengers with commercial flying, can’t imagine what it’s like for you.

    Congratulations to you Beth, sounds like your happy. 🙂

    Be safe!

    Nancy & Shawn

  7. Monica Sullivan | September 17, 2011 at 7:17 am | Reply

    So proud of you my dear friend! Love you!!

  8. Aw what a wonderful post, thanks for sharing. Class 11-33 was truly special …Thanks for taking the time to put it together for us to enjoy

  9. I enjoy reading your posts, this is very inspiring also, brilliant post

  10. I’m happy that your return was such a positive experience! I can’t wait for Pan Am to air next week; looks really good!

  11. Lovely post, Beth. And congratulations on your return to your career! I imagine it’ll give you a lot of great material to blog about…

  12. I want to fly on YOUR plane. Because I know you’ll take good care of all your passengers, and not be thinking about when you can get off work. I wish you patient passengers and light weight luggage.

  13. Thank you everyone! It’s exciting to be back.

  14. Welcome back to the friendly skies, Beth! It’s encouraging to hear that people are more relaxed and orderly these days compared to even 5 years ago.

    Btw, I love that picture of the clouds. Cottoncandytastic!

  15. Congratulations and good luck! Fascinating about the electronic devices — and to think how amazed we all were by the first Kindle a few years back – and Blackberrys. 🙂

  16. Thanks for this post. I always get the fear of my life during the takin-off,especially when i travel with air mauritius. Have you ever travelled by air mauritius ?

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    Seriously.. thank you for startijg this up. This web site
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