Yesterday I flew from Washington, D.C. to Columbus, Ohio. On the flight I was seated next to an off-duty, but uniformed, stewardess — I think the current, correct name is “flight attendant” — who was heading back to her home in central Ohio. I took advantage of the circumstance to ask a few questions.
How do you become a flight attendant? This was a young woman who had gone through several majors before graduating from college with a general business degree and who wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do. Flight attendant seemed like a good option, where you could make some money before moving on.
What’s it like being a flight attendant? It doesn’t sound like much fun, really. She had spent an entire day in Reagan National Airport after one of her flights had been cancelled. I hate airports, so that would be a special kind of hell for me. Flight attendants spend a lot of time in airports, of course. It sounds like they don’t get a lot of time to hang out in exotic locations; mostly they are guiding their rollerbags through the same boring airport concourses and hotel hallways that the rest of business travelers know all too well.
Has she had bad experiences on flights? Absolutely. Recently she had to break up an escalating alteraction between two men arguing about whether the plastic windowshade should be pulled up or down. She had to settle disputes between weirdly animated passengers who were were fighting over precious overhead storage space and whether a coat and backpack could be moved slightly so a rollerbag could be put up in the bin. If you do much traveling, you’ll recognize these types. It’s unfortunate, but there really are a lot of assholes out there.
Worst passengers? Drunks. Some people show up for flights so intoxicated they can barely communicate, and others are so inebriated they have lost all inhibition. She has to make a judgment if she can manage the problem for the entire flight. If you’re obviously wasted, acting out, and on a three-hour cross country flight with her, she’ll probably talk to the captain. It is not unusual for the captain to come back and tell a drunk he needs to get off the plane. Most captains are good about that, she says.
Does she use the airplane bathrooms? Never! She thinks they’re disgusting, and will gladly hold on and sprint for a terminal restroom rather than being exposed to the germinacious bathroom activities of the passengers.
Our conversation was brief. She was exhausted, and so was I. We dozed off, and this friendly young woman sank into a deep sleep that continued long after I awoke to prepare for landing. It obviously was the gloriously thrilling life of a flight attendant.