The dark side of flying
Jayde Atchison (she/her) // Opinions Editor
Celina Zhong // Illustration
I have found the job of my dreams — visiting cities I have never been to before, working with people that have the same values and sense of adventure, and a flexible schedule that allows me to travel for pleasure. I feel at peace and am still excited to get to the airport each day. However, while I wouldn’t leave this job for anything else (except maybe finding out I’m the Princess of Genovia), there is a dark side to the world of aviation that isn’t always talked about.
For decades shows and movies have painted being a flight attendant as a glamorous and desirable career. Traveling the world and being put up in nice hotels, meeting and befriending wealthy people on flights, dating someone in each city, and working alongside some of the most beautiful people on the planet. While some of that is true, what those movies don’t show you is the gritty reality that comes before the fun. Where there is pleasure, there surely lies pain.
Planes rarely smell good. If you’re lucky, you may get a Boeing straight off the line (if the company is providing new aircrafts). You may get to experience one or two flights with shiny new curtains, carpets without stains and ovens that don’t smell like 17 old meals left to die. If you’re not so fortunate, you walk onto a plane to start your day and it smells of feet, because everyone insists on whipping off their shoes and letting “the dogs breathe” the second they settle into their seats. Now, I understand wanting to avoid the discomfort of swelling inside a sneaker for four hours, but I will never comprehend using a bathroom in bare feet.
I try to avoid touching any surface of an aircraft washroom at all costs (and I’m on up to four flights a day over 13 hours — that’s a lot of peeing). It boggles my mind when people throw caution to the wind, make good with whatever gods they pray to and let their whole appendages touch the unscrubbed ground. True, the lavatories on planes are cleaned between each flight, but I can promise you they are not up to your clean freak mom’s standards — at least they’re not up to my mother’s.
While the grossness of planes may sound like the worst part of the job, I find myself not so bothered by the mess. I can don some gloves, a mask and laugh about the situations with my crew. Taking a close second to the worst aspect of aviation, is the guests that check their manners in along with their luggage. I know that travel can be stressful. People have tight connections and places they need to be, but more often than not the crew on board each flight also does not want a delay. They would rather be snuggling into their hotel to get some rest before another day of flying, or desperately want to go home after five days of being away. Yelling at the flight attendants will never make the plane move faster.
In the short time that I have been flying, I have noticed a distinct type of traveler. When we drag the service cart up to the front of the economy section and begin the repetitive “Anything to drink?” there will always be someone to cut off the person sitting next to them to shout, “I’ll do a tomato juice. No ice.” These passengers are why I am quickly getting salt and pepper hair. I have to bite my tongue, smile and say “Sure thing.” There seems to be a consensus that the words please and thank you are only meant for solid ground, as we don’t typically hear it in the air. Entitlement seems to skyrocket the moment people step into an airport.
The hardest part of being a flight attendant, however, is while being in cool new places every week, you’re actually missing things at home. I can handle dirty toilets, and dirtier verbiage because I know the flight will be over within a set amount of time. Afterwards, I can either climb into my own bed, or go explore bookstores across the world. I can forget the passengers, but it’s hard to forget the fear of missing out.
In only four months, I have already missed birthdays, pride events, dinners, lazy beach catch-ups, girls nights and family breakfasts. I’m home five scattered days a month and want to spend them catching up with people I love, but am often too drained to see them all. I already know I’ll miss all the big holidays this winter, spending them with strangers 40,000 feet above the ground— ensuring they also don’t miss the turkey dinners.
While I might be missing out on weddings, births, and other exciting milestones, I know the people around me understand and know I will celebrate with them when our schedules align. In the meantime, if I have to miss crucial dates I’ll just hope to be somewhere tropical with a fruity drink in my hand to combat some of the FOMO.