When Annette Long was a child, she dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. It took industry-wide layoffs following September 11 to finally realise that dream.
Before becoming a flight attendant in 2003 for a regional airline, Long worked in sales as a business manager for a cruise line. Like many in the travel industry, people’s loss of confidence in travel following terrorist attacks on September 11 cost her her job, and, “after September 11, for anybody in the travel business, it was a long time before we got jobs,” she tells Business Insider.
On her way back from a job interview in Chicago in 2003, Long says she saw an “older” flight attendant from a regional jet airliner with a trainee badge on. Not wanting to remain on unemployment, and inspired by this flight attendant, Long decided to finally make her dream a reality and began applying for flight attendant jobs.
Having worked for two US airlines, Long now has 13 years as a flight attendant under her belt, and it’s still a dream job for her. But she’s also learned that the biggest misconception about the job is that being a flight attendant is glamorous.
“People think there’s glamour associated with this job, and there is to some extent when you’re talking about, ‘I just got back from Beijing and I know the best shops in the Pearl Market,’ or ‘I spent Chinese New Year in Hong Kong’ or ‘after spending the day at Ipanema Beach in Rio we went to a fabulous churrascaria,'” Long says.
“But the job itself is far from glamorous,” she continues. “Even if you’re working in first class or business class, it’s not glamorous at all.” Many flight attendants don’t realise just what the job entails until they’re doing it, she says.
She relays a story about a new flight attendant on a recent flight from Beijing as an example:
“We deal with a lot of trash — you just never think about trash on a plane, but there’s so much of it. We had passed out for dessert little ice cream cups and were coming down the aisle picking these cups up. Some of them are half eaten and melted. The new flight attendant takes one cup and puts it in the other, and this green tea ice cream comes splashing out all over her. I’m sure when she was going through the interview process, because I never thought about this, she didn’t think that she would have green tea ice cream all over herself.”
Serving and cleaning food is simply one aspect of the job, Long adds. “People just think we
‘re floating through the aisles, saying ‘coffee or tea?’ but there’s a lot more to it,” she says.
Maintaining everyone’s safety is a flight attendant’s primary focus, Long says. “And so when I’m coming down the aisle and you’re flipping your phone over because you don’t want me to see that you’re texting when you’re supposed to have it in aeroplane mode, I have to be sort of a policeman, and I never wanted to do that,” she says. “But I didn’t make the rules and now you don’t like me because I’m telling you the rules, and all flight attendants want to be liked — we want everybody to love us and they don’t.”
In addition to enlightening passengers about the safety rules, she says that flight attendants deal with people from all walks of life who are on the plane for different reasons. “Somebody may be going to a wedding, somebody may be going to a funeral, and you have to adjust yourself to each of those situations and the emotions behind that,” Long says. “Somebody can be super happy and somebody could be dreadfully sad, and I think people think it’s just walking down the aisle.”
“I think that’s probably what I thought: ‘How hard could this job be?'” Long says. Now she knows.
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