scorecardJob diary: I'm an LA-based flight attendant for a semi-private airline that serves celebrities and business travelers. Here's what I wish more people knew about my job.
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Job diary: I'm an LA-based flight attendant for a semi-private airline that serves celebrities and business travelers. Here's what I wish more people knew about my job.

Molly O'Brien   

Job diary: I'm an LA-based flight attendant for a semi-private airline that serves celebrities and business travelers. Here's what I wish more people knew about my job.
Careers7 min read
  • Roshonda Payne is a 48-year-old flight attendant based out of Burbank, just outside of Los Angeles, and works for JSX, a semi-private airline that services cities along the West Coast.
  • Payne, whoquit working as a flight attendant after 9/11 and later rejoined the industry, says the most important aspects of the job are to be a people person and to have a passion for traveling.
  • She sees everyone from celebrities and VIPs to normal people traveling for business on her flights, and says having a bold, confident attitude is key.
  • While some elements of the work can be frustrating, Payne says it's her job to always be a calm presence for passengers, no matter the situation.
  • This is her story as told to freelance writer Molly O'Brien.

I'm a flight attendant. In our industry, you also have a cabin attendant — the person who serves drinks and manages business in the cabin — but flight attendants also work to ensure the safety and security of the aircraft, on top of serving beverages and everything else.

Some days, being a flight attendant can feel like a performance.

If you have a bad day or something personal going on, you have to leave that at the door — inside the cabin, you're on.

Your focus needs to be on how you're 31,000 feet in the sky, and you don't have a lot of time to have a bad day. It's my job to stay on top of things, I have no one else I can rely on to balance my duties.

When we stop serving food or beverages to prepare for landing, someone always tries to ring our call light to get one last drink or give us their trash. They probably don't realize that as we prepare to descend, we have other things to worry about. We have to quickly get everything cleaned, packed up, and secured in case of any turbulence while descending. Then, I have to get into my own jumpseat, which is at the head of the aircraft.

I work a combination of morning and afternoon flights throughout the month.

I usually give myself an hour to an hour and a half to prepare for work. Wearing a uniform and a low bun hairstyle with a hat cuts down my preparation time a lot. I live 15 minutes from the airport, so I can get fully dressed and to the airport quickly.

My check-in time is 45 minutes before the departure time. I usually give myself 15 to 20 minutes to do my safety checks, set up my galley, and brief with my captain. The only thing I have to stock onsite would be ice, as the galley is already stocked with beverages, alcohol, snacks, and service items.

During the flight, I offer my passengers a beverage (alcohol is complimentary) and snack service. I make and serve the drinks and follow with snacks. Our flights are pretty short, so I have to be quick with service and trash pickup. Although service is an important part of my responsibilities during the flight, my main responsibility and priority is the safety of my passengers.

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My shifts can last anywhere from five to nine hours a day.

At JXS, we only offer service on the West Coast, which is anywhere from Santa Fe up to Seattle. My shift includes the 45-minute check-in before my flight, three to four flights (one hour to one hour and 20 minutes for each flight) and 30 minutes to clean and restock the plane at the end of the day.

I work a minimum of 14 days per month and my on and off days will vary. I could have five days on and five days off. However, since flight attendants can trade shift days with each other, I've also worked nine days in a row, and then had two weeks off, and then worked five more days.

We always have to keep a calm face to ensure our passengers remain calm, no matter what's going on.

When I'm in my jumpseat and getting ready to land, passengers sometimes want to be social with me. I don't mind having conversations during the flight, but the most difficult time of the flight is takeoff and landing, so it requires my full attention.

If I have to sit down during the flight because of something like turbulence, I always see the passengers looking at me. If I'm calm and I'm just sitting there, then they're calm, too. Even if in your mind you're preparing for an emergency situation or evacuation, we have to be that focal point of steadiness for passengers.

You have to mentally prepare yourself for any situation. You never want to use any of your recurrent training, which is a form of scheduled refresher training that airline pilots and the crew must go through on a regular basis, and most of the time things are fine — but it's important to be prepared. I have been fortunate to have not experienced an emergency evacuation. However, every year I go through flight attendant recurrent to refresh the skills needed to be prepared in case I am faced with an emergency situation during the flight.

I used to be a flight attendant for United Airlines, but I left after 9/11.

I didn't think I would come back to the airline industry as a career, until it fell back into my lap.

After I left, I became a presenter for Auto Shows with Cadillac. I traveled around for 14 years, and was a voice at auto shows, and I also did some voiceovers in Chicago. Then, I moved out to LA and my company downsized and I was pretty much unemployed — and on LinkedIn, I found this position back in 2018. I was thinking, do I really want to go back to flying again?

Some of the main differences between flying commercial and flying semi-private on JSX are that I'm the only flight attendant on a JSX plane. There are also no overhead bins on our JSX planes — which I personally love. It makes the boarding and deplaning process so much easier.

Flying private also saves tons of time for passengers by not having to show up to the airport two hours before your flight or baggage claim after you land. We unload all of the luggage right there on the tarmac.

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For JSX, passengers have to arrive just 20 minutes before the flight.

We're just as safe as other airlines that fly out of larger airports like LAX, which is much busier with traffic. If you're flying to Vegas from Burbank, the time between showing up and landing is just an hour of your time. We have a maximum number of 30 passengers per plane, and passengers are seamlessly screened at the terminal upon arrival.

Traveling is either in you, or it's not. I definitely have a wanderlust for seeing what the world has to offer. Even when I was doing the auto shows, I was on a plane 25 times a year traveling for shows. People would walk past me and say, "You remind me so much of a flight attendant" — it really never leaves you. I had stopped doing voiceovers professionally, but I'd have passengers on my airplane say to me, "We love your voice." Before I knew it, my voice became the voice of the safety videos onboard for JSX.

My favorite part of my job is my coworkers. One thing about JSX is that if there's a problem, like a delay in loading the bags, you'll see the pilot get off the plane and personally help out. I love coming to work and having that family experience.

To be a flight attendant, you definitely have to be a people person.

You must have leadership skills, be a troubleshooter, and be able to work unmanaged, which means you know how to be your own supervisor. Every day is different. Sometimes I feel like I'm a nurse, or a social worker, or a mixologist and bartender. Everyone that works here on JSX is bubbly, optimistic, and open. You also need to know how to be confident and bold in the right way. Unfortunately, passengers can sometimes cause a confrontation, and you don't want anything to escalate on the airplane.

On our flights, we have everyone from celebrities, VIPs, and normal people just traveling for business. Recently as travel has started to pick up again, our flights are nearly full with 25 to 30 people.

I had one special customer, an 80-year-old gentleman with his adult daughter, and it was his first flight ever in his life. Everyone clapped for him, and he met the captain and first officer. It was very fulfilling for us to have someone who is 80 years old not be fearful of flying, and to experience it with us for the first time.

My grandmother never flew. She never had a passport, never got onto an airplane — every time I get onto the airplane, I'm flying for her. This gentleman will always stick with me. You would have thought he was a little kid — he was so excited and all the passengers got behind him and cheered him on.

Though I've traveled to some interesting places when I flew commercially, my first experience flying into Mammoth on JSX was very beautiful. There were snow capped mountains and fresh air. California is so special — we have customers who just went surfing, bring on golf bags, or transport skis on our planes. This really is the life.