I'm a flight attendant. I'm glad mask mandates are over — they made my job feel like corralling angry sheep.

I'm a flight attendant. I'm glad mask mandates are over — they made my job feel like corralling angry sheep.
A flight attendant on an airplane.Matej Kastelic/500px/Getty Images
  • Insider spoke to a flight attendant at a major American airline about their experiences during the pandemic.
  • They said the job "felt like corralling sheep" with mask mandates, and they're glad the mandates are over.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a flight attendant for a major American airline. They spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their career, but Insider has verified their identity and former employment. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I started working as a flight attendant four years ago when I was 23. I thought I'd only spend a few years in the industry, but the capacity for flexibility, adventure, and travel made me stay. I love being able to set up my work life in a way that works for me.

But almost everything that I used to love about being a flight attendant changed once the pandemic hit.

Every month at work, we bid on our schedules based on seniority and base

I work about 10 to 12 days per month, and I have the rest of the days off to do what I want. It's a chaotic lifestyle with constant traveling and schedule changes, but I've always valued the flexibility.

Before COVID-19, when passengers would board a plane, they were generally excited, happy, and pleasant. They were thankful to flight attendants and glad to be on their way to their chosen destination. They said "Please" and "Thank you," and they asked how our days were.


That's not how it felt as mask mandates continued.

With mask mandates, my job felt more like corralling sheep than anything else

In the first year of the pandemic, I think people were actually more pleasant than they are now. The fear of COVID-19 was strong enough that most people didn't want to fight with flight attendants about wearing masks or taking safety precautions.

But then, travelers lost patience. They got angry, and sometimes, they took it out on flight attendants when we were just trying to do our jobs. I think now that enforcement of the US mask mandate on flights is over, it'll ease a lot of the conflict between passengers and flight attendants. I'm so tired of having to tell people to put their masks back on.

I've also noticed that passengers seem to be drinking more before boarding the plane

That's purely anecdotal on my part. But as mask mandates continued, we're weren't just dealing with someone who was annoyed that they had to wear a mask — they were also inebriated.

As a flight attendant, you have to deal with the aftermath of what passengers do in the terminal before boarding the plane. Plus, did you know that flight attendants aren't even paid for boarding time? We're actually not paid until the doors close on the airplane. So if you think you're frustrated by a delay, think about what it's like for us — basically working for free while we wait for the plane to close the doors for take off.


Before COVID-19, I enjoyed my job so much more

I came to work, handed out cookies and drinks, and kept passengers safe. I enjoyed my coworkers and having conversations with travelers.

But now, everyone is on edge all day long between the short-staffed airlines, the delays, and the ongoing pandemic. There's such a strain amongst flight attendants. A lot of us are looking for other careers, because it's just not sustainable to be this stressed all the time.

Airlines don't seem to understand that we're humans and we need rest and help

They just want us to fly, fly, fly with minimum rest between trips, and as much as I love my job, I'm exhausted. Even though being a flight attendant is my only source of income, I've started working less to protect my mental health.

The stress has affected the rest of my life too: I used to be a lot more social than I am now. Before COVID-19, I always loved spending layovers out in the cities I was visiting, but now I'm just too tired. I don't even want to be around people when I'm off work, because I'm so exhausted from the emotional effort I have to spend at my job.

Back in December, I kind of reached a breaking point

I had to take significant time off work to recover from the pressures of my job. It just felt like the airlines didn't care about flight attendants at all, and it felt like they didn't respect our time or effort.


I flew back to my hometown and spent time with my family, and I had to really think and reevaluate my choices. I asked myself if this was what I really wanted, and my mom helped me remember why I wanted to be a flight attendant in the first place — like my love of travel and desire for a flexible work schedule, for example.

The conversation helped me see that I can budget my money better and work less in order to travel for fun more, and that's what I'm focused on now. I work enough so that I can live my life, but I don't pick up extra trips. I work just to work, and on my days off, I enjoy my life.

I don't know how much longer I'll be a flight attendant, but I hope the working conditions for all of us improve soon.