I'm a flight attendant. People who never travel make Thanksgiving chaotic, and I can usually spot them early.

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I'm a flight attendant. People who never travel make Thanksgiving chaotic, and I can usually spot them early.
Monae Freeman.Courtesy of Monae Freeman

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  • Monae Freeman has flown with Delta over the last six Thanksgivings.
  • She started a tradition with her mom to fly together to enjoy the holiday with family.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Monae Freeman, a 31-year-old flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, about what it's like to fly during Thanksgiving week. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was in my mid-20s, I found myself really fascinated with travel. I couldn't afford to see the world as much as I wanted to, so I looked up different careers that would allow me to go to new places — and that's how I ended up applying to be a flight attendant and getting a job with Delta Air Lines.

The best part about this job, in addition to the travel, is that it never gets old. You get to fly new routes, see so many different things, and meet people from all over the world. It's constantly exciting.

However, working during the holiday season, especially the week of Thanksgiving, is the toughest part of this job.

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I've worked the last six years on Thanksgiving. Here's why being a flight attendant during the busiest travel months of the year is anything but easy.

You're pulled away from your family

For the past six years, I've spent Thanksgiving away from my family, which means I've had to get creative to still make the day feel special.

A few years ago, I started a tradition with my mom where she'd actually fly with me on the holiday and spend time with me on my layover so I wouldn't be alone. During the week of Thanksgiving, I'll fly 15 times, and day of, I'll usually work two to three flights.

I've also had years where I've tried to switch where I'm based during the holiday season (from Salt Lake City, my home base, to Atlanta, where my family lives). That way, if I have an afternoon off between flights, I can stop by and spend time with them.

The airport becomes chaotic

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year, so not only should travelers expect long lines at security, but also be ready for the crowds. But what also makes this week different is that a lot of people who are flying aren't people who travel regularly. That means they often don't know where to go, how to get through security efficiently, or what to do once they get inside the airport terminal.

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During this week especially, I get asked a lot more questions and spend more time explaining things to customers. For example, a lot of people will turn to me for help, when I'm walking around the terminal or greeting them as they board, with questions about how to navigate the terminals or find their baggage, or ask whether the beverages we serve are free or what to do once they get to their seat (whether it's how to work the TV or access the WiFi).

People end up missing their flight

Since so many travelers this week aren't frequent fliers, I often notice that more people miss their flights or arrive late.

If the airline sends you a flight confirmation that says you should arrive two to three hours in advance, it's important to follow that advice. If you get to the airport late this week, you might face longer lines than usual to get through security.

If you want to skip the holiday rush as much as possible, fly a few days earlier or the week before a holiday, when the airport will likely be a little less hectic. The busiest days are typically one to two days before and after the holiday.

I prepare my mindset before the holiday rush

While nothing about how we do our job changes during the holiday rush, the way each flight attendant prepares for this week is different.

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The week of Thanksgiving is when I begin to change my work routine for the holiday season. First, I make sure to arrive at the airport an hour earlier than usual because parking lots fill up faster. I also make sure I don't leave the house without my lunch and noise-canceling headphones (to avoid noise from all the crowds) during this busy week.

But the most important change I make is to my mindset. I try to prepare myself mentally by practicing patience, since I'm about to interact with more people than usual.

I try to treat people with grace since it's a hectic week for everyone. People are just trying to get to their families, and they're afraid they will miss their flight or just find themselves confused about airport or airplane rules.

So many people approach me with their emotions, whether it's with questions if their luggage is going to make it to their destination now that they had to gate check it, or about a frustration they faced earlier in their travel day. I try to inform them with as much information as I can and defuse situations with a calm tone of voice.

Another exhausting part of this week is that sometimes I work earlier flights than usual or I'll pick up more flights, since some senior flight attendants take time off. I make sure to drink a lot of caffeine and get as much rest as possible between my trips.

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Situations just feel more extreme

A lot of the tough situations we deal with with flyers during the week of Thanksgiving aren't out of the ordinary, but sometimes they can just feel more extreme.

While there are often headaches surrounding the boarding process and trying to fit all the passangers' belongings in the overhead compartments, this can be even more of a challenge during the holiday season when people travel with obscure objects, usually gifts. When we run out of space, people get mad that they have to check their bag, because they're often carrying more valuable items for the holidays or they have gifts they want to make sure don't get lost.

I try to do what I can to accommodate bags on the flight, whether that means moving things around to store luggage wherever we can find room or asking other passengers to put their backpacks under their seats.

I'm usually able to spot who's going to be a difficult passenger during the boarding process. That's when they can often treat us with more of an attitude or become rude and snappy. I take a mental note of it and will share this with other crew members so they can be prepared for future interactions with this passenger.

Always have a backup plan

Have a backup plan in case your flight gets delayed or canceled, or you miss a connecting flight. Download the airline's app on your phone, locate the airline's help desk in the terminal, and save its customer-service phone number so you can get in touch quickly if you need to make a change.

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If you're traveling with gifts or expensive items, put the gifts in a carry-on bag that can fit under your seat if it has to, and check your clothes and other items in a suitcase at the ticketing counter. This is also helpful because the airport is extra crowded during this time and you don't want to be carrying around a lot of luggage with you if you're rushing to your gate.

Passengers forget flight attendants are human, too

In the midst of the holiday-travel stress, passengers often forget that flight attendants are people, too. We're often trying to get to a destination to spend time with loved ones or to our layover spot to make the most out of the holiday. Working on Thanksgiving means sacrificing being with our own families, so it would be nice if passengers showed us some empathy, especially when situations happen that are out of our control.

We're doing everything we can to make your holiday travel as good as possible, and a lot of times that means we're missing out on our own celebrations in order to do that.

While I have seen passengers bring flight attendants candy or gift cards during the holiday season, a simple greeting when you board the flight and a little bit of grace goes a long way during this tough travel time.

While the week of Thanksgiving can be one of the hardest weeks on the job, it's also a time that helps me reflect on the reasons why I work this job, and why even after six years, I still love it.

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