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I'm a flight attendant. The job can be lonely and physically taxing, but I'm in it for the long haul.

Colleen White   

I'm a flight attendant. The job can be lonely and physically taxing, but I'm in it for the long haul.
  • Leah, a flight-attendant for a major US airline, loves her job.
  • She says you can "feel the heaviness" of the impact of the pandemic on flights.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Leah, a flight attendant for a major US airline. Insider has verified her identity and employment with documentation, but is only disclosing her first name to protect her from professional repercussions. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

It's true what they say: to look at the flight attendant if you're scared during a flight. In bad turbulence, a fearful flier may catch me laughing as we bob up and down while attending to passengers, and my hope is that this assures them there's no reason to panic. I really never get scared in turbulence — when I'm traveling for leisure, it usually puts me to sleep.

I've been working as a flight attendant for a major airline for four years, and you may have seen me from my TikTok account. I began posting on TikTok in March 2020 as a way to share snippets of my on-the-go life with friends and quickly gained a fan base. Now I have more than 323,000 followers.

My viral videos have a few things in common

First, I'm being real with my audience. I try not to hold back on expressing my emotions — I talk as if I were speaking to a friend. I want people to see the magical highs this career has to offer but also the lonely and difficult lows that come with it, too.

Second, I share information or tips that travelers wouldn't normally know, like the fact that a flight attendant can't set foot off of a plane if even a single passenger is on board, per FAA regulations.

Within the last six months, I've been a bit more intentional about building my platform, but I always want to keep it organic. You'll see my quick flight turnarounds, breakdowns of aviation vocabulary, and of course, my absolute love of travel.

A lot has changed in my industry the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

I was furloughed for a year, but was well taken care of by my airline. They communicated heavily during furloughs and were doing everything in their power to get us back and working. I had an amazing manager who would call and check in on me to see how I was doing.

I also kept up with my yearly FAA training, as well as customer-facing education. I couldn't wait to go back to work, and when I returned to the skies in April 2021, one of my flights had a single passenger on it. We still, of course, did our safety demonstrations, and everyone found humor in a very weird situation.

The airline is recovering, but you can feel the heaviness. This level of disruption was a first for many of us, which led to a tangible stress in the air at times. Some folks are out of touch with travel etiquette and are overwhelmed with being back in the world. I've noticed my job consists more of consoling, comforting, and de-escalating passengers than it did previously — it's a lot of management.

We've received more training on de-escalation than ever before

In my approach, I always try to come from a place of understanding and make the individual know that I hear the emotion they're experiencing. Most of the time, they just want to be heard.

I also remind myself there are a million different things that happen before someone even steps foot on a plane, so even though I'm dealing with the results, it's not always directed at me.

It's a big adjustment, especially after being home for a year. Now we have full loads of passengers and are experiencing the impacts of the Great Resignation just like many other industries, which means more flights for me.

As I get older and farther along in my career, I feel the lack of a consistent sleep schedule

Some days, I'll work five hours, and other days, I'll work 15. My body never really knows where it is or what time it is. Our body is really not meant to be 30,000 feet in the air as much as it is in my line of work, and it can take a physical toll.

As my career progresses, I'll begin to take on more consistent routes. Right now, each week looks a little bit different, but I like variety and approach it from a place of gratitude. Just this January, I went on a long trip to Maui and stopped in Cabo.

You also have to love and care about people to be able to do what I do long term. There are so many special moments to take part in, like when I was working a flight where a mother and father were bringing their little girl on her first trip to New York. They'd had a bad day travel-wise and were thankful for a patient, friendly face. It will be a core memory for their family that I get to share in.

To make the travel experience easier for everyone, I'd emphasize kindness

You truly never know why someone next to you is traveling — it could be to see a loved one for the last time. We need to take care of ourselves and each other.

Also, we're not telling you to put your laptop away to be annoying. Everything we ask people to do has a legitimate safety reason. It's not to pick on people.

While being a flight attendant in 2022 is a lot of work, the travel benefits and ability to interact and care for so many different people is ultimately why I'm in it for the long haul. So I'll take the turbulence any day, and I'll probably be smiling.


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