As Tennessee Williams once wrote, "When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone." While Tennessee Williams wrote some of the most brilliant words mankind could have possibly have read at the turn of the twentieth century, he was certainly unaware of the struggles dating, or actively trying to pursue a relationship with a flight attendant would be like.
And even though most of you cringe at the sound of hearing his name because it takes you back to a cornucopia of indelible memories of monotonous English literature, thesis papers, and vocabulary quizzes, Tennessee wrote some pretty remarkable words that often fall on deaf ears. But as usual this blog is not about Tennessee Williams himself, English literature, or my feeble attempt to indoctrinate a little bit of knowledge into your mind (sorry not sorry, that would be the teacher in me), it is about the question that I get asked all the time day-in and day-out; is it lonely being a flight attendant and is it hard to balance a relationship with your job?
If you're looking for a quick answer and don't want to read past this two-hundredth word (and yes, that is the actual 200th word in this blog, and no I honestly did not plan it that way), you can stop reading here, the answer is yes. Yes it is lonely, and yes it is hard to balance all sorts of relationships; including family, friends, and even you guessed it, significant others. But if you are like me and expect a full detailed analysis through adventure, continue reading for another wild adventure.
I had not truly realized how lonely my life was getting to be until the other day when I was on a layover in Rio de Janeiro, in my hotel room about to take a nap, and the maid knocked on my door. As I ran up to throw some clothes on realizing I forgot to hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, and that I was in just underwear, I quickly got dressed and answered. She asked in Portuguese if I needed her to clean the room, and I politely declined as I wanted to nap. She then looked at me, reached into her pocket, handed me a handful of chocolates and smiled. It was Valentine's Day.
I briefly reflected on my last year of flying since I've been flying predominately international long-haul trips, and how I've been away from home for every single holiday. Which, for a while I found my "niche" flying as many Paris trips as I could possibly get my hands on, and hadn't seemed to mind being away on holidays as much. And then the company discontinued the late Paris flight, and I lost my niche. But not to worry, as then I moved on to Sao Paulo, which I flew until my little heart was content. But then eventually the glamour and lust wore off. And once again, not to worry, I really started to explore new destinations such as Zurich, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and the United Kingdom. And while the Paris of South America is charming, the Swiss are gorgeous, the Brazilians were passionate, and the U.K., has much to offer, nothing ever compared to my late Paris trip.
If God himself designed a trip that somehow paid you money and allowed you to vacation at the same time, it would have been the Paris trip that I for so long, yearned for. The absolute the trip itself was a nightmare, and none of the 'senior mamas' (flight attendants that have been flying awhile) ever wanted to fly it because it was on an old 757 (a single aisle plane with no entertainment, Wi-Fi, or power-ports), and the layover was too long for most. But that was the beauty of the Paris trip. The long layover. And suddenly the thoughts of being lonely escaped your mind when you arrived in Paris and practically had two days to go and play there. To let your heart run free in the city of lights. Because who ever needed a man or woman, when you had late Paris. It was more stable then what you kids would call a 'booty-call,' because it was constantly there for you every night. At 21:10, to be precise. It was better then a significant other because Paris never nags you or tells you to clean up after yourself. All Paris has to say is, "Tout Va Bien," and in reality, life is always good in Paris.
And as the legendary Audrey Hepburn once said, "Paris is always a good idea." Oh, how right young ol' Audrey was. But I'll stop boring you now of how once upon a time there was my favorite Paris trip, and now there is not, and move on to the answers to those two seemingly frustrating questions everyone seems to always ask me.
Yes, having a relationship with some one who is a flight attendant is hard. But come to think about it, having a relationship with all of you who are not flight attendants is actually in reality, way harder. You are the difficult ones, not us. You are forced to go to work Monday to Friday, nine to five, week after week, month after month. We do not. I could not even tell you how many hours are in-between nine to five? (Anyone?) However, I can tell you what a Caracas turn around out of Kennedy is worth, (10.10 hours to be exact). Or I can tell you that a Cancun, Mexico turn is worth 8.28 hours, which I know off the top of my head as I've done two in the last week alone. And a Port au Prince, Haiti turn? Well that's a gem because it is worth 8 and a half hours and lands before dinner.
You may be wondering where I am going with these turns (ironically nowhere), and I am getting there. See, when you are a flight attendant your monthly projection of flight hours varies tremendously, but is usually scheduled between seventy to eighty, for the most part. If you held a line of Caracas turns (remember those are worth 10.10 hours each), you fly seven or eight of those maximum and you are done. And what exactly does that mean? In a thirty-one day contractual month, you are working seven to eight days out of thirty-one. That's 8/31 maximum, which is essentially about two turns a week. The rest of the month? Well, we are off.
I just recently discovered the beauty of international turns, and since then have been parading on to my work wife Ivey just how much I love them. I mean, I really love them. The hours are long, the day itself is never-ending, but the day reaps with flight hours, the crews are amazing (most are very senior mothers just trying to work and raise kids), and the destinations usually coincide with easy-going vacationing crowds. And while these turns may just be Gods next gift to the universe after my late Paris trip, just know these turns come with a price. Sadly, one needs about thirty years of seniority to be able to hold these each month.
But you see, even not being able to hold the multitude of international turns, most flight attendants bid for schedules based on days on/off, layovers, trip pairings, or even weekends off. I for one, now bid for schedules that have the least amount of days working, and go from there. This gives me the flexibility to somewhat alter and customize my schedule to my liking based on what may be going on in my life that month. Usually I do end up with schedules that have twelve or thirteen days working, which still gives me more then half of the month off to do what I want with my schedule. So who said we were the ones that are always away working?
And then cue the rumors of flight attendants being promiscuous on layovers, and not being faithful to whom they are dating. Let's be real. Most of our layovers are so short, and we are beyond exhausted by the time we get there (usually working one long-haul leg, or a few short-haul legs), that all we want to do is put our pajamas on, crawl into bed, and order room service when we get to the hotel room. In fact, I can begin to recite the "Color your Palate" room service menu that the Sheraton offers you (order the salmon with the truffle mashed potatoes if it is available), but I will save you from the boring intricacies. Point is, I've ordered room service more times then I'd like to admit, and if I'm too tired to leave my hotel room for food, you bet I'm too tired to be fooling around with anyone in some random city at 2am.
The secret to making a relationship with a flight attendant work, is putting in the effort. Just like you would with any other person. Like a pianist, or a ditch-digger, or a self employed mortician. If you don't at least try, you will never know. And trust me the rewards will be limitless. You will have access to our travel passes (when we determine it is appropriate), a wealth of worldly information, and most importantly you'll be dating one of the most well culutured individuals you will ever meet. You'll have tea from london, coffee from Brazil, milk from Europe, cream from Mexico, actual Swiss chocolates, macaroons from Paris, wine from Argentina, and cheeses/meats from Italy all in your kitchen at once! Conversation will never run dry, and we always have new stories about some adventure on our last trip.
I'm not saying it will be all rainbows and butterflies, because when we come home from a trip, especially a three or four day with all-nighters, redeyes, and day-overs, we are going to be extremely irritable and cranky. And at that point, it is probably best to give us some space, as we definitely need our "fourteen hours legal rest." However, given an appropriate amount of sleep and food, we should be back up and running, eventually. So while a relationship with a flight attendant is hard, like I said, a relationship with anyone who works is hard. If you want something easy, find some one who doesn't work. And then re-evaluate your life morals. And then comment here how that went.
But back to Mr. Williams, and what he said. It makes sense that in a world where many of us are lonely, it would be selfish to be lonely alone. And as a flight attendant, this quote really stood out to me. Because as a work group, in retrospect, we are pretty lonely. Back in the day when some of these women started flying they were told that if they had children or got married that they would be fired and could not fly anymore. Those rules alone set these women up for a very lonely lifestyle. But with fair labor laws, and the equal employment something or another act, these rules were abolished. However, many flight attendants I fly with are still not married. Perhaps they are divorced. Perhaps they have a boyfriend. Perhaps they are dating the pilot whose flying the plane. Or perhaps they are in the same situation as me, waiting for Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet on their First Class, International, Paris trip that they are all too often flying.
Truly enough, Tennessee said it best. As a lonely workgroup we often build close bonds with the people we are flying with. Especially the people working in the same cabin as you and especially your cart buddy. Flight attendants have a habit of telling you their entire life story on a three-day trip, with all the details, no matter how disgusting, sexual, or beautiful they may be. We refer to this as jump-seat therapy. I can leave a three-day trip knowing everything about another flight attendant or two, I have never even met before. How many times they've been married. Or haven't been. How many kids they have or how many kids they want. Where they went to school or where their kids go to school. What they studied or where their kids are studying. This list can go on indefinitely.
But all and all, flight attendants are lonely in different ways then most other people; and we are constantly relying on the bonds and relationships we make with our coworkers to fill the void of emptiness, we so often try to overlook or mitigate. However, if you are willing to brave the challenges and deconstruct the abstruse airline language that we flight attendants speak, the rewards will be so much more unique then any other relationship you have ever been in.
Until next time, XOXO.