What The Airline Industry Taught Me About Life

Extras, Travel Philosophy — By on July 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Jennifer McDonald

Special to The Lost Girls

They say the airline industry is something that gets in your blood.

When I started flight attendant training, coworkers warned be I’d be hooked. College degree be damned, I’d be drawn to the skies for life. Well, they were wrong — for the most part.

Though I managed to break free before the intoxicating lifestyle had me completely engulfed, I’ll admit I have moments every now and then when I long for the buzz only the airline industry can deliver. I’m still not sure if I’ll continue on this career track of mine, or chuck it all out for a pair of wings and a roller board, but regardless, my time on the ground has given me time to reflect on a few lessons I learned while up in the air.

Some people won’t like you. And there is nothing you can do about it.

I’ve spent entire transcontinental flights attempting to win over a passenger. Sometimes, it worked. A passenger arrived to the aircraft grumpy and curt, and with some pleasant small talk and a complimentary cocktail, the passenger was calm and happy just in time for initial decent. But sometimes, no matter how many different ways I tried, there was no turning that passenger into your friend, or even an indifferent stranger. Maybe the passenger didn’t like my hair style? Maybe I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend? Whatever the reason, it wasn’t my problem. And I learned to be okay with that.

You are not your job.

This was a tough one for me to get my head around. I assumed flight attendants fit certain stereotypes and generally lacked ambition or real smarts. I was dead wrong. I worked with single mothers supporting three children, aspiring pilots that studied for aptitude tests on their layovers, retirees flying as a hobby — the list goes on and on. Heck, one of my former coworkers left the airline to take an undercover job with DEA. The point is, whatever you do to pay the bills doesn’t define you as a person and it certainly doesn’t give anyone the right to judge you or make you feel inferior.

A smile and hello go a long way.

Smiling at people you don’t know feels strange. It feels unnatural. And understandably, it feels awkward when the smile isn’t returned. As a flight attendant, I was forced to get over that awkwardness on day one. The most basic part of my job was to make passengers feel welcome with a genuine smile and hello. And passengers tended to do everything possible to not return my greeting. They’d avoid eye contact. They’d ignore me. They’d put on headphones. But every once in a while, my smile started a wonderful conversation with a total stranger. And that made all the unreturned smiles worth it.

Be kind to everyone. You have no idea what they’re going through.

You might see an elegant middle-aged woman with her diamonds and a perfect life but really, she’s a recent divorcee ready to burst into tears. I’ve spent many a red-eye playing shrink to passengers dealing with divorce, death, and issues so big a five hour flight isn’t long enough to cover them all. And those passengers boarded the flight like everyone else — politely took their seats, buckled their seat belts and turned off their cell phones. You see it’s not just the tantrum-throwing passengers who are dealing with major life issues. We all are. So be kind. You don’t know what the person next to you is going through.

Jennifer lives in Washington DC and works for a nonprofit organization.

Photo credit: alexindigo,mauren veras/flickr

 

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