I put on some music, brewed myself a cup of coffee, and started a load of laundry. It was a typical morning off from my flight attendant life. All I wanted to do was relax and lounge around the house. As I ran downstairs to fold the laundry, my phone buzzed with a new e-mail. I knew today would be the day I got the news, but I was still hoping things would somehow be different. There it was: Furloughed. In just a matter of weeks, I would be unemployed. I sat down on the steps, home alone that day, and cried. I don’t know how long I sat on the stairs but in that moment, it felt like forever. The job that I had been doing for seven years was saying goodbye to me, at least temporarily. I knew it was coming and I know it won’t last forever, but when I saw it in writing, I was crushed.
When I first started flying, my life was a mess. My job was emotionally draining, I couldn’t afford to pay rent, I was on food stamps, and I was in a dead-end relationship. There was literally nowhere to go but up. One night, after a really big glass of wine (or two), I applied on a whim to become a flight attendant and just a few weeks later, I got the job. Becoming a flight attendant didn’t just change my life, it saved my life.
The flight attendant job is a dream. It’s fun. It’s flexible. We get to see the world and visit friends in faraway places whenever we like. For some flight attendants, this is the job they got after high school, or dropped out of college for. For others, this was only a steppingstone or a chance to see the world. Whatever the reason for becoming a flight attendant may be, the thought of now going back into the so-called “real world” seems daunting for many. As challenging as it can be to adjust to the flight attendant lifestyle, it’s even harder to imagine leaving it.
Recently, I was flying with one of my best friends. The Captain announced that we were starting our descent into Boston. Our crew had just one more flight to go and then we would be home after a very long trip. As the plane flew down through the clouds, it quickly became dark and our plane leveled out again. We were in a holding pattern as a storm rolled through Logan International Airport. The Captain made an announcement to the entire plane, “Well folks, air traffic is holding us here until the weather clears up in Boston. We’ll get you there… eventually.” We all cringed as we heard his words echo through the cabin. That’s the funny thing about being a flight attendant. We are well-prepared for anything to happen and yet we are still somehow surprised and even annoyed when it does. When you become a flight attendant or pilot, you tell the company you’re interviewing with that you’re flexible and adapt to change quickly. As the years go by, you deal with delays, diversions, and sometimes missing important life moments, all because of a flight gone wrong. That’s just the nature of the industry, but we still do it anyway because we love what we do.
At the end of that trip, we did make it home eventually. We may have diverted to another airport along the way, but ultimately, we made it to our destination safely. For those of you around the world hanging up your wings for a few months, a few years, or possibly even forever, look at this as just another diversion. Rather than let it bring you down, think of it as a chance for new opportunities. You’ll always be a flight attendant at heart, so do what any flight attendant does best: face the situation head on, follow your instincts, and dream big. We will be back in the skies before you know it, or something great could be waiting just around the corner.
Special thank you to Taylor Tippett for allowing us to use her photos. Now more than ever, we appreciate the words of wisdom and encouragement! Check out her Instagram accounts for more inspiration: @taylortippett@wordsfromthewindowseat
Let me start by saying we have talked about racial injustice in America together as a couple or with our friends regularly since as long as I can remember… well, truth be told, I don’t know when these conversations started because racism isn’t new. White supremacists are coming out in droves proclaiming that we must “Make America Great Again” but this has us perplexed. Again? When was the first time? I’m not entirely sure which “great” era they are referring to with this slogan. Was America great in 2012 when seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot simply for being in a neighborhood where his relatives lived? Oh, you meant further back than that. Was America great in 1955 when fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched because he made a white woman “uncomfortable” in a grocery store? No? Oh, you mean a “simpler time.” Okay. Do you mean when black people were treated as property by law and could be bought and sold? No, of course not. Well then I’m not sure which time period you’re referring to either. The fact of the matter is that America has always been racist, but now it’s just more blatantly visible than ever due to smartphones social media.
There are a lot of great things about America, that part is true. We are a diverse population consisting of many beautiful cultures that should be celebrated but instead they’re regularly criticized. We have some of the best educational institutions in the world with exceptional educators, yet a quick web search will tell you that high school graduation rates for black teens are often much lower than those of their white classmates, but that’s not due to a lack of trying. We have the best healthcare in the world, but often the people who need it most can’t afford it. The country is broken and with each passing year, it gets worse. Systemic racism, gun violence, and poverty are rapidly deteriorating America each and every day. We as a country are failing ourselves, but we are especially failing black people. It’s gotten to the point where we can’t keep track of how many black citizens have been innocently murdered, even in just the last few months alone. Are you seeing it yet, America?
This isn’t about politics; this is about people. Black people are fighting to be heard and nobody’s listening. When businesses remained closed due to Coronavirus, white people protested over hair salons being closed, claiming that their freedoms had been stripped. Yet when protesting erupted over the unnecessary murder of a man named George Floyd, it was seen as disrespectful. Now you may think these displays are desrespectful since they aren’t “peaceful,” but don’t kid yourself because we all know these peaceful protests have been just as heavily criticized as the ones we are seeing today. If you find yourself more outraged over the destruction of a Target than a man’s life, you need to re-evaluate the kind of person you are. Every time a life is lost due to police brutality and systemic racism, we as white people post about it on social media and make comments like “So sad” – but we have to do more. We have to listen to black people in our communities. We have to become allies. We have to engage in difficult conversations with people of all races to better understand our ignorance and our privilege. We have to be cognizant of our own racial biases. We have to call out racism when we see it no matter how uncomfortable it may get. But let’s be clear about one thing, white people. This isn’t about you.It’s great that you want to be better, but you have to stop asking black people how to do it for you. Black people are burdened enough with the weight of systemic racism on their shoulders. The last thing someone wants to do is a coddle a white person who “feels bad.” As a white person, being a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement isn’t about making white people feel better about themselves, it’s about becoming aware of our white privilege, educating ourselves, and using our voices to stand up to racism.
Take a moment to think about what you’re going to do next. We can’t change the world without a plan. If you’re a white person reading this article, you’re probably asking yourself several questions. Where do I start? How can I help? Reach out to your black friends. Don’t ask them for advice, check on them genuinely and sincerely, directly from your heart. Your black friends want to know that you have their backs. If you have black friends and don’t reach out to them during a time like this, you’re not the ally that you think you are. Reflect on your own life. Looking back, the two of us can pinpoint moments in our lives where racist attitudes and behaviors around us shaped our views. At some point along the way, each of us recognized that we could do better. Today, we’re still growing, identifying issues, and focusing on how to improve not only ourselves but the world around us. Look back on those moments in your own life. Educate yourself and create change. We can’t keep letting innocent people die.
Two Guys On A Plane is a travel and lifestyle blog. We are both active flight attendants residing in Philadelphia and we love sharing our passion for travel and aviation. With everything going on in America, we decided we needed to take a break from our usual aviation-themed content and use our voices to speak on injustice in our society. Racism is a controversial discussion topic and yet one we feel has a clear right and wrong. Black lives matter. Period.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment. We’d love to hear from you!
There’s no question that Coronavirus will have a deep and lasting impact on the world that we live in. Over the last few months, we’ve seen the world all but shut down. Granted it took a little too long for that to happen in some parts of the world (here’s looking at you, America), but that’s an entirely different conversation. Businesses closed, air traffic was radically reduced, and people were forced to stay home. During the quarantine, people all over social media commiserated with each other as we faced a new crisis unlike anything any of us had ever seen before. As cliché as it may seem, it felt as though we were all really “in this together” for once. People were expressing concern for each other, showing kindness, and promising to move forward with more compassion and a positive outlook on life.
As time went on, more and more people were affected by the economic impact that COVID19 has brought to all of our lives. People slowly began to turn away from feelings of sympathy for those that we lost, to concerns that were more trivial and self-serving. Our economy needs saving, of course, but at what cost while people continue to die at an alarming rate each day? Flash forward a few months and the world is beginning to open up again. People seem to have quickly forgotten to follow through on what they once promised to their neighbors on the internet. It’s as though we have been fortunate enough to get a second round of failed New Year’s Resolutions all in the same year. (Wow. Thanks, 2020!)
As a flight attendant, I work with the general public every day in a capacity that can be difficult to describe. When passengers set foot on an airplane, a flight attendant never quite knows how they will act. Flight attendants get to see people at their best, but unfortunately, we also get to see them at their absolute worst. Last week when I went to work, my flights were empty and social distancing was done without issue. While the overall vibe onboard the aircraft was melancholy, the people that were on board were grateful we were there and respectful of each other. This week, however, I encountered an entirely different experience. The airport was crowded, the flights were full, and the passengers were rude. To be honest, it felt like a perfectly normal day of work – except this time people were wearing masks and the threat of a deadly virus still loomed in the air. As I stood at the aircraft door for boarding, I noticed something strange – the same passengers that were annoyed to be on a full flight were also the same passengers who refused to properly wear a protective mask. While some of our passengers were essential healthcare workers, a lot of them were merely trying to go on vacation. The counterintuitive behaviors passengers displayed were perplexing to say the least. I couldn’t believe this was my new normal. I stood at the front of the plane to present the pre-flight safety demonstration, looked out at a nearly full airplane and saw all eyes on me. These people looked both hopeful and terrified at the same time. They wanted to travel while also demanding six feet apart on a very expensive form of public transportation. The harsh truth is, you can’t have it both ways.
The world will go back to “normal” eventually (whatever that means) but I can’t help but think Mother Nature is trying to teach us a lesson. Don’t forget what it feels like to be trapped inside your house worried about your health, your income, your family, your friends, and your resources. None of us like the way it feels, but we all have to endure it. Over the last several weeks, we continuously have promised each other that if we could get out of this devastation that we’re facing, we would do better. But are we?
Being a flight attendant has always been both fun and exhausting but lately it’s only the latter. All of the fun parts of our job have been stripped. Normally we would enjoy engaging with passengers, meeting interesting people, and exploring new cities around the globe. Now we are expected to stay six feet away from people as much as we can, and we are stuck alone in our hotel rooms on layovers. The truth is, each of us can complain for hours about the bad things that have happened to us because of COVID19. This pandemic has affected everyone in a multitude of ways and there isn’t a single person who doesn’t have a story to tell. It’s all relative to what we have going on in our own lives. But instead of saying, “What about me?” we should take our own struggles and learn how to empathize with one another. Don’t walk onto a plane and yell at a flight attendant for something they didn’t do. Don’t go into a medical facility and yell at a nurse who is caring for you. Don’t go into a grocery store and yell at an associate for being out of eggs. It’s. Not. Their. Fault.
We can do better. The world is counting on it.
We would like to dedicate this article to ALL essential frontline workers who have spent countless hours showing up to work every day throughout this crisis and giving it their all. The truth is, none of us would have survived this without you. Thank you for all that you do.
The airports are empty. Planes that would typically hold 300 passengers are taking off with just eight. While the world quarantines because of the Coronavirus outbreak, flight attendants are still showing up to work every day with smiles on their faces – albeit more forced than usual. Given the uncertainty in our world and in the airline community, we’re scared. We’re at high-risk for contracting a deadly virus but we’re also afraid of losing our jobs as our industry collapses before our eyes. Our friends and family have become fearful of us and some flight attendants have even been asked not to come home. Flight attendants, pilots, and other airline employees don’t have the option to stay home from work. We are essential personnel doing what we are expected to do during a global pandemic – pushing forward.
Flight attendants are servers, bartenders, babysitters, counselors, and tour guides, yes – but we also often play the roles of firefighters, nurses, law enforcers, and the list goes on. Most people assume that flight attendants are on the plane to serve drinks, snacks, and maybe perform a life vest fashion show – but this career is far more than what the average traveler sees on a daily basis. Our primary purpose on board the aircraft is to save lives if need be. While customer service is a huge part of the gig, it’s by far the least important. Flight attendants are first responders. 90% of our training is focused on safety and emergency procedures while only 10% is spent on service standards. We are safety professionals.
The list of scenarios we are trained for seems endless, but nothing could quite prepare us for just how emotionally and physically draining it would be to face the public at work every day during a global pandemic. According to The New York Times, flight attendants are one of the most at-risk personnel for contracting the Coronavirus and that’s not something to be taken lightly. Now more than ever we are being reminded just how essential flight attendants and the entire airline industry are to the world. When a global crisis occurs, flight attendants are almost always a part of it. We transport medical supplies and COVID-19 testing kits all around the world. We bring sick patients to life-saving treatments. We staff the Civil Reserve Air Fleet in the US to mobilize troops for war. While some think being a flight attendant is all about seeing the world and maintaining a glamorous lifestyle, flight attendants play a much larger role than they’re often given credit for.
Every day we are expected to maintain our composure and greet passengers with a warm smile. At the same time, we are fearing for our own personal health and safety while also questioning whether or not we will have a job at the end of this. These unforeseen circumstances have added yet another layer to an already multi-faceted profession.
Flight attendants are qualified and experienced professionals. Trust that we are taking every necessary precaution we can to keep ourselves, our passengers, and our family and friends safe. If you are traveling, please treat everyone – not just airline employees – with respect. There are people working in airports, hospitals, grocery stores, sanitation departments, public transportation, hospitality, and so many more doing everything they can to keep our world moving. Sadly, many airline employees across the globe have already lost their jobs. Some have even become ill due to Coronavirus. With that being said, please only travel if it’s urgent. While we appreciate the business, now isn’t the time to buy a $20 ticket for a weekend getaway. We’re not out here working simply because we want to, but because we have to, and we will continue working as long as it is expected of us, but please be mindful of the difficult journey we are facing out here. Flight attendants are innovative, we are resilient, but we cannot get through this without your support!
Everyone on the plane was shocked. He quickly gathered his belongings, emptied the contents of a beverage cart liquor drawer into his bag, and launched the evacuation slide onto the tarmac. He hopped down the slide and for a few brief moments, Steven Slater was free. Little did he know in that moment that his story would be making national headlines. Slater simply wanted to make a point to his company that he had felt unsupported. He could have just walked off the plane and turned in his crew badge, but he knew that would leave little to no impact on airline culture – he had to do more. His mother had fallen ill, his airline didn’t seem to be particularly supportive, and passengers had pushed one too many buttons. All of this plus an earlier altercation with a passenger had brought him to his breaking point. Steven Slater had had enough. He needed to be heard.
In his new memoir, Wingwalking, Steven Slater recounts the events of that day as well as his life before and after his career in the airline industry. I had the opportunity to meet with Steven recently to talk about his new book. They often say that once aviation gets in your blood, it stays there – and being a flight attendant is no exception. When I met Steven at a coffee shop in San Diego, he was friendly, polite, and smiling – in true flight attendant fashion. Slater seemed confident and ready for the next chapter of his life. We sat down and had a candid conversation about his career as a flight attendant, his life on the ground, and what occurred on that fateful day.
Two Guys On A Plane: What made you decide to write a book about these events and why now? What was the writing process like for you? Steven S:I actually started writing it in a motel room; it was incredibly painful and yet liberating. I didn’t intend to publish. It started as a journal. It was cathartic and freeing to write. It helped me put things into perspective and then it took on a life of its own. My writing was raw and dark. There were times I had to step away, but it brought me a release I hadn’t felt before. Many flight attendants had come to me and said that I should share my story and that it could help people who also faced similar mental health and substance abuse issues. I initially feared it would come across in poor taste, especially given some of my experiences, but I hadn’t thought of being able to help people with my stories before – so I decided to take a risk.
TG: In your book you discuss a variety of different issues – some personal, some external – what would you say was the biggest factor in pushing you to your breaking point on the day of your notorious incident at JetBlue? SS: I call it a perfect storm. My mother was ill, and I was dealing with bipolar and substance abuse issues. I was on reserve at the time and I didn’t have the time to schedule the self-care that I needed. I wasn’t able to make AA meetings. It was a perfect storm of bipolar mania, precipitated by alcohol, and rage from situations that JetBlue had caused me – and then that woman pushed me to the edge.
TG: I noticed after your JetBlue incident that you appeared in multiple major media interviews. A lot of people have accused you of deploying the slide to seek attention, so what made you decide to speak out and appear in various media outlets? SS: At the time of the incident, my son was 17. The media was releasing information about my HIV status, my personal life, and the story was being spun in a way that was only getting more outrageous over time. I had to speak up and defend myself. There was so much misinformation out there and I needed to take ownership of my story.
TG: How did you feel immediately after the incident? Did you feel any remorse? SS:Over time, I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Looking back, I wish I’d advocated for myself better at the time to have had a better income. I didn’t know how to ask for help and I backed myself in a corner. Everything I’ve gone through has made me who I am. I’ve become a much stronger and more compassionate person, but it came at a high price.
TG: Every so often, you will see a headline in the news about a flight attendant who lashes out. Do you pay special attention to those stories, and do these stories spark anything within you? SS: At the time of the incident, I was living on the East Coast and my mother was in California. I wanted to move back to California, but I wasn’t getting the support I needed from JetBlue. I wasn’t being treated like a human. I was just a number to them and that affected me deeply. My first concern when I hear these stories is for the flight attendant. Having been in their shoes, I wonder – what is this person going through, what is going to happen to them next, and are they able to get any support? Sometimes I will even reach out to them to offer support.
TG: Do you ever miss flying? SS:I miss the dining, the shopping, the whole experience. I miss meeting new people and what flying used to be. I’m not so much interested in what the job has become. Missed what flying was, but not so much interested in what it became. I miss the camaraderie. The support from the flight attendant family has been phenomenal both after the incident and throughout the release of my book. If I didn’t have the support of the flight attendant’s around me, I don’t know what I would do. They’ve paid my rent, provided me with clothing, and even bought me food, emotional support. I’m very grateful.
TG: Do you think there would have been a different outcome had your airline offered more support to you along the way? What do you think airlines can do to prevent things like this from happening again? SS: Airlines need to look at their crew members as human beings and not just numbers. If someone had stopped to check in with me, we might have had a different outcome. It’s not to say I put all the blame on them. I take responsibility for my actions but wonder if I had more support along the way, if it might’ve been different. I might have had more time to take care of myself and not get to that point. I think airlines need to be more compassionate and humane. Substance abuse in the airline industry is rampant. When I worked for Delta, they had said it was fine initially, and then fired me after I went to rehab. Airlines need to pay more attention and offer more support after incidents happen in flight attendants’ lives both on and off the aircraft. If they failed me, then they have definitely failed other crew members, too.
TG: Now that the book has been released, what do you hope people take away after reading your story? SS:I hope that people get a little bit more of a human view of who I actually am. I’m not a two-dimensional media created caricature and there is an actual person behind the headlines. Most of all, I want to give encouragement to people that suffer. I hope it will be useful for people who experience bipolar and substance abuse. I hope that it shows folks that there is hope for life with those conditions. It is possible to transcend.
TG: So what’s the next chapter for you? SS:I’m still figuring that out. I’m settling into San Diego, I’m maintaining my sobriety, and I’m focusing on my health. I’m currently looking into education opportunities and the prospect of becoming a substance abuse counselor. I want to take the experiences that I have and use that to give back. It’s time for a reinvention. Steven 2.0 is coming.”
As aviation professionals, we live each day surrounded by people and yet often feel so alone. The combination of being away from family and friends, working with strangers, and spending nights alone in foreign cities can certainly take a toll. It’s important to find healthy ways to cope but it can be challenging. In today’s culture, there is such a stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse issues. The truth is, it’s okay to not be okay. Steven Slater’s story is a powerful one that we can all identify with, whether you’re a flight attendant or not. Each and every one of us faces a great deal of pressure on a day-to-day basis from our jobs, our families, and our communities. Sometimes a helping hand may be all that we need to make a difference in our own lives. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to your company or union employee assistance program, or check out some of the resources we’ve listed below.
A special thank you to Steven Slater for taking the time to chat with Two Guys On A Plane and for being so open and candid about his story. If you haven’t already, check out his new book, Wingwalking, a compelling memoir about addiction, mental illness, and his life in aviation. Available now at Barnes & Noble and Amazon!
RESOURCES FOR FLIGHT ATTENDANTS
FADAP | Flight Attendant Drug & Alcohol Program FADAP is a substance-abuse prevention program, created and promoted for and by the flight attendant profession and funded by the FAA. Phone: 855.333.2327 Online:https://www.fadap.org
RESOURCES FOR EVERYONE
NAMI | National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine The NAMI HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, resource referrals and support to people living with a mental health conditions, their family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public.
SAMHSA | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline The SAMHSA Helpline is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.