I was recently interviewed by someone who asked, “Why are so many male flight attendants gay?” While I understand the significance of stereotypes, they’re often more harmful than they are helpful, so I felt that the question warranted a thoughtful response. The short answer is, being a flight attendant is the best job out there and gay men are obviously the most intelligent people on the planet. I’m mostly kidding, but all jokes aside, the job lends to a lifestyle that is both fun and glamorous. (Most days, anyway!) Flight attendants get to travel all over the world and get paid for it, jet off to different countries at the drop of a hat, and avoid those awkward holiday dinner conversations with family by blaming our absence on work. What’s not to love?
For gay men, being a flight attendant is all about identity – or rather, anonymity in this case. Imagine a flight that you’ve been on. Do you remember your flight attendant’s name? Rarely. Do you know anything about this person other than they seem to have fun at work? Nope. But you will always remember how your flight attendant made you feel. As crew members, we loveputting on a show for the public, entertaining our guests, and then going on with our lives at the end of the day. We love to perform, and the airplane provides a perfect stage to express ourselves. We can transform into a character we might not otherwise get to play and sometimes our uniform even becomes a costume that can make us feel safe and protected. We are allowed to be unapologetically true to who we are with no threat of pushback from potentially unaccepting friends or family. Everybody adores a fun-loving flight attendant because it makes traveling more fun. But while often times even the most conservative person loves a sassy gay flight attendant, it’s still not necessarily the person they want their child bringing home to dinner. In the aviation world we are accepted for whatever bold personality we want to adopt. On the airplane, we are free to be whoever we want to be.
The flight attendant lifestyle has remained so appealing for gay men over the years because like gay men, flight attendants come from all walks of life and face similar issues of self-identity. Through all of the diverse cultures we get to experience every day at work, we realize a new piece of ourselves in each one, learning more and more about who we want to become. Rather than learning new ways to hide from our truth, we uncover new aspects of ourselves that we never knew were there before. Individually we may be quite different from one another, but we all have so much in common at our core. There’s an unspoken bond and mutual respect among flight attendants much like members of the LGBTQ+ community. That respect translates well into the flight attendant life because crew members around the world are united by the wings that each of us wear proudly when we fly. We have experienced a lot of the same situations and understand each other as a result. Each trip we fly with new crew members and are required to communicate effectively with them without ever having met before. We have to be able to form strong connections with sheer strangers. This allows us to create a space where everyone feels free to open up… sometimes maybe even too much! At the end of the day, flight attendants around the globe look out for each other, just as members of the gay community often do, too.
With the flight attendant lifestyle, the possibilities are endless. The job is flexible, relatively low-stress, and allows us to see places and meet people that we would’ve otherwise never imagined possible. Being a flight attendant allows a level of freedom to be exactly who you want to be, which often times we don’t get the privilege of doing while growing up gay. Whether you fly with your best friends or perfect strangers, you can open up and embrace your truth. So when someone asks why gay men become flight attendants, it’s because you can be anybody you want to be, but most importantly, you can just be yourself.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
And now, some wisdom from Nicole Byer:
You’re right, Nicole. We are too much for this world. We belong in the sky!
Being a flight attendant is unlike any other job out there. It’s so unique, in fact, that years later even our own friends and family don’t fully understand what we do. As much as we love flying, though, 2020 has grounded many flight attendants… at least for now. It’s bittersweet but also a refreshing chance for some of us to try something new.
Now that thousands of flight attendants are without jobs, many of us are exploring the possibility of a new career path. To all of you job recruiters out there, we know you might think that we are just flight attendants, but I promise you that there is so much more than meets the eye. Before you pass up that flight attendant in your application pile, let me tell you that flight attendants are some of the most suitable candidates out there. We are ready for anything – and I mean anything.
Here’s why you should hire a flight attendant:
While flight attendants often joke about never really knowing what day it is, we are always successful when it comes to deadlines. In just 30 minutes, we have the ability to ensure that 200 people are seated, required safety briefings are complete, and all emergency and catering equipment has been checked. With changing time zones we still always arrive on time, complete our duties, and even make sure we buckle the pilots in and feed them their lunch.
Project Management Experience
I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to prepare dinner for 20 people in a kitchen the size of a broom closet, but we have! This is no easy feat, especially when faced with the occasional jolt of turbulence. Through proper organization and preparation, we always make sure dinner is hot and served in a timely fashion! Just don’t judge us too harshly on the quality of the food.
Works Well Under Pressure
Have you ever had someone come to you with a medical situation and immediately had to assume the roles of doctor, nurse, communicator, record keeper, and EMT? At 35,000 feet, there aren’t always a lot of options in emergency medical situations – and flight attendants are there to handle everything from heart attacks to childbirth.
Adaptable to Change
Whether it’s Federal Aviation Regulations or specific airline policies, the role of a flight attendant and the rules that we live by are ever-changing. When a new task is thrown at us, we’re ready for the responsibility. Plus, we’ll only complain about a little.
Excellent Leadership Skills
As flight attendants, we are natural born leaders who can take charge in any situation. If you put 8 flight attendants on a plane, every single one will show initiative. We’re such good leaders, in fact, that you may never know who is in charge on the crew – because sometimes, neither do they! All jokes aside, we all have an innate leadership ability but also know when to step aside and let others take the lead.
Now, we know you may still have some reservations. We’ve all seen the occasional flight attendant outburst stories on the news. Let’s discuss some things that may concern you. If you think we’re rude, we’re really just direct and making sure we deliver the company’s message with conviction. Think we just like to party? We know how to have fun so that we can maintain a healthy work-life balance. Think we’re unskilled workers? Many of us have advanced degrees, second careers, and still have time to take care of a growing family.
On any given day, flight attendants fulfill a multitude of roles both on and off the airplane. We are safety professionals, security guards, servers, teachers, counselors, communicators, tour guides, babysitters, and more! All jokes aside, we know how to lead, we know how to manage, and we will take care of anything that comes our way. Plus, we will even do it all with a sense of humor.
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
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.