Photo: Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock

The Emotional Strain of Life as a Flight Attendant

by Kara Mulder Apr 15, 2015

Sometimes the friendly skies aren’t that friendly…


I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I reached my car. I find myself looking through my handbag for something, but I don’t know what. One hand rests on my carry-on bag, and I know that the attempt to find what it is that I am looking for will be useless unless both hands are enrolled in the search. I blink, hoping that that act will make me remember what I need to find. Oh right — I need my car keys.

I’m cabin crew; a flight attendant and an international one at that. I’m thankful that this time, the fog that has settled on my brain happened after I finished the long flight, and not during landing when a flight attendant’s alertness is absolutely necessary for everyone’s safety. The heavy eyelids are often on their own timeline though, so drowsy eyesight is not an option. I have yet to see fatigue show any respect for a flight attendant’s job duties and responsibilities.

It’s extreme, how this lifestyle is lived. Often my affections are pulled between the juxtaposed beliefs that I have the best job in the world, countered by the doubts that this flying life actually could be the worst. My body is abused by the constant time zone shifts, and my heart routinely affected due to the lack of home and continuous goodbyes. Relationships are hard for me to maintain.

I’ve been flying for a while now and yet, everyday there is always something new that happens. Today, it is the lead cabin crew member chastising the cabin crew for the passengers decorating the aircraft with empty food wrappers, used water bottles, and garbage stuffed in seat back pockets, or strewn haphazardly on the floor. We are getting berated for our lack of ability to pick up rubbish.

This makes me wonder when ‘Seniors’ began to think that my colleagues and I were the parents to almost three-hundred people. I’m too tired to become upset at the fact that one of our own is against us. I’m too tired to be angry or to defend myself. That’s flight attendant life sometimes; there isn’t even the energy left to show emotion. When I walk past a dirty diaper tucked serenely against the fuselage, I quietly thank God that I am the flight attendant, and not the cleaner who will board next.


This job has predictability within it’s unpredictability, but if I am looking for job security, I have landed in the wrong location. If stability is my goal, I need to begin looking for employment within another industry sector.

I along with forty-nine of my colleagues are standing outside The Department of Transportation. We are holding signs that say, “Open Our Skies,” as we repeat the chant, “Save Our Jobs.”

I had not registered that the reason for this protest meant that my job was in danger of being disassembled. I see the possibility in that now, but in the moment, I am not concerned about losing my job; instead, I am absolutely worried that I will lose my fingers and toes due to the freezing cold. The classy uniform dress that I am wearing, sharp looking plaid jacket, and red leather gloves do little to block the mid-February Washington DC weather.

My smile has turned to chattering teeth, and I begin to cry. I cry when I get cold.

A flight attendant can learn to be cold. In this industry, maybe cold is inevitable as well as necessary. I have seen it. I have even seen it in myself.

Quickly, a cabin crewmember learns to put up barriers, because in airline life, crew scheduling is not on your side, not all colleagues will champion for your success, and passengers are not your friends.

I don’t know who coined that cute term, “Fly the friendly skies,” as sometimes, the friendly skies are not friendly at all. Isn’t that why the question is asked with high frequency, “How much longer is the flight?”

I volunteered to be part of this protest, which was assumed by most of the cabin crew that are part of the experience to be lunches and press meetings, not picket sign holding, megaphone chanting, and freezing. I chose to show my support, because I do appreciate my airline, and love being cabin crew. I wanted the experience of doing something I had never done before, and I hadn’t been to Washington DC in years. I am extremely entrapped by this thing called ‘wanderlust.’

I chose all of this; this day, this job, this experience, so when I am in unfriendly territory or mistreated, whose fault is that?

The foreign carrier that I work for hires Americans, as well as other passport holding crewmembers. Flight prices are low, often hundreds of dollars less than the average found on airlines that are based in the U.S. This is one of the reasons why this airline has been received negatively. This protest was to help gain recognition over an approval needed so that the airline can have permission to expand destinations and routes for air travelers. This approval, still not granted, is almost a year behind schedule, but that’s airline life right? There are always delays.

I think politics are no different. This is very political.


I just spent an entire day this week shouting, “Save Our Jobs.” That’s great as I need a job, but more importantly, I also need to pay rent.

It’s ironic, how I am fighting to keep a job where my schedule breaks my health, I have to pay to fly on my airline in my free time, and I am bringing in an income just above the poverty line. But, I am living the dream right? Flying to places that some only visit in pictures or in books. Wearing that uniform. Flashing that signature flight attendant smile. Representing that very coveted image.

People tell me I am living a dream, and am I so jaded myself that that’s what I believe as well? Sometimes, I want someone to wake me up and just tell me that it’s all going to be ok. That I will get to my intended destination. I won’t be tired or financially broke or cold forever. That someone will encourage me to never quit my daydream, because that daydream does have friendly skies.


I’m flying again. It’s a ten-day trip. I am usually happy to go, and this time, it’s the usual. I feel better in my uniform, like I finally have some place that I belong. When the politics, the pay problems, and picketing are stripped away, it’s just me, working with interesting people, many now good friends, and meeting travelers with stories that I am so curious to learn.

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