I've been a flight attendant for almost 3 years. Here are 7 things that surprised me about the job.

·4 min read
Two feminine flight attendants walking in the airport with suitcases
I (not pictured) have worked as a flight attendant for almost three years.Johner Images/Getty Images
  • I've been a flight attendant for almost 3 years, and I know a lot more than when I first started.

  • I wasn't initially prepared to work more than 3 flights a day or report to multiple airports.

  • We don't get paid until the wheels of the plane are up, but sometimes I get paid to be a passenger.

I've worked as a flight attendant for almost three years now, and it's not just a job, it's a lifestyle.

Read on for some of the things that surprised me most when I first started.

We don't get paid for the boarding time

When I first joined the flight crew, I was under the impression that we'd start getting paid for a shift when we stepped on the aircraft.

I was taken aback to find out we only get paid once the wheels go up.

That means all that boarding time helping passengers get to a seat, stow bags, and close bins is unpaid.

Depending on the airline, crews can work up to 5 flights a day

I had no idea that I could work more than three flights a day.

Of course, there are some technicalities. We still have to be under a certain number of hours to legally work the trips.

But usually, when you see us, it's either our third or fourth flight of the day.

I've gotten paid to fly as a passenger

view out a plane window
I've been on the clock as a passenger.Merm Vee

Getting paid to fly to a different state or country as a passenger is called "deadheading."

Different from commuting, when a crew member is deadheading, they may or may not be in uniform. We're essentially just kicking our feet up while the company flies us out to the next flight we'll be actively working on.

But if a deadheading crew member is on a flight and a working crew member falls sick for some reason, they'd have to step in.

Each airline has a different on-call or reserve system for its flight attendants

Being on-call or on-reserve means that instead of having a set schedule of trips, you have no clue what you'll be doing or where you'll be going until your company calls you.

During your reserve days, you get used to working as needed. Needless to say, being on-reserve can be stressful, since you're always waiting by your phone.

Most airlines have their crew on-call for months or years straight before holding a line (set schedule). Others have a few days a month where you'll be on-reserve, with the flexibility to not even work those reserve days if you find someone to swap shifts with.

Not all hotels flight attendants stay in have 5 stars, but a lot of them are really nice

merm in a hotel room with a drink and a biscoff cookie
Most of the hotels I've stayed at are nice.Merm Vee

When I thought of the flight-attendant life, I pictured glitz and glamour and staying at nothing but five-star hotels. But I got a major reality check once I started doing layovers.

Don't get me wrong, most hotels I'm put up in are nice — some of them even fit my glamorous fantasies. But some are truly just not the best in the system.

Some hotels can make you nervous to put your bag down or afraid to encounter a bed bug.

Our assigned base can cover multiple airports in one city

Every flight attendant gets assigned a base upon hiring depending on the positions available at the time.

This is where all your trips will report out of. For example, you can be Atlanta-, Dallas-, or Los Angeles-based.

Most bases typically only have one airport, but if you're based in New York City, you can report to multiple, like JFK and Laguardia.

Having multiple airports can be a hassle depending on where you live. If your company is flexible, then you can usually swap for trips at the airport of your choice.

I'm not on the go as much as people may think

Everyone usually thinks I'm never home because I'm always working in different states and countries. But the truth is this job has given me the most work-life flexibility I've ever had in my career.

This is definitely airline-specific. With other companies, it may not be easy to drop trips or swap a three-day trip for a one-day one due to the reserve system.

I prefer day trips because I like to be back in my bed at the end of the night. Plus I have flexibility and seniority when it comes to my schedule. Swapping makes it easier for me to move around or drop all together so I can have multiple days off at home.

Merm Vee's identity is known to Insider but has requested not to have her full name included due to concerns related to job security.

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