Last night I had a vivid dream that seemed to last a long time. I dreamed that I had the oppotunity to work as a flight attendant for United Airlines for a single flight. None of the other flight attendants knew that I wasn’t really a flight attendant and I’m not sure how I managed to get permission to work the flight.
Before boarding started, I couldn’t find my tie, so I had to borrow one from another flight attendant. The first borrowed tie turned out to be a scarf and I kept trying to tie it into a double Windsor knot, but to no avail. Then I borrowed an actual tie from another flight attendant and it worked better.
The flight was on a 747 and we were working a trans-Pacific route. But then, when we landed, people started getting out of their seats moments after we pulled off the runway. I was walking through the cabin shouting, “No, no – we’re not there yet! Please sit down!”
Once we arrived at the gate, the plane had somehow become a DC-9 and I was able to lower the rear air-stair (in the tail section of the plane) so passengers could disembark that direction.
Very odd, huh?
I suppose there is an obvious backstory I should share: I grew up as an airline brat. My father worked for United his whole career and I started flying when I was just a month old.
As a child, I was fascinated with airplanes. I had all sorts of interesting toys: a demo oxygen mask, safety cards, paper ticket jackets, etc. I’d play for hours: first using the sofa as a check-in counter, assigning tickets and checking luggage. Then I’d arrange chairs in two rows and play flight attendant. I even had a wine bottle box into which I stacked empty soda and beer cans – that was my beverage cart. I’d do the safety demo, serve food, etc.
My fascination with airplanes continued as I grew up. At the end of high school I started interviewing with United. I wanted to work as a customer service agent, preferably at San Jose Airport, which was just a few miles from my home. I interviewed with the station manager but never heard back.
Following up with the Human Resources representative a few weeks later, it turned out that the station manager had been fired and had never turned the results of my interview back to HR. She offered me a part-time position at San Francisco Airport working in Cabin Services – the group that cleans the planes between flights.
During the summer of 1988 I worked at SFO four hours a day on a rotating schedule, four days one, one day off. It was not exciting work – and I was working with a pretty rough group of people – but I enjoyed being on and around the airplanes.
At the end of the summer, though, a few weeks before I had to join the union, I decided to quit the job. It didn’t pay enough to cover the costs of gasoline, so I decided to stick with my nearly full-time job working at the movie theatre instead.
Had I landed the original job working as a customer service agent at SJC, I have no doubt I would have left the movie theatre instead. By the time all the layoffs occurred in 2002 (after 9/11) I would probably have had enough seniority to have survived them. Of course, with much less pay.
Looking back, it was probably good that I didn’t end up staying in the airline industry. It is a tough industry in which to work. But as someone who is extremely good with customer service – I’ve often been commended for my grace and calm under pressure – I think I would have been excellent at it. And being an industry that I am still passionate about, I think it would have been a career I would have really enjoyed.