Reserve Life?

I just posted this message to prospective flight attendants in a Facebook group that I’m in:

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Good morning all!

At one point or another, each and every one of us has fallen in love with the idea of being a flight attendant. I use the word “idea” because many in this group haven’t yet become flight attendants. We all get a notion of a glamorous lifestyle, sipping whatever drink, poolside. When people have asked me if I love my job, I’ve always replied, “I have never loved a job as much as I love this one, however, I have never enjoyed my time off of work as much as I do now!”

On August 31st, later this month, I will be starting my 18th year as a flight attendant for Southwest. I don’t post this to brag to anyone, I’m still a newbie to many out there in this industry. On the other hand, I just wanted to let you guys know a bit about my experience.

I’ve been in this Facebook group for some time and on occasion, I see questions about working reserve. Although reserve is a little different at each airline, some things are common at every airline:

  1. You sometimes (often) will get a trip that nobody wants (this could mean long days working, and short layovers, to undesirable layovers/overnights). Why would someone call in sick, or trade out of a trip that has 18+ hours on a sunny beach?
  2. You’re on call for a specific period of time- some airlines/reserves mean you have to be ready at a moment’s notice for up to a 24 hour period.
  3. Most flight attendants have a two-hour callout, meaning you have at least 2 hours to get to the airport or get to the plane. Sometimes less, depending on the airline/ circumstance. How close do you live to your base? This could mean an easy drive into work, or it could mean leaving home the night before because you commute on the plane.
  4. Some airlines require you to be ON AIRPORT/COMPANY PROPERTY for a set amount of time so they have you ready, just in case someone calls in sick at the last moment, or any trip is not covered, for whatever reason. My airline (Southwest) calls this “Airport Standby”, but I’ve heard it referred to [jokingly] as either “Airport Appreciation”, “Airport Hostage”, or my friends at Frontier call it, “Couch”. As in- they sit on the couch in their flight attendant lounge, just waiting for the call. This could be anywhere from 5 hours- up to who knows how long.
  5. Reserve can be difficult to plan your life around. Basically, make no non-work appointments or commitments during the days/times you’re on reserve.
  6. Sometimes they’ll use you A.S.A.P., and other days you may sit by the phone ALL DAY and not get that call. It’s best that you don’t make any personal plans. I’ve heard coworkers joke that SCHEDULING ALWAYS KNOWS IF YOU MADE ANY PLANS- That’s when they’ll call and give you an assignment!
  7. Once you’re out on a trip (even if it’s not on a reserve assignment), scheduling can always change or add to that trip. So even when working as a line-holder, try not to have any personal plans that are set in stone.
  8. How long does one have to work reserve? This all depends on the airline. Southwest is based on seniority- while in the bottom 65% of base seniority, you have to rotate in and out of reserve, so this varies depending on which base you have. Once you’re top 35%, however, you only have to work reserve if you pick it up or trade your trip with someone who has reserve.

Now- my intention is not to dissuade any of you from pursuing this career. These are just some of the facts- and this is just one aspect of the job. Make sure that this is something that you’re willing to “endure”. Like anything else in this life, it really comes down to your attitude. If you’re not happy in your current career, or the one prior to that, then there is a good chance that not going to be happy as a flight attendant. That’s on you- however.

I have, over the years looked at working reserve with an attitude of, “I wonder who I’ll get to meet today!”, or “I wonder where I’ll end up tonight!” This is the attitude I choose. There is LITERALLY only one flight attendant that I’ve ever worked with that I would dread working with again. And that has very little to do with me but is because of how badly I saw this person treat our passengers. If your life is so bad that you need to take it out on one of your passengers- then you need to fix whatever the hell is wrong with your life. And this goes with any customer service job, not just being a flight attendant!

I don’t want to end this post with a harsh vibe. I can count less than one hand, the number of times that I feel like I’ve been screwed over by my scheduling department. It has been a blast making so many new friends and having so many wonderful, unique experiences, and I wouldn’t change a moment of it!

Congratulations to those of you who have heard from an airline and are getting ready to start this new journey. Remember to treat every moment like an adventure and keep yourself open and receptive to new experiences! It’s a good way to live, even if you choose a different career path!…

…Best of luck! Dream big!

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