Expectations are a part of life and a significant part of private aviation. Being me comes after being ‘the flight attendant.’ There is an expectation to look a certain way and be a certain thing. Forefront in my mind is that I am hired as a cabin attendant, on this private jet, to deliver a particular experience. Sometimes, that experience has nothing to do with who I am and everything to do with a character I play. We all hold expectations. When a guest books a private jet charter, there is an expectation. When I accept a trip from a private jet operator, I have a set of expectations. When a flight department hires me to look after guests, there is an expectation.
Not all expectations are negative. Some are helpful, wonderful even. Working as cabin crew includes the expectation to ‘see the world’ and travel to beautiful places. Being a flight attendant is a promise to escape the monotony of routine and regular life. Flight Attendant is freedom, glamour, revelry, intrigue, beauty, wonder, magic. At least that’s what the dream sold us…
Beyond the dream is the other side— a career and industry built on sexism, sexuality, and objectification. Defunct PanAm Airways lives on as Emirates, a company that doesn’t hire old or ugly cabin crew. Less than seven years ago a pilot at the private jet company, Vista Jet, told me in very clear terms that I was not pretty enough to be a cabin attendant at that company. Obviously, that comment made an impression on me. It didn’t matter how intelligent, driven, organized, or creative I was. It didn’t matter that I had a great personality or was already an accomplished international cabin crew member with an EASA certification. Not much mattered but my beauty— or lack thereof.
The word hate is strong, but I hate this industry for this attitude. For its discrimination, sexual harassment, and inequality. I hate it for the superficial, one-sided way it loves you when you are ‘everything right.’ It’s harsh and unforgiving and yet, it’s gorgeous and generous. It gave me the world, and I also choose to be here and play its game. I’ve accepted jobs and then threatened when I asked to be paid what I’m worth. I’ve been told I’ll be blacklisted from trips when I point out questionable treatment. I’ve been hired and not hired based on pictures. It is so incredibly demeaning to realize your value as a person is only as deep as your face. Is flight Attendant a ticket to see the world or am I a marketing tool, a commodity, for someone else’s agenda? (This is not every company or experience in aviation. I only believe that if we talk about being a flight attendant as a dream we must also share its nightmare.)
Nails, skin, hair, makeup. Do I look professional, polished, poised? Will I be a muted version of myself or will I need to be engaged in conversation? And then, only speaking at just the right moments? Will they be kind or cruel? Will this be a trip from straight from hell or one gifted from heaven? Will I ‘get it right?’
Will I ‘get it right?’ may be the most important question, because does it matter how they act if I can act gracefully, artfully, and skillfully? Does it matter if all doesn’t go to plan if I am able to deflect their stress, frustration, or tests of my character into a flight that surpasses their expectation? We all have our expectations — some just higher than others. Working on private jets includes ‘expectation.’ I start thinking about what experience I’ll need to create, what my guests like, and who I’ll need to transform myself into to surpass any and all expectations. The investment required to travel privately, in luxury, adds to the amount that must be delivered. Because I have constantly been told, “I am the face. I am the delivery point of luxury.”
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The term ‘flight attendant’ is laden with meaning and loaded with notions. As a flight attendant, I feel expected to be smiley, congenial, demur. I feel the need to be pretty, polished, young, vibrant; both muted and magical. On a private jet, I chameleonize myself to be exactly who I think I am expected to be for someone I have never met and may never see again. Private jets are pricey, and I need to be worth the cost. I am the face of the experience and the marketing touchpoint of luxury. I need to create a memorable experience but be ok with being forgotten. There is so much I need to be. I’m exhausted by all the years of trying to be perfect.
I have many insecurities that rise front and center when working in an industry where beauty and perfection are prized (yet disguised because that’s not HR friendly). I’ve wondered where the expectations of ‘flight attendant’ came from and if my views of my job are truth or fiction. I’ve hoped that mask-wearing would change the way we view flight attendants — that no longer will a particular look or color or size or race or beauty standard matter in the way it has for practically one hundred years. That when we see a female aviation professional we will think first that she is the pilot. I wonder if I would feel differently if I was a professional pilot? Maybe, but maybe not. Female pilots face their own battles of discrimination. They have their own set of expectations to manage and stereotypes to shatter.
Maybe this is only me and I missed the plane everyone else’s on — the one that still believes being a flight attendant is the best job in the world. I wish I could find the girl who thinks that there is nothing better to life than being in the cabin of the airplane. The one who feels more like herself when she puts on the uniform than when she is without it. The one who believes that the upsides of private or commercial aviation outweighed the downsides and that the ugly sides are just part of the expectation of a flight attendant. I wish I still expected being a flight attendant to be the greatest adventure of my future like it has been for my past. ‘Flight attendant’ is a great adventure. It also is a very-image-sensitive job.