Many countries are on lockdown, and those countries which aren’t on lockdown are implementing social distancing. Travel has come to a standstill and will be changed entirely once this pandemic subsides. However, surprisingly travel is somewhat still operating as many nationals are being commanded by their presidents/prime ministers to return home. Hence the aviation industry is still running, just on a less frequent service. Nowadays, we hear and read about travellers seeing the effects of Covid19 on flights and in airports. However, one perspective that is often silenced is the experts who run the show. Today, I’m featuring a flight attendant interview with Kirsy Vargas.
Kirsty on this flight attendant interview shares her experience of flying in the current situation and behind the scenes the aviation industry. She works for United Airlines, an American airlines company which flys domestically and internationally. Read on for a flight attendant interview.
Flight attendant interview
1) Where are you from, and how has Covid19 impacted the area you live in?
“I am from Pennsylvania but currently reside in New Jersey as I am based in EWR (Newark Liberty International Airport). Currently, NJ is one of the most infected states with Covid19 in the United States, and so its affected the area in many different ways. I tried going to Walmart the other day to go grocery shopping, and there was a huge line wrapped around the store to get in, everyone was wearing masks and gloves. It shocked me at first because I have been coming to this Walmart ever since I moved to NJ and to see it like this it just felt weird, it made everything seem more real. I still see people walking their dogs outside, but besides that, it looks like most people are staying home, as they should be.”
2) What airline do you work for and how long have you been a flight attendant?
“I work for United Airlines, and I’ve only been a flight attendant for about four months now. For it being such a short time, i’ve already been to more places then I had ever been to before becoming a flight attendant. It honestly feels longer then 4 months, but sometimes when I mess up or do something wrong, it feels like i’m brand new. But I guess all jobs are like that, it takes time for you to get the hang of what you’re doing. I wasn’t a flight attendant at a different airline before, so everything is still really new. Still, I’m thankfully adjusting well to my new lifestyle.”
3) Have you been working during this pandemic? If so, how have you noticed a change in your job?
“I have been working during all of this; recently I went on my first international trip to Portugal a few weeks ago. And then some domestic trips here and there. The flight to Portugal was nearly empty, a flight that generally for us is relatively full. I also had a trip the other day, and on three flights, I had less than 30 passengers per flight. Because there’s not many people flying, airports are super empty, and it’s weird to see when you’re used to it always being packed.
Our service while onboard is also different, airlines have had to make changes in order to keep everyone as safe as possible, such as limited snacks and no pouring of drinks. And because there are so little passengers, the service goes by super quickly. But through all of this, the most significant change I’ve seen is from the passengers. People are afraid, which is okay and expected, but they are also becoming paranoid, even expected. They look at us extra carefully when we do the service to make sure we’re being clean, they also refuse service to lower their chances of contamination, and any sort of coughing or sneezing is an issue.
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They’re also more thankful. Over the past few weeks, i’ve gotten some of the most genuine thank you’s i’ve ever received. We are risking our lives to bring people to where they need to be, but we are also scared and just as paranoid as them, and so to hear a “thank you for being here” it really does goes a long way.”
4) Are you still working? Has your work been affected by this?
“I am still flying, and March is normally one of the busiest months for travel. I am thankful to still have a job, but if things don’t get better, i’m not sure for how long that’ll be. My work if affected by Covic19 in every way possible, from when I get to the airport, to the flight, to my layover, to until i’m back home. The airports are empty, the flights are empty, my layovers consist of staying in and ordering food and watching TV or reading a book. Also my drive home is usually a quiet one as there’s no traffic. No matter what I am doing throughout my trip, I am constantly reminded of what we’re going through and how serious and real it all is.”
5) What advice could you give to other travel professionals to survive this virus?
“The advice I would give to other travel professionals is to listen to medical professionals when they say to keep your distance and keep your self clean. So many people are still brushing this off, and acting like they hold some type of power that makes them immune, and i’d hate to see those people get sick. We will only begin to heal when everyone starts taking precautions and takes Covid19 seriously. So yes you might feel silly, but wear a pair of gloves and a mask, disinfect your seat because although airlines are trying their best, they simply cannot disinfect every seat on a plane. And always remember, wash your hands!”
6) What advice would you give to travellers when flying on how to treat a flight attendant?
“To understand that we’re human too, and just because we have a uniform on doesn’t mean you can treat us any different. You’d be surprised the things people say and do when it comes to treating a flight attendant. We want you to enjoy your trip just as much as you do, and I promise you if you’re nice to a flight attendant, they will be nice back. A little bit of understanding, and compassion goes a long way for us.
Although due to Covid19, I have seen less rudeness from passengers and more kindness. That’s my personal experience, I can’t speak for all flight attendants, but it’s nice to see especially in times like these. So next time you have a flight, know that if you thank us, smile at us, heck even if you wave at us, we notice it and we’re thankful for it.””
7) What has been your best experience so far in your job?
“The best experience I’ve had so far was my trip to Portugal a few weeks ago. The crew was amazing, the hotel was super nice, and the small part of Lisbon I saw was beautiful. And although I was stuck in the hotel the whole time, United gave us $120 food vouchers to eat at the hotel. And let me tell you, being able to order room service without having to worry about the price is beyond amazing! I did leave the hotel with 2 of my crew members to go buy wine, it was short but worth it as the wine from Portugal is super cheap, and I was glad to bring something home from my first trip to Europe. Overall it was a great trip, even with everything going on, I made the best of it, and I can’t wait to go back one day.”
8) What has been your worst experience for your job?
“The worst experience for my job so far has been the tiredness that comes with it. I know it seems like an easy job, and for the most part, it is, but it’s also a very tiring job. Just think about how exhausting travelling is in general, and how by the end of it, you probably want a nap. Now imagine if instead of siting through the entire flight, you we’re working it. Things as simple as standing for long periods, bending down to pick something up, walking from the back of the plane to the front, it all adds up. We get trained on how to properly stand while in the aisle and to stand up slowly once you bend down, as not to cause sudden dizziness.
The constant moving, pushing heavy carts, it all adds up and depending on the trip by the end of it, we can feel drained. Now mix all of that with lack of sleep. Also forgetting to have eaten breakfast as you’re so busy, and you’ve got one tired flight attendant who is doing nothing but sleeping on their layover. With all that being said, you do get more used to the job with time. My body is more comfortable now with the job then it was on my first actual working flight in training. And it’s worth it, I mean I have a job I love, and that’s all I ever wanted in my career. So if it causes me to be tired now and then, I’ll take it!”
9) How long are your layovers? What do you do on them? How do you manage to adapt to jet lag, different timing shifts?
“Layovers can be as short as 10 hours, to as long as 32 hours or longer, from what I’ve seen. It just depends on company needs, and our legal rest time, which the minimum is 10 hours. Before Covid19, layovers would be a time to explore the city we’re in and enjoy the benefits that come with the job. Now, layovers consist of being stuck in our hotel room trying to keep ourselves entertained. Layovers are also a time for us to rest to be functional for our next workday. Which is much needed, especially if you’re jet-lagged or just worked red-eye. I’ve only had to deal with jetlag once so far, and I’ve never been so tired at 10 am. I tried to only sleep for a couple of hours in the day so that I could go to sleep regularly that night.
The same thing for when I work a red eye, I sleep in the morning for about 4-5 hours, and then stay up and go to sleep at night at my usual time. So far, this has worked for me, it helps me to still sleep at night and get enough rest to be able to continue with my day. The only problem is when I, as a reserve flight attendant, get called late at night for a red-eye trip in 3 hours, and I’ve been up all day. Then only lots of coffee can keep me awake, and I might look like a zombie by the end of the flight, but hey a girls gotta work!”
10) What is a major myth about flight attendants?
“A major myth about flight attendants is that we’re only there to serve you you’re drink and collect your trash. If you’re wondering why flight attendants take offense to this, it’s because we have to go through long weeks of stressful and intense training to become a flight attendant. It was 6 and a half weeks for United Airlines, 6 days a week with some days being over 12 hours long of class time.
In those weeks we learn how to evacuate a plane in water and in land. We learn First aid; we learn very serious things that I can’t even talk about, we learn how aircraft’s work and how to operate all doors on all of our aircraft’s, and so much more. There are regular tests and performance-based tests where you are being followed through a scenario, and you have to do everything exactly how it’s been asked.
Heart is pounding…
While you have an instructor watching your every move writing everything you’re doing down. You’re put in real-life scenarios where your heart is pounding so fast, and you don’t even have time to think you just do. And that’s the main reason why training is so stressful and intense because if an emergency presented itself, there is no time for hesitation you must act on instincts And to make sure it stays an instinct, we have annual qualifications to ensure that we can still perform our job duties.
All flight attendants you see have gone through this, and it’s not an easy task as i’ve seen many people unfortunately not pass. So imagine going through all of this training, and being labelled as a waitress in the air, by the same people who’s lives you’d safe if need be. So please understand that while we love the service part of our job, it is just as important as the safety part.”
11) Do you have any fears about your work due to Corona?
“I have two fears when it comes to Covid19, that it will take my job away and that it will take my health away. I’m afraid to loose my job, but I must work, and that brings fear of being infected. My family and friends are constantly messaging me to be careful, and they worry about me all the time. But I need to work, and so I try to stay positive and reassure them that i’m being super safe. I’m afraid of what’s to come in the next few months if it doesn’t start to get better, i’ve already seen fellow flight attendants loose their jobs and worst some currently sick receiving treatment as they got infected.
I’ve seen fellow pilots pass away due to Covid19, and all together, it just makes me very anxious. But even so, i’ve also seen the airline family stick together and comfort each other, no matter which airline we come from.
There are Facebook groups made to support each other, and so many flight attendants took voluntary leaves just so the rest of us can still have a job. We take care of each other, and look out for one another, and that’s not something I ever expected to have when I signed up for the job. It will pass, and what we need to focus is on the now and keeping ourselves safe and home whenever we can. I can’t wait until things get back to normal, but until then, as long as I’m able to, I will continue to fly and bring people to where they need to be. Greeting them with a smile on my face and gloves on my hands, knowing we will make it to tomorrow.”
Stay tuned for a further flight attendant interview…
Thank you Kirsty Vagas for this flight attendant interview. If you want to follow her or read more on her ventures, you can check her twitter here. Stay posted for another flight attendant interview to feature soon.