As a writer, I often find myself trying to find a way out of the mundane. Sure, my characters have to feed themselves. But do I really want to elaborate on the baked chicken and steamed vegetables that one of them is eating to atone for the weekend’s deep dive into fried foods? Not particularly. Nor do I care to detail their life in the office, diligently entering data while their cubicle neighbor mutters about their chair’s lack of lumbar support.
Because fiction is a place where anything can happen, I like to give my characters jobs that sound fun to me—or sometimes have them quit working altogether. Maybe that’s why, until I came up with the story for The Layover, it never occurred to me to write about my own experience as a flight attendant. As much as I enjoy flying, it’s still work. If, like me, you write to escape, it doesn’t make much sense to build a story around your normal day-to-day.
The thing I failed to realize is that writing about a flight attendant gives you so much freedom. They don’t have typical schedules, so they can easily drop a couple of trips and have weeks or even months free to live out the story you want to write for them. They can also fly stand-by, which means they can hop on a plane for little to no cost and go wherever your story might lead them. If, however, you want to write about their actual lives when they’re working regularly, there are some things you should know.
5 Things Writers Should Know About Flight Attendants
1.) Flight attendants are tired.
I’m talking about new-mom tired. If they’re not waking up in the middle of the night to go to work, they’re staying up until the early hours of the morning, serving coffee on that red-eye from Vegas to Baltimore. And, despite what complaining passengers seem to believe, that delay that’s happening to everyone else is also happening to them. It’s all too typical to have a twelve-hour duty day turn into sixteen. It’s also unlikely that the prolonged day will pay any extra.
2.) Continuing in that vein, no story can be told about a flight attendant that doesn’t include mention of jetlag.
In fact, it deserves its own character slot. A pilot once explained to me that jetlag has nothing to do with time zones. It’s actually the body adapting to the pressurization differences involved with flight. Now, imagine six takeoffs and landings in one day. Then imagine doing that again the next day, and the next, and sometimes even the next. By the time you have your first day off, your body feels like it has been hit by a truck, and your brain is so fogged over that using the search function on Netflix is beyond your capabilities. While I understand that you probably don’t want to write about your character crashing on the couch and staring stupidly at a blank TV, you should at least understand that’s what she’d be doing in real life.
3.) Flight attendants are hungry.
Unlike other jobs, they don’t get breaks for meals. If they’re not out in the cabin serving the passengers, they’re closing down the galley, checking latches on a million little cubbies so things don’t go flying down the aisle upon landing. If they’re on the plane for 10 hours, all they’ll eat during that period of time is something pre-made and likely soggy that they’ve brought onboard at 5 a.m. And they’ll consume it standing over a trashcan or facing a corner, trying not to breathe in when the lavatory door opens and closes.
4.) Flight attendants are hard to pin down.
It’s easy to write a flight attendant into time off from the job. However, if you’re sticking to the truth, flight attendants are infuriating to make plans with. Their schedules change from month-to-month, so they often can’t commit to anything in advance. This is especially true when they’re on a reserve month, most easily defined as being on call like a doctor (except, you know, being summoned to pour sodas instead of to save a life.)
5.) Flight attendants are happy.
If I’ve painted a less than glamorous picture up above, none of that matters the moment you walk into your hotel room after a long day. Because a flight attendant’s day starts super early or ends super late, they’ll either have an afternoon and evening at their hotel or a long morning. During this time, there’s no doing laundry or cleaning the house or running errands like you might feel obligated to do at home. Instead, you get discounted room service and an extra towel for the pool. You get freshly-washed sheets and four pillows per bed. Best of all, you don’t even have to feel guilty if you opt out of using the free gym. That’s the beauty of jetlag. And if all of that fails to make you happy, you can always hop a free flight and run away to Belize or Aruba, leaving all your troubles behind.