When you think of a career that involves travel, what are some of the first jobs that come to mind? If you’re anything like me, chances are that “flight attendant” is pretty high up on the list. Let’s face it: flight attendants fascinate us. Who are these people who have chosen to spend their days pulling small suitcases th
We spent a lot of time together over the next three summers, including some great hikes to places like Laughton Glacier outside Skagway, Mt. Healy in Denali National Park, and Sternwheeler’s Graveyard near Dawson City, Yukon. I was even lucky enough to be his “parallel” once, a term we used when two tour directors and their guests traveled the same route at the same time. It was at that point that my friendly fondness for Peter grew into a deep respect. I was amazed by his kindness and skill with people. The guy was the consummate professional, and his guests loved him for it.
It’s little wonder, then, that after hanging up his tour director clipboard Peter moved on to a whole different level of customer service: taking care of hundreds of people, thousands of feet in the air. I’m so grateful that Peter was willing to take time out of his crazy schedule to speak with me, and also that this interview gave me the chance to reconnect with an old friend that I see far too infrequently. I hope you enjoy it!
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Hi, Peter! Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your story. Let’s start by learning a little bit about who you are outside of your job.
Hey Gwen! It’s my pleasure – thanks for having me! After growing up in New York City, I joined the natural progression of northerners to Florida when my family moved to Ormond Beach on the east coast. I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality & Event Management and a minor in Sociology.
I come from a large Italian family. Our family get togethers are stereotypically loud and the food is always plentiful. I’m very close with my siblings and a huge part of their kids’ lives.
I just celebrated my 1 year wedding anniversary to my husband, Ben. We got married in Savannah, GA and it was a perfect weekend with family and friends. He’s the most incredible guy – smart, good looking and supportive. Insert barf emoji here, haha.
I’m an avid hiker, excessive planner (sometimes I make lists of the lists I have to make), animal lover, love a good drag show and embarrassingly enough I’ve never missed an episode of the 38 seasons of the reality show Survivor. 🤦🏻♂️
I know that you’re always looking to fill your layovers and time off with adventures, and you recently moved overseas! Where did your passion for travel come from?
I remember going to the library as a kid and renting National Geographic travel documentaries. I also always gravitated towards the travel section in any bookstore. When I moved to Florida, I used to ride my bike to our local travel agent’s office. I went so often that I convinced my parents to let me plan our family vacation to the Bahamas that year. It wasn’t until after college when I started my career with Holland America as a tour director in Alaska that my love for the outdoors and hiking was sparked!
When people think of careers that involve travel, flight attendant is usually one of the first that comes to mind. Can you tell me a little about what it is that a flight attendant actually does?
At first impression, most people think our job mainly consists of excessive smiling, saying “hello” hundreds of times in a row and serving Coke and peanuts. At Delta Air Lines, we undergo eight weeks of training in Atlanta before getting our wings. Seven weeks of this training is dedicated to emergency procedures, evacuations, and learning over fifteen different types of aircraft in our fleet.
So yes, we’ve mastered serving over two hundred passengers drinks and snacks on a fifty-minute flight with turbulence and every other passenger asking us to repeat what we offer. But we’re also trained to evacuate those same two hundred people in an emergency in under ninety seconds!
What led you to choose this career, and what steps did you take to get into the biz?
I was torn between continuing down the path of tour directing or becoming a flight attendant. I’d applied for a few tour companies, but had also applied for Delta and started their very long interview process.
In the end, I decided to go the airline route mainly because it would give me a steady schedule/ income, health insurance and a 401k. Not to mention FREE flight benefits.
What does your work schedule look like? I know you’re not working 9-5!
We typically get scheduled fifteen days a month, with six of those being reserve days where you have to be “on call” in your base city. This is where we start and end our trips. Some flight attendants live in their base city, while others commute across the country or even from another country. Each day that you’re working is always different. We start with a quick stop by the flight attendant lounge to sign in and meet our crew. Then we could work up to four flights in a day with sits in certain airports before we end the day in our layover city.
What are some of your favorite parts of being a flight attendant?
My favorite parts of the job are discovering new places and the endless possibility for adventures. I prefer to work domestic trips with thirty-hour layovers. Cities such as Sioux Falls, SD and Jackson Hole, WY are some of my favorite places in the country that I barely even knew existed five years ago.
I’ve also been on a kick to visit as many national parks as possible, so I’ll plan my layover cities that have easy access to the parks on my short list. I highly recommend the national park pass if you don’t have one (it’s only around $80 for the year)!
One of my favorite perks about working for Delta specifically is the amount of international destinations we fly to. Since I started over four years ago, I’ve been based in New York City, Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), and Orlando (MCO). This has allowed me to work trips to over twenty different countries. We have a hotel provided for us on our layovers as well as transportation to and from the airport.
Also, another plus is that I never take work home with me!
Are there any downsides?
One of the hardest parts of the job is leaving home for long periods of time. My commute to work is pretty gnarly as well. It starts with a ten-minute walk to the train station. Then, an hour-long train ride north to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. After security and customs, I fly standby to Detroit (usually about an eight-hour flight). Upon arrival in Detroit, I usually have about six hours until a same-day trip or stay the night in a hotel for a trip the following day. I try to do a couple of trips back to back, so I’m usually gone for seven to nine days, leaving my husband to take care of our pups!
Eating restaurant and airport food gets old and makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That first home-cooked meal after a trip is priceless!
This job demands a lot from our bodies as well. The constant time changes and fluctuating work schedule (including 3:00-4:00 AM departures and red-eyes) challenge you to stay healthy. I try to plan out healthy meals, maintain a gym schedule and, most importantly, sleep!
Is there anything about your job that those of us on the outside would be surprised to know?
The pay structure of a flight attendant is interesting. We technically only get paid from the time the aircraft pushes back from the gate until our arrival at the next gate, so we’re not getting paid for all the time spent commuting to work, briefing in the lounge and enduring any delays due to mechanical issues or weather.
Also, when a flight attendant refuses to pick up your roller-board suitcase to place it in the overhead bin because it’s too heavy for you to pick up, it’s not because we’re rude (although some people’s delivery isn’t the most professional). Most likely that encyclopedia- or brick-filled bag is too heavy for us to pick up as well. We will gladly notify a gate agent and will check it to your final destination for no charge. Our company policy instructs us not to lift bags and we aren’t protected by our health insurance or worker’s compensation if we get injured.
What makes you successful in this line of work?
Honestly, it sounds cheesy, but it’s all about having a good attitude. I’ve worked with some people who are pessimistic and grouchy all day and for the entirety of the trip. I try to come to work, be nice to passengers, maintain a drama-free environment with my co-workers, and enjoy my layovers!
Also, something I’ve learned is that the airline industry is ever-changing and you have to remain fluid. Whenever I sign in for a trip, I’m essentially at the mercy of our operations and the ‘scheduling gods.’ That lovely thirty-hour layover in Seattle could turn into a nine-hour layover in Birmingham all because of the thunderstorms around the Atlanta airport.
What are one or two things someone should know before committing to your career?
The most important thing to know is that the beginning of the career is very challenging, not only professionally but also on your personal life. If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to have the support of your significant other. The starting pay isn’t the greatest, and some airlines don’t even pay you for your two-month training. You’ll most likely be scheduled during weekends and holidays and there’s a possibility you’ll have to relocate to a new city depending on where you’re based.
Also, like most jobs, it’s all about seniority. The more senior you are, the more flexibility you have with your schedule, vacation, days off, etc.
Is there an exciting, provocative, or funny story from your work that you’d like to share? I’m sure you meet some characters.
I’m trying to think of the most appropriate story to tell, lol.
There was that one time a woman asked me to help place an oddly shaped box in the overhead bin. As I assisted her, I cracked a joke and asked what was inside. She then replied with, “Oh, it’s my mom.” Her. Mother’s. Ashes. 🤦🏻♂️ You can’t make this stuff up.
I’ll preface this second story by saying that it is ALLEGED just to cover all my bases 😉 I was the flight leader on a flight from LAX to JFK about six months out of training and was lucky enough to have a prominent NBA player with known substance abuse issues onboard. After finding out his family was going to stage an intervention, he was fleeing to his New York apartment. He was highly intoxicated and vomited all over his seat and the first class bathroom before proceeding to sit in his own filth. He also used other first class passengers’ heads to keep himself from falling as he walked to his seat. We ultimately kicked him off the flight, and by the time we landed in New York City TMZ was already covering the story.
What is your favorite or most trusted piece of travel advice?
This may not be the most exciting bit of advice, but travel insurance has been a lifesaver for me. If you’re shelling out a ton of cash on airline tickets, a cruise, or a fancy hotel, it’s worthwhile to spend the minimal amount on travel insurance just in case of emergency.
On a totally different note, I usually try to be as self-sufficient as possible while flying. Bring your own refillable water bottle and take advantage of the filling stations in the airport. I also have a little “mom kit” in my bag at all times that includes Lysol disinfectant wipes, earplugs, an eye mask, backup headphones, a phone charger, bandaids, Tide To-Go pen, ibuprofen, lotion, and more.
Any advice for people who tend to be nervous fliers?
My best advice is that you can take comfort in knowing that turbulence is completely normal. I know that’s what usually scares people the most. As long as your seatbelt is fastened, you’ll be just fine. The most dangerous phases of flight are actually takeoff and landing.
Also, upon boarding just let a flight attendant know that you’re a nervous flier. I always give those passengers extra love and attention throughout the flight.
What can we as airline passengers do to make your job easier and our experience better?
When you get to your seat, you could educate yourself with whatever pamphlets and information are in your seatback pocket. That’ll usually list information on safety, onboard food and beverages, how to connect to WiFi, and arrival airport information and layout.
During the beverage service, especially on short flights, if you have your drink and snack order ready and your tray table lowered it will help the flight attendants be able to serve all passengers in a timely manner.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you, your career, or any of the places you’ve been?
Travel and exploration of this world keeps me going. I’m always planning my next trip, whether it’s for work or pleasure. It’s important to me to have a good balance between adventure, relaxation, culture, and eating local food. I try to research beforehand to scope out unique neighborhoods and restaurants and the closest mountain or trails to hike! I find the most helpful information on travel blogs such as this one and the AllTrails app for hiking and trail information.
If flying for free is appealing to you and you’re looking for a part-time job, see what airline positions are available at your local airport. Hopefully, I painted a good and realistic picture of a career as a flight attendant. If none of that sounds appealing to you and you’re still single – you can always marry someone in the industry! 😉
**Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. All photos were provided by Peter. Follow him around the world through his Instagram @peterjgaspar.
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This flight attendant Travel Career Snapshot was first published on January 7, 2020, and last updated on January 7, 2021.
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