Twenty years ago, with my life at a serious crossroads, I applied to every single airline, and a few months later I was officially a flight attendant. I loved my new job, and it came with a completely new and exciting life.
But I didn’t sign up for what travel is like this summer.
The pandemic has changed flying more than any event I have experienced in my career. If 9/11 changed how we board planes and enter airports, Covid-19 changed the experience on the airplane all together. It created a strain and made everyone nervous. It brought politics into a realm that shouldn’t be political.
In the initial days of the pandemic, the airlines tried to save as much money as they could. They allowed early retirements and furloughed many employees; on top of that, many other employees quit to be with their families. Now we have an employee shortage. Once the mask mandate was dropped, passenger counts started to grow faster than airlines could handle. Now we are short-staffed and overworked. Not just pilots and flight attendants, but also ground crews. You may not think about ground crews, but without them there is no one to park the planes, drive the jet bridges so you can board and get off, load your bags and retrieve them, or scan boarding passes.
Something that is not common knowledge is that flight crews have time limits on how long they can work, generally 12 to 16 hours at a stretch. Besides being unsafe, it’s illegal for us to fly longer than that. If your flight crew gets delayed and hits that time, it doesn’t matter if you have somewhere to be, we are done when we are done. The way things are right now, there aren’t many back up crews, so your flight may be canceled.
Historically, summer is always a challenging time to fly, but this summer is much worse. There have been thousands of cancellations and delays each week, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. I have seen many people miss important things like weddings, cruises, international connections and even funerals. The tears are very real, for very real reasons, and there is nothing I as a flight attendant can do to help.
Travel is good for the soul. It revitalizes us, and allows us to re-center. Sometimes you need to feel sand under your toes, smell fresh pine trees or immerse yourself in the sounds of a new city just to remind yourself you are still alive. But the key this summer is to travel smart. Take as much of the stress out of travel as you can by planning ahead and being prepared. Here’s my best advice based on two decades of working at 30,000 feet.
If you are going on a cruise, leave the day before. Count it as part of your vacation. Stay in a hotel in a new city and explore. Have a nice dinner and a glass of wine and enjoy yourself. Wake up slowly, have some coffee and pancakes, and leisurely head to your boat. The extra money is worth the peace of mind. I recently worked on a flight that was delayed. A family of eight missed their connecting flight to Rome, which was the only flight of the day. They were going to a cruise which they would now miss. (Buying travel insurance is not a bad idea either.)
Always fly direct
That way if you are delayed, you…