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October 6, 2011

Confessions of A Real-Life Flight Attendant

Flirtatious pilots and sexcapades with passengers make the new show Pan Am seem positively professional.

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Photo Credit: Ellen Von Unwerth/Art + Commerce

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When the pilot texted me, "Do you want some of my ice cream?" referring to his bodily fluids, I was grossed out. I was going to be trapped in a tiny cabin with this man for days at a time. Worse, he had been sending similar texts to my female colleagues, sometimes flirting via text with several flight attendants at once while talking to the woman he was currently sleeping with. He had a trick for getting our phone numbers. "Get some lunch and relax," he'd say. "I'll text you when we're boarding." In a bar, when a sleazy guy hits on you, you can simply walk away. At 30,000 feet, the only escape is a parachute.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I'm 33, I'm from New York, and I've been a flight attendant for three years. I've worked for two major airlines, on international and domestic flights, in both coach and first class. When I heard ABC was airing a show about flight attendants from the 1960s, I wondered if it would have any relevance to the job today. The trailer shows one girl ditching her wedding for a life of adventure — "I'll be a Pan Am stewardess!" she shouts excitedly. It also shows girls weighing in at work and being girdle-checked to see if they're wearing the proper undergarments.

In 2011, our uniforms are formless, so we can choose to have them tailored in any manner we want. Some women wear super-high stilettos and skirts hemmed so short that management reprimands them. Flight attendants gossip about each other's revealing outfits. "Did you see those heels?! You could see up her butt!" I wear flats or kitten heels and my hair in a French twist. I usually wear red lipstick, but I don't overdo it. It doesn't matter, though — I'm hit on constantly.

I love the spontaneity and adventure of my job — also very played up in the Pan Am teaser — but working for the airlines has made me quite cynical about love and marriage.

One pilot didn't realize he was fiddling with his wedding ring when he asked me to sleep with him during a layover. When I reminded him that he had a wife and kids, he brushed it off and asked me again! Another pilot was flirting with me during boarding, putting his arm around my waist, when his copilot came over and loudly said, "Hey, man, when's your baby due?" Disgusting but typical. If a pilot thinks he can get away with something, he'll try to. The ice-cream pilot bothered me so much that I put him on my "no-fly" list so I wouldn't have to work with him again. (Everyone gets to designate one pilot and one flight attendant with whom they have problems as "no-fly.")

Unless there's a security risk, however, we can't keep sketchy passengers off the planes. One unkempt businessman, drinking Jack and Coke at 8 a.m., spent his entire flight trying to get my phone number. He kept asking where I was spending the night and where I was based. Oh — and his wife was asleep in the seat next to him.

Not that all the men are horrible. Sometimes flight attendants call dibs on "in-flight boyfriends," cute regulars or one-time passengers we end up talking to a lot. Since my job is so demanding and I have no time to date, I consider it a date in the sky. And no, I haven't slept with anyone mid-flight — like former stewardess Lisa Robertson, who reportedly had a "mile-high" moment in 2007 on a Qantas Airlines flight to Dubai with actor Ralph Fiennes — though sometimes I do see passengers heading to the bathroom together. When that happens, I'll go up to them and say, "You know, that bathroom is really small." That usually sends them back to their seats pretty fast.

One time, I had a passenger from Montana who was really hot, and we ended up talking about skiing. He gave me his card. A few weeks later, I texted him, "Hey, this is the flight attendant. Remember me?" He wrote back immediately, "Can I take you skiing?" I packed a bag and jumped on a plane that day. I spent the night at his place and visited him twice that winter, but I ended up breaking it off because he was too young for me. But it was fun while it lasted.

Flight attendants compete over cute passengers by being overly talkative, bringing them extra blankets, and refilling their drinks. Rumor has it that two flight attendants even got into a fistfight over a pilot. There's definitely competition — not just for pilots and passengers, but also for popularity. We gossip about each other, and since we all stay in the same hotel during layovers and hang out during the day and go barhopping at night, if you don't hang out, you're labeled a "slam-click" (someone who slams the door and clicks the lock shut on her social life), the airline equivalent of geek. Even though we're all adults, life in the sky can feel a lot like high school. I'll most likely be in the sky when Pan Am airs — but the crew and I will be setting our DVRs.


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