Back in Blue

***disclaimer*** names have been changed (as well as my own) to protect the privacy of my friends and family. For the list of main characters on my blog, click here

I’ll admit, I’ve been looking forward to sharing my adventures from where I left off in February, but I’ve been dreading writing this post.

Why?

Well, for one, I had the over-ambitious goal of posting every week during training. That just didn’t happen. What I didn’t realize was how exhausted I’d be from mentally going 100 miles per hour 6 days a week, 16 hours a day and then only getting one day off. On this much-coveted free time, I spent most of the day sleeping, facebooking and studying for the next week. As if that wasn’t enough to deter my writing muse, my laptop had some serious issues that may or may not have resulted from spilling wine on the track pad during a particularly stressful night. I had to take it in for repairs, and Murphy’s Law took hold—I didn’t get it back for one reason or another for nearly 3 weeks (!?). Despite the most optimistic intentions, I got far behind on my updates and now I hardly know where to start. Since I last posted, not only have I gone through training, but I’ve graduated (heck yes!), gone through orientation and even gone on a few adventures! It’s incredibly hard to try to remember where I was when I left off, and doing justice to the amount of information I have to share.

I thought long and hard about how I’d go about doing this post, and decided I’d break it up into three main parts. The People, The Process and The Place. My goal is not just for this post to be for the people who know me and want to follow my rendezvous, but also as a resource for future flight attendant trainees who might be searching for some insight into what they can expect. If I can make it, so can you. It’s one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do in your life, but it will be absolutely worth it if you persevere and give it your all.

The People

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Me and my new roomies/fellow trainees at our after-graduation dinner in Charlotte. From top to bottom right: Belle, me, Aurora and Jasmine!

One of the first things we do when we arrive at training is mingle with each other. Honestly, out of all the reasons a person has to be nervous about flying across the country and going to Flight Academy, the one I had the most anxiety about was the people. I never joined a Greek organization in college because I preferred to find my own little crew of similar-minded oddballs. My closest friends are people I’ve known for years, or had natural personal chemistry with from the day we met. The concept of being thrown together in a fricassee of opposing personalities and making friends with people I otherwise had nothing in common with was downright scary. Especially considering how introverted I am.

But, I put my big girl pants on, and once we checked into our hotel, I started to talk to my fellow classmates. In a roundabout sort of way, we are each other’s family for the next 4+ weeks. The first day, waking up at 5:30 AM and getting my non-early bird self down to breakfast, I hardly wanted to talk to people. I got myself a plate of hot breakfast, and sat down groggily. When the shuttle arrived to take us to the training center, we shuffled into it single file and took our seats next to complete strangers.

Then something unexpected happened.

The shuttle driver turned on the radio and started playing the Phoenix top 40 station. The song “Scream and Shout” by Britney Spears and Will.I. Am came blaring through the speakers, and we all looked at each other and then started jamming. It was amazing how the music connected us. We may not have had anything in common other than our status as trainees, but the songs are the same on top 40 stations across the country and it broke the ice almost instantaneously. I made friends with people from literally every corner of this country, and several others.

By the end of training, we were emotionally invested in each other’s success. We had nicknames, all kinds of memories from “boot camp” and an unbreakable bond. About halfway through training we had to decide which base we were going to bid for. A base is essentially the airport where you originate all your flights and are stationed when on duty. We had three choices; Washington DC, Philadelphia PA, or Charlotte NC. All the cities have their pros and cons. Philly has lots of international flights, the thought of which makes me drool. Washington DC is beautiful and our capital and has direct flights to Chattanooga. Charlotte is only 5 hours away from Chattanooga (my hometown) and only a 1 hour direct flight. The cons were that Philly is far away from home and rather industrial looking. Washington DC is expensive and not much international flights. Charlotte—well—I couldn’t think of any cons. I guess the thought of getting less international flights seemed a little sad, but you can’t beat the direct flight home to Chattanooga. Plus, it’s still in the South (I never realized just how much I’d miss sweet tea) yet has enough of that “big city” feel to make it interesting. So, surprise, surprise, I chose Charlotte. More on that in a later post!

Also at training, I met my three roommates Aurora, Belle and Jasmine. Belle was the first person I saw when I walked into the Drury Inn that first day in Phoenix. Somehow, and I can’t explain it, I knew just from looking at her that we’d be friends. She has this sweet face and kind demeanor. We started chatting and hit it off immediately. Shortly after, we met Jasmine (the Indian Princess). She’s the most outgoing, talkative, hilarious person. She could make conversation with the wind and somehow, she thinks I’m bust-a-gut funny. Honestly, I think my humor is more dry and odd than anything, but she and I click. I didn’t know Aurora until Jasmine told me she had asked her to live with us in a moment of spontaneous enthusiasm. My initial impression of her was quiet, meek and very pretty. She was a contestant in many beauty pageants in Louisiana and has won several of them. I wasn’t sure she and I would be close because I’m also rather reserved around new people at first, but sure enough, I’ve gotten to know her and I’m so glad she’s with us. She has contributed more than her share to our new home, and is a fantastic cook.

In addition to my roommates, I met so many awesome people who I probably never would’ve imagined I’d become close to. It’s kind of like a pressure cooker on a stove—you’re crammed together and you have no choice but to simmer in the same stew. So, you might as well make friends. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of drama going on with clashing personalities and exhausted minds. Most of it I wasn’t aware of until sometime told me so-and-so had pissed off so-and-so, and often times I didn’t even pay attention to it then. When you’re in training, your priority needs to be learning the material and mastering the concepts. Everything else is second fiddle, even making friends. I wasn’t trying to get all buddy-buddy with people, but it managed to happen anyway, and I’m so grateful for that. Training taught me to get out of my shell and just be myself around total strangers.

The Place

This little Tennessee girl had never gone anywhere close to the west coast, let alone Mexico. Naturally, one of the reasons I wanted this job to begin with was the travel. I wanted to get out of Chattanooga and see what was beyond the horizon. Phoenix is literally in the desert (you should have seen my face when I saw my first cacti) and has very dry heat. It’s sunny all the time, and it feels amazing on your skin. In training, we spent our lunches outside every day in the warm (February!) sun. Back in Tennessee, it was icy and grey, but when we touched down in Phoenix, I knew it was going to be fun.

the beautiful pool at our hotel in Phoenix

the beautiful pool at our hotel in Phoenix

I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked exploring the city, because, like I said,  we were busy every day, but I really loved getting to enjoy the gorgeous weather. Darcy got to go to the Grand Canyon when he came to visit, and went hiking on some of the desert/mountain trails. I was so jealous and I hope we go back some time in the future so I can really delve into the local nightlife and sightseeing. I am super outdoorsy, and I’d jump at the chance to leave my hiking boot footprints all over this floating rock we call Earth!

The Process

one of many cabin mock-up training sessions. Those oxygen masks are hard to pack away again!

one of many cabin mock-up training sessions. Those oxygen masks are hard to pack away again!

The class syllabus was filled with safety drills, aircraft familiarization, equipment usage and service procedures. We’d wake up first thing in the morning in our hotel rooms at around 5:30 (or maybe that was just me, because I don’t like feeling rushed when I’m trying to get myself to resemble a functioning human that early), have a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby, and then get on the buses. Sleepy banter and exam preparation was a staple for those 10 minute bus rides, in which we’d drill each other on the latest test, catch up on class gossip, and of course, text/facebook/tweet like nobody’s business. After we got to class, no one was allowed on their phones, so we had to keep them stowed and silent.

When we got to our classrooms, we immediately would get on the computers and take our exams. There were tests almost daily for the first 3 weeks—on the aircraft types, policy and procedure, crew duties, and all 204 airport codes. It was an incredible amount of information to digest in such a short amount of time, and those of us who continued to pass (a score of 90 or above required) were a testament to what we were told at the beginning: only the best and the brightest of the trainee candidates would make it to the end and get our wings. Seeing people not pass was very hard. A good 10 people or so didn’t make it over the course of the program, and seeing them say their tearful farewells was incredibly difficult. The hard fact is that some people just aren’t cut out for this lifestyle or the pressure that comes from the intense training.

standing next to a powerful jet engine! I love my job!

standing next to a powerful jet engine! I love my job!

Our instructors regaled us with tales of how atypical the life of a flight attendant is. On one hand, we have the luxury of travel and layovers in luxury hotels along the beach, but sometimes it’s not so picturesque. For example, one instructor described an instance where the lavatory’s flushing mechanism broke, and it did the exact opposite of its usual function— flinging waste all over the lavatory walls. The flight attendants had the unique responsibility of cleaning crap off the insides of the plane, and helping the poor passenger who had caused the explosion back to her seat. Anything can happen, and no two days look quite the same. We literally have to be ready for a sh*t storm, or anything else the trip can throw at us. And not only do we have to know how to react, we have to know how to direct others to react.

For example, one of the exercises we had to participate in as a class was operate a real life raft in the pool at a university in Phoenix. All of us had to jump in the pool, 2 at a time, inflate our life vests, swim to the raft, and haul ourselves aboard. Once we were crammed in like sardines, we had to verify all the necessary supplies were present and accounted for, and then put up the tarp over the raft to shield us from the sun and elements that a crew and passengers might experience at sea.

The life raft in the pool.

The life raft in the pool.

The last hurdle before we got our wings was the operational flights. This meant us brand new trainees had to go on a real flight of no less than 5 hours and prove our mettle in the air! I remember being so nervous about this because its one thing to practice in the classrooms, but an entirely different thing to stand up in front of nearly 200 people and perform the safety demo. I was afraid everything I’d learned would disappear from my head when I needed to access it, and the instructor who would be grading my performance would laugh me off the aircraft. Those who know me are aware of how hard on myself I can be. Every time I took a test during training, no matter how hard I’d studied, I was convinced there’d be something on the test I wouldn’t know and I’d just obsess obsess obsess over it all morning. After the test, I’d realize I was prepared and how silly I’d been to think I’d fail, but in the heat of the moment it was scary!

When I met my OE flight instructor early early early  Monday morning at the Charlotte airport, she put me at ease immediately. She wanted me to think of her as someone who was there to help me succeed rather than someone to criticize and watch me fail. I felt a stress balloon deflate somewhere in my psyche after that, and I passed my flight with flying colors (no pun intended)! There were some minor mistakes I made on the flight to Phoenix and back, but knowing my instructor was watching with sympathetic eyes made all the difference. I made up my mind that day that I was going to succeed in this new job, really make it my business and enjoy every minute of it.

Darcy came all the way to Phoenix for my graduation, bless his heart, even though its an expensive flight (I didn’t have my benefits active yet) and we only had a few hours to spend together. Graduation was on a Tuesday morning and they shipped us to Charlotte right after, and I didn’t get back from my operational experience flights until Monday night. Still, seeing him after nearly a month and a half apart was totally worth it.

words cannot describe how proud I am to have received these!

words cannot describe how proud I am to have received these!

I can’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to have been chosen out of thousands of applicants to interview for this job, then go to training and succeed, and now to be hired and starting on a new adventure. Its still so surreal to be getting paid to do something I absolutely love. Work doesn’t feel like work. And I couldn’t be happier to see what’s around the corner.

Until next time my dear readers! And I do apologize for the delay in updates.

Catch me if you can!

–Carmen

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One thought on “Back in Blue

  1. Pingback: 10 Tips To Succeed In Flight Attendant Training | The Winged Wayfarer

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