WHAT IT MEANS TO COMMUTE AS A
Most people have some sort of daily commute to get to and from work. Well, that is, unless you live across the street from your workplace or work from home. You might listen to The Breakfast Club on your drive, scroll through The Shade Room on the train, or use your bus ride to get lost in a new novel. But when flight attendants and pilots talk about commuting, it’s a different story.
When we say “commute,” we don’t mean the act of getting to the airport. Not all flight attendants live in the city where they’re based; instead, when we say “commute,” we’re talking about the flight or flights it takes to get from where we live to the trip origination base.
Flight attendants add at least two legs (flights) to the entire trip – one to get to work and return home. Thankfully, we don’t have to pay for flights to and from work, but up until recently, we had to fly standby, which means that we’re guaranteed a spot on the plane. If a paying customer didn’t buy the seat, we got to go to work/home. We can also book a jumpseat. In aviation, a jumpseat as an extra seat for individuals other than ordinary passengers who are not operating the aircraft.
My airline understood that the COVID-19 pandemic had created significant challenges industry-wide for crew members commuting to work. There are fewer flights in almost all markets, equaling fewer available seats and blocking middle seats. So, they decided to give flight crew positive space while commuting to and from work. Being eligible for a confirmed seat has been a game-changer. Commuting adds a great deal of stress even though many flight attendants choose to live this way.
As far as commutes go, mine is considered a double commute. I live in Lincoln, Nebraska, and commute to Atlanta, Georgia. My local airport Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK), no longer flies to Atlanta. So, I drive to Omaha, Nebraska, which is about 45 minutes away. There are two to four direct flights a day that depart from Omaha to Atlanta. The aircraft is usually the Boeing 717. Before Covid-19, I lucked out and was always able to book the jumpseat or get a seat on the first or second try. This isn’t always the norm – I know flight attendants who have been reduced to tears upon realizing there was no way to go to or from work.
My particular airline requires me to be on call six days a month. When I’m on demand, I don’t know where I’m going or even if I’m going anywhere once I get to Atlanta. I just need to be there and be prepared to get to the airport with as little as three hours’ notice. I prefer to stay at crew hotels which give airline crew a discount. The two I like to use cost $54 and $61 a night and have a complimentary breakfast and free shuttle to and from the airport. Other flight attendants use “crash pads,” which are run out of apartments or houses (think hostels) and are specifically for airline crew to “crash” between trips.
Here’s an example of how commuting goes for a trip:
I wake up at 4:15 am on Monday to arrive at the airport for an early flight to Atlanta. I give myself an hour to get ready and arrange my things. The earlier, the better because people are more likely to oversleep and miss their flights. I reach Omaha at 5:15 am, park my car in the employee parking lot, and walk to the terminal. Since I’m an airline employee, I use KnownCrewmember to bypass regular security. During my flight, I typically watch a movie on Delta Studio, or I sleep. I arrive in Atlanta an hour before my sign in. On this particular day, I have a three-day trip with layovers in Hartford, Connecticut, and Mobile, Alabama. After my trip, I fly back to Omaha and then drive home to Lincoln.
My version of flight attendant life might not always look like this. I’ve considered transferring to a closer base like Minneapolis or Detroit or moving permanently to a Delta base because it would be nice to drive to and from work. But most of my family lives in Lincoln, and we’re incredibly close. Being born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, there’s so much comfort in living in the city where you grew up. I also love my little apartment and the cost of living. When I think of the bigger picture, commuting is a small price to pay to work a job I love that allows me to travel the world. On top of all that, I have more days off working with Delta than I ever had with any other employer. I average two weeks off a month.
Next time you’re feeling frustrated about your hour-long train ride to work, remember the flight attendants who commute from rural Mississippi to New York City. Or the one who drives four hours from Alabama to Atlanta several times a month. Or my personal favorite – the flight attendant who makes the two-leg journey from London, England to Atlanta.