Mashable contributor Heather Poole is a flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier. She's also the author of the New York Times bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 30,000 Feet. Follow her at @Heather_Poole
Airlines take their reputation seriously. There are strict rules about what flight attendants like myself can and can’t do while in uniform.
When I first started flying 18 years ago, I was told I couldn’t eat, drink or chew gum while walking through the airport terminal. (I have no idea if that rule still applies or if the company ever tried to enforce it.) Off duty we aren't allowed to drink alcohol at a bar or on an airplane if we’re wearing our navy blue polyester.
When we discard a work dress or blouse, we have to remove all the buttons and any airline insignia. If our uniform pieces are stolen, we must file a police report — God forbid somebody tries to impersonate us. Did you know there are nightclubs in Japan that allow patrons the opportunity to spend the evening with women wearing “a real life” flight attendant uniform? It’s why one international carrier sewed tracking numbers into each of its uniform pieces and require its flight attendants to return them once they stop flying.
I was reminded of this recently, when I shared some of this with a reporter looking to do a story about a "secret group" of flight attendants. When she first mentioned the secret group, my head started spinning. A secret group of flight attendants? How could I not know about a secret group of flight attendants?
I’m a flight attendant. I’ve been flying a million years. I wrote a New York Times bestseller about life as a flight attendant. So if there’s one thing I know, it’s what’s going on in the airline world — and yet I had no idea what this reporter was talking about.
“Crew life,” she clarified.
“...crew life?” I laughed. “You mean the hashtag crew life?” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.
I’ve been using #crewlife on Twitter and Instagram since 2009 as a way to connect with people who are interested in all things travel and to keep up with flight attendants who work for other airlines. I mainly use it when I write about work. There’s no secret society. The hashtag is just a social media tool used to connect with likeminded individuals. And that’s what I told the reporter. Followed by: “You have no story.”
And yet on and on she went about all the pretty flight attendants posting photos in uniform and tagging them with #crewlife. When she used the word "sexy" to describe them I realized what this was really about. Not #crewlife, not what it's like to work in the air, but pretty flight attendants in uniform. Didn’t matter if there was no secret society, as long as the New York Post could plaster photos of pretty flight attendants across its pages under the headline "Mile-High Selfies."
Which brings us to my quote that circled the world three times, along with those mile-high selfies:
"When I go to my Instagram feed and see [flight attendants] posting pictures in uniforms, I can't believe they do that," she said. "It's a big deal. The airlines protect their image, everything is very strict."
What I was talking about was risqué photos. The airlines are still strict about what we do, say, and post online. We’ve worked too hard for those travel passes to put our jobs in jeopardy. Do I take mile-high selfies? Of course I do. But I make sure to crop out the airline logo, and I might even use a black and white filter to make it even harder for you to tell which airline I work for. But that’s just me.
Even though times have drastically changed from the good ol’ days when travel was considered luxurious, people are still fascinated with flight attendants. Today it’s far from glamorous, but there’s still something about it that makes those of us who do it continue to spread our wings and fly. Once a flight attendant, always a flight attendant. And no matter how hard we might try to explain it, nobody else seems to quite get what we do. I've been married for 10 years and my husband still has trouble understanding my schedule. So in a way maybe we are a special group. But not because we want to be.
I tried to explain to the reporter how different things are today compared to how they were when I first started flying. In the past, airlines have had tight control over employees. Just Google “Ellen Queen of the sky.” She lost her job in 2004 for blogging, and I'm pretty sure it was that photo she took lounging across a row of coach seats with her blouse unbuttoned maybe one too many buttons that did her in. Or maybe it was her stockinged feet she was so fond of photographing in the aisle. While Ellen never mentioned the airline she worked for by name, her employer deemed some of the blog content inappropriate and fired her. That’s why some of our more senior flight attendants are much more reluctant to share things about the job online.
But new hires are a totally different story. Facebook and Twitter have made it harder for airlines to keep a tight rein on their employees, and social media allows us to not only stay in touch, but to stay informed with company policies and issues that arise on the job. In the past we didn’t have a way to discuss problems or come together during difficult times. Most people don’t realize we don’t work with the same crews every flight — sometimes I won’t see a coworker for years. In many ways we’re very isolated. It's a lonely job. But social media has changed that. Explains why some flight attendants (like me!) might seem overly active on social media.
I love my job. Most flight attendants do. So if you see us snapping a selfie at an airport or on an airplane, it’s only to catch a moment that we can look back on with pride. A moment we can share with family and friends on the ground, and with the other flight crew we pass in the sky. No big deal, no underground network, no secret society. Just #crewlife.
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