In November 2009 I somehow found myself in ground school. I had been hired as a flight attendant. I’m not sure how it happened. I had no real qualifications for the job. I didn’t even know I really wanted the job until after the interview. And then I really wanted it. And when I knew I had the job I was afraid I would fail the medical due to a recent surgery. But everything seemed to work out, and the next thing I knew I was training to be a flight attendant and being introduced to this fascinating but intimidating new world.
I realised one day, while my instructor was talking about 727s and 737s that I had absolutely no idea what the difference between the two were. Was one larger? Did one have more engines? Why was one in use and the other no longer?
‘Wow,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m in way over my head here’.
It didn’t help that there were three girls in the course who had been flight attendants before, and seemed desperate to exhibit their knowledge before the rest of us newbies, and scramble for the instructor’s attention. Usually I would just keep my head down and let the others answer questions, but now I found myself embarrassed to not know things. I did what any self-respecting university graduate would have done. I went to Wikipedia.
That night I was up hours past when I should have been, considering I had firefighting training in the morning – something, I assumed, I should be well rested and prepared for. I started with a basic search. “Boeing 727”. That led to “Boeing 737” and all the way up to “Boeing 787”, which was still being tested at the time. My next question was along the lines of “So what’s the difference between a Boeing and an Airbus then?”, which led to more Wikipedia reading. I ended the night waxing nostalgic on the Concorde page, and reminiscing about the time when that beautiful, incredible symbol of national pride flew over my house in England.
And that was probably when I became hooked. All that “research” really made me realise how amazing airplanes are, and after that I simply couldn’t learn enough. I remember walking into The Airline’s hangar in training, and staring in awe at the big, beautiful aircraft that were being worked on. I made friends with the mechanics, and bugged them for information. When I started flying I would pester the pilots with questions whenever I got the chance. On the whole, they were very helpful, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the flight attendant who wanted to learn everything she could. On my breaks, I would visit them in the flight deck. In exchange for making them tea or coffee, every day I would pick one button or dial and say “What does this do?” and from there they would give me a mini lesson until it was time for me to go back to the cabin and keep working.
I found myself becoming attached to the airplane that I most frequently worked on. I affectionately called her Lettie, a name I derived from her registration. Whenever boarding from the airstairs instead of a bridge, I would make an effort to pat her affectionately on the nose and say “Hello Girl”. This probably makes me sounds like a bit of a loon, but I couldn’t help but feel a kind of love for this wonderful machine that flew me to so many destinations and kept me safe at 32,000 ft. She wasn’t a shiny new plane. She was a Boeing 737-400 series. A little ghetto, truth be told. And she had a tendency to leak in the galley. All the time. Every time I would fly there would be water coming from somewhere (usually a result of melted ice in the canisters, or else the Coffee Maker of Doom). But she did the job. 36.5m long, and with a cruising speed of 439kt. Despite her occasional galley-related temper tantrum, most of the pilots agreed that she was the best of The Airline’s fleet to fly, and she was hands down my favourite.
Despite my constant thirst for knowledge about the aircraft and the actual flying, I found myself settling right into the flight attendant lifestyle, and loved almost every minute of it. Naturally it wasn’t all happy times. There were delays, constant catering issues, de-icing for the second time in one day (Ottawa in January is a magical place…), waking up and not knowing what province –or even country- you were in, trolley-related injuries, spending days and days working on minimum crew rest without even time for a beer, and full blown “clashes of character” in the galley. But every job has its issues, and aside from ours, Team YOW generally had a blast.
One day, during a break in the flight deck, it crossed my mind that being a pilot would actually be super cool. I casually asked the First Officer how he had gotten into it. He explained about the degree program. I was interested, but a little put off. It sounded like an expensive venture, not to mention a lot more school. Still, I filed it away in my mind under “Things I might do if I ever had the money and fancied more schooling”. It didn’t seem particularly important, since I’d “Always Wanted to be an Archaeologist”.
It was just the sort of thing I would think about every now and then, along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”
Then, one day in the middle of the Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, I got a very bad phone call. The Tour Operator for whom we had been flying had gone under. The Airline was fine, but they didn’t have any contracts for the YOW crew. We were, in short, screwed. Nine flight attendants out of work. Every so often The Airline would tease us with “possible charters”, but on the whole it was a bleak time. I got a bit depressed with the lack of flying, which wasn’t good, but it did throw some light on the fact that I had been really happy with flying. When I found myself driving around the airport and finding the perfect place to park my car and watch airplanes take off and land overhead, I knew it was time to re-examine this “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” idea I had stored away.
For weeks I had been driving past the airport every day on my way home, and I always saw the sign for the Flying Club. Every time I looked it it, it felt as though my brain crept closer and closer towards a conclusion.
Finally, one morning on my way into the city, my brain disengaged completely, and I discovered that my hands were turning the wheel. Before I knew it I was parking in the lot of the Flying Club.