Inside the Flight with Chelsea Gwinn

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with air travel. Down to every last detail of a flight. Which is probably one of the reasons I got into this whole life of travel. I  can’t get enough of it. The moment the door closes, the cabin pressurizes, wheels go up, and you’re in the sky. There is no other feeling like it.

I can’t even count the amount of questions I get regarding it. But, alas I am NO expert when it comes to this stuff. But my friend and flight attendant, Chelsea Gwinn, has all the answers. I follow her  on Instagram (you should too) because I love seeing where she’s headed next. One of her most recent trips took her to one of my bucket list places: Havasu Falls and one of my favorite places in Canada: Banff. Keep reading as she opens up about life, love and and her career.

Q. Where’s your home base and what  airline you work for?

A. I’m based in BWI (Baltimore) and I work for Southwest Airlines.

Q. Walk us through your typical day when flying for work. How early do you arrive to the airport? What are some of your preflight tasks? Once the plane lands in its destination and everyone deplanes what do you do?

A. One of the cool things about flying is that there are a variety of “typical” days! We can report at anytime during the day or night, and our duty day can be anything from 1 flight a day to 7. We are required to be at the airport 1 hour prior to departure on our first day, and we must be at the gate 30 minutes prior to departure. I’ll use a recent trip as an example.

I started by reporting to the airport in my home base at 07:25. When we arrive to the gate we have to do security and equipment checks on the airplane which usually takes us about 5 minutes. Then we get into our boarding positions (front, middle, and back of the aircraft) and let the boarding process begin. I worked two flights and then had an overnight/layover in Boston where we arrived at 16:49. After everybody deplanes and we’re done for the day, we clean the aircraft and head to our overnight hotel. Overnights can be anywhere from 7-24 hours.

On day 2 we worked two flights to Little Rock (Arkansas)  and had another overnight. The next morning we reported at 05:15 and worked 4 flights back to base. This is how a 3-day trip is structured, and it’s our most typical trip. I do not live where I’m based, so because I’m a commuter I fly back home on the third day after returning to base.

Q. Out of all of the jobs, what interested you the most about becoming a flight attendant?

A. The flexibility. Travel perks are a close second, but the flexibility this job allows makes it possible to travel more and free up my time when I want it. I can work 3 days on 3 days off, or 7 days on 7 days off. If I want to work a bunch to make more money I can, and if I don’t want to work at all – I don’t have to! It takes some work to manipulate your schedule of course, but it’s always possible.

Some of her days off have taken her to wonderful places, like Iceland! Look at that waterfall.

Q. Do you ever get to fly with the same in flight crew (including the pilots)?

A. Yes, sometimes! Typically, our crew is different for every trip. We stay together for three days and we could see each other next week or not for another 2 years. It’s very random. Our pilots can be from other bases so that’s even more likely to change. However, we can bid to work with certain people if we want to. If we are based in the same city we are more likely to fly together or at least see each other in passing.

Q. Have you ever worked a long haul? If not, would you ever want to experience that?

Long hauls for us are around 5 ½ hours. I like working these longer flights as opposed to several shorter flights with a constant up-and-down. The boarding and deplaning process is most flight attendants’ least favorite part of flying, so anytime we can cut down on that it’s better. We are lucky that we don’t have 16 hour international trips, and I’m fine with not experiencing that. I save those longer trips abroad for my time off!

Q. What’s your favorite route?

A. I like working in the time zone I live in, so I love trips that fly around the east coast for a few days. It gets tiring flying coast to coast and changing time zones so I like to keep it simple.

Q. Do you have a dream airline you want to work for? Which one and why?

A. I already work for my dream airline! We have great benefits, company culture, and a good contract. An airline with more international destinations and first class options would be cool, but I don’t mind saving that kind of thing for leisure travel. I’m happy at the LUV airline when it comes to my job!

Q. What’s your favorite destination you’ve visited on a work trip?

A. It’s always great when I can get a layover at the city that I live in, but I also love Costa Rica, San Diego, and Fort Lauderdale. Almost every city has its own unique charm so I enjoy seeing different places. Typically flight attendants love layover cities that are near good restaurants, shopping, walking trails, and movie theaters! It gives us things to do on our overnights.

Q. How much time do you actually get to dedicated to exploring a place when you’re there on a layover?

A. It can be anywhere from 7-24 hours for us! When we have a short overnight we typically see the airport and the hotel and that’s about it. When I have more time I get out and explore a lot more.

Q. What’s your go to plane snack?

A. I pack all my food for three day trips in a “food bag”/ soft sided cooler. Flying can be a little extra taxing on the body, so I try to eat fresh and healthy food whenever possible. Lots of veggies, fruits, nuts, protein bars, and other easy things to snack on. Protein bars are my vice. In a pinch sometimes I buy m&ms and mix them with our peanuts and pretzels for a DIY airplane trail mix. It comes in handy on days where I can’t pack food and don’t have time to run off the plane and buy any.

Q. What’s the hardest thing about your job?

A. The lifestyle. The lifestyle that comes with the job is by far the hardest part. I can’t go home or make plans every day after work. I go back to a hotel room after a long day. It can be a lonely job.  I have to squeeze in all of my personal life stuff on my days off. It can be a lot, but it is manageable and the flexibility of the job allows me to take breaks if I need to. I find that if I’m getting burnt out I just try to take a couple of extra days off. Taking some personal time at home or seeing friends and family always helps to make me feel “grounded” again.

Q. Having a relationship must be so difficult. How do you deal with that?

A. It can be difficult! I’ve found that the “dating phase” is the hardest part. Once somebody decides they like you enough it’s easier to find your own unique version of “normal” for the relationship. I know millenials get a lot of flack for being attached to their phones, but technology is a blessing when you essentially have a long distance relationship for half of the week. In the past, I’ve had my boyfriend fly and meet me on overnights, or watch movies with me while in two different cities. You find little ways to make it work.

Q. How do you pack for flights? Traveling light must be incredibly difficult.

A. I’ve become very minimalistic in terms of packing. I usually bring a roll-aboard, small tote, and food bag. I keep a toiletry bag packed at all times and it stays in my suitcase along with headphones, my company ipad and required items, passport, and swimsuits. These items never leave my bag. Before every trip I’ll pack one or two casual outfits, something to sleep in, workout clothes, sneakers, an extra uniform, and makeup.

A lot of flight attendants will bring their own pillows or various comforts just for an extra touch of home while they’re away. I always bring a blanket with me! It’s a more personal touch to my hotel rooms but also I never know when I’ll stay overnight in base or need to sleep on a deadhead. (deadhead: when flight attendants are getting paid to fly somewhere for working purposes but not working the actual flight).

Q. Flight benefits- tell us about them!

I get to fly for free on my own airline and several other airlines that we have agreements with! I pay taxes on international flights only. Additionally, there are many airlines that I can fly using what is called a “ZED” fare. ZED fare is basically an agreement for reduced rate personal travel by airline employees and other travelers. So it’s a lower fare for us.

My parents, children, and spouse are also allowed to fly for free and use ZED fares. If we aren’t married we can choose one companion which we can change once a year. And in addition to all of these, we also can acquire a certain amount of buddy passes to give to whomever we like. The companions and buddy pass holders can fly on our airline only.

All of these benefits require flying standby, which means that you only get a seat if there is an empty one on the aircraft. It CAN be a stressful way to travel if you’re not flexible – but it’s a perk that’s well worth it!

Q. What’s the weirdest or scariest thing you’ve ever experienced on a flight?

A. I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced anything too scary or too weird. I’ve been on a couple flights with aborted landings, and one where we had mechanical issue where we had to turn back and land directly after takeoff. I’ve experienced turbulence but I don’t find that scary so much as an annoyance. During one flight somebody tried to open the overwing window exit. It was weird but we weren’t in danger – as these exits cannot be opened during flight anyway. And of course when you’re working with the general public you will always have weird occurrences. We always have people use the lavs without shoes – that is one that continuously shocks me!

Q. With all of the fear associated with flying and the recent tragedies, have these affected you and the way you fly?

A. Getting on an airplane for me is just as normal as it is for somebody to hop in their car and drive to work every day. On a daily basis I’m not actively worrying if my flight that day will be the next tragedy. Not worrying doesn’t mean not expecting, though. Every second that I’m on board I’m acutely aware and prepared for anything that can happen. If anything were to happen I wouldn’t have enough time to be nervous as we are trained to handle these situations and a sense of duty kicks in instead. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me sometimes if I think about it enough. Anytime something happens involving flying it feels so real and close to home.

The biggest way it affects how I fly is a heightened sense of awareness. Each new event heightens us to a different level and security continues to be reactionary. In general, flying is very safe and your flight crew’s primary job is keeping safety as a top priority.

Last, but certainly not least where can we find you?

Instagram: @chelseagwinn

Blog: A Wanderful Life

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