As a part of the admissions process to pursue my Master's Degree in Business Management, with concentrations in Business & Managerial Psychology, I was required to submit a piece on how I would describe myself. Since then, I finished the degree with distinction.
However, today I find myself reflecting on what I had written at the time...
Shlomo Artzi sings:
"'Can you live life on the ground, as though it were up in the sky?’ The flight attendant answered, with both of her eyes smiling that ‘it's a matter of perspective’. Now he knows how she is, ‘the bird in flight…'"
Like the song, I symbolically wondered amongst the clouds, with "2 minutes for landing” and “2 minutes for takeoff." In every takeoff and landing, I was asked to sit at the edge of my seat vigilantly, ready for anything.
For three whole years, I was a bird living in the air, living a little up, living a little down, but mainly living.
The story usually started at the wee hours of the night, about a second and a half after falling asleep. When I was a flight attendant, I learned how to become more efficient with every flight routine. I did this from every shower to making coffee, doing my hair in between, makeup, nail polish, dress, jacket, and boots, always hoping to never find a tear in my stalkings. It was my last chance to grab my Crew ID, safety badge, and medication with only a second to leave. I concluded that these were my "must-have" essentials and could manage without the rest.
Jumping into my Ford Fiesta, I would be in the Yanai Interchange within 25 minutes, which was the pick-up point for the Northern Israeli flight crew. Usually, I would have 5 minutes to spare, unless it was a Saturday night, where there would always be traffic. During this time, I would load my luggage, carry-on, flight crew bag, and laptop. Now imagine all of this gear carried by a 5'4" woman.
I would usually make small talk with the cab driver on the way to the airport. Back then, I lived in Zichron Ya'akov, so it was a long way to the airport. The driver always had something new to tell me, either caught up in politics, the stock exchange, or EL Al gossip. There was never a moment of silence.
Attend the briefing, grab the safety clip, and then we're off to dispatch.
I find myself with the cabin crew and Senior flight attendant (or two, depending on the plane), where sometimes I knew all of them, sometimes I knew none of them. It was certainly always interesting. Together, we would prepare the plane, getting it ready for the passengers beginning to board. There would be the typical jokes of "where is 1st class," or "could you upgrade me," as though I were the CEO of El Al.
Frankly, I always loved the boarding process, particularly when I got to greet passengers upon arrival. That way, I would always see everyone, have the opportunity to study the passengers, their behaviors, and have an idea of what to expect from them.
In my head, to see the bigger picture, I would quickly outline all of the possible scenarios, fixing every complicated problem the passenger could have. In any case, a smile upon arrival on the plane will always make for a great start. For myself, who is smiley by nature, this part usually went rather well for me. I remember in a pub in London, a flight attendant once told me that she doesn't smile because it makes her skin wrinkly. I smiled back at her and thought to myself how much I welcomed this type of wrinkle with open arms.
As passengers start to take their seats, many seating problems arise, such as couples whose seats got separated, big people requiring more space, superhero mothers with three little ones managing on their own. From this point forward until takeoff, I would tidy up and organize everything so that all the passengers would be as happy as possible.
I always found myself empathizing with all of the unique situations people were experiencing and would tend to every one of them. Between us, there's nothing that can't be solved with a smile, thinking outside of the box, and looking at the bigger picture.
This is what I loved the most––to see as many people's problems fixed as possible. It's their first flight for some passengers, and they are so nervous that I feel obligated to make sure they have the best experience possible.
And then there are the anxious people who come to me at the beginning of the flight to tell me they have flight aversion, can't sit near the back, and must go to the front of the plane. So I would bump up their seat per request to make them happy and willing to turn to me again to communicate when they were scared. In those moments of fear, I would bring the passenger a cup of cold water, kneel down so I would be at their eye level, and smile. They would smile back, and then we would begin to talk. I explained more details to them about the flight, its path, the cockpit, where the life vests are, where I'll be during the flight if they need me, and perform a few breathing exercises together. Talking would calm them down and usually result in them telling me at the end of the flight, "thank you, we have never experienced such a pleasant flight."
I was happy I gave them a little bit of the comfort and sensitivity that I could bring from the world of psychology, the bit of knowledge I obtained from the legal world, and a lot of myself, Gali. In essence, my fundamental love for humans, whether from my willingness to be there for someone else or from a place to take someone else by the hand and help them reach a place they find challenging to get to on their own. Across everything in life, we try to find the extra thing that will bring color to our life, and that's how I found my color. Because what gratification feels better than making another person feel good?
On the plane, for better or worse, each person is absorbed in their own world, whether as a passenger, flight attendant, senior flight attendant, security personnel, first officer, or captain. I find it all fascinating, as it is all diverse and all a part of the flight. Every flight, it starts all over, an unstoppable phenomenon of worlds colliding, which is fascinating because, for me, people are the most interesting part of our world. There are so many small worlds altogether, and every flight, I meet dozens, if not hundreds, of these worlds all over again.
Then I land, filled with experiences from the flight, which is never easy. It's fun most of the time, but never simple.
I would walk around wherever onboard and would always fill with tremendous excitement.
I don't really think I could ever get used to this beauty and experience. New York in the winter is not the same as New York in the summer. The Niagara Falls freeze over in the winter and are ever-flowing over the summer. Bangkok, on the other hand, is always humid...
I would stroll the streets, in crowded markets in the East, or explore stunning architectural structures across Europe. Negative 20ºC degrees in Toronto, but later the same week, I'm back to suntanning on a beautiful beach in Miami. Sometimes I was in Central Park, experiencing all of its glory and magnificent charm, with the wonderful activity of rollerblading in the summer or ice skating in the winter as the icing on the cake. People are usually playing music and dancing. And how could one forget all of the wonderful food, and of course, the diversity of crazy languages? The world is simply filled with never-ending excitement.
I'm happy. To be honest, I'm ecstatic. I travel with my iPod, with Israeli music usually played from it, while thinking, dreaming, and feeling inspired by these moments. This is my time with myself. These are the moments when I feel most whole and at peace with myself when no one or anything can take it away from me.
After a full, busy, yet fulfilling day out, never leaving room for a dull moment, I would return to my hotel in the evening. Everything in my life is usually organized and planned out, but honestly, a little more spontaneity wouldn't have hurt me. Whether at home in Israel or abroad, I am attached to my daily planner (some would say even too attached). Perhaps, this is my way of keeping myself grounded and achieving my goals no matter where I am.
The time has come to get ready for check-out. Again, the time has come for me to hope that my black stockings won't rip as I get dressed in my uniform.
All I can think about is coming home at this point in the journey. I'll find myself thinking about my family, spouse, friends, responsibilities, education, exams, errands to run, tasks, chores, etc. It is truly an art to know how to synchronize everything because even though I was abroad, my life in Israel did not come to a standstill. However, achieving this is not so simple. In moments that I ask for more spontaneity in my life, I am grateful for my organizational skills and effective ability to do a million things simultaneously.
Sometimes improvised, mental flexibility is a critical ingredient in this recipe called life. This can be exhausting since everything comes with a price, as do the rest of things in life. It takes learning by doing it yourself, repetitively every day, that life is about making priorities because prioritizing entails doing certain things to "win" and move ahead in life. Ultimately, you are always left with making a choice.
Sometimes, people need me, and I can not always physically be there for them. Sometimes, it's my best friend's birthday, and even then, I'm not able to be there. Occasionally, I plan everything down to every small detail. Even then, there is often some sort of "technical difficulty," meaning I'm not there again because of a delay from being stuck another day in some major European city. Sometimes, I feel like I'm not present enough at home, nor in the air. Even for myself, this is a confusing phenomenon to both process and express.
Now the flight has begun, so it's time to put on the smile. It's great that smiling generally comes naturally to me, but this is not always the case. So even in these trying moments, including the flight dynamic and million other things going on at once, I somehow find a way to pull myself away from the tempting dark thoughts. When I do this, the smile returns and the worries that seemed so critical only minutes ago are suddenly forgotten. You get used to the atmosphere: the dry, stuffy air inside the plane, the smell of warm food brewing, the 348 tourists, and the 40 first-class passengers.
Oh, and how could I forget the conversations held in the galley! Have I told you about them?
These conversations in the galley are between us, the staff, and the crew. This is where we share our adventures, the good and the bad, sometimes with bored passengers, or even with fascinating passengers (who will usually leave you with their business card). On occasion, it will even be with very famous passengers. Being in a plane is a unique situation for everyone, where all the passengers and I, the flight attendant, are imprisoned in a 37,000-foot metal pipe for 12 hours (more or less). When this humbling realization hits, there is no longer a sense of social hierarchy or status. At that moment, it seems different when we're all in the same boat, or, in this case, an airplane.
And the captain announces, "crew, 2 minutes for landing."
When landing, first the wheels in the rear touch down, and then you can feel the front reals touching down. At that point, the cabin applauds and cheers, singing “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem,” grateful for their safe landing. Cynicism aside, it actually excites me because I am a proud Israeli. It gives me a rush inside. Every time I get off the plane, I feel a resurged sense of great pride when I see the Israeli flag on the side of the aircraft.
This essay was a glimpse into a day or week into my life. So, even though my life looks rather different today, my experience as a flight attendant has become a part of who I am, and that will always stay with me. Traveling the world and engaging with various cultures has become the source of my aspirations to evolve further, discover, and contribute to the world.
I love people and have incredible excitement and passion for the things I want in life, as well as the things I have yet to discover.
And that's what makes up the bird in flight.