Journalist, writer and former flight attendant Tiffany Hawk‘s debut novel, “Love Me Anyway,” details the true price of a free ticket to Honolulu.
When I tell people I spent five years as a flight attendant, they often ask if I still get free flights to dreamy vacation destinations like Hawaii or Grand Cayman. Unfortunately not. What these folks don’t realize, though, is that holidays in Honolulu weren’t the best part of the job. Sure the flight benefits were amazing – I filled my passport within a year and had 48 more pages sewn in. But in all honestly, the real gift of that job was the people. When I started at United, we had 26,000 flight attendants. I almost never flew with the same person twice, so it continues to surprise me how well I remember so many of my crews. It’s astonishing how deeply a crew can connect over the course of a three-day trip or even a three-hour flight. Perhaps it’s the peripatetic lifestyle that makes flight attendants so instantaneously trusting and generous and intimate with each other, affection born out of necessity. Or maybe it’s just a matter of being around kindred spirits. Wherever it comes from, it leads to something we liked to call “jumpseat therapy.” The minute the cabin is buttoned up for takeoff or landing, we’d strap into our harnesses and immediately divulge our inner most secrets and scandals, tragedies and dreams.
Let me tell you, flight attendants are one intriguing bunch. They’re the kind of people who are brave enough, or foolish enough, or alone enough, to pick up and relocate wherever their airline tells them to and then spend twenty nights a month in twenty different hotels. They’re the kind of unflappable people who can put out an oven fire at 35,000 feet and administer CPR in the aisle of a 737. The kind of people who make $20,000 a year but can jet off to Paris for a bottle of perfume or tell you the best place for dim sum in Hong Kong or chocolate in Bruges. The kind of people who can answer a 3 a.m. call from the crew desk and be at the airport two hours later ready to go anywhere on earth. People so seasoned they don’t even ask where they’re going, just what time they should check in.
It was marvelous to be part of that club. I can remember being at the airport in New Delhi at about 1 a.m., watching packs of flight attendants from around the globe scope out each other’s uniforms – the smart red skirt-suits of Virgin Atlantic, the iconic blue and red sarongs of demure Singapore Girls, the elegant Emirates veils. We looked at each other with envy, curiosity and solidarity. We spoke different languages, lived on disparate continents, but we were the same.
As I made my way around the world, these nomadic people became my family. Year after year, I grew more and more compelled to tell our story. I didn’t want to just compile anecdotes from the plane (that’s been done before, and done well), but I wanted to share what it’s like to live everywhere and nowhere at the same time. So I wrote about it; the fact I am now a journalist and author left me no other option. Just released this month, Love Me Anyway lays bare the emotional side of the airline industry and globetrotting lifestyle of the people who get you from here to there, with all its temptations, loneliness, and unshakable camaraderie. To those who read “Love Me Anyway,” I hope I do justice to this extraordinary world. For the rest of you, if I can leave you with one thing, it’s that the wonder of travel is not about the place. It’s about the people.
Check out the “Love Me Anyway” book trailer here:
A former flight attendant, Tiffany Hawk is a graduate of UCLA and the MFA program at UC Riverside. Her essays and stories have appeared in such places as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, National Geographic Traveler, The Potomac Review, StoryQuarterly, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Her debut novel, Love Me Anyway, is a darkly funny story about love, family, and life at 35,000 feet. Tiffany and her pilot husband live wherever the Air Force sends them. For the moment, that’s Washington D.C.