Wednesday, July 6, 2011

459. My Job Has Forced Me To Become An Alcoholic

Before I became a flight attendant, I rarely drank. Oh, sure, I’d have the occasional girlie umbrella cocktail if I was out with friends, but alcohol was just not normally on my radar.  All that changed the day United Airlines made me a formal job offer, and I signed the last page of the employee handbook promising that I would “obey all stipulations put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration and stated herein in regards to alcoholic beverages, specifically that NO ALCOHOL MAY BE CONSUMED WITHIN TWELVE (12) HOURS OF SCHEDULED WHEELS UP FLIGHT TIME. ”

I always want what I can’t have.

I started furiously doing complicated algebraic equations in my head that sounded eerily like junior high math word problems:
  • “If MOV’s plane is scheduled to depart from Los Angeles at 6 AM, what time can she have her last drink?” (6 PM.)
  • Part II:  “But … what if MOV’s last flight from Chicago the day before does not even get her to her hotel until 8 PM? Is she allowed to have one teensy drink just to calm her nerves after that mean passenger screamed at her about his lost luggage?” (No.)
  • “What if MOV's flight is at night?  What if she is going to fly at 5 PM and won't end up getting to her hotel until after 2 AM and everything is closed, what then?” (Too bad.) 
  • “What if MOV is on-call status for 24-hours, can she have any alcohol while on-call?” (No.)
  • Bonus Question for Extra-Credit:  “But that is for 24 hours! What if she is on-call for four days?! Is she allowed to have a drink then?” (Emphatically: NO!)
The FAA and United would do random drug-testing and alcohol screening before or after flights.  It's not like you were tested every day, but you couldn't rule out the possibility, and no one wants to be fired for being a lush.

For the next few years, my days off were typically Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I would fly (and remain stone-cold sober) for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Monday night would roll around and I would accost The Boyfriend (this is before he got promoted to The Husband) at the front door the moment he got home from work:

“We’re going out right now! I hope the bars are open!  I need a drink this instant or I'll never get to have one again!  Turn around! Let’s go out for happy hour!”

“But, Sweetie,” he’d say, calmly loosening his navy blue linen sailboat tie (that I'd bought for him at that special boutique on my last flight to Monterrey), “I went out all weekend with my buddies from the gym—I don’t feel like drinking on a Monday.”  He'd say the words drinking on a Monday oozing with contempt, like you'd say drinking at a funeral or drinking at a job interview

The scene would replay itself on Tuesday, with only minor editing modifications to the wardrobe and script.

“Vino! Now!”

“No, Sweetie,” exaggerated eye-roll while slowly loosening silk shantung red paisley tie (bought in the fashion district of New York City), “NO.”

Wednesday would finally arrive, and with it a complete change in demeanor and reversal in roles.

“Great news, MOV!” he'd call out enthusiastically while tossing his yellow-striped tie made from real gold (Harrods, London) in the air upon arriving home, “We're meeting up with Mike and Lynn for drinks tonight!”

Angry glare while packing unattractive polyester uniform dress and itchy rayon United sweater into suitcase. “I am on-call starting at midnight. I had a swig of amaretto at noon. Thanks anyway.”

You can see how my job forced me to drink. A lot. Whenever legally possible.

In the middle of a three-day trip, I would get an unexpected phone call in my hotel room from the crew desk at 4 PM right as I was heading downstairs to catch the shuttle to the airport for my next flight.

“Great news, MOV!” the scheduler would chirp at me, “We cancelled your flight to San Diego and we’ve re-routed you. Now we don’t need you to fly until tomorrow at 10 AM. See you then!”

I would be all alone in my hotel room in Des Moines/ Boise/ Cleveland and wondering who I could have a drink or two with from 4 PM until 10 PM. No one. I would go out and see a movie instead.  I saw a lot of movies. 

After a decade of flight attendant-ing, I had finally earned the right (and the seniority) to get some say in my schedule. I knew which specific flights I’d be working in advance, and I even had weekends off from time to time. The Husband (post-marital promotion) and I could go out with with friends for pizza and beer like a normal couple on a Saturday night.

For our three-year wedding anniversary, I surprised The Husband with a romantic week-long dream vacation to Italy. We went wine-tasting, and the whole time I kept thinking, “I’m allowed to drink right now and United can’t tell me not to! Ha ha ha ha, no one can stop me from drinking!”   The only person I had to consult about my alcohol itinerary was the restaurant’s helpful sommelier.

Before we flew back to California, The Husband and I decided to purchase a few bottles of wine we’d sampled in Orvieto so we could relive our fabulous trip whenever we wanted.  I was imagining the ridiculously expensive Italian bottles smiling at me from a premier spot on our wine rack, and I was already thinking about hosting a small dinner party where they could be the guests of honor.

Even though I didn’t think I had room for anything else in my carry-on bag, I somehow managed to bring back a bad case of the flu. I was absurdly queasy, so I went to the doctor to get antibiotics almost immediately.

“Great news, MOV!” she grinned after doing several tests, “You’re pregnant!”

(“Misses Orvieto Vineyard”)


  1. Ha! Loved the ending.

    As a 21yo male doing a music major, every time I mention that I don't drink (or smoke or inhale) I get these "Wait... really? Huh." stares. The most I drink is a glass of wine if the situation demands it, but that's on rare occasions. Good to know I have that covered if I apply to be a flight attendant.

  2. ha ha Charlie, wait until you have kids. If United Airlines did not force me to drink, the crazy antics of my offspring did. ;)


  3. Hahaha, we'll see.

  4. I had a job once where we could not eat. Boss lady was a whacko and it was go along to get along time. Every time I heard the words Indianapolis I started stuffing cracker packets in my purse, suit jacket, coat, socks, whatever. Once I almost took out a co-worker for a donut over a conference room table. That is also when I quit drinking beer. Boss lady lived for it and to this day green beer bottles make me shiver.

  5. I probably should not have been allowed to eat as a flight attendant. Once on a long layover in New York, I had a chocolate croissant for breakfast. Unknowingly, I had a smear of chocolate across my cheek ALL DAY and no one told me!!!!!!! I never realized it until I came back to my hotel room and happened to glance in the mirror. I had gone all over NY all day, museums, shops, etc. Come on, People of New York, help a girl out!



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