Standing in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport inflight lounge in mid-September, waiting as the minutes ticked down to her departure, United Airlines flight attendant Kaylee Bruno paced back and forth, nervously checking her phone. Other flight attendants moved about the lounge with their black roller bags in tow, but Kaylee was busy watching the clock.
Before her flight was scheduled to leave for Cleveland, Kaylee took an elevator up to the concourse level, walked to her gate and watched as the aircraft taxied to the passenger loading bridge. Two customers noticed her uniform and began to chat with her, asking questions familiar to many crew members, “What's it like being a flight attendant?" “How long have you worked at United?" The first question was tough for Kaylee to answer at that moment, but the second was easy — it was her first day on the job.
Nearly two months earlier, Kaylee arrived at United's flight attendant training center in Houston for the six-week-long new hire training course. From a young age, she was attracted to the idea of living a life on the move and meeting new people, and she dreamed of becoming a flight attendant. She bided her time in college until her 21st birthday, when she was finally able to apply for a position.
Kaylee was well-prepared, but she quickly realized that training would be challenging and engaging. The course schedule and topics are designed to give participants a realistic look into the world of flight attendants. They experienced the varied hours that crew members keep, with classes scheduled both day and night. The standards are high; procedural and safety violations can mean being sent home. “The instructors are tough on you," she recounted, “but it's only because they want you to look and act the part of a professional flight attendant from day one."
Naturally, since flight attendants are the face of United to our customers, service is an important part of their training regimen. But being a flight attendant is about so much more; they are also first responders in the sky. “We went through CPR training, learned how to put out fires and evacuate aircraft, and were taught what to do in the event of a water landing. Safety is a big part of it," said Kaylee.
She described her time in Houston as intense, but rewarding. “Training is not at all like what most people expect," she said. “There were a lot of tears of joy and relief shed when we finally got those wings." Aside from graduation and earning your wings, arguably no event is as memorable in a flight attendant's life as his or her first working flight.
The day of her first trip, Kaylee arrived at the airport earlier than was required. She was scheduled for a 3-day turn, first to Cleveland, then on to Buffalo and Salt Lake City before returning home (after Salt Lake City, she was rescheduled to a unexpected fourth trip to Washington, D.C.). At the gate, Kaylee met the first of her fellow crew members, flight attendant Aja Clark. “I'm going to stay close by your side," Kaylee joked as they boarded the Boeing 737 together.
The first leg was only 51 minutes long, and turbulence kept the flight attendants in their seats for most of it. Shortly before they began their descent, the captain turned off the fasten seatbelts sign, so the crew began a truncated beverage service. Even with the time crunch, Kaylee handled it like a seasoned pro. She was friendly, patient and accommodating to each customer, an excellent representation of United. Her co-workers gave Kaylee their approval. “I had no idea that it was even her first trip," said fellow flight attendant Lisa Blackstone. Kaylee, too, felt good about her performance, saying, “For some reason, I wasn't really nervous. I was much more nervous on a later leg of the trip, when I had to give the safety demonstration. I had a slight moment of panic before grabbing the microphone."
After arriving in Cleveland, Kaylee and the rest of the crew took photos together to commemorate her milestone trip. Then it was back to work – they had less than half an hour to prepare the aircraft for the return flight to Chicago before continuing on to Buffalo.
A few days later, back at home, Kaylee still felt the high of that first flight. “It was fun," she said. “So far everything has been very enjoyable, and all of the people have been great." She has also adapted well to her new semi-nomadic lifestyle. On her days off, Kaylee lives in her hometown a couple of hours' drive from Chicago. When on-duty, she shares an apartment near the airport with other flight attendants, never knowing where she'll end up until the call comes in for her next trip assignment.
Looking to the future, she's grateful for the opportunities ahead of her at United. “Hopefully I'll get the chance to move around the country," she said. “I'm just ready to take each day as it comes and see where this career can take me."