Welcome to This Is How She Does It, where we speak to modern working women in different industries about their careers, how they keep track of their finances and balance work with their personal lives.
We’re keeping identities anonymous, so the women can speak freely and openly, leaving the focus more about her career goals and relationship with money and less on the raw numbers.
First off, we speak to a 29-year-old flight attendant based in Toronto. She dishes on the importance of a work-life balance, how her biggest financial regret will likely take her out of the city she loves so much, and reveals the most shocking thing you probably didn’t know about the job. (No, really, it’ll blow your minds.)
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
A Career Takes Flight
Marital status: Engaged
TV show she's binging: King of the Hill
Related: Career tips for women in their 20s from HR experts.
Back to School
You go through the interview process, which is very long. What basically happens is you show up, bring a passport-style photo of yourself, a background check. Next, it's a series of interviews — including observation rooms with others and one-on-ones. There's an aptitude test, an individual exam, a second language test (to see what level you're at). Then you try on a uniform. There's also a medical exam and hearing test.
After, they send you to four to six weeks of training. At this point, you don't even have the job but you're being paid minimum wage and your accomodations, if needed, are covered. The process involves all-day classes and periodic exams. You have to learn all the procedures, all the aircrafts. At the end of it, they send you back and you find out where you're based. So if you're from Vancouver but they need you in Toronto, you are given a week of hotel stay in Toronto to find a place to live, then you start flying.
Let’s Talk Earnings
Everything I say depends on the airline, it's not standard, and it also depends on seniority. [According to] my T4 I made under $60,000 and more than $55,000. The salary has increased every year but next year will be my tenth year and it will be my final wage increase for my entire life.
But this doesn't accurately represent my income because flight attendants make a per diem, which is like an untaxed allowance, and covers accommodations and food for layovers. You can easily pocket that money and as the years go by, if you've been to the same place, you just know what to do. Let's say you've been to London 20 times in one summer, you're not always going to go downtown and live it up. That untaxed amount is a very unpredictable amount, depending on where you go, how long you stay, what the flying is like that season.
The Good, the Bad and the Health
The benefits of the job outweigh the negatives. I'm nearly at the cap of what I will make pretty much my entire life, not including my per diem. But there's flying for free, flying at a discounted rate, we have benefits with hotels and other airlines to fly with, my parents and partner have had the ability to fly at discounted rates.
Also, I work 11 days this month. That's it. People are like, 'How can you do it? You're always gone.' No. When I go to work, it's probably a longer work day than a standard 9 to 5 job, but that's it.
What are the not-so-great things about the job?
Long hours, lack of sleep, you're frequently being exposed to getting sick because you're just there on the plane. I'm constantly with the Neti Pot, I use it every day because you just have to get whatever it is out of your system.
How it Works
We are only paid for the time after the [aircraft] door shuts to the time we land. For example, my flight tomorrow is at 9AM — that's when the flight is scheduled to leave. I have to be on the plane by 8AM. After my commute and security check, I have a sit-down with the pilots, figure out what's going on that day — flag any allergies, any passengers with medical needs. Then we have to check the entire aircraft, make sure it's safe, make sure all the security equipment is there. After, I help board the plane and help with bags, we check seats, do the safety demonstration, make sure seatbelts are on — we're not being paid for any of that time. It doesn't matter if the flight is delayed five hours and you're sitting on that aircraft with passengers, we do not get paid for it. The only time flight attendants start getting paid is when the door shuts. So you know when you're waiting for that last person to come on and there's that announcement, "We're just waiting for two more people." Flight attendants are also like, "Ugh, where are those two people?" So as soon as the door shuts, then you start getting paid.
So then the plane touches down back in Toronto. You're taxi-ing, you're waiting for the gate. As soon as the plane stops, then you stop being paid.
Frequently Asked Questions
I'm engaged, my boyfriend and I do want kids, we are those types of people. As a woman of my age, people always ask me, 'What are you going to do when you have a family? You're going to have to quit, you're going to have to find another job.' No. My job is so flexible, also we get the one-year leave, standard in Canada, my airline also gives us preventative leave because you're not supposed to fly when you're super-pregnant. I get asked that, almost every day, especially if there's a young mother on board, or people see my engagement ring.
I have a unique scrapbooking planner. I'm very organized. I have my planner. It's kind of like a book that's also a diary, a planner, a financial planner, a journal, a scheduler, it's a real mix and that is my main hobby. People know me for it, it's my thing. It's really colourful, I spend a lot of time on it. I'm just an organized, financially savvy kind of person. I write down how much money I spend every single day and I keep a chart of how much money I spend every month, then every year. That's just how I do it. I love writing, I love seeing it all.
Long-term Financial Planning
My savings are really good. I have my RRSP with work, I have my RRSP with my own bank, and personally, as a strategy — and I know this isn't for everyone — but I put a majority of my savings into RRSPs because then I can't touch it. For me, my RRSPs is like money I don't even have. It's not even my rainy day fund, it can't be. That's just how I look at it. I have my TFSAs, of course, and those are my rainy day funds. I have my wedding savings which my boyfriend and I started when we got engaged. We decided to start our own bank account and each put in blank thousand dollars. Our wedding budget has been saved into there, which is amazing, we're very lucky that way, he sold his condo before he moved here because he wasn't living in Toronto and he moved here for love. [laughs] So he put his half in right away and I've been building mine up and I just recently hit what I needed to for my half and now it's turned into our honeymoon fund.
If You Could Turn Back Time
If I look back on my life, my biggest regret is that I didn't buy a condo all the times I had opportunities to when I could've afforded it. Now, I would have debt and a mortgage and I wouldn't have such a savings but to me, don't hoard your money, don't hold on to it to prevent spending it. At the time, in my mid-20s, when I could've afforded it, I still ask myself why I didn't go for it. I should have. Especially because now we have to look at moving out of the city because we can't afford to stay here. And that makes me so upset. If you can do it, especially in this city ... I wish I'd gone for it. I was looking at condos, going through the motions and I just didn't do it. I didn't want to lose my savings. It would've been a big step, why didn't I do it? I should've gone for it.
Words of Wisdom
No one else I know has more happiness in their career life. I love my job, I could not be happier with my work-life balance. So really actively pursue something that will give you satisfaction in your life and something you love to do. Find something that honestly makes you happy, that you don't dread going to work for. I don't love it every day but in general, I love my work life.
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