The beginning of a new year always seems to carry a breath of change, with the year 2020 being no exception. I have sat down so many times to write about this, but I have honestly just struggled to find the appropriate words for this seismic change taking place. Simply stated, my employer made the business decision back in September to not renew contracts with their mainline partners across nine stations within their network. More complex than that are the faces behind the operations at these nine stations that are losing their contracts, which includes my home station in FCA and those in HDN, HRL, PSC, BZN, MTJ, GUC, EGE, and JAC. This was more than just a job to all of us, which is why I continue to have such difficulty in processing the emotions. I think my coworkers would echo this sentiment. We’ve had agents transfer to other stations. Some have transferred to other positions within the company. Some have left the industry altogether. And those of us who remain have accepted positions with the new ground handler, myself included.
If you’ve ever worked in the aviation industry, you can probably understand these feelings that I’m unable to put into words. Aviation folks are some of the kindest, most genuine, and warm people you will ever encounter. We are a special breed. When you join the ranks of an airline, you are truly joining a family of people around the entire globe. You are immediately understood and accepted, even by people you’ve never met. We all carry a great sense of pride in our work with a mutual respect for every employee, whether you’re the Captain or the caterer. We are a flexible and hard-working team across every airline and every continent with great attention to detail and an uncanny ability to work efficiently under pressure.
Today was my first day with the new ground handling company. I was far more overwhelmed than I expected. After all, the job duties were the same as before: check in passengers and board the airplanes, with the only difference being my uniform. Yet I felt this uncomfortable and unmanageable weight on my shoulders. I was checking in a passenger when the tears began building with force. I tried checking him in quickly as I gently blinked to withhold the floodgates. I willed the bag tags to print with more vigor, but alas, the tears fell just as unexpectedly as the news that my airline was leaving. I excused myself and made a b-line for the bag room. My coworker, Jennifer, interceded and led me to the bag room and let me cry on her shoulder. My tears fell, mimicking the downpour outside, like a dramatic denoumet from a depressing Hollywood movie scene. I sulked in my tears despite my embarrassment. How did I get here?
And I thought of how I got started in this incredible and beautiful, stressful and challenging industry just three years ago. I was living in Colorado Springs and looking for a part-time job that would supplement my living expenses while I traveled America for a year of living and exploring in my 4Runner. I had big dreams of seeing every national park in the United States, while also getting a tattoo and bottle of whiskey from each state. And then I stumbled across an airline’s classified ad on Indeed.com. Joining the aviation profession felt exactly like a Target run: not needing anything in particular, but browsing until finding the perfect something I just couldn’t live without. The job sounded interesting enough and I was intrigued by the flight benefits, so I applied and had an interview.
You know when something sounds too good to be true, but is actually completely legitimate? That was my part-time job with this regional airline. A challenging, ever-changing and fast-paced work environment with incredible standby flight benefits. I’ve been upgraded to First Class more times than I can count, including an international flight with lay-flat seats, multiple-course meals, and endless wine. I’ve been able to fly to cities across the country to visit for the day and return home that night. I’ve been able to visit my family in Indiana anytime I wanted. I’ve been able to see and experience so much, even meeting my husband and starting my family, all thanks to this part-time job working behind a ticket counter and gate podium.
When friends inquisitively asked, “You still working at the airport?”, I always responded with a big, wry smile. “Oh yeah, I’m never quitting!” But I had never considered that my employer would be the one to quit me. And my team. And my station. I have to remember that they are a business making business decisions. This was the right move for them despite the distress for those of us personally affected. I shouldn’t hold a grudge against them… and I’m trying not to because I have to believe that somewhere in this transition, there is a lesson or an opportunity that I’m not privy to yet. Something lodged so far into left field that I would never understand without this figurative rug being yanked from beneath my feet. I am holding tightly to this possibility because of what happened this morning between my two shifts.
To distract myself from the heartbreak in “transition day one” for a few minutes, I checked out of reality to aimlessly scroll through Facebook. The first image I saw was a Facebook Memory, a selfie I had taken in my car on this same exact day, five years ago in history. This was the same exact day, January 7, that I moved to Colorado to start anew after my divorce from my first husband. For me, it was no coincidence that day one with my new employer was also my five year anniversary of starting my new life.
The girl in that photo was putting on a brave face, but I can still see the fear and I remember how scared I actually felt, even all these years later. My jaw dropped as I closed my eyes and relived the pain and turmoil that made me decide to leave behind my failed marriage, my hometown, and my family. I didn’t know how my life would change, but I moved forward anyway. I didn’t know what to expect, but I moved forward anyway. I didn’t know whether I would end up happy or miserable, but I moved forward anyway. I was willing to accept that I had to roll the dice and accept whether I would win or lose in the unknown.
At that time in my life, I had allowed myself to be defined by my relationship status. Everyone was getting married, shouldn’t I also be married? This guy was so clearly not for me, but I loved the idea of being married so much that I completely compromised myself for a false identity, thinking I would find happiness in the end. I am so grateful for what God taught me during that unexpected, brutal transition. Listen, that was a really ugly period of life. I had to totally start over to get back to myself, which was a far more difficult task than all those rom-coms led me to believe. But I survived that big and unexpected change, knowing now that my life is better because of it.
What if my transition as work is another such instance, where I need to shift my focus instead of complaining amidst the changes to my job? Maybe I should be asking myself what lessons I can learn and what opportunities I can seize that may not have been possible until now. I can’t see through the fog or the mud, I’m simply existing in the shadows. I have all of these negative ideas in my mind about this new job, but what if I trusted that a better something would be revealed, in time? Meanwhile, I need to work through my anger and resentments so I have a sense of direction with my job.
I’m going to start taking my own advice and work to embrace these changes. The negative energy and emotions I’ve been using only make me feel better for a brief moment, but they do absolutely nothing of benefit in the long run. Maybe this transition was the push I needed to fill another role in the airline community. Maybe this was the push I needed to step up in my current role for deeper personal and professional growth. Maybe this was the push I needed towards a future opportunity that hasn’t yet presented itself. Or maybe this was the push I needed to pursue full-time travel blogging and photography. I can’t change my circumstances; I can only change my reaction to them.
If I am brave enough to face the mirror, I will see that I have placed far too much value on my “status” as an airline employee. I mean, who wouldn’t want to boast about free flights casually in conversation? When the new company announced the drastic changes to our flight benefits, I almost quit right then and there. My flights have gone from “free” to “segment fees,” which can perhaps sound like a bargain to an outsider but feel like an absolute slap in the face to anyone who has been in the industry.
I feel the most at home in airports and I feel such a strong sense of self when I’m traveling. Standby travel is truly a lifestyle that you either love or hate… and I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine giving that up, especially now that I have a son who is equally obsessed with aviation. Airports are home to myriads of people and the human experiences that connect all of us. I have seen people at their best and their worst. I have seen kindness and I have seen hatred. I have seen flexibility and I have seen desperation. So many emotions, so many varying scenarios, and all of them happening within the walls of an airport. If you’ve ever traveled by air, I’m sure you can attest that you have witnessed these sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly encounters with the traveling public. While going through this transition, I know that I too have been at my best and worst. I have been kind and I have been hateful. I have been flexible and I have been desperate. I have had multiple emotions in multiple scenarios.
I had myself convinced just two weeks ago that I would quit and had even fashioned my resignation letter. I carefully strung each word together and whispered them out loud to construct sentences I didn’t want to accept. Upon completion, I stared blankly at the computer screen, feeling so unsettled that I couldn’t even bring myself to click “Print.” So instead I went to the airport to talk to my boss. I expected that I would be tough enough to voice my concerns with a straight face, but in reality I just crumpled into a heap of tears. Our conversation was exactly what I needed. While I may not want to accept the changes to my job and its benefits, I love airports too much, I love the traveling public too much, and I just plain love this job too much to leave it all behind.
And so I am moving into the year 2020 with my arms open towards change, embracing the discomfort and adapting accordingly. I’ve decided to remain employed with the new ground handler, knowing that I am empowered to change my mind if the job becomes too much. Knowing that I can still travel standby, even if that means a lower priority and higher fees. Knowing that I can still make a difference to both my passengers and my coworkers by showing up and playing my part, even if I’m wearing a different uniform now.