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The work environment of US Airways flight attendant Stephen Schembs is a far cry from the one depicted in Coffee, Tea, or Me, the lurid 1967 memoir of two "stews" living the mile-high life. Schembs doesn't wear Pucci miniskirts, and his concerns are more about keeping his health insurance than bedding a pilot. As the airline industry plummets, flight attendants are being laid off and providers are cutting services. The 43-year-old Schembs tends to his passengers while in the air, but on the ground he turns his attention to his coworkers as vice president of a D.C.-based flight attendants union.
After flying for 19 years, are you worried about layoffs? I think my seniority is relatively secure. But as an officer of the union, I know a lot of my members will be impacted [by layoffs] in the next month.
Airline travel gets progressively worse. How has your quality of life changed?We've seen our wages cut. The cuts were supposed to help [the company] through the tough times, and when things got better we were supposed to negotiate better pay. It seems we're on this endless cycle of turmoil.
Is it crazy to want to be a flight attendant now? It's tough to find an airline actually hiring. For those of us who do the job, it's still a great profession.
What do you love about it? You work a flexible schedule. You have free travel. You still get to see the world. There are certainly aspects of the job that remain glamorous -- waking up in the morning, putting on your uniform, and thinking, Tonight I'm going to be someplace new and exciting.
As a male flight attendant, are you treated differently? I've had instances where it's obvious people are snickering or making comments about an assumed sexual orientation. It's an assumption, although there tend to be a few more gay and lesbian flight attendants than you may find in the general population.