A Year in Review: 2017

I blinked & 2017 was already over. How did that happen!? As I do with every year’s end, I peeked through my photographs & re-lived the many adventures all over again. Last year was my first full year working for the airline, so naturally I looked at my travel log as well. I have a little leather journal I use to keep track of my travels, making note of the retail price of a ticket versus the price I paid for a “Non-Revenue Seat Available” employee. My experience so far is that people think every flight I want is a guaranteed seat, just because I’m an employee — and I’m here to tell you that is far from the truth. If there happens to be an open seat on a flight I want to take, those seats are assigned in seniority-order to those passengers who are flying as Non-Revenue employees. Sure, I can purchase a full-fare ticket for a decent discount, but I’m too cheap. Unless I’m traveling for some sort of emergency, I will take my chances with the Non-Rev Roulette. You might say I like to fly by the seat of my pants, & the synopsis of my travels in 2017 is pure proof of that fact.

I’ve organized each flight by date, destination & airport routing that I flew, with a few anecdotes of the various adventures.

1. January 1 – 3, 2017
Indianapolis, Indiana

For my first-ever non-rev experience, I opted to fly home to Indiana to surprise my family. Honestly, I was nervous about how the whole “open seat” flying worked & I wanted to end up somewhere familiar to learn the ropes & get comfortable with the “Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t” mentality. I had no problems finding open seats on my itinerary through COS-DEN-IND, & I was able to get a rental car incredibly cheap. Literally, no one knew I was flying home. I pulled into my parents driveway, parked the car, & walked inside… to find that both of my parents were asleep in their respective chairs, with football playing loudly in the background. I gently woke up my dad first, who was shocked. My mom cried when she saw me & realized she wasn’t dreaming. I called all of my Indiana siblings & got to hang out with the family for the night, playing board games & laughing uncontrollably. I pinched myself more than once. So this is my life now. Where shall I go next? 

2. January 29, 2017
Los Angeles, California

My favorite flight in & out of Colorado Springs was the daily service to Los Angeles. You could be in California by 9:00 A.M., & back in Springs by 9:30 P.M. the same day. Absolutely glorious. For my first trip to L.A., I wanted to hike to the Hollywood sign & eat at In-N-Out Burger. Sounded simple enough, except that directions to the trailhead were quite unclear. To reach the Hollywood sign, one had to trek through a few neighborhoods that had apparently become quite perturbed by the foot traffic — so unless you know a local who knows how to get there, you’re going to be wandering all over the place trying to find the right trailhead. Hi, I know no one, I’m just here for the day. I decided to just park the rental car in Griffith Park & start walking. The sun was shining, the grass was so green, & the view of downtown L.A. from the trail was incredible. I  may have gotten a little lost (shhh), but I met a local on the trail who helped me find my way back to the parking lot. Hallelujah. We ended up spending over half of the day together, & he was great company to have around. We visited Griffith Observatory, famous for its scenes in Rebel Without a Cause & La La Land, where I walked the same balcony as Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone. Swoon. He also took my picture in front of the (far-off-in-the-distance) Hollywood sign. I was only eight’ish miles off course, but hey, I saw it in the flesh, after hours of trying to find it on foot by myself! I dropped him back off at his car in the parking lot & headed straight for the nearest In-N-Out. Seriously, just the thought of a juicy burger after hiking over nine miles made my mouth water. The sun was beginning its descent, & I knew it was time to book it for a burger before returning to the airport. The line at In-N-Out was wrapped around the building, with cars blocking the turn lane on the actual road, all for a taste of Burger Heaven. I couldn’t even pull into the parking part of the lot because there were so many cars. Long story short, I got my glorious cheeseburger & made it back to Colorado Springs on time. Praise hands.  

3. February 18 – 21, 2017
San Francisco & Arcata, California

Most of my airplane adventures involve a National Park or a National Forest of some kind, because duh, nature. I brought my Enrolled Friend, John, who had the same Non-Revenue Seat Available status (for a small Segment Fee per flight). One of the best parts was that we scored first class seats from Colorado Springs to Denver. Sure, the flight was only 15 minutes, but drinking whiskey out of a real glass for those 15 minutes was pure gold. And those seats? Almost as comfortable as my couch at home. We made our connecting flight to San Francisco, where we picked up the rental car & drove the Pacific Coast Highway 1 to Arcata, California, home of Redwood National & State Parks. We hiked about 15 miles in the park, drove the rental car through two giant redwood trees, took all the tourist photographs at Golden Gate Bridge, drove down Lombard Street, & visited the Full House house… all in just three days’ time. 

4. March 19 – 21, 2017
Indianapolis, Indiana

I flew home for my mom’s birthday… because why not? I got to hang with family for a couple days, which has been a welcome change. Prior to working for an airline, I could barely afford to fly home even just one time per year — & now I can fly home just to catch a movie with my folks if I want. This job is a big blessing. Oh, & I got another first class upgrade to Denver too, which wasn’t too shabby. Bring on the whiskey.

5. April 5, 2017
Los Angeles, California

I returned to Los Angeles because it had snowed in Colorado Springs two days in a row, & I didn’t want to be cold anymore. For real. I used a Groupon to rent a bike on Venice Beach, where I rode the bike all the way to Will Rogers State Park, changed into my swimsuit right on the beach, got a reallllll nice sunburn that took 10 days to heal, saw the famed Muscle Beach, ate a chili dog on the boardwalk, gave my fries to a homeless man, & bought a Coke just so I could use a restaurant’s electrical outlet to nab an Uber for my return to the airport. All in all, a solid day. I got the last first class upgrade too, so I had a nice dinner & nap on the flight home.

6. May 1 – 3, 2017
Indianapolis, Indiana

I flew back home to Indiana to meet my newest nephew, Nathaniel. The proud new parents, Matt & Tiffany, treated me to my favorite Mexican restaurant, Hacienda, before we returned to their house to watch La La Land & drink wine. The next day, they made me breakfast egg bagels (a staple when I visit), & we all went to AT&T to upgrade our devices, where I treated myself to a really cheap iPad for traveling. Mother dearest & I took a Meijer run, because sadly Colorado is lacking a Meijer store. Dad showed me his new magic trick that evening, & returned me to the airport the following morning. Whirlwind weekends at home have practically become a monthly habit!

7. May 7 – 10, 2017
East Coast, USA

Another quick weekend trip, but this time to the East Coast! John was considering a move to Maine (because “You never hear anything bad about Maine”), & he invited me on the exploration. We car-camped on the downtown city streets of Portland, Maine, had beers at the Samuel Adams Brewery Tour, saw both locations of the Cheers bar in Boston, drove through New Hampshire & Massachusetts, took a one-day pitstop through New York City to see the World Trade Center Memorial & Museum, One World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty, & to eat a stale New York hot dog on the streets of NYC. Bonus: we got to meet a real NYPD officer who graciously posed for pictures with us. 

8. May 17, 2017
Denver, Colorado

My brother-from-another-mother, Aaron, was flying to Mississippi through Denver, where he had a two hour layover. We hadn’t seen each other in months, so I decided I would fly to Denver from Colorado Springs (yes, I am spoiled… & who wants to pay for gas & parking in Denver anyway?!) so we could hang out & talk about the good ‘ol days. We drank a beer in the terminal, shared a soft pretzel, talked about life, & FaceTime’d with our partner in crime, Adam, in California. It was as if my favorite dudes never left the great state of  Colorado. 

9. June 12 – 14, 2017
Eugene, Oregon

I was feeling stir crazy at home. Knowing I had three days off, I drove myself to the airport with a backpack that contained my passport, swimsuit, a hiking outfit, & one warm outfit. The flight to Denver had open seats, so I flew to Denver for the first leg of my journey. When I landed there, I took a peek at the flight connection board while checking the boarding totals for the destinations that sounded interesting. The flight to Eugene, Oregon had a wide open first class cabin & in general, was a well known hiking destination. I added myself to the Standby List & waited for my name to be cleared. I landed in Eugene a few hours later, picked up my rental car, & headed for the Oregon Coast to hike around Cape Perpetua & Devil’s Churn. I slept in my car in a grocery store parking lot once the sun had set. I then hit the road early the next morning to hike in Willamette National Forest, home of Koosah Falls, Sahalie Falls, Proxy Falls, & Blue Pool. I was exhausted & sweaty, but didn’t wanna burn money on a hotel room for the night, so I used baby wipes to clean myself up & slept in the Car Rental Return parking lot before catching my flight the next morning. Even better was that I got a first class upgrade again for the return trip into Denver, where I shared the entire cabin with just one other soul. Indeed, I slept better on the plane than I did in the car. The mimosa probably helped. 

10. June 30 – July 2, 2017
Kalispell, Montana

This was where my love story with Montana began! I flew into Missoula for the weekend to secure housing in the Flathead Valley for my summer season at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell. The drive was stunning & the weather impeccable. I drove Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park & was completely overcome by the beauty I found there. The following week, I moved just thirty minutes outside that glorious park. And the week after that, I met my now-husband at the airport.  

11. July 15 – 18, 2017
Colorado Springs, Colorado

My honorary sister, Andrea, had recently had a baby, but her husband was in Texas for the next six months to become a State Trooper. Unfortunately, her wee little baby wouldn’t even sleep for an hour at a time, so I flew in for the weekend to help her sleep & have a much needed break… even though I’m a novice caretaker who needs plenty of schooling before I have my own kids. After my two days there, I was exhausted — this was the trip that gave me a whole, brand new appreciation for all the hard working moms & dads of the world. Not an easy job at all, so please pat yourself on the back if you’re a parent, guardian, or caretaker of any kind.

12. August 19 – 21, 2017
Denver, Colorado

I flew back to Colorado for the wedding of Dylan & Emily, two of my favorite Roadies from my Texas Roadhouse days. I got to catch up with a ton of my former coworkers there too. My buddy Alexander James picked me up from the airport, my girl Montana let me borrow her car & stay the night at her house, & I got to catch up with some of my favorite Colorado folks. And of course, Montana & I bonded while watching The Ranch on Netflix with simultaneous sips of bourbon. 

13. September 25 – 27, 2017
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I took a visit to Minnesota to visit my oldest sister, Michelle, her husband, & their two babies. Wren, her youngest, was sick — poor thing only smiled at me one time — but Jude, her oldest, was a giggle box full of sass. We watched movies, played restaurant, & relaxed… which was exactly what I needed after the busy summer season at the airport. 

14. October 9 – 11, 2017
Indianapolis, Indiana

I flew home (again), but this time to see my oldest brother, Mike, & record some music in his rad basement that he converted into a recording studio. He’s a stellar musician, so he laid the music down & I plugged in the vocals. This was our third recording session ever, & definitely one of my favorites. I stayed at Tiffany & Matt’s that night, where I ate my weight in pizza rolls & colby jack cheese slices. The next day, I had lunch at Hacienda with my mom, Tiffany, Matt, & Kolton, & spent the afternoon visiting my former coworkers at the Howard County Courthouse, where I was once a Court Reporter & a Probation Officer.

15. October 15 – 19, 2017
Las Vegas, Nevada

I flew to Vegas to relax for one day by the pool before hitting the road to the Supai Indian Reservation in Arizona. That’s where I completed my first overnight solo backpacking trip to Havasu Falls, where I hiked 26-miles roundtrip through turquoise waters & orange canyons to be met with extravagant & powerful waterfalls. I treated myself to a Golden Corral heist afterward, demolishing two plates of macaroni in record time. 

16. October 23 – 25, 2017
Austin, Texas

Remember my honorary sister, Andrea, who I had visited in Colorado Springs a couple months ago? She made the official move to Austin, Texas, & I thought it was only fitting to spend some time with her & her babies now that she was settled in her new home. Oh, & I selfishly wanted Rudy’s BBQ & Torchy’s Tacos. Bonus: scored a first class upgrade on one leg of my trip. 

17. October 30 – November 10, 2017
Nice, France

Okay, that was a lot of flight segments… but it was totally worth it. My girl, Bre, who I will refer to as B from here on out, was working in Europe for the season & offered me the opportunity to visit her. Umm, who would say no to that? NOT ME. I was looking forward to the transatlantic flight because I had listed for business class & there were plenty of seats. I believe there were seven other airline members who snagged those seats as well. I have never been more wined & dined in my life. I entered the cabin & was presented with chocolates & champagne. Put my bag overhead & was handed a food menu for the flight. The purser introduced himself with a wine cart in tow, offering me a serving of whatever wine I wanted. My wine glass never got less than half full, they would just return with the bottle, top it off, & disappear again. The airline provided noise-canceling headphones, so I watched movies while I dined on my three course meal & bottomless wine. Afterwards, I was served one of every single dessert on board because I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted. And then I put the lay-flat bed to the test, where my nearly six-foot-tall body fit like a glove. This. I could definitely get used to this. 

Oh, right, I’m talking about the sightseeing in Europe, not my business class experience. Duh. I met up with B in Nice, France, where we had dinner on the French Riviera. We picked up our rental car the next day & drove to Italy, where we hiked the 52 Galleries & Mt. Coro in the Dolomites — lifelong dream of mine to hike there, it was unreal. The cloud coverage was disappointing, but the experience itself was far from it. We spent another full day exploring Venice, where the brick streets went winding through narrow crevices & crooked corners. That place was so fascinating! Then we took a jaunt over to Manarola in the Cinque Terre region, where we saw the most beautiful sunset & drank some more wine. Of the ten days we spent there, we car-camped seven of them. I was always so grateful to have a shower when we made it to our hostels! I then had one overnight in Paris, where I walked around Notre-Dame Cathedral, watched the sunset from the Seine River, visited the Eiffel Tower while eating a baguette, & got to practice my French skills (for which I’m proud to say, everyone I spoke to responded to me in French). I stayed at a super cool & cheap hostel that was just two blocks from Gare du Nord, which was the train that would return me to the airport the next morning for my flight back to the United States. I didn’t score first or business class on the return trip, but I believe the entire European experience I had over those ten days was way better than any first class experience I’ll ever have. 

The last flight to get me to DEN in time for my FCA connection pushed back full of paying passengers, so I didn’t have a seat. You know who did have seats? IAD to IND… so I called my folks & had a sleepover at their place for the night, which was a far better alternative than sleeping in the airport. 

My True Earnings for 2017

I may earn minimum wage as a Gate Agent, but anyone who works in the airline business will tell you exactly what I’m about to tell you: I’m not here for the paycheck. I’m here for the flights. I sleep in my rental car when I travel, & when I can’t get where I want to go, I just adjust my sails & pick a destination that has open seats instead. Non-Revenue Seat Available “non-rev” travel is all about being flexible… & well, the occasional sleepover in an airport. I keep track of every flight I take, accounting for the retail value at the time of booking, so I can configure my true hourly-rate earning at the end of the year — in case I ever get tired of my 4:00 A.M. work mornings. In 2017, after adjusting my hourly rate based on the retail value of flights at the time of booking, my true hourly wage was $31.15/hour. 

That being said, I highly encourage anyone reading this who is passionate about customers, aviation, & travel to apply for a gig with an airline. Whether you work at the call center, the gate, or in the airplanes themselves, flight benefits are yours for the taking. Passengers can be challenging, but don’t let that deter you. As with every job out there, one negative experience is outweighed by at least three positive experiences. And hey, if people aren’t your forte, you can always work the ramp… Bags don’t talk back.

Shoutout to ID90Travel for the swag & discounts this year. It was a pleasure to represent your brand as an Ambassador, & I’m stoked to continue using my interline discount in the years to come. (PS if you already work in the airline industry, go to their website & create an account for literally the cheapest interline discounts for hotels, cars, all-inclusive, cruises, & events).

Cheers to 2018 & the many adventures on the horizon. 

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