Every day when Jackie Leandri and her daughters go out to work, they embark on an adventure as flight attendants at Southwest Airlines.
It’s not a career choice for everyone, but Jessica Rowe and April Leandri said seeing their mother off to work and taking flights with her when they were young reinforced their desire to work 35,000 feet above of the ground.
“I remember flying (April) and her friend to Minneapolis for her 16th birthday to shop at the Mall of America,” said Leandri.
Being a flight attendant didn’t stop her from being involved with the girls while growing up because, in addition to the travel aspect, the job offers a lot of flexibility, she said.
“She has never been absent from a school event”, says April. “She was home for the important stuff.”
It’s this flexibility and the prospect of adventure that, according to Leandri’s mother, Judy Berryman, inspired Jessica and April to follow in their mother’s footsteps.
Both wanted to be flight attendants from an early age, Jackie said.
“(Jessica) told people she wanted to be a flight attendant like her mother,” said Jacky.
She even worked at Mike’s Court and volunteered at the Central PA Humane Society, as did Jackie.
After Jessica became a flight attendant eight years ago, she and her mother flew together several times.
Now that April has joined Southwest as well, there might be times when all three serve on the same flight – this has happened once so far. The most common, however, is that two of them are on the same flight, which they say makes the trip much more fun.
Once, Jackie and Jessica were stranded in Costa Rica for three days with three other Baltimore crews due to a bad snowstorm back home.
That first night, the crews sat down in a hotel bar and arranged a day trip for the next day. They pooled their money, hired a driver with a van, and explored the country.
“We had a blast” said Jessica. “It was great, I was stuck with her because I was pretty new at the time. I’m glad to be with someone I knew.
Jessica and April have also flown several times together, without their mother.
“We spent a long night in Midland Odessa, Texas,” said Jessica. “Not everywhere too exciting, but we made it fun.”
The last trip they took together, the sisters’ connection was announced at every stop.
“People find it so interesting, and it makes it so much easier to fly with someone you know,” said Jessica.
The only flight the three of them were able to take together was actually the very first trip in April.
“It was great,” says April. “It makes things easier. It was the first trip I had and it made it a lot less nerve-wracking.
Once on board the flight, Jackie made an official announcement to the passengers explaining who they were, with one man not believing them. Some passengers asked them questions while others even took their picture.
“Even my colleagues think it’s amazing” said Jacky. “It’s great now, we get along well now that they are adults.”
“They were horrible teenagers” she laughed.
Since then, their schedules have not been synchronized. If her daughters are on the reserve, she can always try to take a trip with one of them, Jackie said.
“Working with two people you know so well, trust and love is a unique situation.” said Jacky. “It’s a job where you work with really different people all the time. When you get on a plane with people you know and trust, you gel better.
It was Jessica who took the plunge to become a flight attendant first, after graduating from Altoona Area High School and spending a few semesters at Penn State University. She originally planned to go into the medical field as a nurse and join Southwest later.
“I didn’t know if I was ready; I wanted to be sure that was what I wanted. said Jessica.
But when applications to become a flight attendant opened up while she was working in an assisted living facility, Jackie told Jessica to go.
Jackie called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Jessica herself couldn’t believe they opened up when they did. She was hired at age 22 after interviewing over the phone and in person.
April followed, becoming a flight attendant about two months ago.
“It’s mainly because it’s in the family”, says April. “We have always flown with her.”
The two sisters were surprised they were even chosen – especially when they first applied – because Jackie told them to expect to be shut down.
“It’s hard to get in, they only open it for eight hours in a row,” Jackie talked about the application process. “I told them it was a long shot.”
With a large airline like Southwest, up to 10,000 applications could be submitted in that short time, Jackie said. From there, it’s up to the recruiting team to narrow down the candidate pool.
“It’s a job where once you get there, you realize how flexible it is,” said Jacky. “I have a ton of vacation, you don’t work much…I make $63 an hour and get five weeks vacation a year. You won’t get this anywhere else. People get addicted. »
Unlike her daughters, Jackie wasn’t always sure which career path she wanted to follow. Once she graduated from high school — also from Altoona — she didn’t think she was ready for college.
“I was a little scared and I didn’t know what to do” said Jacky.
So she joined the army. Stationed in Hawaii, she worked in intelligence by intercepting Morse code.
“It was hard” said Berryman – who is not a flight attendant. “I remember the day before she left she sent flowers home for me and needless to say I spent the day on the couch crying.”
It was in Hawaii that Jackie met her future husband, who was also in the military, got married and had Jessica.
Then, after spending 11 years on active duty, Jackie left the military in 2000. Then living in the Baltimore area, she and her husband agreed it would be too much for them to handle after having April.
“I stayed home for about two months, and I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom,” said Jacky.
It was when she went to a job fair with a group of military wives that she was hired to work at a counter for Southwest.
“I became a supervisor after six months, and it was not until 2004 that I became a steward” said Jacky. “During this period, I was a customer service representative on 9/11.”
As for the hours spent, she said it was worse than the military initially because the Transportation Security Administration was not in place. Therefore, the people in customer service were responsible for performing the bag searches.
“You get out of the military and get a job at an airline, then 9/11 happens,” she says. “It was a few months that were total chaos at the airports. We literally walked in and never left.
Fortunately, her military experience prepared her for the stress of this situation and later when she trained as a flight attendant.
The training takes place in Dallas and lasts three to five weeks, Jackie said, with an entire week dedicated solely to airborne emergencies.
“You’re in Dallas for a month, you’re not going anywhere” said Jacky. “We need to know every aircraft inside out, emergency equipment, CPR, first aid, be prepared for emergencies, evacuations, planned and unplanned landings, fires.”
Jackie said that although the army prepared her for stress, she still slept eight hours a night in a hotel.
“The military call it the Barbie Doll bootcamp”, she says.
Once they complete their training, flight attendants are only scheduled three days a week, but are still full-time. The more junior you are, the more time you spend on call or “reserved,” Jackie said, and it doesn’t matter if you get called or not, you always get paid at least six hours a day.
Now, 22 years later, Jackie has no plans to hang up her wings anytime soon, and neither will her daughters.
“They knew the life she led and I think they pursued her because of her,” Berman said.
Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.