By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 7/23/2008 4:28:36 PM ET 2008-07-23T20:28:36

Working for the airlines these days is sort of like living in America. Times are tough, and you just hope the people in charge know what they are doing, even though you have huge doubts.

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Last week, when I rode the crew bus to the employee parking lot, which seems to be moving farther and farther from the airport because of cutbacks, a strong sense of despair was in the air. Some held their heads in their hands, others closed their eyes, and one lady was even silently crying in the corner.

Times are extremely difficult in the airline industry, just as it is everywhere else these days. People are mad, sad, worried about life and the unstable industry in which they have chosen to work.

With oil at unbelievable prices, the top airlines are now playing a game of survivor, waiting for a major player to fall. They are burning the furniture and eating their young to stay alive. Every day the papers write about the gloomy airline crisis taking place and that one inevitably will go under.

Who will it be?
There was at least one employee from the top five airlines onboard and nobody looked happy. I sat across from a pilot who had just received his furlough papers, a gate agent who was sure her airline was going to go “belly-up” which meant she would lose her house, plus a sprinkling of other employees, including flight attendants, ramp workers, and TSA agents finishing up a long day’s work.

The gloom was thick inside the bus.

It was silent at first until somebody spoke up, “Well this is depressing,” a flight attendant remarked. Everyone reacted with a chuckle and a smirk. “We just found out that my airline is taking the movie equipment off the plane to save fuel,” she continued.

“That’s nothing,” said a voice in the back. “Our airline is taking off potable water.”

People brightened up as it became a group effort to enumerate how much life in the airlines was deteriorating.

“You want to hear bad?” asked a pilot. “I just got my furlough papers on the Fourth of July, I have two alimony payments and I just bought a new house.”

Before long, the mood was fairly jovial, as misery loves company and all of us began laughing off our grief. I sat there with pen in hand making notes and chuckling with the best of them.

On that short ride, I learned some pretty good lessons that I believe not only could be used in the airline industry, but also in everyday life these days.

1. You’re not alone
We suffer as an industry and we suffer as a nation. Other people may appear unaffected by the downturn, but we are all feeling the pinch in our own way. Granted, some more than others, but pain and worry are among most everyone.

2. Talk to someone
Don’t bottle up your feelings of stress or depression; let them out. Last year, I lost my best friend because he refused to reach out. You have friends out there; use them!

3. Things are not as bad as they seem
The mind has a way of multiplying the bad and minimizing the good. While some of your worries may come true, most of them won’t. Try not to dwell on the negatives.

4. Turn off the news
After a while, enough is enough. We as a nation have become obsessed by the media which tends to emphasize tragedies. If you find the news depressing, simply turn it off. I am not suggesting that you should become ignorant, just minimize your exposure. The media’s job is to scare you, and keep you tuned in.

5. Keep loved ones informed
The pilot on the crew bus had not communicated to his wife about the financial strains or the possibility of furlough, leaving the possibility of a rocky partnership ahead. Your loved ones are on your team, but you need to keep them informed at all times.

6. Get a back up plan going
A key strategy in chess is to think at least three moves ahead; so it should be in life. Get your resume ready, take that course if you can, get started preparing for a career change if necessary.

7. Delay new purchases
Do you really need that new car, house or motorboat? Wait for a while; you need to think about the “what-ifs” a little bit more seriously.

8. Go for a run
Exercise is the biggest stress reliever. Okay, maybe some would say the second biggest, but I know that after a run I have unlocked my stress chest and worked out some of the biggest problems facing the forthcoming day. Try it, I guarantee that you will feel better about your current situation.

9. Get your sleep
As a father of a newborn, I can’t tell you how important a good night’s sleep is, but if you get at least 8 hours in, you are already ahead of the game and have an advantage for both your physical and mental sides.

10. Laugh!
It took a crew bus full of airline and airport employees to reaffirm my belief that laughter truly can be the best medicine.

The bus ride neared its end and the inter-airline banter continued as a TSA agent replied to one of the flight attendant’s remarks about her airline’s useless CEO.

“It sounds like the person in charge doesn’t know what the hell he is doing!”

At that very moment every worker from each of the different airlines immediately agreed in unison, which brought the whole bus to a roar of laughter.

Then the flight attendant replied to the TSA Agent, “Hey wait a minute, you work for the government, right? With the current state of the economy, neither does your boss!”

This brought even more tears of laughter to the mix. I have never before stepped off a crew bus with a cramp in my side from laughing. I felt a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Hang in there everyone. It will get better.

Good luck to everyone out there, whether in the airline industry or not, since it looks like we are all in for a turbulent ride.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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