On a recent transatlantic flight from Florida to London Heathrow, married flight attendants Hunter Smith-Lihas and John Lihas locked eyes across the aisle.
The two men smiled at each other, before swiftly returning to serving champagne to First Class travelers.
This shared smile was fleeting, but spoke volumes. And later, when Hunter and John were on break at the same time, the couple found themselves sitting in the onboard crew lounge, reflecting on the shared life and careers they’ve built together.
“I met you for five minutes on the airplane when I wasn’t even supposed to, and now we’re living in the city together, and you’re sitting across from me on the plane and we’re working together,” Hunter recalls saying to John.
“You never think when you meet someone for the first time like that, that it’d go this far. So it’s kind of surreal. And it honestly just makes you so happy, because you’re like, how did I get here?”
How Hunter and John got here was via a series of unexpected moments and decisions starting six years ago, in 2017.
Back then, Hunter was in his early 20s and working as a gate agent for Spirit Airlines. He’d aspired to work in aviation since he’d starting watching a travel vlogger who chronicled her job as a flight attendant on YouTube.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is the best job ever. I definitely want to do something like this,’” Hunter tells CNN Travel today.
After he graduated college, Hunter secured a gate staff position in his home city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The role was the perfect foot in the aviation door.
Working the airport gate, Hunter interacted with hundreds, if not thousands, of people each day. As a sociable person, he always enjoyed the conversations – however brief – with travelers and airline staff.
But Spirit Airlines’ employment pool was so big he rarely met the same flight attendants twice.
One morning, one of Hunter’s gate attendant coworkers asked if he could pass on some papers to the captain of a soon-to-depart Spirit flight, which was heading to Orlando, Florida.
This kind of task, says Hunter, was “typically not my job, I did not normally do that.”
But off he went, walking down the gangway and onto the aircraft. He passed on the paperwork to the captain and then waited for the all-clear to disembark. It didn’t come right away, so Hunter stood by the door, biding his time.
“There was some sort of delay in him processing the paperwork,” he recalls.
Also standing at the front of the aircraft was John, the flight attendant looking after the front half of the plane.
Back then, John was a total stranger to Hunter. Sure, they both worked for the same airline – but so did thousands of other people scattered across the United States.
“We had never seen each other prior to that day,” says John, who was in his late 20s at the time.
As they waited, Hunter and John met eyes for the first time, and they smiled at each other.
Hunter spotted a pin on John’s lanyard. Intriguingly, it looked like the insignia of another airline.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, I love the pin on your lanyard. Where’d you get it?’ Because it was from another airline – I think it was a Delta Airlines pin,” recalls Hunter.
“I’m like, ‘Did you work for Delta before? Where did you get it from? And that’s how I started the conversation with him.”
The two men chatted back and forth, talking about their respective careers so far, with John explaining he’d never actually worked for Delta. Then John asked Hunter his name, and what his schedule looked like for the rest of the day.
“You know, just small talk,” says Hunter. “We never thought this small conversation was going to go anywhere after.”
“It was very short,” echoes John. “The plane had to leave.”
After about five minutes, the paperwork was processed and the aircraft got the go ahead to depart. Hunter said a quick goodbye to John and got off the plane. John watched Hunter head back down the gangway.
“I never thought I would see him again,” says John.
Over the rest of his shift that day, as he ushered passengers on and off airplanes, checked hand luggage and made boarding announcements, Hunter kept replaying the short airplane interaction with John.
“There’s so many faces and people you meet every single day at the airport. But I don’t know. I just had a weird feeling about this guy – a good feeling,” says Hunter
That evening, he got out his laptop and Googled “John Lihas.” A Facebook account with that name popped up right away, and there was John, smiling widely in the profile picture.
“I just wanted to Facebook stalk him,” says Hunter, laughing. “I didn’t even think to add him at the time. But then once I started scrolling through his profile, I’m like, ‘I’m just going to do it. I’m going to send a friend request. I’m going to see what happens. If anything, we’ll just be friends, coworkers, distant coworkers.’ But I didn’t really think anything was going to happen.”
Hunter hit “add friend.”
The notification popped up on John’s cell phone just as he reached his hotel room in Houston, Texas. He’d worked two flights that day, and was looking forward to putting his feet up. Then he saw the friend request.
John wouldn’t usually accept an invite from someone he didn’t really know. But he’d really enjoyed meeting Hunter, even if their interaction was short and sweet.
“So I accepted, just because I was like, ‘Hmm, it could be something you never know,’” says John.
Then he sent a message to his new Facebook friend.
“Do you always stalk your flight attendants?” he wrote.
“It just started from there,” recalls John. “One sentence became pages and pages of just talking back and forth.”
Over the next few days, John and Hunter messaged regularly. They talked about their families, their ambitions and their shared love of travel.
“The craziest part about it was once we started talking, we realized how many coincidences there were in our life. Things were so similar,” says Hunter.
They both had divorced parents, and coincidentally both had one parent who lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and one who lived in Tampa, Florida.
And they shared similar hobbies and a positive outlook on life – not to mention a shared profession and passion for traveling.
After about a week of messaging, John sent through a question.
“Hey, I know this is kind of forward – you can totally tell me if you’re not comfortable with this idea,” he said. “But I have a layover in Myrtle Beach. I think you should fly down here. I’d love to fly you down here to have dinner with you and get to know you more.”
Beachside Myrtle Beach, in South Carolina, is a 1 hour 30 minute flight from Pittsburgh. It’s a short flight, in the grand scheme of things, but a long way for a first date.
Hunter debated whether or not to go, would it be crazy? Was it safe? He barely knew John. But he still had that “good feeling” he’d had when he first met John on the airplane. Hunter decided to go for it.
He figured he should tell someone about his plans – just in case. He ruled out his parents (“I thought they would think I was a little bit crazy”) but filled in his roommate. Then he headed to the airport
John was nervous too. He’d put himself out there, and wasn’t sure how it would pan out (“I really don’t do that,” he says of the spontaneous invite).
And he didn’t tell anyone, except the flight crew he was working with en route to Myrtle Beach, who were all excited for him.
John and Hunter met at the airport, and then went out to dinner together. Later, they walked hand-in-hand on the boardwalk. As first dates go, it was “magical,” says Hunter.
After all the nerves, everything worked “perfectly,” says John.
Still, as the 36 hours wound to a close, the glow dampened a little bit.
“I was kind of sad, actually,” recalls Hunter. “Because we were living in two different cities. I didn’t know the next time I was going to see him.”
But soon a pattern developed – whenever John’s flight schedule found him in Pittsburgh, he’d hang out with Hunter. And whenever John had longer layovers in other cities, Hunter would come and meet him.
“Even though it was long distance, we still made it work,” says John.
Hunter thinks the distance actually helped the relationship blossom.
“We actually had time to miss each other. We had time to plan more special things together. It wasn’t like we were just going to each other’s house every day,” he says. “I actually liked the long distance part at the time, because it gave us time to really appreciate our time with each other.”
Over the next several months, Hunter and John shared some fantastic moments together – a trip to Los Angeles where they spent two days exploring the city, and Hunter’s birthday, when John surprised him with a trip to Disney World in Florida.
There were tougher moments too. At one point, Hunter and John stopped communicating for a few weeks. They were both stressed and overwhelmed by work and other issues in their personal lives. They weren’t mad at each other, but keeping up the connection from afar felt tricky for the first time. But they worked through it.
“Then, everything kind of just went back to how it was and I think it was better than ever after that,” says Hunter.
A new chapter
About a year after he’d first met John, Hunter was hired by Spirit Airlines to work as a flight attendant. He left the gate behind, delighted that his aviation dream had finally come true.
And with this exciting opportunity came another exciting step – Hunter and John decided to move in together.
Now that they were both traveling for work, the couple figured they could live pretty much anywhere. They decided to move to a new city together: Detroit, Michigan.
“That’s kind of when things really stepped it up to the next level,” says Hunter. “And even then I still couldn’t believe, ‘Wow, this is crazy how this all happened and everything fell into place perfectly. We’re working at the same job now. We’re working in the same base. Our families are in the same place.’ It just all felt like everything fell perfectly into place.”
Moving to a new city, and moving in together, was a big change. But the couple knew they had to “take a chance,” as Hunter puts it, if they wanted their relationship to progress.
“It was an adjustment,” says Hunter. “But I think overall, it was more of an adventure.”
On their days off, Hunter and John explored Detroit together, discovering new restaurants together, decorating their apartment and making new friends.
Sometimes it was tough to align their schedules – Hunter, as a new hire, was on call, so any day could end up on any flight.
Then one morning, Hunter got notified that he’d booked a trip, and was sent the crew manifest. He scanned through the names and then stopped short.
“I saw John’s name on there,” Hunter recalls. “And I ran into the living room from the bedroom. I was like, ‘John, you’re never going to believe it. Guess what trip I got today?’ And he was thinking I’d got something international or something really great – I was like, ‘No, I’m on the trip with you!’”
That workday was very special and the couple savored the time together.
“It felt nice going to work together and actually spending three full days together. And spending time at the layover hotel together, eating dinner together,” recalls John.
“When you work together, it’s almost like you’re on vacation,” says Hunter. “Yeah, you are working through the day. But once you’re done with the day, you’re at the hotel, you can go to the pool.”
The flight was also memorable. Here they were, working a Spirit Airlines flight together, where a year previously they’d been strangers on another Spirit aircraft.
“You go back to that first time you met,” says Hunter.
A beachside proposal
Months passed and the couple settled into life in Michigan. Conversations about marriage started to take place “a little bit here and there,” as Hunter puts it.
The two had a trip to Puerto Rico coming up – John was working and Hunter was coming along for a vacation. As they mapped out the trip, Hunter started to think this would be the perfect opportunity to ask John to marry him.
He spoke to John’s mother about his plans to propose.
“I really love your son. I really think I want to spend the rest of my life with him,” Hunter told her.
He also spoke with one of the couple’s mutual friends, a fellow Spirit Airlines flight attendant who’d be on the trip too – he wanted to have a friend on side who could document the proposal when it came.
As for John, he had no idea what was coming.
On the second day of the trip, John and Hunter were walking along a sandy beach together in San Juan. The other crew member was armed with her camera phone, ready to capture the moment.
“We were just walking around doing the touristy stuff. And I remember I had a coffee in my hand, I was looking out in the water, and then I turned around and he’s on one knee,” says John. “I was just completely shocked, and of course I said yes.”
“We were both so happy,” says Hunter.
Straight away, John called his mother, he was crying happy tears and so was she. That’s when John realized that she’d known what was coming.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is actually happening.’ It all clicked, like the rest of my life is coming together perfectly.”
Hunter and John planned a small wedding, putting the money they would have spent on larger celebrations towards a honeymoon.
“So we did a super small wedding on the West Coast. We brought our parents, two friends,” says Hunter, who changed his name following the wedding, becoming Hunter Smith-Lihas.
“It was beautiful,” says John.
Hunter and John’s families get on really well, and always enjoy spending time together and with their respective sons-in-law.
“John’s mom and my mom are great together. John’s dad and my dad are great together. I love all his cousins, his nieces,” says Hunter.
“My dad loves you,” John tells Hunter. “My grandmother, who recently passed in October, she was an old-school Greek person and she came to America when she was just 18. And when she met Hunter, she fell in love with him.”
“It’s very nice that we all get along, our families just love each other.”
After the wedding, John and Hunter headed off on what Hunter calls “a lavish European vacation.” The trip also coincided with John’s 30th birthday, so there was plenty to celebrate. En route, Hunter and John were upgraded to first class. They enjoyed flying in style – and that they were the ones being served for once.
“It was the middle of winter. And when we landed in Paris, it was snowing. We saw all the snow and we went to the Eiffel Tower and there was snow everywhere. It was so magical,” says John.
Today, John and Hunter still work together, although they’re no longer at Spirit Airlines and now live in Florida. A few years ago, the couple both applied for jobs with another major US airline. They were keen for new career opportunities and more opportunities to travel internationally.
It was a risky decision to make just as aviation was getting back on its feet in the wake of the pandemic. For a long stretch in 2020, both John and Hunter were grounded and unsure if or when they’d return to the skies.
“Not only was it a global health pandemic, but now you’re out of a job for the time being, too. So it was just a lot. It was really scary at the time,” says Hunter.
“But we grew together, we made work,” says John.
It was John who first suggested moving to a new airline. When he voiced the thought aloud, Hunter echoed it back to him.
“We both just wanted more, because Spirit only flew to the US, a little bit of South America and the Caribbean. Whereas where we’re at now services all the continents except Antarctica,” says Hunter. “So that was another huge step we took together.”
Before they applied, Hunter and John talked about what might happen if one of them got the job, and the other didn’t.
“We decided, if one of us gets it, that’s great. We’ll be fine. We’ll make it work,” says Hunter.
“We believe in each other, that’s the thing,” says John.
The couple applied on the same day. They interviewed on the same day. And in the end, they both got hired on the same day and started training together.
At their current airline, John and Hunter have the same level of seniority, so they can bid for the same flights. This makes it easy for them to coordinate their schedules and work the same flights.
Nowadays they often work on large, wide body aircraft, so they don’t always see each other much during the flight.
“If one of us is in economy, and the other is first class, we definitely see each other a lot less as opposed to when you’re working in the same cabin,” says Hunter. “But I mean, there’s always like a time where I can just pop up there and say hi, or vice versa, John can come back and say hi.”
And, of course, there are those moments – like on the recent flight to London – where they’re both working in the same cabin, and can watch one another at work, excelling at their jobs, and share the odd secret smile.
Hunter and John love working in aviation. Hunter’s also followed in the footsteps of the flight attendant vlogger who first introduced him to the profession and started documenting his job on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. He hopes his content might inspire or help others keen to work in the industry.
Both Hunter and John plan to work in the industry for as long as they can.
“This is what I’ve dreamt about since I was six years old,” says John. “I don’t see myself doing anything else. I will be a flight attendant forever until I decide to retire.”
“I think for both of us, this is our career. This is our lifelong career,” says Hunter. “Because what other job can you say, ‘Oh, well on Monday, I’m going to New York and Tuesday I’m going to Africa.’ There’s always the element of surprise and adventure with this job.”
Whatever the future brings, for Hunter and John, one of the most memorable on-the-job surprises will always be the way they met.
“I saw so many different faces every day, it’s hard to see the same face twice. And then suddenly, he comes along. And now it’s been six years later, and I’m still seeing him,” says Hunter.
“I never thought this would happen to me, to be honest, never – even coming across so many people day to day, coworkers, passengers,” says John. “I always believe it was always meant to be.”
“It almost makes me teary-eyed,” adds Hunter. “When I look back, I just never in a million years thought that this is where we together would be after that chance encounter. It just makes me almost emotional, it makes me want to cry. It’s just an overwhelming happiness.
It just goes to show you never know who you’re going to meet, when and where, you just never know who that one person is going to be.”