Flying at one point was deemed as a huge luxury and if you were lucky enough to be able to fly it was deemed as an event to dress up in your finest for. For me it’s joggies and a hoodie. However for some every flight is a dress up event as it’s well part of their job. Yes I am talking about people who model for airline companies, you know how they dress up for the photo shoot. Shite patter. Naw, I’m actually talking about the staple part of every flight, flight attendants.
Flight attendants are always viewed upon as these glamorous life forms that strut down the aisle and hand out complimentary drinks, if that airline isn’t one that is basically a sort of fancier flying version of the poverty wagon. I always think cabin crew are glamorous as fuck looking. And that their job probably isn’t as easy as just doing a fancy wee demo routine on safety, handing out drinks and food or ruining your life for 10 mins by forcing you to take off your headphones during takeoff, despite having a cable in them. Still not over that. Regardless it seems like a glamorous job especially since most flight attendants tend to be rather aesthetically pleasing.
Now I know a couple of people who are flight attendants and one of my good pals was a flight attendant. Despite our chats about where she was, how I was envious of her being in that place and a couple of questions here and there about the actual role, I still didn’t really know a huge amount about the job. I do know that standby is apparently a bitch.
With an upcoming flight back to the Motherland ahead I interviewed my good friend Nadine, who used to work for an airline that I can confidently say is not a semi fancier flying version of the poverty wagon. I’m unable to say the name of the airline for a few reasons but the airline she worked at gave complimentary drinks which is a luxury to me, as I’m the type of human who’d take a 12 hour Ryanair flight (thankfully not a thing) if it saved me money.
Now I’ve known Nadine since we were 13/14, she’s one of those people that is just genuinely so nice and caring. The type of person you’d buy a pizza for. Nadine is from the South of England and was based there until she saw the sexyness of the sexy country also known as Scotland and moved up not long after she left her role as a flight attendant. Now, despite knowing each other through a mutual pal and being long distant friends I still remember her starting her course to become a flight attendant and it got me curious. At that time I wasn’t really travelling as I was still in high school and hadn’t been on a plane since I was about 11/12. I was still pretty curious though. Despite not flying for years, I still just saw flight attendants as these fabulous human beings who looked well, fab. I’ve learnt a little bit about the job through Nadine but I’ve always still been curious about if it is as glamorous of a life as depicted by some humans and the media.
To end my curiosity I hit Nadine up, bribed her with free oxygen next time I see her and spoke to her about if flight attendant life is actually at all glamorous.
For all 12 people who read this site, take us through an average day in the life of a flight attendant?
A brilliant question, also a very broad one as I operated on both short haul and long haul flights. For an average short haul day, I’d usually be getting up at an ungodly hour, getting ready and trying not to wake my house mates as I left the house with my little cabin bag. Once I got to the airport, I would clear security and make my way to the report room. Once I had checked in for duty, I would declare myself fit to fly and read any updated safety/security laws/regulation or any service changes. Once that was done, I would meet the crew I’d be flying with that day and go through the preflight briefing which consisted of checking our safety and security knowledge, allocating roles and responsibilities and generally going over what needs to be done on board. We’d then make our way to the aircraft, board, conduct all safety and security checks, we would look in seat pockets and under seats, check the toilets, and under our own seats where we keep all of our safety equipment to ensure everything was there and that it worked. We would also check all medical equipment, and ensure we had enough child life jackets as well as seatbelt extenders. Once these checks were complete, we would inform the cabin manager and get on to ensuring we had all of the food and beverage that we would need, and get the galley ready for the service. Then, at the cabin managers and Captains say so, we would begin the onslaught that is also known as boarding. For some reason, when people are boarding a plane, all manners and patience are lost. I’ve had bags and babies lunged into my arms, or ripped out if I need to stow them. I’ve been poked, prodded and shoved, all in the name of ensuring your bag is directly above your head! (News flash, the overhead locker above your head is not YOUR locker. Your bag will not disappear from existence in the next locker along, no one is going anywhere for the next few hours). Once everyone’s on and the bags are away, we now go on to everyone’s favourite, the safety demonstration, and after this we secure the cabin for take off by checking everyone has their seat belts on, all phones are away and all bags are STILL stowed. You’d be surprised how often bags sneak out of the lockers. Now everyone’s secured, we notify the cabin manager and prepare for take off. Once in the air, we are given the go ahead when we are allowed to stand and start the service, which is usually a little bit before passengers can get up. Once the service trolleys are prepared, we get started, usually having to come and go a few times so people can get up to go to the toilet. On flights shorter than 4/5 hours we would only do one drinks service, but would usually follow up on the service with a juice round, which also doubles as our half hourly security checks. We would also be walking up and down the cabin, in case anyone needed us and get the duty free service done in this time. Most of this will be spent running up and down the cabin with drinks or other requests from passengers and collecting any rubbish. Getting closer to landing, once we are given the 40 minutes to landing call, we would do one last rubbish sweep and begin to pack all trollies away and secure the galley, then the 20 minutes to landing call is announced along with the seatbelt sign coming on, this is when we would again ensure everyone is sat down with seat belts on, all bags are stowed and phones are away. We would then have a seats for landing call, which is pretty self explanatory. Once landed, we would begin our taxi and usually have to tell people to stay seated until we have come to a stop. Once on stand, we would disembark the aircraft, then the cleaners would come on whilst we prepared the service trollies again, once the cleaners disembark we would do one more security check and get the go ahead to board the next lot of passengers and do it all again! I have given this from the perspective of working on an A320 on a 2 and a half hour flight, working from the back galley as the no.3.
Long haul is similar, but is usually on a larger aircraft such as a Boeing 777, therefore there are more crew, more passengers, longer services and different security checks, but you get the general jist.
With the glamorous perception of flight attendants what was it that really attracted you to pursuing that as career?
I wanted to be cabin crew since I was roughly 9 years old, perhaps a bit older. I must admit, a lot of why I wanted to be crew when I was young definitely was the perceived glamour, but as I got older I realised it was a great way to get paid to travel, meet new people and have new experiences. It’s definitely more than a job, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s one you either get addicted to or don’t like. I was cabin crew for 3 years, and I stopped flying as I was positioned in London and wanted to buy my own flat. To do that I had to leave my home, London, and move to a more affordable location, and I’m now settled in Sunny Scotland! I do miss flying, and I am so glad I got to experience my dream job.
Would you even class it as a glamorous job and lifestyle?
It is and it isn’t, on one hand the idea of starting your shift in a cold and often rainy London and finishing in Barbados was brilliant, and meeting the rich array of people from all over the world was probably the best part. On the other hand, I often found myself eating a cold chicken curry at 4am in the back galley questioning my life choices, or cleaning up sick in the toilet on a Friday night when my friends were out. It’s a great job, but it definitely can be gruelling!
For me what attracts me to the flight attendant role would be the rest days and deals on flights. What puts me off despite how much I admire the aesthetics is actually the uniform as you know how much I hate dressing up smart and I remember you telling me how strict they are on the smaller details such as hair and even denier of tights. I know some airlines don’t allow males to have long hair which is something you know I’m hugely passionate about, and that some airlines only allow women to wear skirts or dresses. What was your uniform policy and how strict was it?
The airline I worked for was very strict, you had to have your hair above the nape of your neck, this was more to do with putting on a smoke hood in the event of a fire than it did aesthetics. The women could choose between a skirt or trousers, but if you chose a skirt it had to be just below the knee and you had to wear grey tights (not black) and they couldn’t be thicker than 40 denier, which was a bitch because they ripped so easily! I could go through 3 pairs of tights in a day, because I was often kneeling looking for things under seats or getting into the bottom of a sticky trolley drawer. We had to have specific height of heels, but these were only to be worn off the aircraft and during boarding and disembarkation, whilst in the air we had to wear flats due to international regulations. We also had strict make up guidelines; we were required to wear lipstick, blusher and mascara, but also could not wear too much make up. Although I do recognise that these things can sometimes seem strict, it is well known that you must adhere to a uniform standard, so if you aren’t someone who enjoys getting dressed up I wouldn’t recommend this as a job.
Touching a little earlier on some uniform policies not allowing men to have long hair and woman to wear trousers. Do you see this as something that needs to be changed and what is your general views upon policies like that?
Most airlines do now allow women to wear trousers and have integrated them into the uniform. As for male dress code, I know it was recently relaxed slightly to allow for men to wear subtle make up on board, and I believe some airlines do now allow men to have longer hair as long as it is to the same guidelines of long hair on women, being that it is up neatly. Airlines do have differing regulations on these things, so check before application to ensure you would be comfortable with the rules of that airline.
Aesthetics is a huge part of the glamorous perception. What I get from the not so great amount I know about being a flight attendant is that the things we the passengers don’t see is what makes it not so glamorous. Would you say I’m along the right lines or am I being a spud?
You’re definitely on the right lines, what people don’t see is taking care of a poorly child in the back galley in the early hours of the morning on a long haul flight, clearing up used tampons (yes, this has happened to me multiple times) off of the side of the sink, clearing up sick or all other types of bodily fluids. Not just these things, it’s the way your body feels as if it’s ‘used to’ the jet lag, but in all actuality it’s just that you’re used to being a zombie. I can now sleep anywhere any time, and I definitely gained that skill from my days of flying! It can also be a very lonely job, you’re often in far away countries with people you don’t actually know and have probably met for the first time that day, and although you usually get really lovely colleagues, sometimes you just don’t click and end up on your own for days. It’s happened to me a few times, and it can be hard, I got home sick a lot.
When away from work how much is your free time affected by your flight schedule and how would it affect your time not on a plane or on standby? With having rest days in between your long haul flights and being on different time zones constantly how much is your free time affected when not flying by your schedule and being in different time zones constantly?
Your life revolves around your roster. I missed some pretty big life events with my friends, grew apart from my boyfriend at the time, and holidays like Christmas didn’t mean much. After a few years I thought I’d become sort of immune to jet lag, or used to it at the very least… however once I left and rejoined the 9-5, I realised how it feels to have a sleeping pattern!
Although I missed out on things at home, the experiences I had made it all worthwhile. The travel was why I was there.
You’re now away from the flight attendant life but not fully away from the travel industry. Having the experience you had, would you recommend the flight attendant life to people?
Absolutely. It was a fun and life changing 3 years. I went to places I’d never imagined, met wonderful people, ate incredible foods and had experiences that I cherish to this day. Even if you do it for 6 months, just get out there. I promise you’ll love it.
To round it off, how much of a bitch was standby?
Standby was one of the horrible bits of the job. Waiting around for hours, not knowing if I was going home, or flying to New York. Not knowing what to pack for… or ending up on a 14 hour short haul there and back day. Enough to make a grown woman cry!
Now to make a full disclaimer here, I’m not trying to berate the role of a flight attendant. I have the upmost respect for flight attendants and have thought about doing the job myself. My interview here was simply to highlight if being a flight attendant is actually all the sunshine and fabulousness I feel it’s made out to be. Flight attendants work their arses off and have a tough time dealing with people’s shite for long hours. Hugest respect for them as well as having to deal with the crying babies and toddlers you know that I love.
Swankie – 23, Scotland. Loveable Loser