Being a flight attendant has its ups and downs and although it’s usually perceived as being an easy or glamorous job, having an office in the sky offers a unique and stressful working environment.
Here are five things that you’ve probably never considered about being a Flight Attendant:
1. You’re the Main Attraction (for the Duration of the Flight)
I’ll never forget my first flight to Sao Paolo Brazil when the passengers stood and socialized in the aisles and emergency exits during the entire fourteen hour flight, eight of them watching me while I sat in the sanctuary of the galley devouring my third piece of cake. I’ll also never forget my first and last flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, when I was stuck standing in the aisle during clean up with six dirty trays grasped in my unsteady hands. I was unable to move in either direction because there were five men praying on blankets in the aisle and emergency exit before me and six people waiting for the washroom behind.
Passengers who didn’t know any better and who didn’t speak English poked at my sides motioning to me in the middle of my melt down for more apple juice or extra blankets, and I remember thinking, this is not what I signed up for.
The only place where personal space exists is in the cockpit and even they are experiencing the unique situation of arriving at work and being locked into a small room with a stranger for the duration of the flight. I’ve spoken to a lot of pilots who pray that their co-pilot is not a nightmare or going through a mid life crisis.
If you think that it’s bad to be sitting beside a smelly stranger imagine how the pilot feels. While you get to watch your three movies and eat your fake food, the pilot has to enter into the agreement of protecting 300-plus lives with their co-pilot who, until they met at briefing, was just a name on a page.
2. You Wake Up and Go Straight to Work
One of the hardest parts of adjusting to crew life is getting use to setting your alarm at 11 p.m. for a 12-hour night flight and putting yourself to bed before dinner while your friends are getting ready for a night out. But the worst adjustment is getting use to the Crew Rest Area — a place where we flight attendants learn to love and hate to leave.
The crew rest compartment (CRC) is a hidden bunk in the plane where we’re allowed to take precious naps on flights over 9.5 hours. It is a dark and scary space, where flight attendants are stacked on top of each other in little bunks that just barely allow you to stretch out on your back; my friend once picked up pink eye there. But when you’re flying through the night and your purser allocates time outs from the passengers, you will fight for whatever time you can have to clock off in the CRC. You’ll fall asleep surprisingly fast and dream the most bizarre dreams, tucked away in the belly of the plane.
But there’s a rude awakening to the CRC fantasy: in that, you will be rudely awoken.
About 10 minutes before you’re expected to be floating down the aisle serving warm croissants to grumpy (because you just woke them up) passengers with a dazzling, genuine smile, a stranger / colleague that you met in briefing 8 hours ago will poke their head into your tiny sleeping capsule and prod you from your slumber.
Then, you’ll exit the crew rest to fight you’re way into an available bathroom, change out of your pijamas and back into your uniform, taking no longer then ten minutes to go from dreaming about Bradley Cooper (or whatever) to offering coffee or tea. Trust me, I’ve thought about it and besides being a fire fighter or an ER Doctor, operating on an aircraft is one of the few jobs where you must go from being fast asleep to facing the public in less then ten minutes.
3. Your Office Becomes an Aisle
This is something that they forget to remind you of during the five day interview process when you’re required to identify all of the tattoos on your body, sign a waiver about your natural hair color and write a psychometric test. That your office will become an aisle. That the entire space that you operate in will now be on display for the 300 bored passengers that know that you have free stuff to offer. That you and your cart will be confined to a stretch of aisle and an exact service schedule that will be constantly altered by just how badly your passengers need to use the washroom.
For every passenger that needs to “just get past you,” you and your schedule fall behind. As a passenger, I entirely understand how confined to your seat you can feel. But as crew, I can tell you that we want nothing more than to finish the service and then we don’t care how much wandering around you do. There’s also nowhere to hide on an airplane (except in the CRC or cock pit) and if you don’t enjoy people observing your every move, then this might not be the job for you.
4. Your Colleagues Constantly Change
Cabin crew have the unique experience of arriving at work to operate with different colleagues every flight and when I worked for a world-class airline they employed 35,00 cabin crew, so the chances of flying with someone you knew were slim. Instead, you met your flight crew during the flight to Rome, danced through the streets with your new favourite friends, only to never to see them again.
Most people go to work and after six months they learn to hate Darlene who gossips too much and eats too loud. But with cabin crew, you create fleeting friendships that seem to mean everything and nothing at the same time.
5. You Learn Some Serious Skills
When I applied to be a flight attendant, I was dreaming of the places I would go and the people I would meet… not of the fires I would fight or the CPR that I might administer. The most important thing that you’ve never considered about being a flight attendant, and neither did I until I became one, is that when we’re all up there and we can’t call 911 — I’m the person whose been trained to take care of you and I’m the one whose responsible for 300-plus lives.
I never really considered it before our six weeks of safety training that when the doors close I’d be the doctor, the psychologist, the firefighter and the bartender; the one who will be giving you CPR if you need it, putting out oven fires, delivering a baby and even tackling the terrorist if it came down to it.
That’s the number one thing that I wish passengers would consider; the ones that looked at me like I wasn’t smart enough to choose an intelligent career or the ones that rolled their eyes because I couldn’t get them a coke during the safety demo. That while flight attendants might be onboard to try and make your experience more comfortable, we’re also the only people who know how to open the aircraft door and evacuate in case of emergency.