I’m 28, I live in West London and I work as International Cabin Crew for a full-cost airline. I’ve been there far too long – nearly a decade. Originally, I wanted to work in this profession because I didn’t get to travel much when I was growing up, so being able to go abroad for a living seemed really exciting. And also, seeing stewardesses as a young girl – their make-up, hair and little suitcases... I just loved it. They looked so incredibly glamourous. I’d say approximately 30% of what I expected the job to be is in fact the case, but a lot of the things that go with it aren’t glamourous at all. Like vomit bags.
I sleep as much as I can when I’m not flying. We stay at our destination for 38 hours, and then I have three days off when I'm back in London. Four days on, three days off. I start work at 5pm and I finish work about 15 hours later. You really have to be able to deal with the tiredness. My main trick against jet-lag is to stay awake at least until the early evening upon your arrival. I don’t believe in using sleeping tablets, but I know a lot of my colleagues depend on them. I drink lavender tea instead.
I’ve been to some amazing places, thanks to my job. Bolivia, Peru, Morocco, and Bali, to name my favourites. Places I would’ve never gone to otherwise. The travel perks are what hooks most people to the job, but after a few years, many get sick of getting onto yet another plane, and stop making use of the personal travel opportunities.
During a 15-hour flight, I normally get 1.5-2.5 hours rest, in one piece. We have areas were we can go sleep; the worst part is waking up. You sometimes forget where you are, you're drooling, it’s 3am UK time and you need to get back to work for a second shift. It might sound obvious, but you have to be able to stand on your feet for a really long time – often in heels, for women, depending on the airline.
In terms of hair and make-up, every airline has their own standard, appearance-wise. For me, I have to have my hair up. That has to do with hygiene as well as safety – when you put on a smoke hood, you need to ensure nothing is in the way so no air gets through. We have to wear foundation, a certain style of lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish. For the nails, it needs to be pale – no bright colours, but also no French Manicure. You get checked for uniform standards before the flight, in the office, and if you don't adhere to them, you're not flying.
The best thing about my job is the interesting people you meet. I’ve had some fascinating conversations I would’ve never had otherwise. And the gratitude you feel when someone is appreciative of the level of customer service you give them, that’s nice, too. The biggest negative is the lack of social life. I didn’t really consider that before I started this job. Your shifts aren’t regular, which has such a large impact on your home life. Also, spending holidays and birthdays in the air or in a foreign country where you don't know anyone is tough. And, of course, how rude some people can be, with things that are out of your reach. People shouting at you is never nice. A friend of mine once had a menu chucked at her head because a meal option wasn’t available.
Passengers often get so drunk that they can’t get up out of their seats when we land. They wee themselves quite frequently. People also vomit into their blankets, and then want to hand it back to you immediately, although you probably aren't wearing plastic gloves. The toilet situation is always dire. Usually it’s “only” a number one issue, not a number two, but you’d be surprised how often parents just let their toddlers make on the floor.
The most interesting passenger I’ve ever had was a guy who flies around the world, in his spare time and on his own dime, to pick up hearts, kidneys, and other organs, from donors. He’d fly somewhere to pick up the organ, then fly it to its location, immediately. He was fascinating. My worst passengers are usually those who want upgrades. What many people don’t know is that, once you’ve checked in, most airlines don’t allow their cabin crew to upgrade. We can get into serious trouble. If a flight is overbooked – and all airlines sell more tickets than are actually available, because there is always a certain percentage of no-shows or missed connections – they’ll go through people with frequent flyer or club cards to upgrade them, first.
I once “saved” a couple from attempting to have sex in the airplane loo. Just for the record: airplane toilets are disgusting. So gross. I do not recommend joining the mile high club. You have no idea what you could catch. So, when I spotted this couple, who were clearly planning on doing so, I stood by the door after the woman had entered (and left the door unlocked), making my presence very obvious. The guy stood around for a bit and then returned to his seat. I saved them.
The biggest misconception that people have about my job is that it’s really easy, and that I don’t have to do much. Mainly, it’s physically demanding, but of course it can be emotionally demanding, too. A few of my colleagues have witnessed deaths on board. When someone dies, you have to administrate CPR until a doctor confirms the death, because we’re not qualified to do so. So, if there is no doctor, you just have to keep going and going until you land.
A preconceived notion that is true, though, is how often stewardesses develop relationships with pilots. I have. It’s common, as it is in any workplace. Everyone has the same lifestyle and understands the other person’s lifestyle. In terms of sustaining a relationship, I haven’t met many men that have the patience to deal with my rigid schedule.
Taking off at the start of a typhoon was the scariest situation I’ve found myself in. We were one of the very last planes to be allowed to depart. We knew it was coming – it was very, very windy. During take-off, the airplane felt like it was being tugged to one side, steeply. In theory, I feel fully equipped for any emergency situation, but you never know how you will react to things until they happen to you – if there is a fire on board and you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean or Siberia, you have no way of knowing how you, personally, will react.
In my free time, I like to go rowing, and I also regularly take pole dancing classes and go on pole dancing retreats. It’s great fun, you meet interesting people and become so strong. I can do some pretty impressive stuff on a pole, which I’m sure no one would think, looking at me in my uniform. It’s a good release.
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