In the spirit of reflection and sharing, many of you have commented (thanks, guys!) asking for a post about “a day in the life” of being Cabin Crew. In order to give you the best possible idea, I’ll share some thoughts on what it is REALLY like to work as crew on a ULR (Ultra Long Range) flight, that literally crosses the world and takes around 16 or so hours. This was one of my flights in my last few months of flying…Let the fun begin!
Wake up, jump into the shower, have breakfast (or I would be the world’s most grumpy crew ever!), get dressed and apply image and uniform standard makeup, that looks like it takes 5 hours to apply, but in reality 15-20 minutes is all I need for full make up and a french twist these days! Grab my cabin bag (hand luggage) and suitcase and I’m ready to go.
Catch the crew bus from our company accommodation to headquarters, where we begin our day. We do not ever go through Dubai airport for arrivals or departures, we have our own special place to pass through security and to check in.
My “e gate” opens and I can check in for my flight using an automated machine. I then check in at another machine that will give me a special crew luggage tag if I have a layover. We all have the same luggage as a part of our uniform, so the tag has our name on it, as well as the airport code of our destination. Today, it’s SFO for San Francisco. Yay!
I am in the briefing room, and we have 3 stages to clear before the briefing commences. Stage one is a document check, to make sure we have all of the necessary paper work for flying, such as passport, vaccination booklet, flying licence, ect. There are 7 documents in total. Once our documents have been checked, there is an Image and Uniform station where grooming is checked. This means nails, hair, jewellery, correct uniform and necessary items are present. If something is not up to standard, then you may be offloaded from the flight and not permitted to fly until the item/issue is corrected. The third and final station is the “Safe Talk” where we answer a question from our manual based on the aircraft type we are flying on/ Safety and Emergency Procedures, security or medical scenarios. You only really have one chance to answer this question correctly before further necessary action is taken (flight review development, re-questioning and finally offloading), so it is best to study up! A bit stressful, but a necessity for security and operational reasons.
The almost 30- strong crew boards the crew bus and we are transported directly to the aircraft (no airports for us!) and it is through the tradesman’s entrance onto the aero bridge.
We commence our safety equipment check, and after the Purser’s PA (Public Announcement), we start our security search for our designated area (every crew on the aircraft is assigned a position before or during the briefing, in order to work safely and efficiently as a team).
Boarding commences, and we are all ready (red lips and red hat all the way!) to welcome customers on board, help them to their seats and assist in finding a place for their (sometimes ridiculous amounts of) luggage. Contrary to popular belief, crew are not required to lift passenger’s bags into the hat racks. We are there to assist those who need special assistance. If you think about it…the customers have packed their bags at home or the hotel, carried them al the way to the airport, out of the car, through checkin, security and all the way across the terminal and onto the aircraft, so it’s fair to assume they can lift these items to stow away themselves! If not, however, this is where you will come in!
Boarding is almost over, the hat racks are almost closed and we commence our pre-departure duties or the “Welcome Service” such as preparing and distributing hot towels, menus, toys for children and any other necessities, such as kit bags and landing cards.
It’s almost time for take off! The last aircraft door is closed, we arm and cross check the doors, then we take our hats off and put everything away, securing the cabin as we make our way back to the jump seat to sit down for take off.
After an average taxi length (10-15 minutes on a good day) we have taken of, but not before the PA “Cabin Crew Prepare for take off”… and start the long journey to California! As soon as the seat belt sing switches off (or we receive a conference call from our seniors onboard) it is time to get up, change into our waist coats and cabin (low heeled) shoes, and prepare for the first service, which is “Lunch”.
The bar carts have been set up, and whilst the hot meals are still in the oven, we take them into the cabin and begin the bar service. Once all the carts meet up and everyone has been served, we dismantle some of the bar carts and replenish the others, so that we can serve drinks again with the food carts. We each operate approximately 2-3 carts each (2 meal carts and 1 clearance cart, for tidying up and collecting the trays again). This is a lot of pushing, pulling, bending and kneeling down, not unlike an aerobics class at the gym!
After the first service has been completed, we conduct a “Final Clearance” of all of the excess trays, cups, rubbish and debris (and unfortunately, sometimes, and bodily fluids), to ensure the cabin is neat and comfortable at all times. Now, a third of the crew will take their allocated ‘legal rest” in the CCRC (Cabin Crew Rest Compartment). On this flight, I’m in the first break slot. I quickly retrieve my pyjamas from their stowage, make my way to the rear of the aircraft and change into my “crew” pyjamas. We are not allowed to walk in the Cabin or serve customers (unless it is a medical or safety emergency) in our pyjamas as it is unprofessional (and we are usually half asleep when we wear them!). Therefore, I quickly scurry into the rest compartment (very small square in the middle of the aft (back) of the aircraft, where 9 bunk beds with curtains await. I am so excited and exhausted that I quickly fall asleep, with my hair still up, and 3 hours flies by far too quickly!
I’m awoken by the flushing of the lavatories and the chatter of very vocal and restless passengers! I quickly change, touch up my make up, brush my teeth and gulp down some water (by this stage I haven’t eaten in almost six hours). Now, it is time for the second service, the “Light Bites”, which is a vegetarian pizza, served with hot and cold with beverages. This is a double ended service (two people per cart), and it is only if the customers are awake, so it seems like it would be very quick and easy to serve everyone, but in actuality, when customers four rows behind the cart wake up because one man yells his drink preference over the sound of his (very loud) headset, this service takes just as long as a full meal service!
Everyone has been served, and whilst my colleagues start to prepare a round of juices for us to take turns to distribute on large, authentic silver trays, I don some very unattractive gloves and grab the can of air sanitiser in order to check and clean the toilets in the cabin, replenishing the toilet paper, cups, tissues and making sure the lavatory is in a relatively clean state “clean enough that I would use it”. (Secret fact: unless I am very, very busting, I usually use the toilets in the less busy premium classes in order to avoid lining up) After that, I clean my hands and help distributing drinks, taking pictures of children and other special customers (honeymooners, first time flyers, people with birthdays/ anniversaries/ with elbows… (anyone really, it is a great perk)…we love to pass the time talking to customers!
The final group of crew have come back from their rest, and we all start to prepare the third and final service, Breakfast (don’t ask). In order for the customers to fully acclimatise, we serve the meals according to the time zone that the passengers are entering, for example, 9:30pm in Dubai is 9:30am in San Francisco, hence we serve breakfast. After more setting up carts, making tea and coffee, bending, lifting and talking, we clear away the trays, do one more final clearance and another round of drinks, and then begin to prepare for landing.
This is the point of the all important conference call “20 to Top”. This means 20 minutes until the aircraft starts its decent into the airport, when we can start securing the cabin and sit down for a much needed 30-40 minutes whilst the aircraft lands. This is when we all get changed into our high heeled shoes and blazers again!
The Captain makes a PA, and shortly after, the Purser will invite all customers to sit up straight, switch of electronic devices, fold and stow tray tables and sit down with their seat belts securely fastened. This is when with their bags should be securely stowed. In this last few minutes, we rush around like headless chickens in high heels, adjusting the cabin, collecting blankets, headsets, stray rubbish and sometimes playful children whose parents have drifted off to sleep without strapping their little darlings in! After almost 16 hours of work, and 20 or so hours on duty, it is time to sit down, fasten our special seat belts and listen for the PA “Cabin Crew Prepare for Landing”. In which stage we are A.L.E.R.T, silent and prepared for anything.
1:00am in Dubai, 1:00pm in San Francisco
We have landed, disarmed the doors, opened the ones needed for disembarkation, donned our hats once more and farewelled some 450 passengers. Now, we perform our post landing duties (checks, stray used blankets and headsets) and once our area has been given the all clear, we are free to disembark as well, and start the long commute from the aircraft, through customs, through the terminal, to the bus and to the hotel! This particular journey took almost 3 hours as there was a mix up with the bus! All in all, a very long and productive day. I haven’t included the call bells in this post, as it is a given. During any stage in the flight (even during taxi, take off and landing), the call bells will go off and they must be answered in two minutes or less! (Unless it is unsafe to move)This is the part of the role that requires the most patience, multitasking and smiling, as it can be hard to stop being task focused (setting up a cart, for example) and quickly switch over to customer service mode. With a bit of practice (and sleep, and food, and friends on board) it becomes a lot easier!
4:00pm, San Francisco
Finally, we reach the hotel. It is now 4am in Dubai, and I have been awake for 24 hours. Instead of sleeping, it’s time to have a shower, freshen up and we go out to explore San Francisco at dusk! To read about that layover, please see the post titled Save Me San Francisco!‘
I hope this has given you a little insight into flying and what our day to day routine looked like during my time in Dubai. It’s funny, there is no such thing as what a typical day, or week, or even month of flying looks like. It all depends on the legality needs, roster and flying hours. Anything could happen at any time, a customer service issue, a medical case…part of the job is being prepared and open minded towards pretty much anything… even last minute schedule changes.
The crew definitely makes the flight, and to fly with three of your best friends is a dream come true! In saying this, it is always good to build up a rapport with your colleagues, no matter how long the flight is, so that you can support and teach each other, just like any other job I suppose! Except your office is 40 000 feet above the ground, and you can’t open any of the doors or windows, and like it or not, you are interacting with the same people in a confined space for often an extended period of time;)
It’s always a learning curve, and flying (and living in the Middle East) has taught me a lot about reading people, their body language and taking certain cues that I might’ve missed otherwise, which I think has made me a more perceptive person in general. I’ve always been quite observant (I’m that annoying girl who talks all the way through the movie, asking stupid questions like “why didn’t they lock the car?” and “how come they got a spot right out the front?!”), but now I think I can really tell a lot about a person before they have even opened their mouth!
So, in summary….if you are thinking of becoming crew…just go for it! And if you are in the application/ recruitment process, good luck and congratulations, you’re already making big changes for the future, whether you are offered the job straight away or not. If you just happened to stumble upon this post, because you like travel or whatever, and are thinking “oh no, that’s the end?” it is! There are many more posts to come, including my last few layovers as crew and my recent personal travels across Canada.
Please feel free to leave any comments or questions for me to answer, and tell me what you think. I’m always happy to help! 🙂
Keep your head in the clouds! x