We’ve all seen that glamorous Virgin advert. The swanky pilots waltzing around with a trail of beautiful female cabin crew following close behind as they board the plane and jet off to another tropical destination. It looks like the lifestyle of dreams, but behind closed doors, not all is as it seems.
As a student, I don’t really know too much about working airside, but my boyfriend spent almost a year working as short-haul cabin crew, and he’s told me all the secrets and gossip of what it’s really like.
The biggest thing about travelling for a living is that it is really, really lonely. *Home by Michael Bublé starts to play*. On paper, it might seem cool that you can be in Amsterdam one night and Barcelona the next, but when you’re in those places by yourself for days or, if you’re long haul crew, weeks on end, you miss your friends and soggy British soil sooner than you’d think.
You may get to stay in nice hotels, but they’re not all nice. Most of them are extremely close to or at the airport itself, and nowhere near the actual city, so there’s no time to go solo sight-seeing. Not that you’d feel up to it anyway because of a wonderful thing called Minimum Rest Agreements. The European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) sets out flight time limitations, which govern how long pilots and crew can work for and how much rest they need between shifts. Airlines purposefully roster you as close to the limit as possible for maximum hours and minimum rest. As the limit is 60 duty hours in 7 consecutive days, they often get around this by putting a single rest day in the middle of the week so they can make you work for longer than 60 hours, as it isn’t consecutive. Because of this, cabin crew are often very sleep deprived.
Being cabin crew is not a relaxing or ‘easy’ job. Despite what some rude passengers seem to think, they are not there to say hello to you when you board, get you a gin and tonic, and then sit at the back reading a magazine. The main responsibility of cabin crew is to make sure the aircraft is safe and secure, and their secondary role is to look after you and be hospitable. Whilst you are in the air, they take on the role of every possible person of authority you could imagine. They have to have the knowledge and capability to be first-aiders, midwives, firefighters, doctors, police, customer service, waiters…the list is endless. If anything happens in the air that could happen on the ground, the cabin crew are the first and only port of call. It is well known amongst cabin crew that the stressful lifestyle plays havoc with your eating and sleeping patterns, and like any stressful job you either gain lots of weight or lose it. This lower standard of health also means you are more susceptible to catching the latest cold and flu virus no matter the time of year.
On top of the pressure that comes with the job, the last thing cabin crew need is rude, uncooperative passengers. So, next time you’re on a flight, before you get annoyed that you have to move your bag or fold up your seat table, or you’re grumpy because you woke up at 4am to catch a flight, remember: they woke up early too, there is a specific reason for everything cabin crew ask you to do, and your bacon sandwich is not number one on their long to-do list.