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A Day in the life of a flight attendant...
A day on the job for a flight attendant could mean...a trip to Paris...or an emergency landing. It can be fun, an adventure, or both...and it is all in a days work?
I’ve found that working as flight attendant for a major airline this past year has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever had, and yet one of the most enjoyable. The schedule and the passengers challenge me in ways I never could have imagined.
But nothing beats hanging out in New Delhi for 24 hours or travel to destinations as far away as Hawaii or San Diego, California with a company-paid hotel room and expense money. The thousands of us flying encounter many different experiences during the course of a day. This is a day (well, technically a trip) in my life...
5:45 P.M. Friday: The Assignment
As a flight attendant, my "work day" begins with a call from a crew scheduler. Trips are paid by the flight hour, from the time the aircraft door is shut to the time it is opened. And for every hour away from base, flight attendants are paid expense money. This particular Friday evening, when crew scheduling calls, I choose a four-day trip on the Airbus 319--one of our newer aircraft. It pays better than average and overnights in Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai. Working what the airline labels the "C" position, I serve in the economy cabin and sit in the front, near the boarding door. With my trip set, I pack. I take a few extra pieces of my uniform and some clothes for the overnight. I go to bed early since I must check in early the next morning.
7:30 A.M. Saturday: Check-in
This morning, I go down to the crew room below the airport concourse in Hyderabad. Each base has a crew room complete with couches, computers and supervisors’ offices. Pilots and flight attendants also have boxes or folders there for company mail.
Before starting a trip, a crewmember must check in for it. First things first, I use the computer to sign in for the trip. If you do not sign in an hour before the trip departs, you are liable to get written up by your supervisor. Since boarding begins 30 minutes prior to departure, there’s not much time to spend in the crew room, but I have a few minutes to check my box for memos and chat with friends. I head to the plane to meet up with the rest of the crew.
Communication between the cockpit and the cabin plays a vital role in maintaining a safe environment, and the crew briefings at the beginning of a trip set the tone. Once on the airplane, Bobby, the lead flight attendant, briefs Meera and me on safety procedures, delegates announcement responsibilities and confirms that we have our emergency manuals. Afterward, the captain conducts his briefing, reviewing safety-related issues, flight time, weather, and what he likes to drink.
Ready, Set, Go: In-flight
About 30 minutes prior to departure, the agent working our flight comes down the jet way to begin boarding. Bobby nods okay, and we finish checking our emergency equipment and catering supplies. From the forward galley, Bobby and I greet the passengers and prepare drinks for first class customers. Meera hangs out in the back, monitoring the dwindling space in the overhead bins.
Boarding tends to provide the biggest headache, especially considering I do not get paid until that door is shut. With a nearly full flight, it is pretty much guaranteed that space in the overhead bins will go quickly. Tensions mount, but bags need to be checked.
Though the company no longer requires passenger counts, many pilots prefer to have them. When you see the flight attendant slowly coming up the aisle silently moving his or her lips, sometimes motioning his or her hands, that flight attendant is taking a count. As easy as it may seem, it often takes more than one count to get it right.
Once all the overhead bins are shut and the passengers are seated, the flight is ready for departure. I verify that the passengers seated in the window exit row are willing and able to assist in an emergency if necessary. Before shutting the door, the agent hands Bobby a copy of the manifest, which lists first class passengers, passengers with special needs or meals, and gate connections.
We arm the exits, enabling the slides to inflate if the doors are opened. After the safety demonstration and a final cabin walk-through, the three of us strap into our jump seats and I practice my 30-second review, which includes evacuation commands and door operation procedures. It is still a thrill when we taxi onto the runway and the engines roar. You learn to recognize the strange (and initially scary) noises as just the lavatory toilet seat coming down or unused hangars banging in the closet.
Flight Attendant Job:
Once we level-off at 10,000 ft, I head to the back and help Meera prepare for the breakfast service. To no one’s surprise, we serve the sumptous south indian breakfast prepared by the chefs of Taj Residency. In the back galley, we brew coffee, cook the meals in the ovens and set up the carts. Since the beverage cart comes stocked with cans of sodas and juices, we just add a few things on top such as some cream and sugar for the coffee.
We begin serving from the front of the cabin to the back. It turns out we are short a few meals and have to ask the company employees traveling on the flight to go without a breakfast. I hate doing that, but they do not seem to mind. Space is undeniably tight on the beverage cart, and accidents are bound to happen.
I am no exception on this leg, knocking a can of soda on a passenger as I reach for it. Not much spills, but he is still peeved. I give him a sorry form to get his pants dry-cleaned at the airline’s expense. Finishing the service, I settle in the back row with a book, assisting in the cabin as needed. Passengers occasionally bring cups and other trash back for me to dispose of as they head to the toilet, but the remainder of the long flight is a coffee break of sorts for us.
Service in first class is usually more involved. With 12 or fewer passengers on the smaller jets, it also tends to be more intimate. No carts are needed, and food and beverages are presented in china and glassware. Various types of people fly first class, but that cabin mostly fills up with business people and other frequent flyers. Celebrities occasionally make an appearance. A friend served Aishwarya Rai once, and another flew with the members of music troupe Aasma.
During the flight, a problem arises, which is relatively common on longer flights. Sitting in the back, I notice the smell of cigarette smoke coming from the lavatory. A passenger exits and it is obvious he has been smoking. There is no sign of the cigarette in the trash, but I advise him that smoking in the lavatory is a violation of Civil Aviation regulations and comes with a large fine or imprisonment. There are set procedures to deal with situations like these and paperwork to complete.
We cruise through the rest of the day with little problem, except when I smash Meera's finger in the overhead bin as we both try to close it. She’s okay, though she is quick to point out the tiny white scratch on her fingernail. An extra flight attendant joins us in Delhi for our next leg to Chandigarh. She notices a pregnant woman sitting in the exit row, and the four of us discuss whether the passenger is qualified to do so.
Since no regulation explicitly excludes pregnant women from those seats and the passenger insists she is both willing and able to assist in an emergency, we decide to let her stay there. The last leg of the day is the easiest. Since the airline needs us in Mumbai, but does not need us to work from Chandigarh, we deadhead on another crew’s flight.
Gas, Food, Lodging: The Layover
We arrive in Mumbai at 8:00 P.M. I take Meera and Bobby to the restaurant where I once worked as guest relations executive. My old boss gives us dinner on the house, certainly a welcome treat on our first-year salary. We have an early start again the next morning and there is not a whole lot to do near the airport in Mumbai, so we don’t stay out late.
On an overnight, the airline provides each crewmember with his or her own hotel room. Long layovers (at least 15 hours off) land you at a decent hotel downtown, near the beach or some sort of shopping venue. For shorter layovers, you will usually stay at or very near the airport. My crew, both the pilots and the flight attendants, stay together the entire trip--layover and all.
Some airlines work a little differently, putting flight attendants and pilots in separate hotels. The airline also covers meals, if you count the expense money paid for the trip.
12:40 P.M. Tuesday: Check-out
The next few days of the trip are surprisingly uneventful. The video system on the Airbus, sophisticated as it is with its automatic preprogramming, occasionally malfunctions. Threatened with having to do the safety demo the "old-fashioned way," we manage to play the video manually.
At the end of day two, as the plane pulls off the runway at Mumbai airport, I persuade Bobby to spice up the arrival announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our nation’s hotbed of economy," she says, instead of the scripted "Welcome to Mumbai." I cannot tell if anyone notices. By the end of the fourth day, most of the giddiness has been replaced with exhaustion.
At the end of the last leg, we land in Hyderabad. The trip is now over. I am released from duty 15 minutes later. This rest period lasts at least eight hours and is guaranteed to be free from phone contact from schedulers. Leaving the airport, I head out to the transport parking lot, get picked up in a comparatively new Ford Ikon and head home. Back in my room, I unload my bags and unplug the phone.
The Mystique of the Flight Attendant - What is it about a flight attendant that makes little kids longingly stare and adults charmed and envious? Could it be the lifestyle and freedom to jet away to faraway places? The uniform? The star quality of these chosen few?
How I Got Started With A Flight Attendant Job - My story of a flight attendant job starts at age four. I was watching a kiddie TV show, and suddenly, there on the screen appeared the most beautiful creature I had ever seen! She wore an elegant navy blue uniform with golden wings on her chest, and she got to fly in airplanes EVERY DAY!
Things I Never Anticipated -The job of flight attendant is usually considered to be glamorous, sexy, adventurous and exciting. It is all these things, but there are many more facets to the job than most people realize. When contemplating the career, it is recommended that attention be paid to some of the added “baggage” we take on.
You may be interested in knowing how to apply for a flight attendant job or do you fulfill the eligibility criteria to join an airline. Do you know we also have a section where there are actual interview questions and suggested answers
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