Flight attendants are a bit of an enigma. They breeze by with smiles, handing out food, then glide off into an unseen area of the plane for a rest. They emerge a little later, looking (mostly) well groomed. Have they been sleeping, do they have a secret beauty parlour down there? What do they get up to on breaks?
A former flight attendant answers all the questions you've always wanted to pose.
Is this job really that glamorous?
Imagine this: it's three in the morning and you're 35,000 ft in the air. You've just woken from a 30-minute nap and have to make yourself look perfect in dim light. Someone is tugging frantically at a door clearly labelled 'crew only' thinking it's the bathroom, and another person comes up to you and tells you the toilet is 'disgusting', and the toilet paper has run out. They deliver the message with a sense of anger as if you are personally responsible.
One passenger is doing yoga in the aisle, making it impossible to pass, so you try another route only to find another is repacking their suitcase on the back stairs. The cabin lights then start to brighten and everybody is expecting breakfast as if they haven't eaten in weeks. Let the glamour begin.
Do you get hit on by passengers?
Yes, I've had business cards slipped to me, notes scribbled on napkins. It doesn't happen a lot - but coming into contact with so many people, eventually, you're going to get someone trying their luck.
Do crew get together while they are away?
If you think about stories in your own workplace, when do scandals often happen? Work trips. Well, our job is all one big work trip, so as you would expect, it does happen.
What's the secret to getting an upgrade?
Never ask crew for one. You have more chance of a free flight to the moon. Checking in very late can help with your prospects - as economy could be overbooked and the seats already allocated to other passengers - but this may also help your chances of missing the flight altogether if you leave it too late.
If sitting in business is a dream and you don't want to pay, here are a few tips to get there:
1) become a flight attendant - you get discounted travel.
2) become a pilot or marry one - you get even better discounted travel.
3) collect airline reward points to earn yourself a better status and free upgrade requests.
Have you ever had passengers try to join the Mile High Club?
Not in person, but I have heard stories from other crew. It doesn't happen as often as movies make out and just remember, for safety reasons, toilets can be opened by crew very easily.
Who are the most annoying passengers?
The passengers who think their ticket entitles them to treat crew like servants who have Mother Teresa type abilities to solve problems. We have finite resources - we are in a metal tube flying above the ocean - but we will always do our best to solve problems. However, we cannot beam down to Kmart and get all the items needed to make a paper mache for your child because your little one doesn't like the kids pack. Nor can we head to the supermarket to get you fresh salmon, because your piece isn't big enough.
Being kind to flight attendants is actually a better way to get what you want.
Where do crew sleep?
This is different on all types of aircraft. The larger aircraft sleeping quarters is generally a series of bunk beds with a little light in each of them, a pillow and a blanket. On some aircraft, the beds are slightly tilted to compensate for the aircraft tilt during the cruise.
How long do crew sleep?
This also depends on the flight time and service requirements. On longer flights, crew generally have two breaks of two to three hours plus a 20 minute meal break. Half of the crew will rest while the other stay on duty to ensure all cabin areas are covered at all times. Rest breaks are generally never longer than three hours for two reasons:
1. So the on-duty crew don't become fatigued (remember we work right through the night)
2. Three hours of sleep is the optimal time for rest and avoids waking during the deep sleep cycle.
What's the best part of the job?
Having the world as your office.
What's the worst part?
Having the world as your office also means sleep deprivation, especially on long haul sectors. Constantly being tired and working in different time zones can take a toll on the body.
Do you get free flights?
Every airline differs, but you generally get huge discounts on flights after a certain amount of time with the company. This is space available, which means you wait until check-in has closed and you get offered the spare seats. You can get business class, or you can get left behind if the flight is full.