The realities facing the present day Flight Attendants.
I would feel confident in telling you that there is no job in the world that can offer you the life teachings that being a flight attendant can. Believe it or not I’ve learnt so much more then making a better cup of tea then most.
You can’t even begin to understand the beauty, perspectives, cultural differences or hardships of the world without having seen it with your own eyes. Let alone the stories behind the faces that walk onto the aircraft and that’s just the crew, throw a couple of hundred passengers into the mix and Dr Phil would have a months worth of content.
The “job complex” and perception of inferiority is real and I know this because I feel it in the twinge I get when people ask me what I do. I want to jump straight into defensive mode and tell them what I’ve seen and experienced and how this has changed my whole perspective on culture, the world and how this has changed what I value. If it hadn’t been for my exposure to the world I wouldn’t have developed cultural empathy. I no longer get annoyed or confused at the associated behaviours attributed to culture because it makes sense to me now. I’ve seen it within context and motion in each country I’ve travelled to. I no longer correlate someone’s anger or frustration being taken out on me to the type of person they are but more toward their current life situation or stressors. Once you know someone’s story it is almost impossible to be mad at them. I’ve never had to be so accepting, understanding, adaptable and accommodating of so many personalities and expressed traits shown by the multitude of people who I work with. With a new crew every trip, an average of five trips per roster and approximately four flights within one trip where it is possible to have a different crew for each of those flights. Along with the differing needs of passengers and squeeze us all into a giant tin can. That is a whole lot of contact with so many different people.
While I’ve just mentioned everything I’ve learnt there comes a point in this career where social stimulation, good chats and worldly perspective doesn’t seem to be filling the gap anymore. With serious lack of progression available to someone like me in my position reality sinks in that while I’ve gained so much from this job I’m also losing a lot in a way. Career wise being a flight attendant is not nearly what is used to be. Most trips I’ll hear a story about the “good ol’ days.” The older, or should I say experienced flight attendants tell us stories of exotic destinations, slip times that felt like holidays and pay packets that made this a dream career. The reality of the industry now is that destinations are dwindling and variation is limited, 24 hour slips will find only the motivated and brave outside their hotel rooms hyped up on caffeine and the pay packets reflect the quick turn around.
Most of the experienced flight attendants that are still around delved into property and created businesses on the side. However that begs the question what does the future look like for a flight attendant like me and the hundreds of others in my position. Where progression is either limited or non existent, where conditions are less then favourable. Well we make lemonade, or tea in our case. Push past the galley gossip and the stereotype of the typical flight attendant and you’ll reveal a new hybrid version of the trolley dollys’ that serve you.
You’d probably be surprised by the amount of us that have created businesses on the side, that work another job while we’re not flying or that have taken the time to study while working. Which brings me to my story…
During the three/four year gap just after leaving high school at aged 18 and just before applying to fly at age 21 I studied Psychology and Health promotion graduating and just not quiet ready for adult life. I decided to fly and travel. Fast forward two and a half years into flying I suffered from a serious internal crisis and behind my best flight attendant smile was a mind racing a mile a minute trying realise what my purpose was, where was this job leading and the fact that I felt like the radiation was frying my brain cells, well that or the routine of the job on board began to set in. This crisis pushed me into a direction that settled the niggling feeling you get in your heart when things aren’t quite right and you know you aren’t living to your full potential. I began studying again, this time a Graduate Diploma in Journalism as a Long Distant student at Massey University (Auckland, New Zealand); definitely taking the long distant learner literally.
I’ve met crew who were studying to complete their post graduate studies in psychology (all long distance/and having studied psychology myself I’m still in awe of what she was undertaking). I’ve met many crew completing business studies. Crew with businesses on the side from beautification to photography. While there are many flight attendants who will make flying their career and be happy in their life choice there are many who are on a different path.
The reality is that your flight attendants onboard your next flight wont just be your average food serving, tea making, creating space from nothing for your giant (should have been checked in) carry on experts. Behind the doll faces and red lippy (I fail in this department with my no makeup philosophy) you’ll be being served by a group of learned entrepreneurs working towards their next big break in life.