Being jolted awake by a 3.30am alarm would be torture for most people, but for senior cabin crew member Sarah it’s really no problem as she has such a genuine passion for her job.
“Honestly I love my job,” says Sarah [not her real name] who has been working for Ryanair for almost four years, and currently flies from the airline’s East Midlands base. “Of course the early starts and long hours can be tough, but for me the whole experience of flying is so exciting and rewarding. You meet fantastic people, and no day is the same.”
A typical day can be 10 hours for Sarah, and although she’s only working three days a week, making life sound easy, it can be tiring. “You really feel it because you are on the go the whole time – before and during flights. Also people forget that as cabin crew you are physically working hard at 30,000 ft – it’s like being up a mountain at that altitude – so your body needs to adjust to that. But the flexibility my working hours allow is fantastic, and I have a great lifestyle,” she says. “On days off you can catch up, do your shopping when Tesco isn’t mobbed, see friends. It all balances out.”
On the day Cabin Crew talks to Sarah, she’s been on an early shift so has already jetted to Ibiza and back, and it’s only 4.30pm on a weekday. “I start the day with getting ready, and that means paying real attention to the grooming regulations set out by the airline,” she explains. Lipstick colour must match nail varnish shade, skirt must be exactly on the knee. Even tights have to be the regulation colour for cabin crew. Hair must be short enough not to touch the collar, or if longer, in a ponytail or bun with not a hair out of place. “I once went to work with red and blonde highlights and got into loads of trouble,” says Sarah.
She’s learnt a lot since her early days, following training in 2008, and is now an operating senior, so on most flights leads a crew team of four. This means getting to the airport in plenty of time to sign in and prepare for the pre-flight briefing. “Delivering the briefing is a vital part of the day because you are talking your team through how the day will go, the flight, the number of passengers, who’s allocated which tasks, any new security procedures to consider,” says Sarah. “Then it’s time for us to go through security check.Cabin crew members are checked in exactly the same way as passengers. I’ve had an un-opened yoghurt taken off me before. It’s just a necessary part of the job.”
Then the crew boards the aircraft well ahead of passengers, and carries out a complete search of the interior. “This is very important as my job is to ensure the safety of the aircraft, the passengers, and the crew,” says Sarah. Once passengers are boarded and correctly seated there’s a head count to make sure numbers tally with what the ground staff have stipulated.
“If everyone’s on board we ‘close up’, hand out the magazines, menu cards and often do the safety demonstrations while the plane is taxiing for take-off. Once in the air it’s really non-stop – serving the passengers drinks, snacks, scratch cards and doing lots of clearing up as we go.”
Pressures of the cabin crew job
On holiday flights to Ibiza or Palma in Mallorca, for example, cabin crew members expect to have to handle over-exuberant passengers, says Sarah. “I’ve seen it all and it can be quite shocking, but you just have to stay calm and follow procedures,” she says. On one flight a drunk passenger wandered through the plane claiming he had a bomb. “We had to sit him down and eventually involve the police and it led to all passengers having to come off, and the plane was searched for ten hours. We knew he was talking rubbish and there was no bomb, but we had to go through the security procedures.” Most days are incident-free thankfully.
Short haul flights have a quick turnaround, so having landed in Ibiza Airport at 10 am, the crew has time to prepare the aircraft for the return flight. “At the end of the day we do the closing bar paperwork, have a daily debrief and exit using normal passenger security channels,” says Sarah. “On day like today I can go for a meal with my husband in the evening, knowing that I’m off tomorrow.”
The best part of the job is the flying and working with great colleagues says Sarah. “I’ve flown so many times, but I’m still impressed that these huge aircraft can take off and land and transport us around the world. I understand the physics and engineering behind it all, but it still amazes me it’s possible! It’s great to be part of that.”
The downside can be aggressive, rude and disruptive passengers who seem to forget that a plane is a workplace for cabin crew, who are trying their best to get a job done.
Advice for cabin crew wannabes
Sarah has some valuable advice for young cabin crew members coming into the profession: “It’s really important to understand that this is not a 9 to 5 job and there’s a lot more to it than looking fantastic in the uniform and having perfect make-up. You have to be willing to work hard and always be focused,” says Sarah.
“I’d advise newcomers to read the small print very carefully too when it comes to signing contracts with airlines. Look into the costs for training and uniforms, and work out what you’ll actually be earning in your first year. These days getting started isn’t cheap so do plenty of research. If you’re the right kind of person and can gain some experience, it can be a fabulous job.”
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