Believe it or not, the first ‘air host’ was actually a man. Heinrich Kubis from Germany was chief steward aboard the nation’s zeppelins from 1912 onwards; women were only introduced to the role in the 1930s. At first, female flight attendants were compared to nurses: some airlines employed only those with previous nursing experience. It wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s that companies such as Pan-Am began to use the looks and charisma of their flight attendants as a selling point. Singapore Airlines still promotes its ‘Singapore Girls’ today.
Post 9/11 and today’s in-flight staff receive specific anti-terrorism training, learning how to protect passengers from other passengers as much as from unexpected technical problems. But flight attendants still have one of the most unique lifestyles in the world, darting between continents at a moment’s notice, surviving constant jetlag, dealing with us at our most cramped and useless, all while trying to keep up steady friendships and family life.
Nearly 11,000 Emirates cabin crew, spanning 128 nationalities, are based in Dubai. They have their own club nights, fitness companies, apartment blocks and discounts for bars and salons. As a result, flight attendants have earned themselves a reputation: known for being attractive and outgoing, with a zest for life – the kind who work crazy hours travelling, yet still find time to socialise on their return. We asked two Emirates cabin crew flatmates to keep a diary for a week, to find out whether their lifestyle is truly fabulous – or super strenuous.
Position: First Class cabin crew
Today I’m scheduled for ‘home standby’ from 4am and noon. If a crew member is sick or a flight has been disrupted, they’ll call me. If I miss the call – even at 4am – I will be marked absent. At 4.15am it rings. I have 45 minutes to get ready before my transport to Emirates HQ arrives… I’m off to Lagos in Nigeria. I sign in and go for briefing with the rest of the crew operating this flight. I’ll work the galley in First Class and am responsible for doing all the catering checks, preparing pre-departure drinks and hot towels. There are eight seats in First Class, but today we have four customers on board. As soon as we take off, they’re asleep. The pilots keep me busy! We check on them regularly. We land at 12.30pm Nigerian time and are escorted to our hotel. After freshening up, eight of the crew members meet for lunch. Afterwards we rest.
We have an 11.30am wake-up call for a 12.30pm hotel departure today. There are four First Class customers on the return flight, but Business and Economy are nearly full. We have lots of children travelling this time, so we keep them entertained by taking photos of them with the onboard camera.
It’s 1.30am when we touch down in Dubai; I reach home at 3am. I have the rest of the day off, so I sleep until 11am, go to the cinema at The Dubai Mall to see Inception with friends, then meet my sister and brother-in-law for dinner. Before I pack my suitcase, I check the weather in Entebbe, Uganda, where I’m due to fly the following day, so I know what clothing to take. I get my uniform ready and make sure my documents are in my bag. It’s 10pm and time for bed.
My alarm goes off at 5am. I arrive at the briefing and meet the new crew – I work with people from different countries every shift. Today’s flight to Entebbe is via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. One of the First Class passengers recognises me from the FIFA World Cup 2010! I was one of six Emirates crew presenting the third-place medal to the German players at the presentation ceremony. After we land, the bus ride to the hotel is bumpy. All the flight deck and cabin crew agree to meet for dinner at 8pm, so I use the next couple of hours to go for a walk by Lake Victoria, one of the world’s biggest inland lakes. It’s at times like this when I think how lucky I am. Last week I was shopping on Rodeo Drive in LA; last night I was having dinner by the world’s tallest building; and today I am strolling in the heart of Africa. Next week – who knows?
There’s time for a swim before our airport pick-up. The flight back to Dubai is via Addis again – it’s such a beautiful descent into Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa-Dubai leg is full, and some passengers get upgraded. We have one little boy sitting in First Class who doesn’t know how to use the in-flight entertainment system, so I show him how to watch Shrek 3. He must have turned the volume in his headphones up loud, as every time he speaks to his father, he’s yelling!
I have the day off, so I spend the whole day in Dubai, first visiting Aquaventure with friends, then Barasti. The good thing about being off on a Friday or Saturday is getting to spend time with non-crew family and friends.
My best friend Irvinee and I joined Emirates on the same day four years ago. About 18 months ago we became flatmates, but despite living together, our rosters mean we haven’t been in Dubai together all week. Today we resolve to spend some quality time together.
Irvinee Binte Ahmad Zainal
Position: Cabin crew Airbus A380
Today is my day off before flying to Bangkok. I’ll be flying straight to London when I get back, so I need to be organised before I leave. I wake up early to make sure enough uniforms are pressed and all my travel documents are ready. My job has taught me to always think two steps ahead. I need to be ready for any destination, from San Francisco to Seoul.
I always set two alarm clocks to wake me – I’m a deep sleeper! Getting ready, I must make sure to meet Emirates’ grooming standards: I have to look my best. On the aircraft, customers are usually heading for holidays, but you can’t forget that some are travelling for more unfortunate reasons. After landing in Bangkok, I take a tuk-tuk to my favourite eatery – the Puppet Show Restaurant. You can watch performances if you’re there at the right time, and the pad Thai is amazing.
My wake-up call for my flight back to Dubai will be around 6pm, so I have time to kill. Next to the hotel is a small market selling fresh fruit, textiles, souvenirs and more. I buy a papaya salad, sit on a bench and watch the people, the birds and the hawkers.
Packing for London is difficult. Even though it’s summer there, London is renowned for its unpredictable weather, so I need warm clothes and an umbrella. It is a rest day for me today. The only energy I can muster is for an hour of yoga and pottering around the apartment.
It’s 4am and my first alarm clock goes off. Five minutes later the second one rings and it’s time to start a new day. The flight is busy. I try to look at this as an opportunity to polish my communication skills, and ensure travellers get the most out of their flight. One of my closest friends, Sobia, lives in Uxbridge in the UK; whenever I go to London, I take her a souvenir. She takes me to the city to sample some fish and chips and we stroll around Hyde Park. We buy tickets to see Phantom of the Opera. It’s one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen!
I have another London flight next week so I make plans with Sobia to see another musical, The Lion King, and visit Windsor Castle in the afternoon.
Home, sweet home! I call my sister who lives in Dubai and get the news about my niece, Isabelle. I arrange to see them tomorrow. Mary and I go to yoga and the beach for a swim before it gets too hot. After that, it’s off to Lime Tree Café, where the smoothies are calling our names. Loudly.
According to The Journal of Neuroscience, research shows that cabin crew who constantly travel across time zones for several years have disturbed circadian rhythms (daily routines), which can lead to ‘impaired physical and psychological health.’
Want to join the cabin crew?
Emirates is seeking to recruit about 3,000 cabin crew members this year, but you’ll have to hit its standards. Here are some of the criteria.
• A minimum age of 21
• A minimum arm reach of 212cm when standing on tiptoes, so you can reach emergency equipment on all aircraft types
• Education to high-school standard
• Physical fitness sufficient to meet aircrew requirements
• Tattoos are not allowed on any part of the body where they would be visible in uniform. Bandaging is not permitted
See www.emirates.com for more info.
Week in Numbers
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