Cabin crew Dubai diaries

We meet the people who help you reach your destination

Ma Phyo Zarchi Lin
Ma Phyo Zarchi Lin
Captain Heather Wolf
Captain Heather Wolf
A ‘uniform class’ at Emirates Aviation College
A ‘uniform class’ at Emirates Aviation College
Staff take part in a security and self-defence session
Staff take part in a security and self-defence session
Practising emergency drills on an aircraft simulator
Practising emergency drills on an aircraft simulator

As many of us start to turn our thoughts (and our Google searches) towards summer escapes, spare a thought for the people who help us get to where we want to go – Dubai’s trusty army of cabin crew. Dubai
airline Emirates flies to 123 destinations worldwide, with new routes being added constantly, while Dubai International Airport now hosts more than 150 airlines across its three terminals.

And according to the latest report from the Airports Council, it’s the seventh busiest airport in the world. Most telling, however, is that passenger numbers at DXB rose by 16.4 percent in 2011, more than at any other airport worldwide, and figures are set to rise again in 2012.

Click here for cabin crew party nights in Dubai

To celebrate Dubai’s status as a thriving global travel hub (plus the fact it’s home to a staggering 15,000 Emirates cabin crew), we take a peek at the life of a pilot and a first-class air hostess to reveal what life is like working the skies. Fasten your seatbelts.

The first-class attendant

Ma Phyo Zarchi Lin, 31, Burmese (above)

It’s time to get ready for the flight. There are many ‘must-have’ items to pack in my suitcase, such as my favourite Japanese green tea, cookies, a lightweight umbrella, a pair of slippers and flat shoes (to be ready for any kind of weather – but I’ll add any other shoes or heels depending on where I’m heading). I also pack my skincare products, including facial masks and eye masks – essential for helping my skin rehydrate. This morning, I’m heading to Sydney – one of my favourite cities in Australia. I’m excited because I’ll have the chance to see one of my best friends, who lives there. Sydney has great food culture and, as a big foodie, there’s always something new to try. However, the two places I always visit are a Thai restaurant called Chat Thai, and a Chinese venue called Super Bowl.


I always try to arrive at the airport early to go through the onboard manuals. There are a few manuals to refer to, including a service manual, operations info, details on our frequent flyer programme, information on the destination… There are also several aspects on our pre-boarding checklist, including a mandatory pre-flight security check, and we also need to check all the passenger seats and other areas of the cabin. I also do some quick grooming: I put on my red hat, arrange my scarf and get ready to greet customers and escort them to their first-class suites.

On this particular flight I meet a couple who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. It’s their first time in first class and they’re so excited. The rest of the crew and I make a bit of a fuss over them – we chat about their wedding 50 years ago. They hold hands the entire time. I find myself a little teary!

We arrive in Sydney – it’s late and we head straight to the hotel. I’m excited about what tomorrow holds. Some of the other crew members also want to explore the city, and I give them tips on things to see. Often we’ll explore the destination together – it’s a great way to get to know them properly.

The pilot

Captain Heather Wolf, 38, Canadian (picture 2)
By this time I’m up and have already done my morning exercise.

At noon it’s time for a simple lunch. Today it’s sushi at one of my favourites, Haru in JBR.

To ensure I’m rested for my trip tonight, I close the curtains and dim the lights, hoping to nod off for a couple of hours. It’s a bonus when I can, and today I’m lucky.

No need for a suitcase: I’m operating a turnaround [‘round-trip’] flight to Mumbai, so I just have my briefcase as I await pick-up. Emirates’ route structure is diverse, with 123 destinations, so although a midnight Mumbai flight might not be at the top of my list, I know later in the month I’ll be off to Europe, the USA, Australia or the Far East.

I’m on the bus and on my way. The journey to Emirates HQ normally takes 35 minutes so I review the flight plan, routing, current forecast and en-route weather, and ‘notams’ (notice to airmen) updates – a constantly updated ‘book’ of info concerning airspace and airports.

I arrive at Emirates headquarters and make sure I leave nothing behind – especially my hat! I make my way through immigration and security before meeting up with the first officer in our briefing room, where we review the briefing package that Emirates’ dispatch has provided for us. We introduce ourselves and brief the crew on the flight details – where the jet is parked, flight time, flight level, forecast turbulence, destination weather – and it’s our chance to assess the group (and vice versa) and set a relaxed tone. I usually crack a joke, ask if they’re rested, what the passenger load is and so on. Emirates has about 15,000 cabin crew in total, a real mix of cultures and ethnicities. English is often a second language for most of them, so care has to be taken during the briefing to ensure everybody understands fully.

The pilots and cabin crew proceed to the bus, before the purser [a senior flight attendant] makes sure everybody is present.

We arrive at the aircraft, one hour before departure time. I review the technical log with the first officer; while he begins programming the flight management computer, I do an exterior inspection of the aircraft. This usually takes about ten minutes.

I take the left seat – the captain’s position – and begin my pre-flight procedures. I’ve recently been promoted from the first officer position and still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

I check that all data entered into the flight management computer is correct.

Fuel is on: I double-check the numbers and send the fueller on his way.

I’m flying the first sector of the trip, so I brief the first officer on expected taxi routing, actions to take in the event of a malfunction during take-off, our routing and expected altitudes immediately after take-off, weather, terrain or obstructions, and anything else that is relevant. This is a two-way briefing and I expect the first officer to make additions to the briefing, if necessary.

I request air traffic control airways clearance and make sure it’s the same as on our flight plan.

I make a public announcement to the passengers before we start moving.

The doors close: I request start-up and push-back clearance. Assuming a normal, event-free flight, we expect to land back in Dubai approximately seven and a half hours later – the world has become very small.

Back on terra firma, feeling slightly worse for wear. I complete the shutdown, make sure the necessary signatures have been made, and board the same crew bus back to Emirates headquarters. Even after a short trip like this, I’ve missed Dubai and can’t wait to get home. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, even more to stay here, but, as my husband says, ‘It’s better than working for a living.’

How do I become…

A pilot
Emirates Aviation College runs a pilot training programme licensed by JAA (‘Joint Aviation Authorities’)in collaboration with Jeppeson, open to those aged 17 to 30, who have passed high school. The only setback? The Dhs545,000 fee. If you’re successful, there is also the opportunity to enrol for one of the college’s one-year top-up degree programmes for a BSc (Hons) in aviation. Starting salary from Dhs41,240 a month.
Emirates Aviation College, Garhoud, (04 218 9122).

Cabin crew
Applicants must be 21 years old or over. Other requirements include a minimum arm reach of 212cm on tiptoes (in order to reach emergency equipment on all aircraft types), to have completed high-school education, and be fluent in written and spoken English.
For more info on how to apply, see On Saturday June 23, there’s an open day at Emirates Aviation College. Attendees will be able to learn about the college’s pilot training programme and all the course options it provides.

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