My fashion sensibility as a child could be summed up in two words: MATCH EVERYTHING. While I suffered through some terrible fashion choices as a teen, my real sartorial awakening came on my first ever flight. I became obsessed with flight attendant fashion: the scarves; the slightly askew tiny hats (that served no purpose); the kitten heels, the badges with tiny, gold-plated wings, and the matching mini-suitcases. From ages 10 through 13, all I wanted was a replica of Singapore Airline’s uniform.
If you’re wondering, the uniform is still pretty rad.
Now, as a mostly grown adult, I have surpassed my obsession with flight-attendant fashion but have gained the utmost respect for flight attendants themselves, so much so that I believe that The Next Karate Kid (part four in the series) should really be set on a plane.
Think about it: The story is about mastering Zen, discipline, agility, and developing resistance from punching douche bags in the face even when provoked. Main character Julie does not need to find Shaolin monks; just let her work on a plane filled with passengers who believe their sole duty is to empty the juice/booze stock on-board, since, you know, they’ve “paid” for it.
While travelling the world can be glamorous and exciting, it’s a tough job to be responsible for the safety of others. I spoke to a former flight attendant, who gave me the low-down on her job in the skies. She reminiscences on what it was like to work 35,000 miles up in the air.
Q: We need to get down to the important questions first: Is there a secret stash of delicious food on the plane only meant for special guests?
Ha ha, no secret stash as such. But, yes, we have great food in the premium cabins: caviar, seared tuna, macaroons, hot Canapés [sic], opera gateau… You get the picture.
But even in the economy cabin, we manage to make some interesting meals. On long-haul flights, we as crew have a lot of time to spare in between services, and hence we get very creative and invent new recipes with the food on-board. That is the fun part. A lot of times, I’ve had crew make pizzas, manakeesh, sandwiches, and delicious salads with the food we have on-board.
Q: What is the best part of the world for in-flight meals?
Best catering: chocolate mousse from Dusseldorf airport catering, salmon fillet [from] Munich, focaccia from Venice, tropical fruit from Sri Lanka, baked shrimp open sandwiches from Dubai, sandwiches from the U.S.
Q: What do you eat in the air?
We usually have crew meals catered for the flight. It’s almost the exact same meal portions that you would find in the economy cabins. We just are given a few more options to cater to the crew’s dietary needs. In addition to this, there will also be salads and sandwiches provided for the crew. A lot of times, crew who are particular about their food and diet bring their own meals. And sometimes, depending on the catering quantity, we would be able to help ourselves to food from the premium cabins. So, yes, we are never short of food!
Q: How many countries have you visited?
53 turnarounds, 42 layovers.
Q: Most obnoxious flight ever?
A dreadful flight where I had to serve an obnoxious lady, who was under the assumption that she will be able to get a free upgrade on her future flight if she made an issue out of everything about the airline.
She got to action right after she boarded. She complained about everything — the check-in counter, the aircraft, the food, the hat-rack size, [the] food quality, [the] crew’s attitude. (You name it, and she had it covered.)
It went on for a good two hours. She got her hands on the complaint letter and poured her heart out, had it sealed, and gave it to us with the most pleasant smile. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t successful with the upgrade plans, as, sadly for her, the airline industry sees this on a daily basis.
Though I have seen a few of them during my career, she stands out because of how passionate she was with the whole process. She could have just slept through the flight, watched a movie, made small talks with a cute passenger, but no, she had a task, and she stayed focused!
Q: It’s pretty magical up in the air. Have you ever looked out of the window and seen something truly remarkable that most people don’t get to see?
There was this one time when we were en route to LA, and we were going over the North Pole. I happened to go to the cockpit around the same time, and I saw a sight that was truly magical. It was a geographical phenomenon where we could see the earth’s curvature (It was right in front of us.) and the sunlight on one side of the sphere and the shadow of the earth on the other side. There was a beam of sunlight that was blocked by the northernmost tip, and it formed a slanted beam. It was an out-of-the -world experience, quite literally! That sight was purely magical and will stay with me for years to come.
Q: What do you miss most about flying?
I miss a lot of things. I miss the travelling part, for sure, and the cheap tickets I had access to. I also miss how one can totally disconnect from the job the moment you step out of the aircraft. That is the luxury we don’t get with a lot of jobs. I miss how I was able to meet new people on a daily basis, people from different countries, from all walks of lives and people with different personalities. People are surprisingly open to deep conversations up in the air; you’re more open to delve into topics that you’d rather not talk to a friend about. It could be a combination of boredom and the fact that we may not see each other again, or just maybe the slightest degree of hypoxia!
Q: And what do you miss least about flying?
I definitely don’t miss the jet lags and the grogginess and the crankiness that come along with it. Also, the part where you meet some amazing colleagues, hit it off really well during the layover, and get back to your base and say your goodbyes, knowing for a fact that you may not be able to keep in touch because of the crazy work timings. It’s very hard to maintain work friends with the job. You also end up having a lot of alone time that can be annoying sometimes.
Q: If you could outline three basic pieces of advice for passenger etiquette that would make your job easier, what would they be?
- Never ever forget the magic words: ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’! It just makes everything seem so much nicer.
- Please make sure the food tray doesn’t resemble a pigsty when you give it back to us.
- If you need a glass of water or a blanket, walk up to the galley, and get one from the crew. Try to reserve the flight-attendant call button for a real emergency. An occasional trip to the galley is also good for cramps and stiff joints.
Q: Can you share any scary stories?
Turbulence can be a very scary experience. I have had quite a few flights where I witnessed severe turbulence. Most of the time the captain would be able to give us a heads-up a few minutes prior to it, giving us enough time to strap ourselves to the jump seat and stay safe.
But at times we do encounter unexpected turbulence and are caught unaware. We were en-route to Melbourne and were flying over Indonesia. It was in the middle of the night, and the passengers were fast asleep. That left the crew with nothing much to do except chill in the aft galley. And that’s when it happened. The jolt was so strong that we were mid-air for a few seconds. Time froze, and I saw my colleague levitate for a few seconds and come back to ground. We couldn’t speak much for the next few seconds, held onto our dear seats, and waited for it to be over.
Q: Which is the best airport ever?
Singapore Changi, for its subtle sophistication. Its concept of having a garden inside the airport premises creates the openness of the outside and removes the claustrophobic feel.
Q: Do you have final advice for travelers?
Do you want to be the ideal passenger? Then remember the two Cs: common sense and courtesy. And as a wise man once said,
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you (especially at 35,000 ft.).
Are you a flight attendant or have stories about a great on-board experience? Tell us in the comments!
Featured image by Unsplash user Mario Azzi.