I was drawn to being an air hostess like a moth to a flame. I love to travel, I love adventure and I am known to do things to the extreme. So naturally I set my sights on working for arguably the most prominent airline in the world, Emirates, based in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Dubai. If you have ever wondered what goes on behind those red curtains, then read on…
Hello Tomorrow – getting the job
The application process was very smooth, they know what they are looking for, and if you fit the mould, then you glide through. I filled out my online application, attended an open day, had an interview, did some medical and psychological testing, got jabbed with many immunisations and 2 months later was on a flight to my new home!
So what exactly are they looking for?
- No visible tattoos
- Can easily reach an overhead locker
- Not overweight
- Attractive and well groomed
- Hard working
- Conflict Management
- Culturally aware
Just to name a few. If you are what they are looking for and you talk up Emirates then you may just get the job. But please continue reading as it is not as glamorous as you may be thinking.
Off to a bumpy start
I had my first experience of what being an air hostess is all about on my flight from Perth to Dubai. A lady was walking down the isle and collapsed onto my lap! Unsure what to do, I started pressing my call bell in panic and luckily it wasn’t long before 2 cabin crew arrived, un-phased, and moved the lady into the galley where they gave her oxygen. I assumed that this sort of thing must happen often and realised it would soon be me having to handle that kind of situation.
On arrival at Dubai airport, I was met by an Emirates representative to help guide myself and 5 other new recruits through immigration and customs. The lines for immigration were long and only a few officials were working, others in their traditional white gowns or dishdasha’s were standing around, no one seemed to be in a hurry. I would soon learn this was the way things work in Dubai, people work at their own pace.
After sneaking through customs with a dildo in my suitcase, I was taken to a mini van with 3 of the others for accommodation drop off. Another girl from Perth and myself were dropped at the same building called Razooki, in Al Nahda. My new home was on the border of Dubai and Sharjah (the next Emirate over), pretty much out in the sandy sticks of Dubai. I signed in to my new building with the security guard and was escorted up to my room. I anticipated meeting my house mate but found the apartment to be messy and empty. In my room white cold room, I sat on my bed and all at once it hit me that I was here and I was utterly alone. I started to cry and phoned home fearing I made a huge mistake.
Hostie in training
My second day in Dubai marked the first day of Cabin Crew Training College. Dressed in office attire, a bus full of fellow ‘newbies’ came to pick us up from my building. The first day was mostly administrative; lots of paperwork, medicals, and some icebreakers. The large group of 50 was broken down to 4 smaller groups which would be our little family units for the next 7 weeks. My group had 14 girls and 2 boys, from all over the world; Australia, Serbia, America, Czech Republic, Portugal, Ireland, Argentina.
Training was split into 4 core areas. 2 weeks for learning the aircraft layout and emergency procedures, 2 weeks on medical conditions, 2 weeks on service standards, and 1 week on uniform and grooming. These weeks were tough. My brain was throbbing form over information, but they were probably the best weeks of my entire time with Emirates. It was the only time you had a regular routine, got to see your friends every day and go out on weekends.
Training wraps up with 2 ‘Supi’ flights or training flights were you are an extra (supplementary) crew member and you get to sit in the cockpit with the Captain for take-off and landing. You can expect that the crew will play a few pranks on you. My crew got me to take a comb to a bald guy saying that he had asked for it! Poor guy was very confused but it made the crew laugh hysterically. After these flights you will begin your first flight roster and learn what fatigue and jet-lag really mean.
Time to fly
In my 18 months working for Emirates I flew to over 50 destinations. I was able to use time off to travel – I hiked to Machu Picchu, swam in the dead sea and explored Petra, drank steins at Oktoberfest, Partied in Ibiza, sailed Croatia, relaxed in the Seychelles and celebrated at Ultra Music Festival. With work I travelled to many many cities I would never had the chance to see; St Petersburg, Kyoto, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Morocco, Dallas, Frankfurt, Milan, Hong Kong, Rwanda and many many more. I truely got to see so many places and meet so many people from different cultures that I am eternally grateful.
I got to meet some fantastic people during my flights, some I am still friends with today. The crew you were working with could really make or break a flight. I got to meet and learn about people from all over the world and recognise we are all not so different. A really fun crew could mean a fun day of sight seeing together or a fun night out in whatever destination we were going. Most flights included at least one person who spoke the local language and was familiar with the destination so they could share with you some tips on the best things to see and do. On the flight, we found ways to entertain ourselves, from taking bets on passenger behaviour, to racing to see which side could complete food service fastest, to playing pranks on each other. From time to time, crew did join the mile high club. Did I? Yes, yes I did. A Colombian, on my birthday in the toilets while we were working!
At this point I bet you are wondering why anyone would want to give all that up! What was the downside? For me the main issues were constant illness, fatigue, and loneliness. In those 18 months I had laryngitis 4 times, I had a back injury, I had colds and fevers, eye infections, I ended up with a full bag of medications. Alongside illness was the constant feeling of jet lag. Whenever I travelled with work I would spend the short time I had in each location sight-seeing and not having any time to adapt to the new time zone. This sometimes meant working for 10 hours and then sleeping for 2 hours before spending a day exploring a city. So whenever I was back in Dubai, I would sleep. and sleep. and sleep. Sometimes i would sleep for 14 hours straight. These bad sleeping habits and lack of routine also led to weight gain. I gained nearly 10kg during my 18 months in Dubai.
All that sleeping meant that when I was in Dubai I had little time or energy to see friends or go out. Even if I did, the chances that friends were not on flights themselves was slim. Every time you fly, you fly with a new crew, which is great for meeting new people, but not so great for forming lasting friendships. If you are a girl looking for a relationship with a guy, then this job is not for you. The ratio of male to female cabin crew is about 1:5. Of the already small pool of male crew, maybe half are homosexual. Of the half remaining, about half of them are already in a relationship (but willing to cheat). If there happens to be a single, straight, good looking male crew member, then you can bet that every other female crew member has her eyes on him and he has his pick for the night but is certainly not looking for a relationship. If you are a guy, gay or straight, then this is probably the best pick up job you could ever have!
Now the actual work involved in being Cabin crew is rather gross and exhausting. From the moment passengers board the aircraft until the moment they leave you are going to be hassled. From helping passengers lift their overweight carry on, to arguing with passengers not to leave their food trays in the isle, to changing seat cushion covers from the old man who peed his pants, to asking a lady why her baby is in the overhead storage. It is a thankless job. Forget about manners. Working for Emirates you can expect 80% of the passengers you have will be Indian or Arabic and majority will be demanding and rude. You will feel tired, dirty, and like you have been slapped in the face a few times by the end of a flight. And not all flights end in a nice layover at a new destination. About half of the flights you work are turn-arounds where you fly to the destination, wait while the aircraft gets cleaned, fuelled and reloaded, and fly back again. Sometimes this would be a 12 hour shift over night. NOT FUN.
Life in the sandpit
Dubai is a city unlike any other. Built in a seemingly unliveable environment, this city aims to impress. But once you see past the facade you see it is a soulless and pretentious city that has little to offer a nature loving free spirit like myself. Sure the Malls are massive and fancy, the desert safari is a fun experience, the hotels are flashy and the ‘beaches’ are…well the beaches are shit as they are hot and salty and man made…but after a week of doing the touristy things, the reality of living in Dubai sets in.
Say goodbye to fresh air, the fine sand of the surrounding desert is ever blowing and in the middle of summer the air is so hot it singes the hair in your nostrils and makes it hard to breath. Also say goodbye to fresh food. Nothing grows in Dubai so everything is frozen and imported. Say goodbye to your shoulders and knees, these need to be covered if you go out. If you choose to show skin you can expect to get stares from both the men and women and possibly approached and told to cover up. Say goodbye to public shows of affection. Two Arabic men are allowed to walk around holding hands, this is a sign of friendship, but heaven forbid a man and woman hold hands in public. Say goodbye to big nights out on the booze. Public displays of intoxication are illegal. If you get in a taxi drunk and by yourself, you may very well end up being dropped at a police station. If you even want to purchase bottles of alcohol in Dubai you need to get a liquor license, lucky for cabin crew you can bring bottles in from other countries.
When I had time off in Dubai I spent it at my apartment or at my friends apartments. There were a few clubs that we liked to go to when we were in training college but then you get over it and I had one really horrific experience at a club which involved a local man ejaculating on the back of my leg (and no I had in no way encouraged him, I had no idea he was behind me until that happened). I was very quickly put off the night scene in Dubai after that. The more classy clubs require you to have a table and they cost a lot of money unless you are willing to pimp yourself out to some of the local men to sit at their table, which I was not.
Having said all that, there are people who really love living in Dubai. Luxury cars and big fancy appartments are affordable, there are some very westernised areas with international schools where pilots and expats raise their families. Europe is a mere 6hrs flight away, you can throw out your winter wardrobe, and there is always something fun and exciting happening. It just wasn’t for me, and that’s ok! If it’s something you want to do, then don’t let the opinion of this Aussie stop you! Go get your wings and make up your own mind!