Blazer? Check. Scarf? Check. Toiletries? Check. Glistening smile? Check. They are always ready for take-off. As thousands hop between cities and countries for both leisure and work, it is the flight attendants whose job it is to make us most comfortable on board. They are the smiling individuals that greet you, take your ticket, usher you to your seat, help you with your luggage and serve you food and drinks. They do not have a set workplace, they are international employees.
But that is far from where the job description ends. If we examine the daily life of a flight attendant, we can uncover that is not the high-flying, glamorous lifestyle some would predict.
Many leavers of the industry embarked on the career journey with the belief that flight attendants are solely ‘paid to travel. They found out the hard way, through exhausting red-eye flights, long hours and poor salaries that they were gravely misinformed.
There are a few major drawbacks to the industry:
1. Seniority is everything –
New employees will often be of ‘reserve’ status meaning they have very unpredictable schedules and basically work flights that other, more experienced employees cannot. This means very little planning can take place around work commitments and that a poor work-life balance is part of the deal for at least the first two years. After moving on from the reserve ranks, most airlines provide their senior employees with flight schedules one month in advance.
2. A smelly occupation –
With vomit and body odour a common occurrence on board, some flying veterans say that it’s one of the smelliest careers. It is also understood that some airlines ensure it is solely the job of the flight attendants to clean the lavatories.
3. Highly competitive –
Given the vast amount of candidates looking for a career as a flight attendant, the job market is extremely competitive, as are promotional positions. Is such a competitive environment, some candidates find it to be too stressful.
4. Time away from family –
Listed as one of the most common reasons employees leave the industry, copious time away from home is a real disadvantage for many.
Surprisingly, many Australian domestic flight attendants claim that flights to and from the Gold Coast are the dreaded ones, supposedly because of the passenger’s general lack of travelling experience. The clientele on those flights are said to be the worst of anywhere. They’re apparently demanding, pay very little for their ticket and want everything.
These drawbacks are however met with substantial perks that come with a job working international flights. As a domestic attendant, long days with short breaks are the norm. The maximum for staff is four flights per day, which is understandably exhausting. Whereas international employees work one flight of up to 15 hours and are then given plenty of rest.
Also, it is commonplace that airline staff, including flight attendants receive free, or heavily discounted flights for family and friends. A real benefit when attendants seek annual leave.
Like any career, the early days as a ‘new hire’ are long, exhausting and poorly rewarded. But, by progressing onward and upward, beyond ‘reserve’ status, candidates can fulfil a rewarding career.