By: Anna Genevieve Louise
When I was growing up, I never dreamed of becoming a member of a cabin crew. However, I always dreamed of traveling to faraway places all over the world — and that is what led me to join Emirates Airline in 2012. When I got my confirmation call, I was ecstatic; I was going to live in Dubai and get to travel the world for free! I also had major travel anxiety about moving 7,000 miles away from everything I knew. But after a couple reassuring talks with my friends and family, I realized nothing was going to stop me from seeing the world. So, in October 2012, I headed to JFK Airport in New York City with a one-way ticket to Dubai.
As I said goodbye to my family, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. I took a deep breath, quickly said goodbye, and headed toward security. The next hours were a complete whirlwind. I boarded the A380 double-decker plane, which was by far the largest aircraft I had ever been on in my life. After I told one of the crew I was a new joiner, he showed me all around the plane and introduced me to the other crew. All my fears disappeared; I immediately felt like being part of a family. After landing, I was brought to my furnished, paid apartment right in the heart of downtown Dubai.
Just three days later, my six-week training course with new joiners from all around the world started. My training covered everything from safety and emergency procedures to image standards. After those intense six weeks, I finally received what I was waiting for: my very first roster. It consisted of different layover destinations (where we stayed in a hotel), as well as turnaround destinations (a one-day round trip from Dubai). My first roster was full of places I could not wait to explore.
My First Ultralong-Haul Flight: Dubai — Melbourne — Auckland
I was so happy to see a six-day Melbourne-Auckland trip show up on my first roster. This trip was broken down into smaller segments: Dubai to Melbourne (24-hour layover in Melbourne), Melbourne to Auckland (24-hour layover in Auckland), Auckland to Melbourne (24-hour layover in Melbourne), and Melbourne to Dubai.
On the day of my flight, I woke up at 6 a.m. (for a 10 a.m. departure) and started my routine. Since the flight to Melbourne was so long, I made sure to apply everything as perfectly as I could. I put on my full face of makeup and tied my hair into a neat doughnut bun. I then grabbed my suitcase and headed to the shuttle that brought me to Emirates headquarters.
On the way to the airport, I felt a mixture of emotions; on one hand, I was so nervous because I was still completely new, but on the other hand, I was so excited about traveling to countries I always dreamed of going to. "Fake it till you make it," I told myself and went to my preflight briefing room.
The preflight briefing room was buzzing with energy. We were flying on the A380 plane, so there were over 20 crew members in the room. I got my documents checked by one of the senior crew members. After this came the moment I was dreading: a "Safe Talk" question. This is a question asked by the purser (the manager) of the plane and it's required to be answered by each cabin crew member. Not answering the question correctly could lead to getting offloaded (which meant getting taken off the flight and reported to your manager), a fate no new cabin crew member wanted. These questions were directly related to what we learned in our training, but there was still so much to remember. On that day, I answered the question correctly and felt a weight off my shoulders disappear.
Finally, I went to get my image and uniform checked by another one of the senior cabin crew member. This part of the process always made me feel a bit uncomfortable.
I felt like a doll on display for someone as they went through their checklist looking for the following: that my nails were of the right length and color (either clear or red), that my hair and makeup were up to standards, that my uniform was in perfect condition, and my tights were of the right opacity and color. The standards were meticulous; even the slightest difference meant getting a note about it on your flight review. That's why on my first few flights I always made sure to take extra time getting ready.
After all my fellow crew went through this process, we sat down and were briefed on our upcoming flight. Once finished, we got into a shuttle that brought us to the aircraft.
Seeing the A380 without passengers made me realize how huge the plane was. There were over 400 seats in economy and two galleys (kitchen and storage area) for us to use. I went to my station, dropped off my carry-on bag, and got straight to work. First came doing safety and security checks in my designated area. Then I had to prepare the cabin and hot towels for when our passengers got on board.
At 9 a.m., it was showtime. All the passengers started rushing onto the plane. I was happy to be in the back of the plane, where it was calmer than in the front. Once everyone was on board, we handed out towels to our passengers. Then we prepared the cabin by conducting our final safety and security check. I sat down on my jump seat and prepared for takeoff.
The flight to Melbourne was hectic; it was over 13 hours with nonstop work. There were three different services, and since I was still so new I was confused half the time. I barely had time to breathe. Even after we finished our service, the call bells were ringing every other second. I must have walked several miles on that flight going back and forth from the front of the aircraft to the back. We had a short break of about three hours, but I had so many thoughts rushing through my mind I couldn't sleep.
Before I knew it, I could see Australia from outside the window. I couldn't believe that those 13 hours had passed so quickly. After landing and getting to the hotel, my adrenaline kicked in. I had been up for almost 20 hours but it didn't feel like it. I rushed out of the hotel with some of the other new crew and explored Melbourne. The next day my wake-up call came and I repeated my same routine. Then it was off to Auckland.
My first months of flying were amazing — nothing I had done previously in my life could compare. All the new experiences outweighed any negative side of the job. But, eventually for me, that scale tipped the other way.
Saying Goodbye to Emirates
Whenever I posted photos to Facebook of all my amazing trips, my friends would comment telling me how envious they were of me or how glamorous my life looked. While it was true that I lived an exciting life, it was far from being nearly as glamorous as people thought.
There were so many advantages of working for Emirates: living in Dubai for free, staying in amazing hotels across the world, traveling on your days off while only having to pay 10 percent of the airfare, having friends from all over the world, and having a tax-free salary.
But there were also so many disadvantages: being away from family and friends, missing holidays, feeling lonely, dealing with jet lag and health issues, having passengers yell at you for things out of your control, being looked at all the time for your appearance, dealing with delays on flights, waking up at any hour during the day or night for flights, and so much more.
There came a day when the disadvantages outweighed the advantages for me, and that's when I decided to leave Emirates. When I first left, I felt so happy to be on ground all the time and sleep normal hours again. Eventually, I did start to miss many things about being crew. It wasn't really the travel I missed; it was the sense of camaraderie I felt with the crew. I missed being so tired on long-haul flights that we'd all sit around in the galley deliriously giggling and telling jokes to stay awake. I missed hearing stories about the life and culture in different places around the world. Most of all I missed the sense of family I felt with crew.
I'm so glad that I took the chance to work as cabin crew. It changed my life in so many ways and gave me a new sense of confidence in myself. I'm happier being on ground now, but whenever I see a plane flying above me, I always wonder what kind of interesting things are happening at 38,000 feet.