A flight attendant’s job seems like a glamorous one — you wear a uniform you’re proud of, get paid to travel the world, plus enjoy an allowance that comes with it.
But as with any job, being a flight attendant has its downsides too, hidden beneath their well-groomed appearance and perfect smile.
We asked six current and ex-flight attendants to share with us the pros and cons of flying.
*Not their real names
CHANGES YOUR PERSPECTIVE ABOUT THE WORLD
Travelling exposes you to different cultures, and Jacqueline, 28, who has been flying for six years now, said: “I feel the biggest takeaway from the job is that you definitely get to expand your mindset and change your perspective on how you view the world and people in general.”
Queenie, 28, an ex-air stewardess who had flown for two and a half years, added that you get to do that in a short span of time as compared to when you’re travelling leisurely.
Jing, 28, who has been flying for six years, said: “[You get to] meet a lot of different people, try all sorts of food…It’s really a lifestyle job.”
NO NEED TO WORK OVERTIME
How does a job with no overtime (OT) sound? Sarah*, 34, a former air stewardess with 11 years of experience shared: “You work hard on board and once passengers leave the aircraft, you are done with work.”
Queenie echoed: “You end work on time. There’s no OT or [the need to] follow up after work.”
That’s because the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) implemented new flight rostering rules in 2014 to ensure flight attendants don’t suffer from crew fatigue and are performing at their highest level of alertness.
A DIFFERENT CITY EVERY OTHER DAY
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to wake up one day in this country, and be in another country the next”, said Jing.
And what’s amusing to Jacqueline is being able to “sleep in different hotel rooms in different cities, almost every other day”. So if you need a little help with choosing your holiday accommodations, you know who are the best people to advise you.
Marissa, 28, a former air stewardess who had flown for more than two years said: “I also loved that one week I could be in Tokyo and the next week in Milan.”
BETTER SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
This might strike a chord with the ladies, but it’s funny how Mark*, who has been flying for 29 years, is the only flight attendant who talked about shopping.
“You skip paying the shipping fees and the stuff are more reasonably priced. [There are also] things or brands that you can’t find here (in Singapore).
“If you buy branded goods, you can also claim your VAT (value-added tax) overseas.”
IT’S LIKE TRAVELLING WITH FRIENDS
As the saying goes, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
Despite hearing many horror stories and rumours about work politics faced by flight attendants, Marissa had a rather positive experience. “Many might say that [travelling as a flight attendant] is not as great as a holiday because you can’t choose the people you’re with. But I met plenty of awesome crew in my time as a flight attendant and it can be like travelling with friends,” she shared.
Said Jing: “Every flight there’ll be a different set of crew, so if you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone you know.”
UNPREDICTABLE INCOME AND LITTLE CAREER PROGRESSION
Mark shared the misconception of a flight attendant’s pay: “In the old days, flying was an ‘iron rice bowl’, but today, it’s not [the case].
“[Our] income is very variable, it can be good one month and bad the next because flights are averaged out through the year.”
He shared about the time when SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) broke out in Singapore, “I couldn’t fly for two weeks in a month, and was forced to take leave because there were no flights and the airports were empty.
“That’s when you see your income drop because half of your income comes from allowances. Our basic pay is not that high — If I don’t fly, I earn less.”
Though, if you are constantly flying, Mark said “it’s admittedly quite a comfortable life… it gives me an above-average income in Singapore. If you’re a polytechnic graduate, how much can you earn a month? $3k? $2.5k? As a crew, you earn close to double when [you start] flying.”
Marissa added: “I was young and earning quite a bit for my age. It was nice having that stability.”
But, Mark also shared how being comfortable in this line has caused him to miss out on pursuing his dream.
“Sometimes I think back and wonder if I could have been a big-time broker, but I’ll never know.”
LONELINESS AND MISSING OUT SPECIAL OCCASIONS
The one thing that every flight attendant we spoke to lamented about was not being able to spend time with their loved ones.
Said Jacqueline: “It really sucks when you’re unable to be there for your loved ones when they need you, or during special occasions when you’re unable to join due to work commitments.”
“The periods of intense loneliness [when] overseas sometimes strikes you, and you tend to miss out a lot of important moments at home with family and friends”, said Jing.
Queenie added: “You’re forever alone”.
APPLYING FOR LEAVE IS DIFFICULT
On that note, Marrisa added: “One con was definitely missing out on stuff back in Singapore like weddings and birthdays, because sometimes it can be hard to take leave or change flights.”
Said Sarah: “You’ll have to apply one year in advance”.
Mark further explained: “You can try to apply for leave but you might not get it”.
While most of us are resting on the weekends, Mark said: “If you have a [regular] job on the ground, weekends are off but I don’t get weekends off. We forget [about] public holidays too because we’re not around”.
JETLAG AND HEALTH PROBLEMS
While mending the distance between friends and family can be remedied by spending off days with them, other complications have a more lasting effect on these flight attendants.
“We’re exposed to UV rays and radiation [when] flying from one continent to another”, said Queenie.
Jing added: “[We] wake up at ungodly hours for work”.
And these can take a toll on their bodies in the long run, making them susceptible to health problems.
Jetlag is no fun as well, Marissa explained: “Exploring countries on so little sleep or in a jet-lagged state also meant that I didn’t really feel ‘present’ when I was doing all these fun things. In that sense, it sometimes felt like a wasted trip.”
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