Life in the skies- Travel #56
Dear Friends, let me take you on a journey into life in the skies. I have been able to work in a number of highly sought after industries that have allowed me to travel all over the world. To over 70 countries in fact. In my teenage years, I won Hairstylist of the year and traveled to New York City to assist with New York Fashion Week. I was the youngest professional in my field. I worked on many films, television shows, theatre productions and runways. This lead me into a career on stage and in front of the screen. I became a live stage performer who specialized in executing my own stunts. Eventually this took me onto a comedy stage on international cruise liners. This allowed me to explore most of Europe, the Caribbean and America. I was born and raised in Singapore which gives me a strong passport to explore Asia and the world. Even though I had travelled extensively, I was afraid of flying. Hence, working on cruise liners. I decided in my mid-twenties that I would conquer that fear by becoming a fight attendant. In this blog, I will take you into my life in the skies.
To find me, look for my Chihuahua's face
I was based out of Brisbane, Australia. The company was TigerAir. Their parent company is Virgin Australia. I felt a connection to TigerAir as they had a sister airline, Tiger Airways, a Singaporean based company. Singaporeans are very proud of their country and I am no different. The process began as many do with an online application form. I had to submit my CV, a cover letter and a photograph of myself. Once I had sent off my application. In true Australian style, I didn't hear from them till 3 months later. I was invited for a telephone interview, during the interview I was told that I would be notified if I made it to the next round. I expected of course to wait many more months for a response. It was about a month later that I received a phone call inviting me to an assessment day to be held 2 weeks later.
I went out and purchased some business wear, a high waisted ankle length pencil skirt, a fitted blouse, a blazer and black heels. I did my research on the company prior to the assessment day so that I was confident going in. On the day of the assessment, I woke up early after a good 8 hours of sleep. I ate a healthy breakfast, put my hair up in a bun and put on my makeup. I was going to this assessment because I wanted to be a flight attendant. So, I dressed like a flight attendant. I believe that if you are confident and you look the part. It is easier for the employer to visualize you in that position. Flight attendant or cabin crew as the industry now refer to them is such a sought after position. I didn't quite realize how sought after the position was till I got to the assessment day.
There were 200 candidates that were invited to the assessment. I arrived early and got a coffee. I met a lot of the other candidates and I still keep in touch with some of them to this day. So many of them told me that this was their 5th or 6th assessment day that they had attempted in order to get hired. This was my first. I didn't let this realization deter me, it motivated me even more. We were invited into a large seminar room at a fancy 5 star hotel in the middle of Brisbane city centre. We were introduced to some of the department heads and given a presentation. After the presentation, we were spilt into groups of 10. We then were given several group tasks. This was to evaluate our ability to work within a team. For the next task, we were asked to stand and talk about a random topic that we pulled out of a bowl. We had to talk for 2 minutes straight with no pauses and of course not saying um. Some candidates really struggled with this task, especially those that did not speak English as their first language. Luckily for me, I had been performing live on stage for years and could talk about anything. So much so, you would want to shut me up.
Once we had completed our tasks we were sent for an hour long lunch break. I went with some of the other candidates and we brainstormed about what the next step might entail. Once we were all back from lunch, we were held in the waiting area just outside the seminar room. We were then told that they would be calling out names. The people they called had to go back into the seminar room. I was called. At this point there was no communication on whether being called was a good or bad thing.
Turns out, being called meant that I was selected for a one- on-one interview. Once in the seminar room, we waited for those hopeful candidates left outside to be told the disappointing news. As there were still quite a few of us, I had to wait about 3 hours for my one-on-one. By this time I was pretty tired as it was quite late in the day. I went in for my one-on- one, I answered their series of questions as honestly as I could. At the end of the interview I was asked if I had any questions and I didn't and so I ended it with a joke. I had been doing stand up comedy for 2 years at this point so it felt fitting. I then went home. 2 weeks passed and I received a phone call letting me know that I had been given the job. I was so excited. I was told that I would be starting ground school in just about 2 weeks and the ground school would last for 6 weeks.
Before I started ground school, I had to get 3 certifications. These were swimming, responsible service of alcohol, and first aid. In another stroke of luck, I was a very strong swimmer. I had been swimming competitively for most of my childhood. Getting these 3 certifications within such a short time period was challenging. I completed my last one on the Friday before the Monday of ground school. On top of getting the certifications, I had to have very extensive medical and fitness tests. However, nothing could prepare me for the intensity, blood, sweat and many tears that went into the next 6 weeks of ground school.
Aviation training centre- Ground school
This was fun
Ground school combined a series of theoretical and physical exams. I have completed a degree in management and that was a walk in the park compared to these exams. You had to study, there was no two ways about it. Those of us that didn't study failed. We began with a group of 20 and only 17 of us graduated. Some who did graduate had to resit the exams. Classes ran from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm with lunch and tea breaks. TigerAir was amazing in the sense that they paid us for ground school. The majority of airlines don't pay, some even make you pay for the training. So there was no excuse for not working hard. The priority of every airline is safety. TigerAir's safety training was second to none.
We were taught all of the procedures for safe and reliable operations. The training was hands on, for example, in the classroom we learnt how to extinguish different types of fires. The next day, the fire brigade turned up at ground school and we had to extinguish real fires. I loved this aspect, nothing beats hands on experience.
Air crash scenario simulator
We learnt about how to deal with almost every emergency situation. Air crash investigation documentaries were shown to us and we would discuss how to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again. Even though each airline has different emergency procedures and protocols. They are all governed by CASA, the civil aviation safety authority. Once we had learned the procedures for multiple possible emergency situations, we were thrown into an aircraft simulator. In this simulator, the instructors can cause any emergency at any time, we had to be ready. Teamwork was crucial to success. This was very stressful as there were so many possible scenarios. This was the stage when a lot of tears were shed.
After a successful day of Boeing training
If you think being thrown around in a decompression simulator is the physical part, you're wrong. During the training, we had to take part in very intense self defense classes. We were being trained to prevent hijacking's. This training was seriously vamped up post 9/11. The best part of the whole training was getting to jump out of the planes while simulating evacuations. It was just like jumping onto giant slides.
On one of the most memorable days, we got into a deep pool and learned how to board a life raft after a ditching. Ditching is when a plane crashes into the ocean or into a significant body of water. It is very important that we as flight attendants know how to deploy, board and operate a raft.
After 6 weeks of intense training, I not only graduated but I gained friends for life. We were then invited to a graduation party where we were formally presented with the highest honour, our wings.
In my 3 years with TigerAir, I learned all the safety procedures for Airbus A320's and Boeing 737's.
Ground school graduation
I wanted to eat the whole graduation cake
After we had all recovered from our graduation celebrations, it was time to pick up our uniforms. One thing that I didn't think about before becoming a flight attendant was that I would have to wear 4 inch heels all day everyday. We don't fly around the world, we walk in the sky. I invested in a pair of skypro heels, they are incredibly comfortable. It was like walking on clouds. Even though I am no longer a flight attendant, I still purchase skypro heels. Hot tip ladies, they don't beep going through the metal detector so you don't have to take them off going through the airport. Now that I am a professional travel author, it is incredibly handy.
Virgin uniform hangar
Something that was not supplied as part of the uniform, but was required to be worn, was stockings/pantyhose. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of pairs of stockings I went through. As we are handling heavy catering carts and aircraft doors all day, the stockings get ripped so easily. A saying used in the industry is touch up before touch down. We had to make sure that we looked impeccably groomed at all times. During ground school, we had a week of grooming guidelines drilled into us as well as extensive customer service training. We have what we called SOP's and SEP's. SOP's were our standard operating procedures as in our customer service skills and how to operate the catering carts. SEP's are our Safety and Emergency procedures as in evacuations and emergency scenarios. Flight attendants are not just trolly dolly's, we are highly trained and can save your life.
Stockings and more stockings
Once we had our uniform and travel bags, it was time for our first day. The first day consisted of picking up our ASIC(Aviation security identity card)and going for a crew room visit. During ground school training we had several aircraft visits to familiarize ourselves with the different aircrafts. The crew room visit allowed us to get used to using our restricted access cards and signing into work. There is a crew carpark located a 5 minute drive away from the terminal. It it shared by all the crew from every airline across the world. It was so lovely to see the different uniforms. Crew buses ran every half hour to both the domestic and international terminals. Once at the terminal, we have to go through security just like everyone else. The only upside to that is by being crew, we can skip the queue. Once through security, we have to access what is called airside, this can only be accessed by current cabin crew, pilots and engineers. Our crew room is located right by the active runway, you can see the planes pull into the bays right outside the crew room.
Upon entering the crew room, you have to sign in and your grooming standard is checked by a supervisor. You have to then wait for the pilots to give you the daily briefing. Prior to the pilots briefing, the cabin manager would assess everyone's mental state and ask the crew a few safety and security questions. If you get any of the questions wrong, you will be stood down. This means you cannot fly until you have been assessed by an instructor. Our ground school training is renewed every year. We go back to the aviation training centre for a couple of days recurrent training. During the pilots briefing, you get told the flight path, expected weather conditions, flight time, passenger numbers and what tea/coffee the pilots would like.
My first day
Working as a flight attendant, no two days are the same. You can fly to the same destinations over and over but the passengers always make a flight interesting. When we sign in to start a shift, we have to be in the crew room for a minimum of an hour prior to departure for domestic flights and 2 hours for international. This allows us to complete our safety and security checks as well as get the food and beverage carts ready. Once we have done our checks, we let the pilots know. We will then receive the manifest that tells us the passengers details. You can do up to 4 flights in one day or you can do one really long one. There are even overnight red eye return flights. Some shifts are 12-14 hours while others can be as short as 2. I preferred the longer shifts, as I was already dressed for work so I may as well stay. I lived an hour away so the more hours I could get the better. The earliest start was 5am and the latest was midnight. We were paid a base salary regardless of the hours we worked. On top of our base, we got paid by the hour of flight time and with added commissions. If we had an overnight, we got to stay in 4 star hotels with a meal and overnight allowance. It was glamourous in that aspect. We were given monthly rosters but the company made it very easy for us to swap shifts so everyone got what they wanted. For instance, crew members with young children wouldn't want the overnights as for me, I loved them. It was a great way of making extra money.
Brisbane city- My home base for 15 years
I was extremely fortunate to be chosen on several occasions to be involved in TigerAir's marketing campaigns. I even got to meet the CEO and was featured on the evening news. Sometimes we were given what are called standby shifts. Standby shifts last for 12 hours. When on standby you have to be available by phone to be called in to work. You must pick up the phone or risk being fired. Once called, you have to be on the plane within 90 minutes. For this reason, I used to wear my uniform when meeting with my best friend. It was quite funny sometimes, especially when we went to a Harry Potter café. Don't worry, I wore my wizard hat. Go hufflepuff.
The many promotional campaigns I was involved in
The company really looked after us. I injured my back quite badly helping a passenger lift their bag into the overhead locker and they supported me all through my recovery. I can honestly say, it was a pleasure working for TigerAir. As part of the job, we got discounted gym memberships, beauty/spa treatments, global accommodation and of course flights. These discounts weren't just for us but they could be enjoyed by our friends and family also. The travel perks were the best part of the job. My family and I could fly across the world for a fraction of the price and fly with TigerAir or Virgin our parent company for practically free. I absolutely took advantage of this as much as I could. As a crew member I could even sit in the cockpit or flight deck as we call it when I was just travelling for leisure, so long as it was a TigerAir plane.
Donuts in the crew room
Work perk, discounted gym membership
Something that didn't cross my mind about being a flight attendant was how often I'd get sick. When you think about it, you are enclosed in a cabin with re-filtered air for hours on end and you can experience 4 different climates in one day. Especially in Australia, we could leave the tropics of Cairns in the morning and land in the artic of Melbourne on a cold night, all within 15 hours. The airline accommodated for this and we were each allocated 12 days a year to URTI(upper respiratory tract infection) and 20 days of paid sick leave. On top of this you are entitled to 6 weeks of annual leave a year. This was amazing, 6 weeks paid vacation to any destination in the world, with discounted flights and accommodation. It is a travelers dream.
Working all the holidays
Riding shotgun in the cockpit/flight deck
Now to hear some of the downsides, on top of getting sick frequently. Flying makes you incredibly hungry and dehydrated. We are advised to drink 1 liter of water for every hour of flight. That's a lot of water. We packed our own meals and snacks. The planes had multiple ovens in the galley for us to use to heat up our food. Flight attendants are under an incredible amount of pressure to always look good. This can be incredibly challenging when you are constantly starving. Now combine constantly starving with being exhausted all the time. We are in a constant state of jetlag. We get to these fabulous hotels in exotic destinations and all you want to do is sleep. I forced myself to get out and about because I love exploring. I do know a lot of flight attendants that use their spare time to sleep. In any job, it is advisable to never be late. Being a flight attendant, you cannot be late. By being late, you personally are responsible for a delayed departure. All airlines are drive by OTP(on time performance), a couple of delayed departures can be detrimental to an airlines reputation.
I told you about the glamourous aspects of the job with the exotic destinations and 4 star hotel living. What I haven't told you yet is that we get handed bags full of vomit daily, have to clean up bathrooms that have been used all day and night by passengers. Have to comfort screaming babies and nervous flyers. Be called every name under the sun by intoxicated passengers, even have your ass slapped by some. Not to mention having to work with pilots that were misogynistic wanna be Casanovas. Of course not every pilot was like that and not every passenger was hard to handle.
The hotels we stayed in
"Oh the places youll go"~ Dr Seuss
All in all, this was an incredible part of my life. I grew so much as a person, made life long friendships, travelled all over the world and it has landed me in my dream life of writing travel articles. I am so grateful for my journey. I have worked for everything and I believe you really can do anything you set your mind to. My family collect models of the planes I have worked on and the ships too. I now keep my wings next to my cruise ship badges in a dream catcher. The reason I keep them there now is, I caught my dreams. Keep chasing yours. Oh and if you are wondering I did conquer my fear of flying.
The places I visited
I hope you have enjoyed my blog on Life in the skies, thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing more adventures with you, until next time, Vegoutt Everybody!