Why I gave up being a flight attendant

People constantly asked me why I gave up such a good-paying easy job with seemingly good perks to come to Japan to be a broke student. Well, things aren’t always as glamorous as they seem in the sky… flight attendants usually only come into contact with passengers during boarding (if they bothered to station themselves in the cabin to welcome you, that is), meal service, and landing, and also in rare cases if you get yourself into trouble (medical cases, complaints etc, which doesn’t occur very often). Given how there are so many passengers but only so many crew available to serve and baby-sit the whole plane (including the pilots), outsiders hardly see the crew at work. It’s no wonder most people think the job is easy. Even I thought it was simple before I started. But you will only really get to see them at work when you go to the galley (or the crew work area). Oh well, most of the time people are glued to their seats anyway (which I don’t recommend because your risk of getting Deep Vein Thrombosis is very much higher).

The push factor was very strong, since the airline I worked with doesn’t think of its crew as human beings who need rest and leave, and a bit of compassion as well. I won’t reveal what airline in this post, but if you read my previous posts you will know what airline I worked with anyway. Not hard to guess actually.

Here are the push factors that made me desperately wanted to get out ASAP.

Irregular sleep hours

Ok, I admit, I slept more as a flight attendant than now as a student working part-time. There was once I slept 24 hours straight; there was no one at home since everyone went to Bangkok for holiday – usually my mom will wake me up for dinner time – but yeah, when I woke up naturally nothing much has changed. Just the date.

It’s good to be able to sleep a lot, but I didn’t like sleeping irregularly. Yes, I could sleep from 8am to 8am, but I didn’t want to be awake when everyone else is asleep on a night flight. If I had night flights, I had to force myself to sleep in the day even though I wasn’t sleepy so that I could be more alert and awake at work. And if I had morning flights, then I had to force myself to sleep much earlier than I usually would. I hated having to adjust my sleep patterns for every flight. I know my already weak body would not be able to take it if I had carried on. So I got out.

Constantly on the move

Every time I reported for duty I had to pack for a short trip. It may sound fun and adventurous to some, but travelling all the time is NOT fun. Especially when I’m just going to sleep in some hotel in Jakarta for one night and then come back home the next day, all in less than 24 hours and for less than $200 (we get allowance for our flights, in case you didn’t know). It’s SERIOUSLY not fun, trust me.

Limited social gatherings

Either I constantly get left out of any plans my friends had made or I had to leave early to report for work. Or arrive late at parties after flights. And I only have this many free days on ground. I can’t possibly meet everyone or make it to all the social gatherings that I had been invited to. And I need to let my weak body rest too.

What I did regret was that I didn’t spend more time with my closest friends. I spent so much time partying with people I didn’t really know and saying yes to too many new friends made on flight but not really getting any deeper with our new-found friendship. I could have used what little free time I had to catch up with old friends or pursue my hobbies or simply give more thought to my future. I think life so far still has been good to me but I wish I had come to Osaka on an informed decision, not a rushed one.

No stable relationship because I couldn’t meet people on a regular basis 

Like I’ve said, there are only so many days when I’m back home. Realistically speaking, I couldn’t possibly maintain a relationship with anyone when I wasn’t in town 80% of every month. I couldn’t even meet all of my friends. I definitely couldn’t have a relationship with someone.

It’s so ironic because as a flight attendant, I had met so many people everyday on many different flights but I still got lonely. It feels like I was dying of thirst in the middle of an ocean. We meet so many people everyday, but it’s so difficult to meet the right one. I had come to the conclusion that it’s not the number of people you meet, but the environment you are in.

Of course, there are people who had managed to find true love in the midst of their hectic flight schedules. If both parties put in effort, it CAN be done. I guess I just didn’t have the good fortune to meet the right one who would be willing to go to great lengths just to be with me. Well, maybe there was one, but I was already planning to come to Japan at that time so it was just a twist of fate I think….

But maybe, all along, the right one was never in my home country to begin with anyway. Haha.

Public holidays and weekends become precious

…but I always forget the day of the week anyway! Because I only needed to know what time to report for duty, so I only needed to know the date and time and never bothered with the day. There was already enough information overload by remembering the date, the estimated departure time, the reporting time, the flight number, the GMT of the country we were going to, the chief purser’s name, and any other important details that would land me in trouble if I had forgotten them. Remembering the day was a chore. It was the least important on the list, since I work on any day of the week anyway.

BUT, when I do remember the day of the week, I get depressed. Because then I would know that I would be away for the whole weekend on my next flight, or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a national public holiday when everyone was making plans, or I had just accidentally missed my Japanese class which was on either Tuesday or Saturday because I didn’t realise it was Tuesday or Saturday. Luckily, I have kind friends who noticed that I had missed classes not on purpose and from then they would always ask me if I was going to class every week.

As with every job in the service sector, you start to envy people who work from 9 to 5 from Mondays to Fridays. Because they are the ones who can really look forward to the end of the week, any public holiday, New Years, Christmas and Chinese New Years. They are the ones who can make plans and invite other people with similar work schedules to their parties. It is NOT fun being in Sydney during Christmas (dead town, everyone’s home for reunion dinner) and in Beijing during Chinese New Year (again, same thing, everyone’s home for new year). You’ll be in a dead town thinking to yourself, heck, everyone in this city is celebrating at home, and people back at home are also partying away, what the heck am I doing here?!

Passengers don’t make hell for you, colleagues do

Surprise! Despite what other people say, colleagues make or break your flight, not your passengers. I’m not sure if every airline employs the same system, but in the airline that I had worked at, every flight is a Russian Roulette. If you are an aspiring flight attendant at my previous employer, or any other airline that adopts a similar system, pray hard for good colleagues every flight. Saying that to survive in this airline, you need to have plenty of good luck is an understatement.

Needless to say, Lady Luck was hardly by my side, so I had my share of nasty colleagues and horrifying experiences. You could be going to a great destination like London or Rome but unable to fully enjoy the trip because you know the devil on your crew set might come back and haunt you on the return flight again.  I hate not knowing who I’m going to work with until I step into the briefing room where we meet our colleagues for the first time and then being stuck with them for the next few days, regardless of whether I like them or not. I don’t fancy heart attacks before getting the Russian Roulette. Yes, I’ll most probably die at that game in the first round. 

On the other hand, should you encounter nasty passengers, all you have to do is to smile and apologise and put yourself and your airline so low that even the worst vocabulary in the world cannot possibly describe you. It’s acting in its finest; mastering it is an art. But bear in mind that no matter how bad passengers treat the the crew, they will only be onboard during the flight hours. If you get a nasty crew on your set, you will be stuck with him/her until the end of the flight.

Besides, even if you get terrible passengers, as long as you have a team of supportive crew who would treat you like family, passengers like that are no big deal, really. It’s really your colleagues that matter.

If you work for Asian airlines, you have no rights, no say and no leave

If you REALLY want to be a flight attendant, take my word, don’t join an Asian airline. The hierarchy system within the crew set is ridiculous and destroys any form of communication within the team – which compromises safety and security measures and put everyone’s safety at risk. Even if you get crazy spinsters on your set, you still have to treat them like queens because they are ranked much higher than you. Even if these crazy spinsters are in the wrong, you can’t correct them because they think they rule the plane and would berate you for doubting them even for a second. I’ve not worked in any other airline before, but I have heard stories about relaxed crew environment and better communication in other airlines (usually European, Middle Eastern or American airlines) due to the lack of hierarchy or rank systems.

And like the Japanese, there is this Asian mentality that customers are king (or in the case of Japanese service sectors, customers are GOD). So the company always expect the crew to bow down to the passengers and do whatever it takes to please them, even if it means polishing their boots by licking them (no I’m just kidding, of course we don’t do that). While putting your customers first is good for your business, putting your employees last is a recipe for disaster. Ok, granted my previous employer is still going strong despite all the internal HR problems, but treating your employees as just numbers and digits and void of compassion just means your customers will be losing out. How can your customers enjoy the flight if the crew’s heart is not on the plane because he/she couldn’t get leave and was still forced to be on flight?

Some people say Asian airlines usually have better service, but I beg to differ. The crew becomes… fake. The service is professional, but certainly not personal. Friendly and personal service gives both the crew and passengers much more delight, I believe. Crew who work in a relaxed environment is a happy crew and that happiness radiates to the passengers and make them happy as well, regardless of nationality or culture. And service personnel deserve to be treated like human beings too.

Health hazards! 

Well, thankfully I only worked as an FA for two years so that means I had quit before my health could be at risk. And I wasn’t part of the team that operates the ultra long haul flights (direct flights from Singapore to New York and LA and back). Gosh, you can just spot the people from the ultra long haul team a mile away. They always look really dreary and ALL of them have dark eye circles. And ALL of them look older than they really are. The non-stop Singapore-US flights are obviously taking a toll on them, and no thanks I definitely do not want to be part of the team.

However, even just operating normal short, medium and long haul flights is too much for my weak body to take. Ok, I hardly exercised, and I didn’t watch my diet, so I was asking for it. But how do you exercise when you are tired? And how do you get rid of the fatigue without exercising and training your body? It’s a freaking vicious cycle that I couldn’t get out of and the fatigue was accumulating within me as my time as an FA dragged on. I decided I wanted out.

For me, it was just fatigue and lethargy, but for party animal aircrews, it was cancer and liver failure. Unbalanced diet combined with excessive drinking and smoking is never good news. I had left before my bad diet and irregular sleep and work hours could get to me, but for those still in the airline and not taking care of themselves, good luck.

Potential financial debts!

Shopping, shopping and shopping! How to resist shopping when you are in Paris or Milan, or in a factory outlet in US? I had shopped quite a fair bit as well, and I enjoyed being financially independent, knowing that I could buy anything without worrying too much about my bank account. But my purpose in joining the airline was to get more money, so spending away all my hard-earned pay didn’t make sense. I tightened the strings on my purse and resisted the temptation to buy a Chanel or Prada, even though I had been to France, Italy and Germany multiple times. And I didn’t have a credit card. I think I have the least branded stuff out of the 7000 plus crew in my previous airline.

But some of my ex-colleagues were not so money-savvy. They spent all their allowances on material goods that would not do them any good in the long term. I mean, it’s ok to feel good and pamper yourself once in a while, but spending your whole allowance every time you are in New York or Milan is not going to help you prepare for the rainy days that are bound to come. It’s only going to drag you deeper into financial debt. Besides, branded goods do nothing to increase your assets, even if they are status symbols and look good and make you feel good. If you must use all the money that you have too much of, spend it on property and investments instead! Or open up a business! I had wanted to do all of that but I wasn’t in the airline long enough to save up that much money 😦

Last but not least… I never really wanted to be a flight attendant anyway

I was the laziest and least ambitious FA ever. And when I’m outstation (overseas), I hardly bothered to travel around and was keen only at checking my bank account when payday arrived. I had joined the job for the money, not the perks (there weren’t much anyway). I do regret not exploring more of the world, but how was I supposed to when I was dead beat tired after a demanding flight and on a limited budget? Unlike passengers, we had to work on our way to our destinations, and it’s hardly a relaxing job. If I had planned to stay in the airline for a little longer, I might just go travelling more and even buy the Chanel No.5 bag, which I have always wanted, because I would have more money for travel and shopping if I had stayed longer. But my ex-colleagues have been complaining of allowance cuts and shorter stays in outstation. So working longer might not necessarily have turned out better. Phew, glad I was out there before it got worse.

Besides, my original plan was to go back to school anyway. This was never meant to be a long-term job and if I had stayed on longer, I might just lose sight of my goals and get stuck in a dead-end job, albeit well-paying and provides some sort of perks. I’m still glad that I had plucked up the courage and left. I had a good time, so I was able to take away tons of pleasant memories with me. I left when the times were good so that I can look back and smile at all the happy memories that I had while flying. My last flight was a long stay in Maldives, and I had totally enjoyed the resort lifestyle, albeit away from the sun. It was the best flight ever, and I’m glad it was my last flight. It was a good ending to my flying days. I didn’t want to have to leave when I was bitter and upset and had lots of bad memories from the job.

What about your story?

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About Kimono Party Girl

I was born and bred in Singapore for the first 20 years of my life, and then I decided that even after flying all over the world as a flight attendant, life is still too boring. So, in search of more adventure and add spice to my life, I quit my job, packed up, and left for Japan - which is, to me, the promised land. I've always been fascinated with Japan ever since I was 8, thanks to Ayumi Hamasaki, aka the Britney Spears of Japan. She's the first J-pop singer that I have been obsessed with, and my first contact with the Japanese language was through her lyrics. Yup, I first learned my Hiragana from her song 'I am'. But what really sealed the deal was my first trip to Japan in 2010. The fresh air, the beautiful cherry blossoms, the endless fast fashion trends and the awesome food was what made Japan the land of my dreams, and it had since become my goal to one day live, work and party in Japan. So after working like a horse as a flight attendant for 2 years and saving up a decent amount, I made a big leap of faith and moved to the land of the rising sun. I have studied one year of Japanese and two years of graphic design. Currently, I'm in the midst of shukatsu (就活 - job hunting). Wish me luck!
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