From my first whiff of kerosene at the age of four, I can’t smell aviation fuel without feeling a sense of excitement and adventure – if you’re close enough to smell it, you’re most likely doing something at an airport, or flying somewhere. The romantic in me loves what a plane symbolises – freedom.
There have been many times throughout my life when I’ve felt more at home in the clouds than on the ground, and I’m definitely more at ease when I’m on the move.
When on the ground, airports feel like home too, and have become the scene of some pinnacle moments in my life. I met my Husband through a chance meeting at London Heathrow’s Terminal Three when we were working on the same project for Virgin Atlantic. I think my childhood experiences of jetting off on holiday from London Gatwick stirred something inside me that set the wings in motion for a career in aviation and travel.
Growing up in Norfolk meant very early starts to reach Gatwick in time for our flight. Driving down to Sussex while the world was waking, watching the sun rise on another day, filled my tummy with butterflies at the thought of the adventures ahead. I’m not a morning person, and I wish I was, because the dawn is the best part of the day. Ironically, we now live just 13 minutes from Gatwick by train.
When I became cabin crew at the age of 21, an element of the job I loved was that you felt part of life as it was happening. I remember landing back into the UK after night flights, feeling privileged to have watched the world coming to life from 35,000ft.
Becoming cabin crew was never the plan. In fact, I wanted to be a pilot. My eyesight had other ideas, so I pursued my passion for writing, and went to Royal Holloway, University of London to study for an English Literature degree. Heathrow was just a few miles down the road, so the planes were never too far away.
With graduation day looming, I assessed my options. Getting onto the payroll was desirable, as was travelling. Becoming cabin crew ticked the boxes – getting paid to travel the world whilst working for a great airline appeared to be the magic bullet, and it was.
I loved it from the very first day of training, which is good because I spent my 21st Birthday doing fire and smoke training! Aside from the brilliant people you meet – some of which have become friends for life – the training, although intense, is just such good fun!
My first ever long haul flight as crew wasn’t such fun. Placed on standby (on call to fly when other crew go sick, or can’t fly at the last minute) for my first ever flight, I was really nervous about the uncertainty of it all. Would I be called out? Where would it be? With this standby block falling over New Year’s, the chance of being called out was high. I was given a Heathrow to LA for New Year’s Day, 2005, and I was petrified! The nerves got the better of me, and I could barely eat or drink. This resulted in me being severely dehydrated upon arrival in LA – not a great starting point for a few New Year’s drinks at the bar (at what would have been around 6am UK the following day)! Needless to say, I spent the majority of my time down route feeling like I was hundred years old!
New starter nerves faded and things got better and better. Working as cabin crew can be really hard work. The unsociable hours, and being on your feet for many hours is sometimes grueling. However, the moments of “how lucky am I to be doing this” far outweighed any downsides. Arriving in Barbados after a busy flight, and heading to the beach (pictured above) for sundowners was definitely an “I can’t believe I am actually getting paid to do this” moment. As were early morning strolls with a coffee in Manhattan (below), eating amazing tarka daal in Mumbai, and cycling over the Golden Gate bridge.
There are a multitude of reasons why this job was perfect for me – a foot in the door of an airline (and brand) I loved, getting paid to travel, experience working on the frontline of customer service, dealing with people from across the world (which I love), and very importantly, growing my self-confidence.
I remember specifically thinking that I wanted to push my personal boundaries, and exploring new places on my own was part of this.. The benefit of being crew is that you can do this, knowing that your crew is never too far away. I hoped to have children one day, and hoped to be a mum who showed her children that the world was there for the taking. This meant I had to lead the way.
Ultimately, I got to fly – it might not have been in the way that I had hoped, but I loved it all the same. I naively thought that my fellow crew would also be plane lovers. This turned out not to be the case. Some did, but a lot of crew weren’t bothered by the beautiful 747s and A340-600s.
Turbulence is a normal part of flight, and I experienced my fair share of it. At times it was quite soothing, especially while getting some shut-eye in the crew rest area. On one occasion, the bumps became a bit too, well – bumpy. We were on the approach into New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on Valentine’s Day 2005. The weather was hideous, and the plane was like a toy boat being thrown around by the wild seas. The movement felt even worse from my crew seat positioned in the tail of the A340-600.
As the wheels were about to touch down, the engine roared and we shot back up into the sky. You don’t realise the true power of those engines until they’re used during a go-around (an aborted landing). The experience was very disconcerting, but it was when the flight crew attempted to land the plane for a second time to no avail that my internal alarm bells started to ring. A plane is only allowed three attempts at a landing or take-off at any given airport. This meant that if the flight crew weren’t able to successfully land the plane third time round, we’d have to divert to another airport – in terrible weather. Thankfully, following an extremely hairy ride, we landed safely. I was so grateful to reach the comfort of my hotel room that night, protected from the winter weather on the eastern seaboard, and celebrated with takeaway pizza and a Budweiser (for some reason Budweiser tastes so much better in the US).
Life as crew was brilliant, but my passion for writing hadn’t waivered, and wasn’t something that this job could satisfy. When I saw a job advert in the company’s crew newsletter for a cabin crew member to be seconded to the comms team, I knew in an instant that this was the role for me. The team was looking for someone with experience of being crew to manage the newsletter, intranet content, and look after communications for crew related projects.
From personal experience, I understood how important the connection between the company and crew member was in a job where you rarely worked with the same person twice. Cabin crew and pilots are essentially a remote workforce. This can be quite isolating, so I truly believed that comms played an essential role in engaging these valuable employees.
Following tests and interviews, the job was mine and the rest is history! Here I am 16 years later, still working in comms. I miss those early days when I flew and felt genuinely connected to the world as it turned on its axis. What would you like to know about being cabin crew? Would you like to know what I learnt about people, dealing with jet lag, the destinations, or something else?