The People In Aviation, Pt 2: The Faces Of The Airline
Updated: Sep 19
As you saddle back into your seat for your flight, you notice them move up and down the aisle, pushing the food carts as they serve your in-flight meal; you see them every time you embark and disembark the aircraft. Their presence is so felt and noticed that they become synonymous with the airline; they are featured on airline commercials, on in-flight safety videos and you see them everyday criss-crossing the terminals at airports.
But behind the demure smiles and services they provide, the role of the flight attendant is beyond just providing your in-flight meals and maximizing your comfort, they are the people who are responsible for your safety. They are subject to grueling trainings encompassing topics like first-aid administration, fire-fighting, evacuation, cabin service and conflict management.
May 31st is the officially designated International Flight Attendants Day, where we celebrate the accomplishments and the tireless efforts cabin crew put in to ensure that the millions of passengers who fly each year enjoy a safe and comfortable flight. To commemorate this day, we decided to interview several flight attendants from a variety of international and renowned airlines, namely Thai AirAsia X, Qatar Airways, LATAM Airlines, Ryanair and (with a certain amount of pride) Singapore Airlines, to share their experiences and their motivations in working in this dynamic career.
From Spotter to Cabin Crew - Holly Ashes (RyanAir)
Most of us aviation photographers and spotters can only ever dream of entering the aviation industry. But for one planespotter in Manchester, that dream became a reality: 20-year-old Holly Ashes recently joined the global ranks of flight attendants on the Irish carrier Ryanair, which operates many regional European routes from its bases in Dublin and London Stansted. Aside from her general love of aviation, Holly shared that her motivation to become part of the cabin crew was the dynamic environments she will be exposed to, as well as numerous opportunities to meet different people and get the chance to visit various destinations.
Ryanair operates a simplified fleet of Boeing 737-800s and the high-density Boeing 737 MAX 200s, but between the two, Holly confessed that the Next Generation models were significantly easier to operate in-flight services due to increased maneuvering space in the galleys and central aisle, and with the high density 737 MAX 200s, the cabin was a little too congested, making movements with a large service cart tricky. However, one perk of being with Ryanair was the prospect of traveling to popular vacation destinations, as Ryanair is renowned for offering low-cost packages to passengers seeking cheap flights to tourist destinations.
One such location that was a personal favorite to Holly is Murcia, Spain, just a mere 3-hour hop from her home airport in Manchester. Apart from being a popular resort town with historic landmarks, the flight to Murcia is in the “Goldilocks zone” for flight attendants, not too long but with some services still provided, allowing flight attendants like Holly more chances to interact with her passengers. In contrast, her most challenging routes were on those with major language barriers, such as the route to Bucharest, Romania, as a majority of her passengers are unable to converse in English. Despite all the challenges, Holly still remains passionate about her job, and often carries the fond memories of her first-ever flight as a certified flight attendant; throughout her job, she has had numerous interesting experiences, such as meeting her childhood friend as a colleague on the same flight, and a rather odd but joyous experience of a passenger wishing her happy birthday (when it wasn’t). Holly shared that while it is not difficult to become a flight attendant at Ryanair, she remarked that “it is the passion that will keep driving your career, to look out for the safety of her passengers, to maintain that courtesy during passenger interaction, and that to maintain that heart of service, and if you have that passion, go for it!”
Bringing South American Hospitality to the Skies - Daniele Werner (LATAM Airlines)
In the booming aviation industry across South America, LATAM Airlines has certainly made its mark in establishing its presence in the many countries on the continent, with hundreds of flight attendants working round the clock to keep the airline services going. One of these flight attendants is 30-year-old Daniele Werner, hailing from Brazil. As a young child, Daniele shared her love of aviation began after watching Varig MD-11s crossing the Brazilian skies back in the 1990s and 2000s.
Fast forward to 2018, 4 years ago, Daniele started off her journey in the aviation industry as a security agent at a regional airline, before training to become a flight attendant. In 2020, she joined LATAM Brazil, initially continuing her previous role as an airport agent, before earning her wings in 2022 to join LATAM’s cabin crew in the skies. Flying on many of LATAM’s regional and domestic routes across South America, she has flown almost all of Airbus’s A320 family; namely the A319, A320, and A321s, with the A321s being her personal favorite with the aircraft’s increased cabin space and stability. Among the many regional routes LATAM Brazil flies, Daniele shared that one of her favorite routes is Maceió in Alagoas, renowned for its sandy beaches and clear waters, and is one of the top holiday destinations in Brazil. Like all flight attendants, her crew bag is always a must, and her top things to include in her bag are a good book, hairspray, and most importantly, her make-up kit.
In the 4 months since she began to fly, Daniele has found her journey as a flight attendant to be full of surprises, one of which is getting the chance to meet Brazil’s first female captain, Claudine Melnik, which was an inspirational moment for her, as Daniele herself aspires to one day attend flight school and become a pilot herself. She finds her job extremely meaningful, taking great responsibility in taking care and ensuring the safety and well-being of her passengers. Operating on so many regional and international routes, Daniele shared that one of the greatest perks of being a cabin crew is the ability to work in a dynamic and multi-cultural environment, especially since this combines two of her greatest passions: social interactions and aviation; and everytime a passenger thanks her for her service, she always found immense joy in receiving such compliments, for it greatly motivates her.
On asking her about what advice she would give to young prospective flight attendants hoping to join the industry, she had this to say:
“Becoming a flight attendant/cabin requires a lot of persistence, study, and love for the profession. The path to the realization of a dream is often arduous and full of challenges, but those who believe and dedicate themselves will always achieve. Most importantly, be sure that this profession is something you are very passionate for. Being a cabin crew is an amazing profession which provides incredible experiences to whoever wishes to endeavor in it, and it will definitely be worth it.”
A Touch of Japanese in A Southeast Asian Airline - Akiko Ozeki (Thai AirAsia X)
For those of us living in Southeast Asia, one of the most prominent airlines is the low-cost carrier, AirAsia. Operating a huge fleet of short- and long-haul aircraft across its different subsidiaries from its hubs in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. One of these subsidiaries is Thai AirAsia X, which operates medium- to long-haul routes across the Asia Pacific region using its fleet of Airbus A330-300s and A330-900neos.
For flight attendant Akiko Ozeki, working as a cabin crew is a dream come true. During her university days, Akiko had worked as a freelancer, which allowed her to have a flexible schedule and work lifestyle, something which she felt strongly important to her. As such, when the opportunity came for her to join Thai AirAsia X’s international team of flight attendants, she did not hesitate. 3 years on, and Akiko shared that never once she looked back at her decision to become a flight attendant. Because of her Japanese background, Akiko is usually assigned to fly on the routes to destinations in Japan, e.g. Sapporo, Tokyo and Osaka. Between the Airbus A330-300s and -900neos that the airline operates, Akiko shared that the upgraded cabin products and technology like the neo’s unique lighting system make flying on the A330neos a better experience than on the A330ceos. With Thai AirAsia X predominately operating the long haul Asian routes from Bangkok during the pandemic period, Akiko remarked that she had no particular favourite destination, but flying to Japan does have a special place for her as it is like coming back home for her. But often these routes to and fro takes up most of the day, so Akiko prefers to enjoy her off days with what most of us would consider a “chill” lifestyle, visiting cafes and restaurants, or heading to the spa.
For those of us who are frequent fliers, there will always be that one flight where the journey was not exactly smooth; and for Akiko, she had one particular difficult flight. She recalled that the flight encountered severe turbulence for most of the duration of the flight, rendering in-flight meals impossible. As the flight approached its destination, the cabin crew, in the middle of the turbulence, had to rush to prepare the flight for landing, only to then have the flight stuck in a holding pattern around the destination airport for the weather to clear up. But of course, not all flights are rough, and on a clear night sky, Akiko shared that one of her favourite things to do is to look out at the night sky and watch the stars from the windows at the galleys, which gives her a sense of serenity. These are just some of the many enriching experiences that Akiko shared with us on her journey as a flight attendant, and she hopes that many more people out there who have an interest in a career as a cabin crew to give it a try, as she remarked that “being a flight attendant/cabin crew is a profoundly enriching career, as you can learn a lot from your travels, experiencing different cultures and meeting different people along the way”.
Living the Qatari High Life - Jee (Qatar Airways)
Curiosity and enthusiasm - that’s what Qatar Airways flight attendant Jeerapak described herself as. Ever since as a young child, Jeerapak (or Jee as some would call her), had a fascination with travel and the ambiance of travel feels, and found herself being excited about all her overseas travels with her grandparents. Eventually, knowing that she had a passion for it, Jee decided to become a flight attendant for the acclaimed airline Qatar Airways in 2019, and undoubtedly, she had not regretted that decision to this day. She shared that her career at Qatar Airways as a cabin crew was highly enriching, always challenging her to enhance her adaptability and flexibility across different aircraft and service routes, under an ever-changing and dynamic landscape.
As part of the international crew of renowned Middle-Eastern airline, Jee had flown on Qatar’s expansive network of international and regional routes and had flown on no less than 7 different aircraft types, namely the Boeing 777-200ERs, 777-300ERs, 787-8 Dreamliners, Airbus A319, A320, A330-300s, and the A350-900s. Amongst the array of aircraft she has flown, Jee shared that the Airbus A350 is her favorite, with her elegant exterior designs and the top-notch in-built cabin products available to passengers. Some of the special perks that she found to be exceptionally unique is the tail camera, giving passengers a rare view of the flight from the outside, and the A350’s iconic low ambient sound. However, she did find that the Boeing 777 conversely provided better cabin crew bunks in terms of space and comfort. Nevertheless, the one thing that Jee loves about all the aircraft is the amazing view from the windows of the aircraft in flight, describing it as the best office view anywhere.
With hundreds of routes traveled, Jee joked that it was very hard to pick a favorite destination, but she shared that the city of Geneva, Switzerland held a special place in her heart, simply because of the sheer beauty of the city, as well as its historical, artistic and cultural heritage, not to mention that it is one of the gastronomic hotspots for chocolate fans. Conversely, Jee shared that the routes to Montreal, Canada were immensely tough, with grueling 13-hour long flights and the significant jet lag that comes along with it, but like all professional crew, Jee takes it in her stride, and jokingly remarked that “the flight may be tough, but (she) is tougher”. But with so many routes traveled by Qatar Airways’ vast network, comes with it a huge variety of menu items, ranging from the classic French cuisines to the spicy Indian tastes of curries and briyanis. As part of her in-flight service, Jee, along with her fellow flight attendants at Qatar Airways have to memorize the menus (as well as their ingredients) before each flight, which Jee finds fascinating, as she gets to be exposed to so many cuisines and cultures from around the world.
Outside of aviation, Jee has a love of illustration and motion graphic design and often spends her off-hours developing artwork. As the pandemic raged on across the world, and with thousands of cabin crew struggling through the pandemic-related restrictions, Jee launched the concept “This Too Shall Pass” artwork on her online store @adamandeve.stu in support of her fellow flight attendants.
Like all the flight attendants we interviewed, along with the thousands who served aboard the hundreds of aircraft crisscrossing the world every hour, Jee carries with her a personal flight bag. With a flair for being organized, Jee carries along a notebook with all the aircraft safety and first aid information, occasionally using her spare time to refresh her memory of all the details. Additionally, her notebook also contains flight and service information, particularly useful for long-haul flights.
In all, Jee shared that her experience as a flight attendant was extremely enriching and fulfilling, remarking that some of her best moments being part of the cabin crew was when passengers thanked her, even if its small compliments. Despite her 2 years flying Qatar Airways, and leaving the industry behind, Jee still carries with her the fond memories of donning that special maroon blazer and cap, being the face of Qatar Airways in the skies. And for the cabin crew hopefuls out there, Jee has this to share:
“Don’t be shy and hesitate on your dream, do your best to achieve your goal!”
Fun fact: I will be traveling to Switzerland with my wife on Qatar Airways, and am definitely looking forward to experiencing the Economy and Business Class products on the flight. Stay tuned for my travel review when I’m back!
The Face of an Icon - Kay Fong (Singapore Airlines)
The Singapore Girl will forever be the icon of Singapore Airlines, with the famous sarong kebaya forever bringing a sense of national pride for us Singaporeans. I was fortunate enough to secure an exclusive interview with a former Singapore Airlines flight attendant, Kay, who is now currently working as a realtor.
Kay shared that her ambition to join Singapore Airlines as a cabin crew was partly attributed to the fact that she did not want to have a deskbound job, and her love for globe-trotting and having social interactions; but her greatest inspiration came from her mother, who herself was a former SIA cabin crew member. So in 2015, she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and applied for the flight attendant role at Singapore Airlines, and after several rounds of interviews and months of arduous training, she secured the coveted role as a Singapore Girl.
During the course of her 6-year stint at SIA, she got the chance to serve on board all of Singapore Airlines’ widebody fleet, from the Airbus A330s, A350s, and A380s, to the Boeing 777s and the Boeing 787s. Of all the widebody aircraft in Singapore Airlines’ fleet, Kay shared that her personal favorite would be the Airbus A380. While the sheer size of the A380 creates a very large customer pool to serve in-flight, Kay remarked that the additional space does make service slightly more comfortable than most other aircraft. Additionally, the A380s of Singapore Airlines operate the freedom flight route to her favorite destination - New York (via Frankfurt).
Located at the global aviation hub in Southeast Asia, and with the availability of long-range aircraft like the A350ULRs, Singapore Airlines operates direct long-range routes to destinations like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Kay shared that such routes are the most challenging, as such flights across multiple time zones without a stopover can be mentally grueling for cabin crew. Despite all the tough schedules and the transits between different time zones, Kay still found her role as a cabin crew to be exceptionally fulfilling, allowing her to visit numerous international destinations that even some of us might not be able to in our lifetime. One additional perk she shared while working at Singapore Airlines was the numerous opportunities to attend major international events, such as the inauguration flight between Newark and Singapore on the A350-900ULR, and a special event for the Women’s Tennis Association. What Kay loved and reminisced the most about were the in-person interactions with her passengers, and her greatest joys during flights were when she could strike up meaningful conversations with passengers hailing from all walks of life, or when she received personal thanks from various passengers.
With such a hectic lifestyle and spending a lot of time overseas, Kay shared that there was never much time to really focus on a hobby outside of work, so she often spent her time staying fit, enrolling in gym and yoga classes. Though she does not fly anymore, having left the airline in 2021 to focus on her realtor career, Kay remarked that she never once regretted her decision to join Singapore Airlines, and feels that she has grown a lot as a person in her 6 years flying. Kay had this piece of advice to share with all prospective flight attendants preparing for their interviews: “don’t expect too much of yourself, just be natural, and be confident when you go in”.
In the Skies, With You, For You
With the pandemic slowly becoming part of the new norm across the world, borders are opening up, and global air travel is at the highest it has ever been in the last two years. However, with the mass layoffs at the start of the pandemic, there is a major gap to fill and support regular flight operations, with some airlines operating on a shoestring or even having to resort to flight cancellations due to manpower issues. Indeed, being a cabin crew is one of the most prestigious customer service roles out there, and there are many different facets to the role of a flight attendant.
A common remark that I noticed whilst interviewing all the flight attendants was that a praise, a compliment, a word of thanks really does go a long way to make the day of every cabin crew member. Indeed, serving for many hours in a single day or crossing multiple time zones whilst prepping your in-flight meals can be pretty grueling, not to mention that their training goes way beyond service, but also covers emergency management and medical training. With so much effort put into the background, it is indeed admirable in the amount of effort they put into their training. So the next time you see a flight attendant, do spare a moment to thank them for going above and beyond in making your journey in the skies safe & pleasant!