Saturday, 6 September 2014

So You Want To Be A Hostie (part 1) ... How Hard Can It Be?

The day, so many years ago, I finished  training as an International flight attendant, I went out with a few friends and had some celebratory drinks.  Officially I was on a 4.00 am to 4.00 pm standby the next day, but I'd been assured that there was absolutely no chance I'd be called out.  The longest distance flights to the USA, South America and Africa, which incidentally was the least popular of the three, tended to leave Australia early in the morning, the European flights typically left in the afternoon to meet any curfew restrictions in Asia where they stopped to refuel and to correspond with arriving early morning in London.  Usually only the most senior flight attendants worked on the longest international flights.

They were the dream gigs.  The passengers were generally easy, and the overtime money on really long-haul flights was substantial.  In those days, everyone received a fortnightly base salary, after which you earned an hourly rate according to years of service.  For a flight over 12 hours, a flight attendant was on double time, and anything over 14 hours was long range and therefore a set rate above and beyond double time applied.

The minimum flight time to the USA was about 13 hours, but generally those flights took 14 or more hours.  Because of the strict security and customs regulations, there were often delays while passengers were processed.  Also the duty or 'working time', allowed an extra hour and a half for signing on, getting the aircraft ready and half an hour to clear customs, immigration and so forth. Ka-ching!

What made the US run especially coveted, was that once you got there, the food was good as were the hotels, and there was no language barrier.

Even though I was confident I wouldn't be called up, at 11.00 pm I phoned Crewing to check.   I was told there was nothing, so I kept having fun.

At  3.00 am, I was in a pub in the city dancing around to some mega-mix and I thought  "one hour to go and still  no call".  Keep on partying.

At 4.04 my mobile rang.

"Hi Kate. It's Paul from Crewing.  You've been given a duty today."

Ummm ... what?

"You're doing a 5 day LA. You need to sign on at 8.00 am.

Ummm ... what?  'Pardon?'  I was in shock at what I believed he was saying.

Adrenaline and panic hit my mind and body at once. "Shit, what am I going to do?  I can't call in sick on my first duty and they will be watching me like hawks on my first flight."  It was 4.00 am and I was bloody well tanked.  According to the rules, you couldn't drink within 8 hours of a duty.  Would I be done for flying drunk or at the very least. hungover?

I grabbed a taxi home and tried to get a coupe of hours sleep, but that proved impossible as I was a little pissed. So I got up, showered, brushed my teeth and tried to stay upright.  I then made my way to Cabin Crew Headquarters at the airport.

"Are you in the right briefing room?"  I was asked.  "Errr LA?"  Yep I was in the right one, and it was then when excitement hit me with such force.

There is a big divide between domestic and long-haul flight attendants - long-haul think that they are way better than domestic.  Pffffft.  That's why everybody who wants to be a flight attendant tries to get into international and virtually no-one wants to fly domestic.  They quizzed me about my time in domestic.  I told them I hated it (and to a point, I did), and that seemed to give me a couple of points.  Then they asked me how I thought I'd go on long-haul.  I told them that I thought I would be fine, that it would be just like a return Perth flight. (About an 11 to 12 hour round trip).  For some reason, that really amused them.  I was in!!!  I was accepted into the 'Qantas Family'.

I was then told that for this flight, I would do 'the assist'.  I had absolutely no idea what the bloody assist was, but I soon found out that the assist was a name for the general dogsbody!   First I helped with the service in business class, after which, I went upstairs to help with another service, then I had to see if anyone needed a hand in first, after which it was in economy.  By the time I'd finished all of that, I had worked every cabin on the aircraft - the only upside, I'd gotten to know the rest of the crew.

After service, it was time for the cabin crew to have their meal.  I was told to throw my meal away, because no-one liked the shitty stuff catering provides for us. There is 'always better stuff in first or business'. I went to the galley and was getting stuck into a business cheese platter. I was mingling with the others who were all there discussing their motgages and who was flying where on the next roster.

My working partner on the right side of the plane, was a lovely lady named Monica.  She then explained to me that it was time for me to go and get some sleep.  The company wants you to have 20 minutes sleep every 6 hours, but Monica told me that she liked to have 5 hours straight.  No-one really did what they were supposed to.  My head was spinning. I never knew that there was a 'horizontal crew rest' where crew could sleep.  Sure enough, in the aft of the plane, in the tail, there were 8 bunk beds for crew. Who would've thought?

I was so happy that Monica took me under her wing and took me through everything I needed to know about the company that I hadn't learnt in training and also a lot of what I had to 'unlearn'.  She also explained that the crew looked after each other like a big family, which was not the same as the 'Qantas Family' line the company pushed.

To be continued ...... (perks and salaries and passports)

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