Home / Traveller / Notes from my (former) flight attendant life

Anna the flight attendant? Yeah, right! Aviation was not an industry I had ever imagined myself involved in. Unlike many who spend their whole lives dreaming of working in the skies, I had always had other plans for my life. So many, in fact, that I almost had a new career plan for each day of the year.

Doctor, Skydive Instructor and Radio DJ topped the wish-list at various points in my life. Chef, med school dropout, volunteer ambulance officer and graphic designer had made it onto the ‘been there, done that’ pile. Flight attendant was one of the few job titles that had never really caught my eye. So you can imagine it came as quite the surprise to find myself vacuum backed into that tight red dress, slathered in a cocktail of lipstick and hairspray, learning the ropes of emergency evacuations over water.

Truth be told, I was a little lost. I had wanted out of the city I had spent most of my life living in, and I felt a passion for travel. Other than that I had absolutely no clue, or any savings to leave with. That was, of course, until I saw the job listing. Within 6 months of applying, I had my wings and was a fully-fledged short-haul international flight attendant.

Suddenly the world opened up to me, I was living in a bigger city and spending my life traveling. A normal Saturday night for me might be spent going out for dinner in Sydney followed by a lazy Sunday afternoon poolside in Fiji.

My flight attendant career spanned about four years – which is quite a long time in my world of relentless retraining and career hopping. By the time I handed in my wings I was ready to move onto other adventures, but I picked up a few & memories notes along the way

1. Don’t eat the crew meals. Number one rule! It’s hard enough to eat properly when your always on the road, but crew meals are designed to have added salt and sugar. (Check out this article from the BBC on why food tastes bad at altitude, and how catering companies add extra salt and flavouring to make up for it) 

2. Diet coke is the most time consuming, foamy, mess of a drink to pour into a cup at altitude thanks to the artificial sweeteners, and to top it all off – it tastes a little odd up there too thanks to our altered ability to taste.

3.Carry dry bags. Having to stash your wet swimsuit in your suitcase on the second day of a five day trip does not to nice things to your clean clothes. Or, for that matter, the overall atmosphere of your suitcase. Same deal with anything that gets muddy, wet, damp, or smelly. Drybags are a lifesaver for frequent travellers, and although it’s been many years since I was working onboard an aircraft, it’s still an essential item I pack on every trip.

4. Sleep is completely underrated. When I first set out into the flight attendant life, the lure & sometimes pressure of meeting up at the bar was a bit too much. I went too hard and lost out on a lot of sleep. I’m older, and hopefully wiser now and I say – catch up on sleep whenever you can – no matter how tempting all the outings, dinners, and drinks will be. Everyone will be meeting down at the bar again tomorrow night for another round, I promise!

Lounging poolside in Koh Samui
Fancy lounging poolside as part of your work week? Look no further.

5. Invest in the most comfortable shoes you can find. Although high heels are often required when walking about the airport, usually after takeoff the cabin crew get to switch into flat cabin shoes. I would recommend upgrading both as much as the company will allow – when the shin splints and numb toes catch up, often a lot of the damage is done and it can take a long time to recover.

6. Keep hydrated. The cabin is a really low humidity place to spend a lot of time, so chugging down the waters is always a priority. When I was training, they recommended 500mls per hour, but personally I think more than that is better. Normally I aim for 2 litres of water a day, but I’d increase that even further on flying days!

7. There will always be passengers who are unhappy about something. No matter how glamorous aviation may sound to those not working in it, it is still a customer service role. You will always get difficult customers, and you can’t please everyone. Don’t let it get to you.

8. Even when it feels like everything is going wrong, there will always be one person (passenger or crew) who thinks your doing just great – make it your mission to find that person & connect with them to boost your confidence.

9. Keep the essentials in your cabin bag (underwear, phone charger, wallet), it’s only a matter of time until somebody looses your check-in for the night and it’s nice to be prepared for anything! I also liked to keep a dress in there that rolls small, wrinkle free as an emergency backup change of clothes.

10. Smile. Always. Not because you have to (although mileage may vary depending on who you work for) – do it because it’ll make you feel better, I promise. (read this article on smiling)

11. Keep a gratitude diary. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how amazing this job actually is! (also, daily gratitude = amazing thing to get in the habit of) and later on, you will be able to look back even more fondly on this time spent in a great job.

12. Take the time to learn a new language. You don’t need to be fluent, just being able to communicate a few words is enough to turn an awkward flight of non-english speakers into something fun & that you learn from. (They really appreciate the effort, too)

13. Keep earplugs and eye masks with you, they always come in handy for those times when you want to catch a few moments rest wherever you are.

14. Learn more about posture. I’ve strained myself from incorrect lifting and sitting twisted in the back galley with my legs crossed far too many times. Practicing good posture, doing yoga, wearing well fitting shoes – these things all help enormously.

15. Pack snacks. Things like nuts, seeds, crackers and tinned tuna seem to make it through most country arrival quarantines un-confiscated. Be wary of fresh produce, meats, dairy and honey if you are travelling somewhere with strict biosecurity such as Australia and New Zealand though.

16. Don’t give buddy passes to people unless it’s an emergency or they understand standby very well. It can get very stressful!

17. Speaking of staff travel, try not to book yourself on a busy flight home the night before your next duty with no backup plan. It generally ends in an expensive disaster.

18. One (more) word: Sunscreen.

19. Passengers will never, ever learn to remain seated until the seatbelt light comes off. It’s an unfortunate, universal truth.

20. Toiletries with screw on lids are a great investment (there’s only so many times a person can forgive an exploded shampoo bottle amongst their things)

21. Keep hydration interesting and carry a selection of herbal tea bags with you. Fruit flavoured ones added to a bottle of cold water make a delicious alternative to plain water.

22.  Protein powder/meal replacement sachets can be a great breakfast, especially at 3am when you know you SHOULD eat, but your stomach has different feelings on the matter.

23. Don’t become bitter, and never forget to see passengers as people – no matter how obnoxious they become.

Working as a flight attendant was a truly awesome career, I’m so thankful for all the experiences I was lucky enough to have during this time.

I met some excellent people and have collected memories I will treasure for a lifetime.

It’s me, many years back now!

Ultimately, it wasn’t my forever job. None of them have been so far – but I sure had a great time doing it & it opened up the world of travel and possibilities to me in a way I am eternally grateful.

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