Day in the life of a flight attendant

At some point in our lives, most of us will encounter a plane trip. Whether it be domestic or international, the flight will get us from A to B. If you’ve flown before, you would know that the first person to greet you on a plane is a flight attendant. One of these flight attendants might be Christopher Giudes, a member of one of Australia's largest airlines cabin crew. I sat down with Chris to discuss what being a flight attendant is really like.

The recruitment process

As one can probably imagine, there’s a lot of interest from people wanting to become a flight attendant but the demand from airlines is low. There are few opportunities and recruitment is a long process to dwindle down the applicants. For Chris, this process took the best part of a year. “There was the initial application of dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. After that, it was awhile until I heard anything,” Chris says.

Once the airline finally contacted him, Chris conducted a video interview with them. “They would ask one question and give you time to think about your response. They were questions about who I was and how far away I’d be willing to work. General stuff really”. This was their first step in shortlisting suitable applicants. Chris was successful and moved to the next stage.

After an extended waiting period, Chris ventured to Sydney for an assessment day. “There was a range of activities in different groups. Then individually we went in for a face-to-face interview where they asked scenario-based questions. They wanted to see how I would react in person rather than behind a computer screen,” Chris says.

More waiting

There was a 3 day waiting period whilst they checked references. Due to Newcastle being a relatively small airport, it is one of the more difficult airport’s to get hired at due to less demand. Chris was successful but was placed on active hold in July 2016. This meant that he was awaiting his training day and appointment to an airport. “Just before Christmas, they got the ball rolling. I did my medical examination, security clearance and relevant vaccinations. Then when the New Year began, I started my training program. This was 3 weeks in Sydney and 1 week in Melbourne”. During the training program, Chris learned about customer service, training protocols as well as what to do in an event of a fire, security issue or medical emergency. Thankfully, he hasn’t had to deal with anything major yet.

Chris was finally appointed to the Newcastle base. He grew up in Newcastle so it was lucky that he didn’t have to uproot his life anywhere. “If I had to relocate to somewhere larger like Sydney or Melbourne I was prepared and happy to but obviously the convenience of the Newcastle base worked in my favour”.

Role of a flight attendent

So what exactly does Chris do as as member of cabin crew other than flying here and there? Well he is there to greet you at either the boarding gate or as customers enter the plane. Once everyone is on board, the cabin crew ensure all the doors are closed and armed and do the safety demonstration. After take-off and the seat belt sign is removed, he will bring you refreshments and then clean up after you. He informs you of anything that might delay the journey. As you exit, he is there to say good bye and then cleans the aircraft. This is why customer service is key for cabin crew and why Chris prides himself in providing the best service possible. “The customers are one thing that I really love about my job because it’s human interaction and the make the day different.”

As with most customer service jobs, there are regulars that visit. It isn’t as common, but it does happen. “Most of the regulars are business people who travel for work. You get to know them by name and get used to their needs,” Chris says.

[caption id="attachment_903" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Photo: Chris Giudes[/caption]

Typical flight path

For the moment, Newcastle is only a domestic airport and they only do flights along the east coast from the airport. The flight path for Chris generally varies depending on which shift he is doing. “In a standard morning shift there will be 4 flights if everything is on schedule. If we are behind then we may only do 2.” There are usually 2 different flight paths for morning crew. The first crew might do Newcastle->Melbourne->Hobart->Melbourne->Newcastle. The other crew might do Newcastle->Brisbane->Townsville->Brisbane->Newcastle.

The flight path for the afternoon is either Newcastle->Melbourne->Launceston->Melbourne->Newcastle or Newcastle->Gold Coast->Newcastle->Brisbane->Newcastle.

Delays and cancellation

One of the issues that Newcastle faces due to its locality is that it has an early curfew, meaning that flights which are delayed in the afternoon can cause issues. “Delays happen for various reasons, usually beyond our control. They are usually caused by issues with weather or operational issues with the aircraft. They prefer to delay a flight rather than cancel,” Chris says.

If weather is an issue such as high winds or heavy fogs, an aircraft may not be able to land safely at Newcastle. If it isn’t safe to land, occasionally flights might be diverted to Sydney. Before they divert though, if the aircraft isn’t already en-route they will delay the departure at the airport. “The pilots are in constant communication with the destination’s airport so they can allow plenty of time to make arrangements and communicate with passengers if a flight is delayed.”

[caption id="attachment_904" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Photo: Chris Giudes[/caption]

When it comes to cancellation of flights, it does happen but only if there is absolutely no way of rectifying the situation then and there. “If there is a mechanical issue with the plane, before they cancel it they will do everything in their power to find a replacement before cancelling. If my flight home happens to be cancelled or has been diverted to Sydney, they will find transport for me to get home. If I’m interstate they will put me up in a hotel or find another flight home. It’s the same protocol for passengers as well”.

what happens when passengers get annoyed about a delayed or cancelled flight? You do what you can. “Nine out of ten times, passengers will be understanding. Then you get ones that just need some extra reassuring that they will be taken care of. Once the plane is up in the air, and they are given the relevant information from the Captain they will generally calm down”.

Tight turn-around

The tight schedule of flights and the early curfew means that there is a tight turn-around period between each flight. “We generally have 30-40 minutes to clean the aircraft and prepare for the next flight. While we clean, the aircraft is being checked to make sure it is mechanically okay and is also being refuelled,” Chris says. It’s a tandem effort to ensure everything runs smoothly to prevent these delays.

[caption id="attachment_905" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Photo: Chris Giudes[/caption]

What he loves about his job

Being a flight attendant has its perks in that no two days are ever the same. This is one thing that Chris loves about his job. “You don’t know what you’re going to be in for each day. I also get to see different parts of Australia whilst working which isn’t bad either.”

He says that there are two particular flights he always enjoys. The first is in the morning flying into Hobart over the sea especially on a clear day. “In the afternoon anywhere in Queensland is nice,” Chris says.

Chris has also travelled internationally, for leisure though as Newcastle don’t yet have International Flights available. Two of his favourite places and flights have been to the West Coast of the USA and to Japan. He enjoys photography and has taken lots of photos during his travels. “It’s certainly nice to fly somewhere that I know I will be having a holiday at rather than working,” Chris says. He also can’t help himself when it comes to taking photos outside the plane.

Plans for International Airport

Along with the other cabin crew, Chris welcomes the day that Newcastle airport begin International flights. Virgin Australia are the first airline to begin International flights. From November, they will operate flights from Newcastle to Auckland. It’s unclear if any other airlines will follow, but Chris is excited about the possibility.

“It will bring more opportunity for us to possibly fly to places like New Zealand, Bali and Indonesia. From my experience, there’s a lot of demand from customers to fly there.” It would mean that customers wouldn’t have to divert from Brisbane or Melbourne for these international flights. With proposals for an update to Newcastle airport and an expansion, the future of international flights looks promising.

Next time you are on a plane, remember that the cabin crew are there to help. After all, it keeps Chris in a job.