It’s been a long while now that my wings have been on hibernation. Like many individuals during this pandemic, my job and the industry it belongs to has been affected. Honestly, even at the beginning of this viral spread and even having flown to China and other affected European countries myself during that period, I have not imagined the effect to the aviation industry to be like this. I haven’t braced for this kind of impact, so to speak. I’m certain many others have not either.
Having spent my time at home since everything started going down where many airlines began shutting down, announcements of aviation staff being retrenched were made all over the globe and most borders were being closed, there are moments where I’d quietly think of what my job has been to me over the past six years of flying. My thoughts go back to the many times and instances that I have maybe not really given it high regard, if not compelete disregard.
I have a close friend who is also a cabin crew who, during this quarantine period, has asked me one too many times if I miss flying. My answer off the top of my head was a straight and solid no. And I meant that. Do I really miss the “job”? You know, what we do every single day on every single flight? The heating of meals, serving customers, being occupied with special meals and last minute special requests, clearing trays and china? Running around against time – against boarding time, departure time, meal service time, clearance time, cabin preparation time, top of descent, landing time, safety and security checks time, blanket and headset collection time, getting-off-the-aircraft-because-the-next-crew-are-waiting time? Definitely no.
There are so many things about this job and this industry that will make even someone flying for just six months answer ‘no’ to the question my friend asked. That’s a given. I still think that this does not only hold true to the job of a cabin crew but also for the many other jobs there are. After all, there is no perfect job. If there was, everyone would have flocked to it. But all jobs have their own share of good and bad. That’s the similarity of all jobs in the world. As an employee, you just have to choose which ‘bad’ you are willing to take so that you can enjoy the ‘good’ of that job or industry. Like they say, you choose your poison.
So, going back to my friend’s question. Do I miss my job? Really dissecting this question over the past days has given me a more complex answer. I don’t miss the “job” per se but there are many things about being a cabin crew that I definitely and undeniably – even surprisingly – miss.
I miss the lifestyle. If you’re a cabin crew yourself or have cabin crew in the family or your close circle of friends, you would know what I mean. It is indeed a lifestyle, as I hear many of my seniors say when I was still starting in the industry. You have access to all the best and famous global brands in retail, food, hotel, travel.. You get firsthand experience of all these brands anywhere in the world plus you enjoy the power of getting discounts from most of these brands all because you are a cabin crew. Your ID works like a discount card at airports, restaurants, cafes, hotels, shops.. basically, everywhere. Not to mention the tax refund you can get from overseas. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
I miss the variety of food and products. During this quarantine period, I have been watching so much Kdrama that I have been craving for everything Korean particularly the food. I miss those times that I would just bid for an Incheon flight when I had these cravings. Or if I’m really desperate, look for crew scheduled to fly there and offer to swap whatever destination I have. I miss having my fill of authentic food from other country’s cuisine. I also miss doing my grocery-shopping from wherever in the world and bringing back to base a luggageful of local goodies. My personal favorites for supermarket hauls are the US, Spain, Germany, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and Korea. A funny thing about a cabin crew’s fridge is how internationally random the contents are. You’ll find chocolates from Brussels, kimchi from Seoul, potatoes from Amsterdam, coffee from Vietnam, cheese from France, avocados from Melbourne. Most crew even have reusable shopping bags as a must-have in their suitcases.
I miss getting my monthy payslip and roster. These are the two things a cabin crew always looks forward to toward the end of each month. The salary is like no other. You can achieve so many goals for yourself and for your family with the pay you get from this job. For other cabin crew, this job is also a means for them to extend help to the less fortunate. I know some crew who dedicate a portion of their monthly earnings into foundations and in funding children’s studies. As for the roster, I miss the hype of getting what I bid for. The excitement for rosters has never really died down with most crew as the systems are always busy or are even crashing come the day when someone says, “roster is out!”. Gosh, those days… 🙂
I miss staying in 4 to 5-star hotels. For free. Actually, you even receive a daily allowance whether you opt to stay in and enjoy the hotel amenities or sleep in the highest thread counts of hotel bed sheets or roam around and enjoy the city’s attractions. Isn’t it a sweet life? This is why one of the most common things they say about flying is “travel and get paid for it.” Truth be told, I kind of miss the funny crew habit of collecting pens from Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Holiday Inn and the like. 😀
I miss having the option to practically go anywhere, anytime. While I have not exactly maximized this benefit in my six years of flying because most of the time, I use my days off to go back home or just rest from always being on-the-go, being a cabin crew definitely gives you the option to go anywhere when you want to. You can make last minute plans for your days off or annual leave credits because you can. You can decide on the destination whenever – even as late as when you are at the airport. You can literally stand in front of the departure board, randomly choose a destination, book that flight, check in and board the plane all in sixty minutes. Did I mention the tickets are on discount? And you get to share them to your family and friends too?
I miss playing “guess which nationality?”. This I play myself on many occasions – sometimes for entertainment, most times just as a habit. When I overhear conversations in a language other than mine or conversations in English but with a different accent, I try to guess which nationality they’re from. In a planeful of people from different backgrounds, this is a fun thing to do. Most cabin crew especially those who have been flying for so long will almost always get it right.
I miss making honest and sincere moments onboard. There have been so many times that I yearn to go back to my nursing profession. Sometimes it’s because I miss the mental challenge. But more than that, it’s because I miss the moments of human warmth, kindness and compassion. I miss the feeling of fulfillment – of knowing you have made a difference. Most cabin crew, no matter how hard and consciously they try, cannot be immune to being robotic on flights. It is after all a task-oriented and time-bound job. All the time they have to get their jobs done is from when the seatbelt sign goes off up until when the seatbelt sign goes on for landing. The pressure is truly high. It is an everyday struggle to get the perfect blend of being efficient with your tasks and remaining human while doing it. In the tiny bits of the mundane tasks we do everyday as cabin crew, there have been moments that made me find the fulfillment I was longing for. It was not exactly safety or service-related even if these two words make up for the main job roles of a cabin crew. It was simply the moments where I was there for another human being – whether to a customer or a fellow crew. It was when I carried bags for elderly people, reassuring them I was just seated a few seats behind them, seeing gratitude and peace of mind register in their faces. It was when I helped sleep-deprived parents soothe their kids and entertain them myself if only to give them a minute to take a deep breath and attend to their own needs. It was when I offered an empty window seat for someone who looked dazed by the beauty of the clouds or the fast-changing colors of the sky. It was when I took a little bit more time to explain the meal choices for someone whose language I do not speak. It was when I gave a gentle touch to the hand to console a mother who just said that she lost her son on their holiday trip and is coming back home with his body in the cargo. It was when no matter how badly I was fighting fatigue from back-to-back flights, I managed to stand in one corner of the aircraft and listened to an hour-long story of an OFW going back home for good after working abroad alone for the past thirty years. It was when I made a conscious effort to help a struggling junior crew with her tasks when I could have just minded my business. It was when I took a few seconds of my precious pre-boarding time to pour cups of cold water for the aircraft engineers and catering staff. It was when I made sure to say excuse me and thank you to the aircraft cleaners even when how rushed we all were to get off the aircraft. It was all these tiny moments that have from time to time revived, no matter how little, my exhausted spirit into keeping this job. It was these seemingly unremarkable occasions that have made remarkable prints in my heart as a human being. It may not have been in the ways that I wanted it to since a nurse’s job description is inimitable to that of a cabin crew’s especially now in this crisis. But these moments have definitely – even just for a second and albeit unheroic – made me feel that I have made a difference.
To the skies we will soar again, to the clouds and stars we will be a touch away again, the big birds we will ride again and the wings this pandemic has clipped we will spread and fly again. #