Here we are! Welcome to a new episode of Airways Profile, our column dedicated to people in aviation. The same people that every day, with passion and commitment, allow us to travel, to visit new places, to come back home.
Our special guest for this episode is Roxana, a Flight Attendant for Emirates Airlines (EK).
Rox, thanks for your time in doing this interview with me. Three, two, one.. action!
First question. You know, it’s always the simplest one, we already know the answer since I wrote it in the introduction, but I have to ask. What’s your name and what’s your role in aviation?
Hello, my name is Roxana, AKA Roxavgeek or Roxy. I am a flight attendant for Emirates, but based on my nickname you can tell that for me, it’s more than a job; it’s a passion as well!
Flight Attendant. What’s your story?
This is going to be interesting! I have loved airplanes since I was seven years old and always wanted to work in aviation, but what’s interesting is that my first ever flight was in 2012, and got my job at EK in 2016.
There were a lot of personal things involved that prevented me from getting the dream job in aviation but regardless of that in my heart, my passion stayed the same as it is today as well! I have a whole article about my story on my website!
Seven looks like a beautiful age to fall in love with planes. Is there a specific moment in your life, an event, that made you love aviation?
Well, this will sound strange but I remember being a kid and always fascinated by the “white lines” on the sky (contrails) because the place I grew up is a very small town in Romania without an airport so basically the only planes I ever saw were the ones flying at FL380! And since the first time I saw those contrails I became interested in exploring more and finding out what machine causes that beautiful phenomenon!
And that’s why you decided to try to become a flight attendant. But my questions is why? And why Emirates?
Why Emirates? It’s a simple answer, they’re the best in my opinion, also a massive multicultural company that has amazing airplanes and a lot of destinations around the world! And because I am a people person, I wanted to be the one that takes care of people on board and makes their flight better!
So, I think you had to move from your home country to Dubai. How was your experience?
Well, actually when I joined Emirates I did it from UK, Birmingham. I use to live there for two years so when I moved to Dubai, I had experienced already the “away from home feeling.” But then again, it was a completely different story. I was nervous as I’ve never gone outside Europe (by that time UK was still in EU) so it was a completely different culture, climate, and lifestyle.
I love every aspect of it now but at beginning I was always nervous not to offend anyone or make a mistake since they have some cultural rules here. Many people believe Dubai is very strict but it’s not. I believe as long as you are respectful to everyone’s culture and religion it’s very easy to adapt. As long as you follow common sense here, Dubai is the best place to live.
Being an ex-pat in UAE is actually a very homey feeling, you don’t feel any different because around 70% of people here are ex-pats. I never ever felt discriminated here. It is my second home! I personally love it, and the fact that we have always summer it’s beautiful.
We give thanks to air conditioning for that. But let me get back to the interview. How is the career of a flight attendant? We know that a pilot starts as First Officer, then becomes a Captain, etc., but for a FA?
A flight attendant’s job is pretty challenging actually, considering the variety of people we meet on board and the different destinations we fly all the time, change in time zones, jet lag, changing seasons, not having time off to spend with your friends and family on holidays, etc. All these can be really stressful!
Going back to the job in Emirates you start as a GR2 (grade two) and you work in Economy class! Then you get upgraded to Business Class and become a GR1, from there you can either become FG1 (First class) or CSV (Cabin Supervisor). And finally, after years of experience you can become Purser (the one in charge of the cabin).
I knew there was going to be something complicated with acronyms at some point. What is the difference between working in Economy Class and First? What are the main changes?
I am working in Economy class now, the fun class, I always call it! The main difference is a change in salary of course. First Class crew earn more than economy. They also have more experience and higher customer service skills because of their top-class training.
They actually prepare the meals in the galley and they have different products which they know by heart. Safety and security there is no difference as we are all trained on the same thing, to keep everyone safe. The only difference is customer service-related training!
Tell me about your first flight. Not as a passenger, but as a flight attendant. How was it? What went through your mind?
Oh, I love this question! In fact, in EK, you have two familiarization flights after you finish your training! They’re called SUPY flights and you get one on each airplane type, in our case A380 and Boeing 777 (or Fluffy and Boo Boo how I call them! – yes, I will include those nicknames no worries) and in those flights you get to stay in the flight deck for take-off and landing so you have an idea what the pilots do in there!
So you can imagine it was the happiest two days of my life! My first flight was to Munich on A380 and it was amazing! I was a bit nervous regarding the service but I’ve had amazing colleagues and that really helped! Ever since I’ve had my first flight as a flight attendant, I realized that I would like to spend the rest of my life building a career into aviation.
Then after the first flight, the second one, the third one, and then the routine. How is your schedule? You go from Dubai to your destination, and then come back immediately?
Talking about my schedule, now it’s different every month. So, every month on the 16th we find out where are we flying to next month. Basically, whenever you go to the US for instance, you land go to the hotel and you spend 24 to 48hrs there and then you fly back to base which is always Dubai.
We have some multi sectors like Milan-JFK, where we land in Milan, stay there 24 hours and the next day we go to JFK where we stay another 24 hours, then back to MXP (Milan) 24 hours then back to Dubai. There are not many of those multi-sectors but they are kinda tiring! Then we also have what we call turnarounds on flights that are shorter than five hours: we basically fly there and then fly back to Dubai.
How are the destinations chosen? Is it completely random, based purely on flight-time, or there are certain requirements for certain routes in terms of language rather than something else?
The destinations! Ahh what a pandora box for us! We have a bidding system here and each month you bid for certain destinations. Also, we have bidding priority groups, which means when you are group one, it’s the highest priority (or seven is highest, I cannot remember since we haven’t bid for ages now due to the pandemic!)
Why a Pandora?
The reason I said pandora box was because even though you are in a high-priority group and ask for a certain destination, sometimes you don’t get it as the computer assigns all these flights based on legal requirements and flying hours!
You put your desired flights in and pray to get at least one, pretty much! As a result, you can imagine the anxiety and excitement when you check your roster for the next month, followed by praising the Lord or cursing in all the languages you know!
Believe me, I know the feeling perfectly.
Let me dig deeper into your job first: do you think there are certain requirements for being a FA or is it something that everyone can do? I am not talking about physical requirements, but I am definitely more interested in terms of mindset, or attitude.
Well, every company has its own requirements whenever it comes to recruit FAs. However, I personally think that not everyone can do it. The job looks simple, fun and glamorous at first but there are a lot of mental and physical challenges! There have been many cases when people joined and then resigned because they couldn’t take the pressure.
We are flying a lot, and everywhere; therefore, jetlag and fatigue is your friend, we have big airplanes so a lot of work to do! Busy roster wins a minimum of eight days off per month. And then challenging situations on board like medical cases, complaints, etc.
Basically, if you want to be a flight attendant, you also have to be a psychologist, a nurse, a nanny, a friend, and sometimes a priest! It’s a challenging job!
Pressure-question. You said that some people resigned because they couldn’t take the pressure. What kind of pressure are we talking about? The responsibility, the jetlag, everything combined? And if so, where do you feel the most pressure?
Uuuh! I like a little bit of pressure! Due to my educational background, I learned how to handle it! So yes, it’s a bit of a combination but most of all, it is the workload and the fatigue. A lot of people think that they come here and travel and just serve a glass of wine while doing a Victoria Secrets catwalk in the A380’s cabin when in fact, we do 100 times more than that.
Imagine that our planes are huge and we have from one to three services on board to do. All of them serve hot meals and drinks, except for the 40-min flights.
So, when you have to take care of around 430/550 people (A380-Fluffy) and 320/380 (B777- Boo Boo) – yes, I will include those nicknames! – it becomes a lot, and imagine combining that with medical cases or safety-related duties. The only time we don’t work as much is when our airplane is almost empty, which in my four years here, I’ve never seen it!
So, it’s about what people see in videos and advertisements and what they expect to do as flight attendants. It is a job, in the end, and you don’t just get paid to travel. People need to realize that because the majority come here to travel only.
What’s part of the training for being a FA? What are the steps?
Emirates has a top class for their training and they make sure they cover everything perfectly! When you start your training, you go through all these stages like SEP (Safety Emergency Procedures), Security, Medical Training (first aid), Evacuation Procedures, Fire Fighting and Service Training.
All of them are very strict and very serious and it happens in the course of two months in Aviation College – the reason why the company has such a good safety record!
Emirates flies mainly on the long-haul, so you spend a considerable amount of time away from home. How does this affect your personal life?
Well, even when we fly long-hauls, we don’t really stay there for more than 48 hours, so in a way, it’s not that bad. But when it comes to family and friends, it is challenging because you miss important events like birthdays, weddings, Christmas, Easter. My family and my friends miss me a lot but I love them because they are the most understandable people in the world!
When it comes to relationships… here it gets tricky because it is extremely difficult! It requires trust, patience, and understanding! Very hard to get the whole package.
So now we know the pros and cons of your job. My question now is: what would your response be to children who tell you they would like to do your job when they grow up?
Hmm…What I always say is, “Follow your dreams and regardless of the obstacles encounter, never give up on what you truly want! “
I love it.
Now, let’s change for a moment the angle we are giving our chat. Let’s talk about COVID. How has COVID impacted your life and your work? What’s you opinion about the entire aviation sector in relation to the pandemic?
Oh, the Covid topic, I was wondering when this question will pop up! Well fortunately I was the lucky one to get to keep my job because many of my colleagues lost theirs. My life has been impacted pretty much like everyone else’s. I got stuck in Dubai and barely saw my family, I also had Covid and it was a pretty bad form of it. Now, I am vaccinated, so let’s pray that this will be over soon!
Unfortunately, aviation was the main industry to suffer from this alongside tourism and hospitality. I am flying way less than before, sometimes I have two flights per month. when before, I used to have around 10! I personally believe that it will take time for aviation to get back to normal, I would say around 4/5 years! But I hope I am wrong and it will happen faster! As an AvGeek, I suffer to see all these beautiful birds grounded.
Flashback to February 2020. What were you thinking at the beginning of the pandemic, being so close in contact with people that potentially carried a virus?
Well, I have to admit that I was worried just like everyone else, but I took it as a battlefield. Someone had to do the job and we were the chosen soldiers! Just like the doctors and nurses were the front line, we were somewhere on the second line, and even we never signed up to do that, but we did it because people were counting on us to take them home or wherever they needed to be!
You know what? I think that in an answer like this one, I can really feel your passion and your dedication. I know I’ve already said this, but it’s a pleasure for me to have you here.
Let’s abandon COVID now. Talking again about the job: what’s the biggest “mistake” that an FA can do?
Hmm, interesting question. Well, I think I can speak on behalf of all airlines when I say that the biggest mistake a FA can do is safety-related because that can have deadly repercussions! Anything else it’s fixable!
What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you during a flight?
Ha! Well, you won’t believe how many things happen on the airplane, I could write a book! But one that I can remember was when a passenger started complaining about the noise (he was sitting right next to the over-wing door and therefore next to the engines on a Boeing 777).
Upon talking to him, I explained that that side is slightly bit louder because of the GE90 (the biggest and strongest engine in the world), and upon his request to try to make it less noisy, I made a cheeky joke by asking him if he wanted me to turn it off. And to my shocking surprise, his answer was yes! So… yeah! Ever since that day, I still hope that he was joking but I don’t think he was.
Maybe it’s better never to find out! Now, you fly for a certain number of hours, and they are a lot. And this is something I have always wondered about. How is the Crew Rest Compartment? And yes, I will include the two nicknames, I swear!
Everyone’s curiosity! The Crew Rest Compartment or the CRC as we call it! It depends on the airplane type and configuration. On Boo Boo (Boeing 777) it’s amazing! Single flatbeds, spacious and comfortable all aligned separated by a small isle. On Fluffy (380) some have the Main Deck CRC, some Lower Deck. The main deck is very small with four sets of three bunks on top of each other in a cube/box shape, so if you’re claustrophobic, good luck!
Also, the CRC is very noisy because it’s around the passengers and toilets. The Lower Deck is underneath the cabin and it’s quieter, more spacious but there are still some bunks on top of each other, only two, still in a cube/box shape but more spacious, so claustrophobes will get a chance to rest!
I was watching “Catch Me If You Can” a couple of weeks ago, and there are those scenes with the classic FA of the ’60s that represent the classic image of a hostess that then entered the collective imagination. How different is the work when compared with that of 40, 20, or just 10 years ago?
Oh, wow you know what, I was actually thinking about this since I have seen a very gorgeous picture from the ’70s. I believe flying was so glamorous then! I personally would’ve preferred that time, because flying was a luxury back then; now it is so common people use it as busses.
Look at America, flying there is crazy, it is exactly like catching a bus. From a hospitality point of view, I believe it was more interesting and fun to have been a FA in those times! Also, a bit unique due to the limited number of airlines! From an aviation point of view, I would’ve preferred to fly now, because flying is way safer than it used to be.
There are more studies regarding the principles of flying, more technology built into the aircraft, design, and performance, and all that experience in building and observing airplanes have led to a safer travel experience! So maybe we should combine that! What do you think?
Well, I grew up in Europe, and I was lucky enough to have grown up at a time when low-cost airlines were well established. I traveled around Europe spending very little, by train, by plane, by bus. But I have to say one thing: given my 185 centimeters in height, today’s Economy seats are terribly uncomfortable. I think my back is going to kill me sooner or later.
Now, an uncomfortable question: have you ever caught someone who was trying to join the-Mile-High Club?
Oh oukeeey. Send the kids to sleep because I am about to tell you that I have caught someone, but not just trying…but actually joining it. If you know what I mean!
Ok, let’s assume I’ve never asked you that question. We’re almost at the end, so it’s “Back and Forth” time.
Your favorite airline, and you cannot say Emirates: I don’t really have a favorite. I pick an airline to fly based on its safety records! Sorry geek alert!
77W or 388?: 77W (Please, don’t tell Fluffy!)
I won’t, no worries. Favorite plane, and it has to be a plane who’s not in EK’s fleet: my favorite commercial plane is Boeing 777X and non-commercial BlackBird SR71.
Favorite airport, after DXB: FCO, Fiumicino Leonardo Da Vinci Aiport!
The highest number of people on a flight: 615 (A380 a 2-class configuration)
615? Ok, the lowest number of people on a flight: three in economy and 10 in business class A380 going to RUH (Riyadh Saudi Arabia) but coming back overbooked !
Your favorite route: DXB-FCO.
I am not surprised. Your least favorite route? : DXB-BLR.
Your longest flight.. and your shortest flight? AKL- DXB 17 hrs and 15 mins; DXB – MCT 47 mins.
A380 (or Fluffy) only: upper deck or main deck? Upper Deck!
Favorite Ancient Rome latin quote: Veni, Vidi, Vici! You’ll find it everywhere from my social media platforms till my clothes and apartment!
Exactly. Rome. You are also really really really passionate about ancient Rome. How so?
Well, is like asking someone why they like cake, well it’s cake! It’s beautiful, delicious and makes you happy! I have this passion for ancient history ever since I was a child! My dream as a kid was to see Rome, Greece and Egypt, because of the history. But when I’ve visited Rome, I fell in love instantly!
It’s amazing what they managed to do back then with such little resources and technology! Many things that we are using today come from ancient romans. Like the Gregorian calendar! It was mastered and beautiful adjusted by my one and only favorite historical person, Gaius Julius Caesar!
Who is better, Julius Caesar or Augustus?
Rox, we are at the end. This was a fantastic journey for me, knowing a bit more about the flight attendant job, about your job, and about you. So now there is a question that I always ask.
How true for you is the saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”?
I’ve had that quote as a caption on my posts many times. And I agree with it 101%! It has helped me through challenging times. I always say to people that when you combine passion with work, the results are close to perfection!
Whenever I get overwhelmed on board, I have a look outside that window where you can see a gorgeous shaped wing stretching out piercing through the blue sky or clouds. That’s my secret. How I recharge! But I am lucky since aviation is my passion!
And that’s really the last one! Is there anyone you wanna say hi to?
Love this question! Yes, I do! To my beautiful parents whom I owe everything I am today! They are my daily motivation and making them proud is my life goal! Va iubesc dragii mei parinti! ♥️ Thank you for the opportunity!
Rox, thanks again for your time, for what you’ve shared with me and with our readers, for your experience, and for giving us this beautiful and unique insight into what being a flight attendant means.
And thanks to our readers as well! See you soon, with the next episode of Airways Profile! Take care of yourself, and each other!
Featured image and all photos: Roxavgeek