I’ve always been fascinated by flight attendants. Every time I board a plane, I find myself wondering things like: Do they have to wear their hair and makeup like that-or did they choose to? What’s the strangest thing they’ve ever experienced on a flight? What do they really think of passengers who order one too many cocktails?
But there is nothing more intriguing, at least to me, than the chosen few who work in First Class for Emirates, the glamorous Gulf carrier that charges five figures (and up) for its spacious private “suites.” When passengers expect a level of service that’s on par with a five-star hotel, cabin crew members are required to double as sommeliers, concierges, fine dining experts, and more.
So, what’s it like to be one? I asked Joanna Collins, a UK-born, Dubai-based flight attendant who’s been with the airline for six years (two in economy, two in business, and two in first). She joined Emirates immediately after graduating from the University of Leeds, and says that although it’s rewarding, the job is far more grueling than people think.
Here are the most mind boggling things I learned from Collins about working for the elite section of one of the world’s top airlines.
1. They know a lot about you before you even board the plane.
"We have a briefing and a team talk before each flight, where we'll review the customers who are traveling with us, including any VIPs. We get their names and have information about them stored in on-board tablets."
2. They take notes about their guests during the flight.
"We use these on-board tablets to record details about the passengers: their hobbies, their dietary requirements, what they like to drink and eat, where they’re going to or coming from, whether they’ll be tired on their next leg. That information gets saved and passed on to the next crew that serves them."
3. There’s an “Imaging and Grooming Department” that provides guidelines on nail color, lip color, and eye shadow.
"Emirates likes to keep uniformity. Your nails can be nude, light pink, or you can have a French manicure. We also have different variations of red nail polish that are outlined by the Imaging and Grooming Department. An 'Emirates red' lipstick with lip liner is required. We like to use Mac’s Russian Red because it stays for a long time. Eyeshadow can either be black or beige, and liquid eyeliner is recommended."
4. Hairstyles are even closely regulated.
"We can have a French twist or a bun with a red scrunchie. The red scrunchie is optional. I usually make my bun with one of those 'hair donuts.'"
5. They take classes on makeup and skincare.
"Some girls know a lot about makeup and hair, and some go for a more natural look. We have classes that teach you how to do your makeup and care for your skin."
6. Rules about jewelry are equally as strict.
"We can either wear pearl earrings or studs that are diamond or crystal. Necklaces aren’t allowed. Watches are fine, but they have to be plain and simple."
7. You can spot the chief flight attendant-also known as the purser-based on his or her uniform.
"Our standard uniform is the skirt and white shirt with a jacket, hat, and scarf. Every crew member dresses the same, except for the purser who wears a brown color."
8. When a crew member gets promoted from economy to business or first class, the training is rigorous.
"It’s quite a dramatic change, especially when it comes to dining. In economy there’s just one tray; in First Class, we have 'silver service' dining, so appetizers, main courses, and desserts are all served at different times, and customers can 'dine on demand' whenever they want. We’re taught all the etiquette about cutlery and the different plates used for each course."
9. They’re even required to take a wine education course.
"When you’re serving things like Dom Perignon and Bordeaux, you need to have a thorough understanding of what you’re pouring. We need to know the difference between old world and new world wines, as well as champagnes, bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits."
10. They change their uniforms after take-off.
"In the airport and during the boarding process we wear heels, but we can change into red flats after take-off. Some girls prefer not to, but I couldn’t be in heels for a 16-hour flight. After take-off we switch to 'service attire'-we remove the jacket and add a waist coat."
11. They receive bizarre requests-but not as often as you’d think.
"I haven’t had many in my time at Emirates, but I did have a couple ask if they could use a crew cart to rock their baby to sleep. I told her that I would love to help but it unfortunately wouldn’t fit our safety procedures."
12. Crew members often work together for a single flight, and then never see each other again.
"There are always fresh faces. Occasionally you’ll go into the briefing room before the flight and recognize someone you flew with one time last year, but not often."
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