Why I Quit Your Dream Job
Leaving behind a post as International Cabin Crew in 2019… No, I didn’t predict Covid-19.
By Sarah Arkinstall
For many people their dream job is to be a Flight Attendant for Emirates. If you’re lucky, you set off for a new life in Dubai to travel the world. You are entitled to discounted flights (up to 90% off), have free accommodation, transport, allowances in every layover destination, generous discounts on places in Dubai & on top of that a good salary. It was an amazing first job. Many people knew that, I didn’t, and it was THEIR dream. So why would I take someone else's dream job? Simple — I hadn’t worked out mine.
I was graduating & a little lost. Though my best friend, who listened to most of my career concerns, would probably say very. I studied Peace & Conflict Studies and French; returning to France was my goal, but visa complications & finding decent work without being fluent seemed impossible*. To study again when I’d just finished? I was not overly excited at the idea.
A bit of context for this tale — I was born in 1990, so I’ve always been on the edge of technology. I was lucky to have a childhood reading books, cloud watching & playing with neighbourhood kids. But by 13, dial-up internet was in the house. I’ve witnessed the rise of social media. I’ve been among its first users. Those my age have migrated from MySpace, to Facebook, to Instagram — as they happen. I’m thankful to have moved away from this, not being on Snapchat, and Tiktok to me is a game similar to naughts & crosses.
But in 2014 Instagram was growing. I had a friend who was travelling the world. I was like, “HOW is she doing that?!” I asked a mutual friend (real, not fb), “She’s Cabin Crew.” That was within 5 months of my pending graduation & belly flopping into the workforce with an Arts Degree. I applied.
Emirates Open Days normally attract hundreds of hopefuls, that you only meet the airline representative after several rounds. In Brisbane we had a smaller than normal turn-out, about 70 people, so we were all invited to proceed to the next round. I joined at the right time for a small city gal. I was one of the 2 who got the job. These days the interviews in Brisbane attract a much larger crowd. I know this as my younger sister wants to follow in my footsteps. It’s her dream job.
Back to today, in the notorious year Twenty-Twenty, social media has increased awareness of the crew lifestyle to an enormous degree. Yes, we are becoming wiser to the detrimental effects of constantly seeing the highlights of other peoples life. We acknowledge it is a construction. But still — Tokyo one day, the Burj Al Arab for High Tea, New York the next and back in time for Friday Brunch on the Palm? These people aren’t faking it, but they’re certainly not showing you everything. It’s not all glamour.
A flight attendant’s job is poorly understood, multifaceted and challenging. You’re caring for people in a flying metal tube, whilst aiming to keep them comfortable but mostly ensuring their safety. It often requires a lot of resourcefulness. I adapted to my role fairly easily as my natural curiosity about people and good humour helped. I genuinely enjoy getting to know people so will happily strike up a conversation. This helped passengers to feel comfortable, whilst they’re dealing with the in-flight experience, in which a lot of small freedoms are restricted (access to water & meal times, movement, bathroom trips, sleep, and space to list a few).
Whilst I was genuinely interested in getting to know you, it’s part of the job. Cabin Crew are constantly assessing you. Whether you’re a security threat, a health hazard, a likely medical case, intoxicated, or hostile, if you’ve young children & may need extra space or assistance. They’re even scanning for physically fit people to assist them, “in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation.”
In addition, I would argue that the shift work experienced by crew results in a unique level of fatigue. You’re travelling across time zones & have no routine in your roster. No 2 week block of nights. You’re all over the place — inside & globally. So whilst you’re experiencing your 25th consecutive hour in the day, you’re expected to smile, be welcoming and most importantly, alert during critical phases of flight. But let’s add another cherry on your day, you’re looking after people who are also very tired.
If your motivation is to get ‘Insta-famous’ — you’re not going to last long. The strict policies of no mobile phones during flight, have emerged as a key challenge for the new generation. After all they’re used to being constantly connected. This means they’re savvy and insanely informed on current events; should they evade the dystopian novel ‘1984’ predictions of a bombardment of irrelevant information. They’re also accustomed to publishing their thoughts and daily activities across various platforms to an audience of strangers. “Isn’t this what she’s doing right now?” — you’re probably tweeting. But I’m not on Twitter — sorry folks!
I stayed in this job for 4 years. I loved it. I’m not afraid of hard work, enjoyed jumping round the globe and meeting new people daily. Surprise ! So why then did I leave a job that I lucked into, was really good at & enjoying?
Well, as previously stated, I was lucky in my timing joining, but not progressing. Company expansion had slowed. The initial promotion wait period increased from a mere 9 months in Economy to 3.5 years. Emirates contracts are of 3 years duration; so if you joined early 2010s you’d likely finished one contract & were already a Cabin Supervisor. For myself & many others, I was upgraded to Business Class after 3 years, having no warnings on file delaying me — that was simply the timing.
I should explain the idea of ‘seniority’ in airlines. Promotions are only available to you after being within the company for a period of time, then they will take into consideration your record (any behavioural warnings), sick days & lastly will be your onboard performance. Seniority effects everything, even the order in which crew check into a hotel.
Within six months of working in Business Class, I felt that I’d learnt the new cabin & the job was the same. I had tried everything new from Duty Free, Galley management, writing supervisors reports, to as many Paris flights as possible to practise my French. The wait for a promotion to First Class was close to 5 years and for Cabin Supervisor? I couldn’t even imagine! So as you slept, I was deep in contemplation, drinking tea in the clouds & watching the world pass below. I realised that if I didn’t leave, I’d risk becoming complacent and losing my ambition. They say, the comfort zone is where dreams go to die…
For those of you like me, career development & new challenges are essential. It’s a paradox — too much comfort, can make one feel uncomfortable. So my charmed life (that could have made me online famous, if I wasn’t on private… or didn’t lack the skills set of a social media butterfly), success in my job and global travel, still didn’t negate the feeling that I could be doing more.
I had gained the experience of a lifetime. Although I still hadn’t determined my dream job, I was determined to keep looking. I bid goodbye willingly to my home in the sandpit and set off for France. After a month in Paris, the city I had dreamed of returning to for so long — I wasn’t convinced it was right.
Par chance I had a ticket booked for a trip to Australia for the wedding of my best friend. The same one who had helped me all those years ago with red wine & council. Little did I know how being her bridesmaid, would alter the course of my future. On the Saturday of the wedding I chatted with a friend who’s a Pilot. Sunday, I stayed in bed. I never arrived at the airport to take my flight back to Paris (no financial lose as I was still benefiting from my generous staff discount). On the Monday I made a phone call. And by the Friday, I was sitting an aptitude test.
I decided to stick with what I knew. I was at home in the sky. I’m happy on a plane, I know this as you put me on a boat, I’m wearing a life jacket, clinging to you for dear life and convinced I saw a shark. Worst Queenslander Ever. I’ll take wake turbulence, over crashing waves any day. In an A380, not a Cessna 152 — let’s be realistic people! So I decided to get my wings back as I missed flying. The petiteness of a Cessna, did take some getting used to, but now I can fly myself.
Today thousands of people are leaving their career as crew, but unlike me, it’s not by choice. Those in the midst of life changing events, whether it be losing your dream job, or something else — taking the first steps towards a different life are the hardest. Keep on going. I find goal setting helpful that I use it for many areas of my life; personal, professional & even travelling. This process of dividing and conquering task by task, makes your finish line more obtainable, so that you’re more likely to follow through.
We don’t all grow up knowing what we want to do. I believe that the path to success is never straight forward. I found taking risks, trying new things, led me closer to the realisation of what I did want. I may not have locked in all my life goals, but that’s okay. The Pharaohs never stopped building their tombs, as it was bad luck to have it finished. It’s halfway through 2020 and I’m pursuing my dream of becoming a Pilot. No, I’m not crazy, I’ve seen the news.
Like many of you, I love aviation. But I know finding my first job as a Pilot will be made harder by todays state of affairs. I’m focusing on getting my qualifications & experience building. Yes, I’ve a goal list that I look at daily. I’ve applied for anything that gets me close to an aircraft. When I do get to the front seat, my many experiences in the cabin shall stay with me. Some people would board and be unhappy about their seat at the back of the plane - I’d tell them not to worry, that’s where I sit too & it’s more fun. Although if the landing is bumpy, it’s the bumpiest seat in the plane. But you have to have ups with the downs, that’s what great books taught me.
Lastly, to those of you who wish to work for as Cabin Crew — thank you for letting me loan your dream job, don’t give up! Take this time to work on other areas of your life. You’ll need a lot of patience, empathy & optimism. Learn to look for that silver lining in the clouds. And most importantly, enjoy SLEEP!
NB: Impossible* French for Impossible. On that note, remember things aren’t always as complicated as they may first seem, even French.