Mariam Ali is living her dream. Imagine working at 37,000ft in a jet cruising at 900Km/h, mingling with all kinds of people? A dream job, right? Well, this is what Mariam does for a living. Her journey began at Fly Dubai as a member of the cabin crew, before joining Emirates in 2015 as the airline’s business class hostess.
So, what does the job of a global airline’s cabin crew entail? And what is it like to globetrot to and from work?
‘‘My main job is to ensure the passengers aboard are comfortable and safe. It’s also my responsibility to ensure passengers have the best experience during the journey by attending to all their needs,” she says.
‘‘Some journeys, such as Dubai to New York, are very long, sometimes lasting more than 10 hours. This can get boring and exhausting, so it’s important to ensure passengers are happy and relaxed.”
This job has offered her travel opportunities to places she had never dreamt of going to before.
‘‘Every journey is an opportunity to experience new cultures and to interact with people from diverse backgrounds,” she says.
‘‘It is always a delight to discover new cities and revisit those that I have been to before.”
Multi-racial interactions begin long before Mariam’s plane starts taxiing on the runway, thanks to Emirates’ 20,000 flight attendants who are drawn from 150 countries.
India is Mariam’s favourite destination, owing to the sub-continent’s diverse cultures, sub-cultures, languages and dialects.
What are the key selling points for this career and why would a young person be interested?
‘‘First, if you do it for a long time, flying can become a lifestyle. Most air hostesses are offered the best accommodation, travel allowances and per diems,” she says, adding that this is the best job for those who are outgoing and adventurous in nature.
‘‘You always get to meet and interact with team members whom you have never flown with before, which is very exciting.”
But even though they might not always know each other before every flight, the team always has a common goal: To fly passengers to their destinations within a safe and exciting environment.
Major airlines also offer extensive training in the industry to boost their employees’ career development.’’
Additionally, flight attendants have a clearly defined career growth pattern.
“Beginners start at the economy class level before progressing to business class. You are then elevated to first class and later cabin supervisor and service trainer, depending on your interests. All these come with attractive perks,” she says.
The selection process in major airlines is, however, a highly competitive and rigorous exercise.
“Candidates who meet the basic requirements of personal presentation and etiquette are handpicked from dozens of applicants, after which they are interviewed on various aspects of the business,” says Mariam, who is also a a fitness coach and a gym trainer.
Once selected, the team is taken through an intensive training that covers the aspects of safety and security, customer service, grooming and general medical training.
“This is particularly necessary because it enables us to know how to handle medical emergencies on board whenever they occur.
“Unlike some careers, where you must have qualifications in that particular area, most airlines admit professionals from different academic backgrounds, with only basic training required.”
Mariam studied food and nutrition at the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in London, and also holds a higher national diploma in aviation management.
After employment, a candidate can further their studies and specialise in different areas. The downside of her job, she says, is jetlag.
“You fly through different time zones every day. When you leave Dubai for Chicago, for instance, you depart in the morning and arrive there while it’s still in the morning. This throwback upsets the body, and you have to adjust accordingly so that you can sleep.”
Mariam notes that getting used to jetlag takes time, and that the body naturally adjusts to cope favourably with the long flights.
‘‘When I arrive in Chicago in the morning, I usually go sightseeing and shopping in the city, then retire to bed at night. This allows me to sleep well. On average, we spend 50 hours in the city, and by the time we’re flying back, my body has relaxed adequately.”
Eating healthy foods and maintaining an active lifestyle is highly recommended for this kind of a job.
‘‘We’re encouraged to engage in sports, go to the gym, do yoga or meditation so we keep our bodies and spirit active,’’ she says.
A strong personality, a pleasant demeanour and positive attitude are crucial in this industry.
Mariam travels to seven or eight destinations in a week, and gets 10 to 12 days of rest every month. With such a compact schedule, meeting her family is not always possible, but her employer offers her a very decent incentive.
“The airline provides a concessional ticket for every crew’s family, which allows us to travel together with loved ones. Whenever I travel, I purchase tickets at discounted prices, or use the free tickets that the airline provides.”
Installation of WiFi on planes is one of the trends which is expected to enhance the flying experience for customers.
“It’s now possible to connect with your loved ones and go about your life from altitudes of 35,000 feet.”
But misconceptions about the career abound too. People assume that members of cabin crew are poor at maintaining lasting relationships because they are always travelling. This is false,” she observes.
Mariam is an avid reader too, with a particular bias for fiction.
“I like reading crime thrillers by John Grisham. I also love history. My most recent read is a book called Sapiens by Yuval Harari, which is a history of evolution of humankind until the 21st century.”
An ardent hiker, Mariam has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, Elbrus in Russia, Stok Kangri in northern India and Everest Base Camp in Nepal.