What would it be like to be a ... Flight Attendant?

We asked Geoff Brown – an international
flight attendant – about what it is like to have a job that sees him fly around the world every week.

Why did you become a flight attendant and how old were you were when you began?

I remember when I was very young growing up in Sydney my Grandmother took me on a long train trip to the Blue Mountains. The train carriage was a double-decker one. I remember walking around offering cups of water to the other elderly passengers. I was only about 8 and I really enjoyed helping the people. I then went on a plane trip and remember seeing people serving food and drinks to all the passengers and I thought that’s what I would like to do some day. So when I left school at 17 I worked in several customer service jobs and then worked as a Travel Consultant and then in Hotels. I think this helped when get the job as a
flight attendant. I got the Job in Oct 1993 and started in January 1994. I was 29 .

In What types of planes do you fly?

When I started I was trained on several aircraft types:

737 400, 737 800, 767 200, 767 300, 767 Rolls Royce, Airbus 310 200, Airbus 310 300, Airbus 330 200, Airbus 330 300, 747 300, 747 400, 747 Long Range.
I now mainly fly on the 747 Long Range and 767 300 and the Airbus 330 300. All these are with two engines except the 747 which has four engines.

The three types of planes in which Geoff flies: on the left is a 747 Long Range, on the top-right is a 767 300 and on the bottom-right is the Airbus 330 300.

What do you have to do before the plane takes off?

As I am an International [overseas]
flight attendant and the flight leaves at 12.00 noon, I must arrive at the Airport at 10.30am - one and a half hours before the aircraft takes off. I sign on to a computer to say that I have arrived at work, check if there are any problems and then attend a meeting with all the cabin crew for that flight. This is called a briefing. In this briefing we are informed what type of passengers we will be expecting for that flight, eg. If anyone needs extra help like Mothers with newborn babies, if there are elderly or wheelchair passengers or people who have a disability like blindness or who are deaf. We find out how many people will be travelling that day and how many special meals have been ordered. Some people have special dietary requirements and order special meals, for example vegetarians, religious-based meals or allergy related meals. On our Menu when you make your reservation there are over 15 different types of special meals we can supply.

Once this meeting is over we then arrive at the aircraft. After we secure [put on the aircraft] our own luggage we must check that all the emergency equipment is in working order and that it is in its correct place, eg fire extinguisher, medical equipment, oxygen, etc. Usually for each crew member there are about 12 things that have to be checked. Then the cabin needs to be ‘dressed’ ready for our passengers: Headphones placed on each seat, in-flight toiletries are on each seat.
All the meals are counted and that all the seats are cleaned and tidied. This could take about 15 minutes. Then the passengers arrive.

On the aircraft I fly on we have up to 400 passengers so this can take about 40 minutes to get everyone on board. Then the most important thing we do is, before we take off, is the safety demonstration. This is where we show all the passengers how to use their seatbelt. We show where the exit doors are, how to use the oxygen and life jackets.
All this is very important for the passengers. Then we tell them to sit back and relax and enjoy the flight.

What are your jobs whilst the plane is in the air?

We have several jobs to do. After take off we offer everybody a menu for the flights meals. Then we do a bar service where we offer everyone a drink before the meal service. After the bar service we clear the cabin of rubbish. Then we start the meal service. After the meal service we do a coffee and tea service. Then we collect all the trays. Then we offer an ice cream to everyone. Then we offer a snack service which includes your own special snack bag with treats and water in it along with a hot chocolate or a peppermint tea. This all takes about 4-5 hours to do.

Once we have finished this meal service we have to do what we call the cart exchange. We move all the meal carts from the main deck to what we call the upper deck and swap them over using a very small elevator. We then bring down to the main deck all the meals for our breakfast service which will be in about 6 hour’s time. Then we move through the cabin offering all our passengers duty free shopping. Passengers can purchase [buy] lots of items [things] discounted [cheaper than in shops] and have then delivered to their seat. It’s a fun way to shop! Then we usually answer many call buttons. This is where a passenger can press a button and the
flight attendant will appear. Some people would like a drink or something extra to eat or would like a blanket or pillow. Throughout this time the passenger can watch over 150 different movies or TV shows!

The newest planes all come equipped with TV screens in the backs of the chairs and over 150 programs from which to choose!

Where have you flown and worked as a flight attendant

I have been very lucky and have been to many destinations. Here they are: Australia
- Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston, Adelaide, Perth, Karratha, Kalgoorlie, Broome, Darwin, Alice Springs, Sydney, Brisbane, Coolangatta, Townsville, Cairns. Mackay, Hamilton Island. New Zealand - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch. United States - Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Hawaii. I’ve also flown as a flight attendant to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan and London.

Some people are really nervous when flying. How do you help them calm down?

Usually what I do when I know that there is a nervous passenger is I run down the aircraft with an Oxygen Mask on my face yelling, “Just relax, everything is O.K.!!!!!” … No, seriously, we talk to the person and find out why they are nervous. We reassure them that flying is the safest means of transport in the world. There are more car accidents every minute around the world so up in the air you are very safe.

When you fly to the USA it must take a long time. How long does it take?

Yes, you’re right! The flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles is the longest flight in the world. This flight can take up to 14 hours and coming home can take 15 and a half hours. If you are flying on the new Double Decker Airbus A380 this can take an extra 1and a half hours to get to Los Angeles This aircraft is bigger but slower.

The time seems to go by very quickly because there is always something to do.
Remember, when we go to work we start one and a half hours before the flight and when the flight lands we work for another 30 minutes. So my work day is between 16 to 17 hours.

Do you get to have a sleep on the long trips and, if you do, where do you sleep on the plane?

This is a very good question. As a
flight attendant an aircraft is my workplace and my office. So, in a normal workplace, like a school, your teacher will have times off for meals and a break, such as recess and lunch. Like your teacher we need the same time to rest. There are 3 special seats in the cabin (separated by a curtain) for the crew to have a rest break and a meal. We also have bunks hidden under the tail of the aircraft.

On a 747 Jumbo there are 8 bunk beds in a very small dark room. Remember as
flight attendants our work day is usually 17 hours. So we need to have a place where we can lie down. In the tail of the aircraft it can be very bumpy so if flight attendants lie down we have to clip on our seatbelts. On the aircraft I usually have a rest or eat my meal on what we call a ‘jump seat’. This is the seat that a flight attendant must sit on for take off and landing. So I usually sit there and eat my meal … next to the toilet and garbage bin!

Have you ever been in an emergency?

Yes, I have been in a couple of take-off emergencies. This is what I have been trained for and, thankfully, all went well.
Air travel is the safest form of transport in the world.
How do you cope with little kids screaming on the aircraft throughout the flight?

People think that the overhead lockers are just for putting your bags in.
Well, screaming little kids better look out!!!!

No, we don’t do that. Most kids are very excited about coming aboard an aircraft. We have different kids activity packs that we give to kids for FREE. So with the TV and games most kids enjoy the flight. So if you’re off on a long journey don’t forget to pack some games and books. We have some too if you need more.

Some people don’t like plane food. I like it though! Do you think it’s OK?

If you are flying on a Premium [first class] Airline then on all your flights you will be served food and a beverage [drink].
Some airlines charge you for food and drink. This type of flight is called ‘no frills’ or ‘Discount [price cut] Airline. Planes carried food because many years ago, when it used to take 2 days to get to London or America from Australia, the flights took so long time you needed food. It also helps you relax and help you sleep. So we have kept that tradition going. The Airline I work for has won many awards around the world for Airline meals and catering. Every time you fly you will experience different choices of hot meals, cold meals, refreshments and who would have thought that flying 11 kilometres above the ocean you could be enjoying an ice cream!

Airline food: not bad, eh!

Do you have any funny stories to tell about flying?

There are so many stories to tell that I am laughing right now thinking about them! I have been told to write a book on the funny situations we have on board so if I tell you about them you won’t buy my book. Well maybe just one …

Once there was a man sitting in the second row of Business class .
He was choking on a piece of beef stew when I turned up to help him. I saw him cough up the beef that was causing him to choke and it flew over the seat in front of him and landed in a lady passenger’s hair. I could not believe what I saw! The Lady didn’t know that this had happened. We were laughing so much we never told her! So she left the flight saying what a lovely meal and service she had received, not knowing that she was taking some of the meal home with her, with beef and gravy dripping from her hair.

Remember, if on a flight and you hear someone cough, then duck down !

I think Paris G would like to be a flight attendant by the way she was so eager to draw the one we see here.

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