Adonis Diaries

The dark truth of cabin crew life: Sadness, sickness and loneliness

Posted on: July 24, 2016

The dark truth of cabin crew life: Sadness, sickness and loneliness

Trying to understand crew life is, for some people, almost a pastime.

And as a flight attendant of 17 years, trying to explain it to people has become like a second job.

It’s hard for others to understand how, when you can feasibly be almost anywhere, it feels like life expects you to be everywhere — which you will fail.

However, as much as I talk about it, some sides remain difficult to express. Some are simply quite personal. Others come off as complaints.

Essentially, I still love flying — but it’s glamorized and has real downsides that are often overlooked.

It serves no good purpose for these pitfalls to be denied, so I’m happy when they’re substantiated, like in this new report titled A Darker Side of Hypermobility from the University of Surrey in the UK and Lund University in Sweden.

As a cabin crew member I actually feel a sense of relief when I see these difficulties in print, being recognised and explored from the outside.

“See, we’re not making it up!” I want to say to the people/companies who meet such topics with suspicion.

Noor Khalil and Noor Jaber shared this link

What I have been talking about for a while! Rabih Banna

Here are just a few of the less-than-glamorous realities us crew members have to deal with:

• Loneliness and sadness

What much of the public sees in the crew lifestyle is adventurous individuals constantly surrounded by others either in airports or planes, in layover cities along with a group of colleagues or travelling on their own time on the privilege of leisure travel.

What they don’t see is that being surrounded by people all day means we crave time without anybody poking at us, asking us for something or just generally being no more than a few centimeter away at all times.

However, we often get into our hotel rooms, soaking in the silence and empty space for a couple of hours … and then feel a bit bored and lonely because now we’re isolated (presuming the layover is long enough).

What you want then is to be with someone you know and enjoy the company of, but those people are probably far away on a different time zone.

Sure we’ve got colleagues, and we do hang out, but they’re probably mere acquaintances. It’s not the same.

This is why, I think, so many crew members I know drink a lot, to pass the time and make mingling supposedly “easier”.

• Social disconnect

Being a flight attendant is the alchemy that has allowed me to marry what would normally be competing lifestyle dreams. In a sense I have it all!

I live abroad and maintain friendships all over the world, yet remain close to and see my family all the time; I have a dependable income yet have schedule flexibility to pursue other interests seriously. That’s awesome.

However, when you hear talk about us being unreliable friends or difficult partners, this explains why.

I feel like I manage three lives:

the one where I’m in the UK with my husband,

the one where I’m in the US with that family and

the one at work — which takes me away from both of the others.

Divvying time for these and keeping my scheduling straight is a constant challenge. I’m useless at acknowledging weddings, birthdays… and of course have to miss a lot of life events, family holidays and gatherings.

About 5 years ago I had a falling out with one of my dearest friends because of this. The short story is that I mixed up dates — they’re not my strong suit.

He travelled from Belgium to my apartment in the UK only to find himself locked out, at midnight, in an inconvenient part of town with all the local hotels booked full, because I had picked up a work trip to visit him. Super disaster.

We made up eventually, but I’m not sure it will ever be the same.

It’s hard for others to understand how, when you can feasibly be almost anywhere, it feels like life expects you to be everywhere — which you will fail.

When that happens loved ones are just made to feel unimportant. Ouch.

This is why it takes a special, understanding kind of person to be close to a flight attendant or pilot.

• Health issues

Fertility problems, cancer rates, jet lag, radiation exposure, repetitive motion injuries, unhealthy eating and (the aforementioned) alcohol habits and digestive problems — these are health issues that crew worry about and know too well, despite there being few organisations with the funding and interest to fully research the connections.

And, as the study A Darker Side of Hypermobility mentions, all these stresses could lead toward mental concerns in anyone.

Unfortunately, elements of our work environment and scheduling that minimise the physical stress of “hypermobility” (like proper recovery rest, regular sleep, access to food and good food choices) have the pesky downfall of being a drag on productivity, which is all the scheduling software cares about.

This conflict is simply in the nature of the business, but these items, which are really just the “human element”, definitely need attention and could use improvement in the airline world.

Studies like this — and the resulting awareness — are our best hope at pushback against “the optimiser” that builds our schedules.

I also write about this because airlines are hiring and the job is as popular as ever.

Often, flight attendant hopefuls and the newly hired are so excited about the glamorised aspects of the job that they just don’t see this “dark” side of it.

Some think we who talk about it have lost our appreciation for flying, but that’s not the case here.

Writers like me just want the picture to be realistic. I’d encourage anyone to take up the job, but I also want then to really know what they’re in for.

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