We see them at work, but what’s life really like for this country’s flight attendants? Zoe Osborne and Bao Zoan spend a day with two of VietJet Air’s cabin crew and tell us their story

 

Linh and Jeffrey joined VietJet Air because they wanted to be a part of the glamorous professional world of cabin crew travel. Now part of the team, they have discovered that flying for a living is far less glamorous than it seems, but also far more rewarding.

Step One

 

“I like to get up three hours before flight time,” says Linh. “So depending on my schedule, this often means I wake before sunrise.”

 

Born in Vung Tau, Linh studied a Bachelor of Business Administration in Ho Chi Minh City, before joining VietJet Air straight after graduating.

 

“I had the chance to travel at that time and I visited a few countries in Asia,” she says. “I remember seeing the VietJet Air crew, admiring their professionalism and style, and really wanting to join them.”

 

Luckily for her, the company was interviewing at the time, but she couldn’t go without her family’s blessing.

 

“In Vietnamese culture, the family stays together, so it is not common for a girl to live alone like I do,” she says. “I had to ask my family’s permission to work with VietJet Air, promising to come home if I could not support myself.”

 

Three years later, Linh is a purser, leading a cabin crew team of four (on A320 aircraft) and five (on A321 aircraft) on several flights a day.

 

Unlike Linh, Jeffrey had the support of his family when he decided to spread his wings. He left Malaysia seven months ago for a career with VietJet Air, having been recruited in his hometown, Malacca.

 

“I am the youngest of four, with three elder sisters, and it was very hard to leave them all,” he says. “I had graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts and wasn’t sure what to do next, when my friend suggested I try out for a place on the VietJet Air team.”

Come Fly With Me

 

Each morning, VietJet Air flight attendants are instructed to arrive at their base airport an hour before flight time, for a team briefing on the weather at their destination, safety procedures, the passengers and the aircraft. The crew members will then ensure that their plane has all the required safety and service equipment, before tidying the cabin and welcoming passengers on board.

 

In the air, the flight attendants are required to manage more than just F&B.

 

“We run cabin service and the merchandise sales, but we also ensure passengers safety during the flight,” says Jeffrey. “We must be alert at all times.”

 

“All new flight attendants spend three to four months in training before flying, learning about safety policies and airport security,” says Linh. “We go over safety procedures every morning before work, and we are well-trained in how to react to an emergency.”

 

In order to have a safe and comfortable fight, staff must be able to communicate effectively.

“In my experience, any issue in-flight can be resolved if we take the time to understand each other,” says Linh. “It is important to stay professional and to listen.”

 

If a flight attendant speaks a certain language, the airline will often roster them on to flights that visit corresponding destinations. Jeffrey speaks Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, Cantonese and English, and Linh speaks English and Vietnamese.

 

“It’s also about the way you speak,” says Linh. “You have to be well-spoken as well as fluent.”

 

Personal appearance is another top priority for any flight attendant, since they carry the airline’s brand. “It’s not about having a beautiful face,” says Jeffrey. “It’s about your personal presentation — how you talk, style yourself, behave, etc. When people see you, they see VietJet Air.”

 

In order to maintain a standard across all of its cabin crew, the company has a guidebook outlining etiquette for various parts of the job, from personal grooming to how to serve an in-flight meal.

In the Clouds

 

With 63 flight routes, 37 flying domestic and the rest flying international, VietJet Air caters to thousands of customers each day. The company employs over 700 cabin crew from Asia and some areas of Europe.

 

Because there are so many of them and each jet holds only four staff members, many flight attendants could work for years for the company without meeting.

 

“It means that we always have to be open to working with new people,” says Linh. “We have to form a functional team with people we may have never met.”

 

Each month, staff are given a schedule outlining their working hours for that month. The cabin crew typically work three or four days in a row followed by a few days off, and most monthly schedules will have several standby afternoons or mornings rostered in.

 

Having flown to a new destination, cabin crew members will make sure their guests are ready for landing, thank them for a pleasant trip and help them off the plane. They will then begin team cleanup and debriefing.

 

“We will go back to the VietJet Air office and meet up to debrief about the flight,” says Linh. “I am the purser so I have to make records about the flight and the aircraft equipment, and the pilot must make his own records too.”

 

Is it Lonely Up There?

 

Both Jeffrey and Linh live far from their families and are always on the move, so they have had to learn a new way to form and maintain connections with the people they care about.

 

“Since VietJet Air has bases in all its major destinations, they have staff living on the ground at each place,” says Jeffrey. “We are moved to different cities periodically.”

 

To Jeffrey, this represents a chance to explore, and he is consistently blown away by how diverse Vietnam is from north to south. “Being away from my family and friends is hard,” he says, “but I am not really lonely — I meet new people every day!”

 

Linh also misses her family, especially since her schedule often clashes with theirs. “Flight attendants either work nights or days for a whole month,” she says. “When my schedule is at night time it’s hard to meet up, and if my time off is during the week my family are all at work.”

 

Distance can be hard for relationships, but both Linh and Jeffrey have managed to find lasting love even with their busy schedules.

 

“My girlfriend was in the same cohort as me coming into VietJet Air,” says Jeffrey. “We met just after training, and now she is based in Hanoi with me, with a lot of the same days off. We like to explore the city together.”

 

Linh’s boyfriend also works for VietJet Air, and they met while working on a flight. “When we met he had a lot of experience and I was new to the job,” says Linh. “We are both pursers now so we can’t fly together, but we meet whenever we are in the same city.”

 

When asked what they want to do in the future, Jeffrey and Linh said they wanted to keep flying. They hope to continue working with VietJet Air, perhaps be on call less and make more decisions, but they have no intention of changing career path. Their hours are not typical working hours, they are far from loved ones and their job is hard, but at the end of the day the two of them are happy and inspired.

 

It just goes to show — a day in the life of a flight attendant may not be as glamorous as it seems, but it is just as exciting. 

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