Not Your Waitress: Why Cabin Crews Have One Of The Toughest Jobs

Here’s the raw truth: the cabin crew are NOT your in-flight waitresses!

So, why then are they constantly treated as such? Ensuring passengers enjoy their flight is a major part of the job, but too often, people forget that a cabin crew member’s number one priority is to ensure passenger safety. In the event of an emergency, these men and women are burdened with having to put everyone else’s wellbeing before theirs.

Sheryne, a flight attendant on a Malaysian airline, shared an experience from one of her colleagues while together on the same flight. As per usual, the cabin crew were making their rounds, checking that everyone was wearing their seatbelt just before landing. Just then, a middle-aged man insisted on using the washroom. Sheryne’s colleague had no choice but to abide by the rules, and told him to kindly wait until after landing for safety reasons. The man then exclaimed, word-for-word, “You’re just a cabin crew, you’re nothing.”

Another instance relayed by Sheryne is of a woman who simply couldn’t wait for her cup of coffee. As you may know, seatbelt signals will turn on whenever there’s turbulence. During this period, hot beverages are not to be served, as the rocky movement of the plane may cause spills, potentially scalding a passenger or those around him/her. After being declined her hot coffee, this stubborn passenger rudely snapped at Sheryne, “I don’t care whether the seatbelt sign is on or not, I just treat you as a waitress.”

Sadly, flight attendants have to take this kind of treatment in stride all too often, whatever airline they’re working with across the globe. Of course, these particular passengers don’t account for all passengers either, like how not all restaurant patrons are rude to the service staff. However, being polite doesn’t require much effort.

There’s even a blog post by a Singaporean former air hostess named Hilary, who fully details her experience as an air stewardess with Singapore Airlines. She accounts missing out on birthdays, festivities, and in particular, her grandmother’s passing.

An excerpt of her post says, “It got so bad to a point where I used to cry before going on flights. I cried because I dreaded going to work, I dreaded the work itself – the non-stop labour intensive work where you literally walk to London… you won’t know what you’re in for until you finally join this industry.” She then goes on to explain that besides missing out on festivities, she’d spend them all alone in a foreign place.

Hilary also explains how the immense fatigue of being part of a cabin crew can take a toll on one’s physical and mental wellbeing. Having spent a few years as a waitress at a well-known Japanese restaurant during my school years, I can clearly recall the exhaustion every night after work, having to put my feet up against a wall to promote blood flow and ease the pain. I can only imagine having to serve in heels, 35000 feet in the air, at ungodly hours, and for extended periods of time.

“The kind of fatigue a crew experiences is unlike normal fatigue. It’s hard to explain, it’s like a combination of physical fatigue, mental fatigue, being on your feet for hours, and also the result of being stuck in a metal tube with low oxygen levels and breathing in recycled air filled with millions of germs,” she says in her piece.

In fact, disruptions in the human circadian rhythm (natural sleep patterns) and prolonged exposure to radiation (which increases the higher the altitude) have been proven to increase chances of cancer in pilots and flight attendants. You can read the recently-published study Environmental Health here.

With every job comes its occupational hazards and health concerns, but going against the laws of nature on the daily just to ensure the safety of passengers is on a whole other level. Hilary further stresses the other health risks that many stewardesses face. “I’ve heard stories of stewardesses having difficulties conceiving. Some have to quit first, rest their bodies for a few months, and only then are they able to conceive.”

So, the next time you find yourself on a flight, keep in mind that in an emergency, the first person to risk his or her life for you is the cabin crew. A simple gesture like asking how they’re doing, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or even buying snacks for the crew goes a long way. “Even a simple “Thank you so much for taking care of us” just warms my heart. It makes me so happy that suddenly all the tiredness and anger that was in me just dissipates. It’s like all my slogging during the flight was all worth while.”

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A world record holding powerlifter, Shen is passionate in encouraging women to be more in tune with their bodies and to regain their confidence through fitness. She currently works as a membership consultant, freelance writer and is in the works of launching her own startup before she embarks on the treacherous journey that is college.