An Inside Look at a Day in the Life of an Emirates Flight Attendant
Dubai-based carrier Emirates Airline has a team of cabin crew made up of more than 20,000 individuals who travel from across the globe to move to the destination and become part of one of the world's top airlines.
Crew members receive accommodation in Dubai and conduct extensive training to ensure a safe and smooth flight for passengers, learning everything from how to deliver babies mid-flight to how to conduct water landings, all while traveling to exotic locales around the world.
The airline has the industry's largest fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft, which is the world's largest passenger plane at a capacity of up to 853 passengers spread across two floors. Working with such a large aircraft presents its own scenarios for crew members, with plenty of tucked-away spaces they utilize throughout the plane.
Travel + Leisure took a look at what a day in the life of an Emirates flight attendant is like, from what they do before you arrive at the airport to what happens while we're sleeping and how they stay healthy while spending so many hours in the sky.
Moving to Dubai:
Since the airline is based in Dubai, new hires move to Dubai on a Friday, starting with the induction portion of their training that involves roughly eight days of processes like visa applications, cultural acclamation, and accommodation setup.
The airline provides its crew members with accommodations throughout Dubai, some of which are located in hotspots like the Dubai Mall and others that let residents wake up to views of the Burj Khalifa.
“You get times where you have a two or three bedroom apartment that feels like your own, and days where you can make it your own little family with your flatmates in Dubai,” cabin crew member Ashley Matsumura, who has been a flight attendant with the airline for seven years, told T+L.
"We have some 22,000 crew members here, so it can feel like a little city of our own," Matsumura added.
Newly-hired crew spend around two months receiving training at the airline's facility, which is home to three different aircraft simulators brought in from Germany that allow airline staff to mimic real-life scenarios they may face during flights, ranging from putting out fires to conducting water landings and using evacuation slides.
Before a Flight:
Crew arrive to the airline’s headquarters located right next to the Dubai International Airport roughly two hours before morning flights to run through flight briefings.
The airline provides transportation to and from work areas, which can take anywhere from five to thirty minutes depending on what accommodation crew is traveling from.
The airline has a mini-airport within its headquarters for crew, which is where cabin crew go through security, before briefing for about 30 minutes to go over flight details like the flight's length, capacity, expected services, and expected areas of the flight where crew could face turbulence.
After briefing, crew board Emirates’ buses and travel through an underground tunnel that connects from the headquarters to the airport, but because of the massive size of the airport, the ride can take anywhere from two to 25 minutes depending on what side they enter from.
Safety and Security:
When aviation first took off in the early 1900s, stewardesses were required to be registered nurses, and the emphasis on passengers’ safety still remains in the role today.
When crew arrive to the airport, they run a safety check for equipment like fire extinguishers and for medical documentations and sterilization tools to ensure a clean environment.
Crew will also check for safety items like a megaphone, which they use to be able to communicate with passengers in emergency cases where the electricity might cut out thanks to the large size of the A380.
Getting Into Uniform:
Flight attendants have uniform requirements they need to follow when stationed over 30,000 feet above ground. They'll start with a full uniform during boarding, changing into flat shoes and a waist coast after takeoff to conduct the service portion.
As part of their training, crew go through image training, learning how to do everything from tie a French roll to how to prepare and maintain their skin during flights.
Crew also learn about details like the approved nail polish tones (specific beige tones, light pink hues, and French manicures) and shades of red lipstick they can wear for the airline's signature look.
To become a cabin crew member with the airline, an individual must be at least 21 years old, fluent in English, have a high school education, and have no visible tattoos when wearing the uniform.
Physical requirements also include a minimum height of 160 centimeters (about 5’2”) and a minimum arm reach of 212 centimeters (about 6.9 feet) to ensure crew members can reach emergency equipment on the airline’s aircraft.
Once the safety check process is complete in about 15 to 20 minutes, crew start pouring the welcome drinks offered to first and business class passengers.
Passengers in both cabins receive complimentary champagne and fruit juices to sip before departure, which cabin crew will prepare to hand out to passengers when they board the aircraft.
Since economy class hosts a larger number of passengers, cabin crew will first seat and situate passengers before coming through the aisles to pass out menus and amenity kits.
A Bar in the Middle of an Aircraft:
One of the noted features passengers flying with Emirates on the A380 will find is the onboard lounge, where business and first-class passengers can enjoy a range of cocktails made by cabin crew members.
First-class passengers will also find a bar and social space that converts to the waterfall area outside of the famed shower spa.
On flights, a dedicated cabin crew member will work the onboard lounge, setting up the bar after takeoff and serving drinks that range from champagne with Hennessy X.O., orange bitters, and a cherry, to a classic martini made with Sipsmith London Dry Gin, a hint of Martini Extra Dry, and an olive.
Serving and Monitoring:
Since safety is a top priority, cabin crew are trained in hand-to-hand combat, identifying suspects, and using a passenger's body weight against him/her if needed, though Matsumura has found that typically the worst situation cabin crew might deal with is an intoxicated passenger.
When it comes to avoiding intoxicated passengers, crew can often tell when people have been drinking before boarding and monitor the number of drinks passengers are ordering to ensure a safe environment.
Food services vary from cabin to cabin and include special touches like warm towels that are soaked with a boiling water tap located in the galley.
First-class dining is offered as an on-demand service, with passengers able to order items throughout their flight. The airline has more than 60 different kinds of cheese offered to passengers throughout its cabins, which crew members also receive training on to be able to answer questions about and offer suggestions for during flights.
In economy and business class, cabin crew take meal orders, though passengers can also order additional light selections ranging from choices like fruit and snack bars in economy to Caesar salad in business class.
While most items are pre-plated, crew members will heat the dish add final touches like garnishes on plates before serving.
Time to Eat:
Dishes are pre-cooked at the airline’s catering facility and made to be served within 72 hours, with cabin crew heating the items using the ovens in the galley.
Transporting food from one floor to the other can get tricky on such a large aircraft, which is why the aircraft has an elevator for carts to allow crew to transport them up and down floors for food service.
Steak is also one of the trickiest items to prepare, since crew need to time the heating instructions precisely to ensure it is cooked exactly to passengers' preference (which can vary greatly).
Cabin crew are provided meal selections during flights that usually include a hot meal choice with both chicken and beef options, a vegetarian plate, sandwiches, healthy options like fruits and salads, and dry snack foods like almond butter and miniature Nutella packets.
Sliding tray tables located in the galley and on jumpseats provide a space to prop meals on when crew are looking to eat in between services.
Sometimes crew members sit and eat together in the galley, depending on how full a flight is, or will otherwise take shifts for breaks.
Flights can be as long as 16 hours, which is why crew often pack snacks like fresh fruit and medication kits that include vitamin C to maintain energy.
Since cabin crew can deal with varied hours, often landing at times like 4 a.m. when it’s too early for breakfast and too late for dinner, Matsumura often turns to fresh juices to ensure she gets nutrients when having a full meal is not an option.
She also packs ginger tea bags to combine with lemon and honey that are available on flights and collagen sachets she uses to combine with water to help her skin retain a youthful glow when dealing with variations in humidity during flights.
The airline also provides crew a dedicated medical staff and nutritionists who teach crew everything from exercises to conduct in hotel rooms to skincare regimes to follow for shifting time zones.
Every crew member has an assigned role during a flight, which is determined based on where they sit. Cabin crew members sitting to the right and left jumpseat of the cabins are typically working those cabins, each responsible for the side of the cabin they’re seated at.
The galley operator will prepare the welcome drinks, towels, and amenity bags for crew to distribute, while another cabin crew member manages the onboard lounge.
The purser, who manages staff across the cabins and corresponds with the pilot, switches crew members' positions each flight and is also responsible for conducting certain paperwork and playing the videos seen on seatback screens from a dedicated office hidden on the aircraft.
Crew looking to move up can advance to a cabin supervisor in three years and to a purser after another two years.
After carrying out meal services, cabin crew will sweep through the cabin and then turn on the mood lighting, which includes tiny stars to lull passengers to sleep. Cabin crew also set up mattresses for first and business-class passengers to provide a more comfortable seating arrangement.
Cabin crew members also take turns resting during this time, as they have mandatory rest times which vary depending on the duration of a flight. Crew members have sleeping quarters tucked into the aircraft that they can retreat to when it is time to rest.
To prepare for landing, crew remove any waste, glassware, and items left on tray tables from the galley. Since economy has a higher number of passengers, crew do this in economy before landing, while items in business and first class are removed while economy passengers disembark the aircraft.
On shorter flights, crew could be on the ground for as little as an hour and half to two hours before heading on another flight while longer flights include a 24-hour layover. Flights to the U.S. typically include two-day layovers, with the airline setting up accomodation and transportation for crew once they land.
A Life of Travel:
“Many of us said during our interviews that we have a passion for travel, and we get to see so many places in the world I didn’t even know existed,” Matsumura told T+L. “I never imaged someday that I’d be on a safari in Zimbabwe.”
In addition to free accommodation, transportation, and meal allowances during layovers, crew also get 30 days of vacation, discounted travel for friends and family, and one free ticket to their home country each year (which they can switch to any country the airline flies to after three years).