Depending on which airline you work for depends how long your Flight Attendant contract is. I was employed on a 3 year contract with the opportunity to sign up for another contract once I had successfully completed the first. But did I want to stay on as Cabin Crew in The Middle East? Or was I happy to do one contract and then leave?
Related reading: Best Jobs for Ex-Cabin Crew
My plan had always been to stay just for one contract. I never saw flying as a long-term career. For me it was always just a way to be able to travel and see the world for a few years before I would settle down. But it was a great job – the positives definitely outweighed the negatives. It seemed like the easy option to just renew another contract. Bu did I want easy, or did I want a challenge and to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new again?
So many crew say they will only stay for one contract and end up staying 10 years. Partly because it is a great lifestyle and partly because they just don’t know what other job they could do if they quit flying. I didn’t want to be like these people though, single and still flying at 40 years old! I had dreams and I didn’t want them to stay dreams forever – I wanted to put them into reality!
So I made a list of reasons to quit flying and leave the Middle East, and reasons to stay. Sometimes having everything written down in front of you can make difficult decisions easier. Here were my reasons:
Reasons To Stay And Renew My Flight Attendant Contract
Cheap Staff Travel Tickets
As airlines crew we have access to heavily discounted airfares. This has been one of my absolute favourite perks of the job! On days off I could literally get on a plane and take a cheap flight to wherever in the world I wanted! And not just on my airline – we have a contract with many other airlines so you can fly for cheap with them too! It means on your annual leave or days off you can pretty much take a flight anywhere you wish (providing there is a spare seat on the plane)! I often find living in The Middle East that I miss certain aspects of other countries and cultures, so it’s nice to be able to spend your days off somewhere new and exciting, as opposed to just staying at base.
The flights are cheap as you just pay 10% of the air fare, plus the tax. But you are on standby so you only get on if there’s space on the flight. Even if you book the flight last minute it is always be the same price which was good – especially if you’re a last minute planner like me! In our contract we also get one completely free flight a year to any destination that our airline flies to (no taxes to pay!). I often would use it to fly back home to London for a few days, as London Heathrow has the most expensive airport taxes in the world. Hehe smart I know. Therefore flights back home were never really cheap even when travelling on standby as the tax was so expensive, and I would rarely fly home on days off! Instead I would fly to new destinations as the staff travel flights were so much cheaper!
Even if you are never at home as you are flying or exploring a new country on your days off, it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to pay for accommodation! This is a huge plus as often accommodation costs can be a big chunk of your salary. We are given company provided Cabin Crew accommodation – like a giant University Halls of Residence. So you all live in the same blocks, often with one friend (usually the apartments are 2 bedrooms)! I have lived with a few different friends during my time as Cabin Crew and it was great as you wouldn’t be under each other’s feet as often one of you would be flying, so you would frequently have the place to yourself which was nice! Click here to see a video of our Cabin Crew accommodation!
Also, the only bill we had to pay for was the internet. All utility bills were taken care of. Again, this can lead to considerable savings.
Good Tax-Free Salary Every Month
As Cabin Crew in The Middle East our salary is often around £2,000 net per month. Obviously the exact amount would depend on the amount of hours we had flown that month and the layover allowance we received. And onboard leaders of course get a higher salary. As we don’t have to pay for rent or taxes, this monthly salary is basically ours to spend as we wish. Some crew save a lot of money, some spend a lot of money. Lots of crew are able to buy a property back home or support their family back home with the money they save. Some crew prefer to spend most of their money on their layovers and travelling on days off, others prefer to spend it on days/nights out in Dubai for example, with their friends on their days off.
Get Paid To Travel
Seriously, how many other people can say they get paid to travel? It’s something I have never taken for granted in this job.
The Job Is Enjoyable
Even though you’ll sometimes come across annoying passengers, the job is on the whole really fun! You’ll always meet another crew onboard who you can have a laugh and a giggle with, or that you connect with and can have some really interesting conversations. Once the meal services are over and all the safety checks are done and you have attended to passengers needs, you are in a sense getting paid to just sit and chat with your colleagues (or passengers). The job can be pretty stressful at times, but for the most part it’s a fun relaxing job. Pretty cool huh.
Geographically in The Middle East you are in a great location. In less than 6 hours you can fly to Europe, Asia or Africa – this is great if have a few days off! Whilst you’ll be a flight (or 2!) away from your home town, often you can still fly home on days off in you wish.
Life Is Easy
We get free transport to work, free dry cleaning of our uniform. The only thing we have to make sure of is that we turn up to work on time. That is literally our only worry!
So many reasons to stay in the job right! And now for my reasons to quit flying and leave:
Reasons To Leave
Not Many Genuine People
I’m sorry to say it but it’s what many people think. Lots of Flight Attendants can be quite artificial and superficial. If you’re not that kind of person yourself it can sometimes be hard to meet genuine people you connect with and form life-long meaningful friendships. I made a handful of amazing friends flying, as luckily not all crew are like this, but I did meet so many self-absorbed and self-obsessed people. They were only interested in spending money on botox, fillers or a new pair of lips or boobs. And I just couldn’t hack the mind-numbing conversations I had to listen to in the galley about it all.
Hard To Have A Serious Relationship
I’m not saying it’s impossible as I know several couples who have made it work and are really happy. But it IS hard to find a guy in The Middle East (Arabic or non-Arabic) who wants a serious relationship. Many ex-pats are in The Middle East for a good time, not a long time so many people aren’t interested in commitment, settling down and having something serious.
There are promiscuous people around, and it can be super easy for people to cheat on their partners if they are on a layover! It can be difficult being away from your partner for several days at once when you are flying. If the relationship is built on solid love, trust and respect it will go the distance. But so many crew would be in relationships and cheat on their partner and I just used to think what a waste. What is the point? I would rather be alone than in this kind of relationship.
Spending All My Free Time Blogging
For the past few months I had put all my spare time into my blogging. I was seeing progress slowly – every month my views were going up and my website was gaining more authority which was great so I wanted it to continue. But it became harder and harder to spend time with my friends any more, especially because I had also started doing collaborations and press trips in my spare time too!
I enjoy writing and sharing my tips, knowledge and adventures with people – it felt good to be productive and create something for myself on the days off where I wasn’t travelling. But between working full-time as a Flight Attendant and working on my blog and Instagram, I was starting to feel burnt out. Plus I would never get enough done on my blog as I would like which was frustrating! I wanted to blog full time but I also wanted to carry on being a Flight Attendant!
Can’t See Myself In The Middle East In The Long-Term
I struggled to adapt to the Arabic culture at times. Particularly as a Western Woman when I got into a relationship with an Arabic man. As Western Women we are raised completely different and have quite a different outlook on many things when compared to Arabic men. Take for example when I was having an argument with my Arabic boyfriend at the time. He would stop the argument and say what he said goes because the man’s decision is always final in his culture. There was no compromise there and I didn’t feel an equal.
I couldn’t see myself living in The Middle East long-term as I didn’t feel a deep connection to the place. Not like I did when I was living in Sicily for example. I missed the variety of landscapes, seasons and nature that other places possessed.
My Body Is Tired From Flying
My body just needs a break from flying. It is always tired as I’m not resting enough. This job takes a lot of energy from you, and I think a bit of time out would be good. I could always go back to flying in a few years if I really missed it and still hasn’t found Mr Right, right?
Flight Attendant Lifestyle
So how is our life as Flight Attendants in the Middle East? Do I want to continue? Tax free salary, free accommodation, free transport to work, free dry cleaning of uniforms, getting paid to travel the world, cheap plane tickets for personal travel, sounds like a great deal right? 3 years later and I still say this is the best job in the world!! Really I am so happy for this opportunity. We get it good and life is pretty simple – eat, sleep, travel – what’s not to love about that?! It’s great life being this simple, but we are in a bubble – this isn’t the real world. And at some point we will need to go back to ‘real life’. So why postpone it and make it harder to readjust if there’s a part of us that wants to leave?
What I disliked about myself since becoming Cabin Crew
One thing that I didn’t expect when I became a flight attendant was that I would feel constantly disorganised! I have never been one for routine – in my 10 years of working I never had a 9-5 job. I was always doing shift work, especially when I worked in Accident & Emergency. And I was fairly organised then – I was able to often work 6 days a week AND study to become a teacher AND do some interior design work on the side! (And still have time to dance in the salsa clubs 2 nights a week!).
But being a flight attendant, well time literally FLIES. You blink and a week has gone. My best friend from home was SHOCKED how I NEVER know what day of the week it is (and I am far from being the only cabin crew like this!!) – I just know how many days off I have until I am working again. Crazy right? Also as I was tired and jet lagged half the time it became hard to stay on top of little things and get even the small jobs done. I got quite disorganised and forgetful as a Flight Attendant and it started to annoy me about myself. It wasn’t just me though. Ask any flight attendant who has been flying a while, and they will tell you how their memory is definitely not as sharp as it used to be. Flying really takes it’s toll on your body and your mind.
Some Cabin Crew Get Lonely
Luckily I have always been an independent person so I never suffered with this. But some Cabin Crew in The Middle East get very lonely. Living away from their family and friends can be hard. Lack of sleep, time differences, failed relationships, everything can take its toll. Living in a country with a culture different to your own, with many different nationalities can overwhelm and isolate some people. Sadly I met so many crew who lost their sparkle. Cabin Crew life can be challenging and you just have to prepare yourself.
All the time we are flying hundreds of people back and forth to their loved ones. And it brings us so much joy, really it does. Yet sometimes it can make some crew feel more alone. This is why it is so important to find people who you connect with, and lean on them when you feel down.
Flight Attendant Schedule
I’d say the average international flight attendant gets 5 layovers per month plus 1 or 2 turnarounds. It doesn’t sound like we work a lot, but we work just as many hours as someone who works in an office, it’s just we work longer hours on certain days so it may look like we have more time off.
All the travelling sounds great, and I think one month I visited all 5 continents that we fly to! But every new flight is a new set of crew, and perhaps only a handful of times in the past 2 years have I flown with the same person twice. Therefore it can be a bit tedious or even overwhelming for some crew to have to start from scratch and form relations every single flight.
When you fly with one of your friends it is literally one of the best feelings ever – on the layover you feel like you’re on a holiday! I was SO lucky to have 56 hours in Sydney one New Years Eve with one of my best friends! We were almost crying on the way back to the airport as we had had the best time ever and didn’t want to leave!
What do Cabin Crew do on their layovers?
Sure, some layovers none of the other crew want to do anything – they are skint or tired or they have done all the sightseeing there ten times over. So you should really learn to start going out alone even if it feels scary at first! Initially I was scared to but now I love it and often sometimes prefer it! Sometimes I need the alone time after being confined in a metal tube with several hundred people! But on some flights I flew with people who were so lovely and we had an amazing time on the layover that they have now turned out to be some of my best friends!
What do Flight Attendants do in their spare time?
Sometimes you’ll have 3, 4 or sometimes even more days off in a row which is great – on days off I’ve had amazing trips to Jordan, Mauritius, Oman and Kenya to name just a few! My friends say I’m always travelling and it’s true – sometimes I am only at my apartment 2 days a month as I love travelling on my days off!
Not all crew are the same – many like to stay and catch up with friends, go to the gym on their days off, go partying, save money to send back to their families, or simply catch up on sleep. For others, their passport makes it hard for spontaneous travel as they require visas to visit a lot of countries.
Being friends with a Flight Attendant
I think it takes a real special, empathetic and patient person to be friends with a Flight Attendant and understand this life if they haven’t experienced it for themselves. A friend who understands that if you haven’t replied to their message for a few days, it doesn’t mean you are avoiding them. But that perhaps you have been without wifi for a couple of days, working on a 16 hour flight, or sleeping like a log for almost 18 hours and you still wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus, unsure what continent you are in right now.
Or perhaps you’re spending such precious and limited time with your loved ones now, that you don’t want to be on your phone for a second as you want to enjoy that moment with those people completely. Or perhaps you’re down because the lack of sleep and changing time zones just really affected you that day. Someone died onboard, screamed in your face, or perhaps a friend asked you to come round because she is so homesick right now. Who knows, there are thousands of reasons, just don’t take it personally and know we will reply back as soon as we can (and probably with a five minute voice recording as we need to update you with everything that’s happened in the last few days).
Missing important events due to work schedule
Know that if we say we can’t promise we can get home for a special occasion (Christmas, birthdays, funerals, weddings, leaving parties etc etc), that we really mean this. And it breaks our heart to say this, as we want to come back even more than you want us to come back and celebrate milestones with old friends and family. But sometimes we just don’t know our schedule from one week to the next. And sure we can request a flight or days off, and hope and pray like crazy that we get it, but there is no guarantee.
Many people not in the aviation industry find this difficult to understand as their jobs and days off are so rigid and they know months in advance when they will be off, that they find it hard that people can work off such a last minute schedule and be okay with it. Expect that not everyone is going to understand how your job works because they simply cannot relate to it.
Knowing that people start to see you as unreliable sucks. Especially when you actually are a reliable person, but your work sadly is not as flexible as you or others wish. I missed several funerals, leaving do’s, weddings; moments you can never get back or replicate, but when I knew friends and family back home understood, it made it a tiny bit easier.
Sometimes you didn’t even want to see the pictures afterwards as it made you feel too sad inside. You could have been celebrating with them, but instead you were stuck doing a 12 hour day flight to Bangladesh and back. Of course we would never choose this over being with our loved ones, and it is as little upsetting when people start to think that you can’t be bothered to come home and celebrate with them. But I guess sometimes people just don’t understand or even appreciate the effort involved from your side as it isn’t a regular job.
Losing friends when you become a Flight Attendant
Some people believe that the person who moved away should be the one to make the effort. But surely a friendship should be two-sided right, with both people making similar efforts? I was surprised when I moved away how some people who I thought I was close to, kept a distance. And others that I hadn’t seen as close friends at all, were checking in on me to see how I was doing. Not to get gossip, but because they genuinely cared I was doing ok in a new environment, and that they were happy for me.
Be prepared when you move away that certain friendships back home will change. And learn to be okay with it.
So what did I decide after all this? I decided to renew my Flight Attendant Contract just for a few more months, before moving to Australia. Leaving flying was a hard decision and a part of me will always miss it, but I was ready for a new chapter in my life. Australia here I come!