Here at AeroTime, we often ask people about their journey to a career in aviation and most answer with a tale about childhood ambition or cite an event that sparked a love of flying. But career trajectory is not always so clearly defined. For Dace Straupmane, the path to aviation was quite accidental.
After completing a fashion design degree in Riga, Latvia, Dace decided to take a gap year in sunny Cyprus. But when she returned to Latvia, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was lacking. Soon, she was introduced to the aviation industry and found the missing piece to the puzzle.
She says: “I felt that the one thing I was missing was this international, multicultural environment, and, at that time, our national carrier airBaltic was recruiting for cabin crew and so I decided to try my luck.”
Currently, Dace works as a recruitment specialist at SmartLynx Airlines. But Dace’s aviation journey began back in 2008 when she worked as a cabin crew member at the Latvian national carrier, airBaltic. Then, in December 2013, she transferred to SmartLynx Airlines, where she quickly took on coaching and mentoring roles. Two years later, she became a senior training specialist and became involved in the airline’s recruitment process.
She explains: “My roles in the cabin came quite naturally. I started as cabin crew and the next step was to become a senior cabin crew member. As a senior cabin crew member, you are the one person who is leading by example, the one who your teammates and other crew members can approach for advice.”
But she is often surprised by her unusual path to the industry. “It’s been such a long, long journey for me,” she says. “It’s actually shocking that I’m still in aviation.”
However, Dace quickly became an integral part of her team, providing guidance to new members joining the airline.
She says: “I always liked looking after our newcomers as well as helping and assisting them. This came quite organically and, later on, I had the opportunity to join a flight salesperson of the year competition in the UK.”
She continues: “I was inspired by the competition, and after the event we decided to implement a service manual at SmartLynx, which we had never done before.”
At the time, the carrier operated with a small number of cabin crew, but was preparing to expand. Dace says that creating newcomer guidelines and a service manual played a crucial role in achieving this target. For Dace, who was given “complete freedom” to design the service training, her involvement in implementing this new process as a significant achievement. The result was well-received and assisted her team to deliver exceptional in-flight service.
She adds: “For me, the biggest achievement was to see the crew members working according to the plan and delivering the best service they can on board aircraft.”
Already passionate about training and coaching, Dace was excited to accept a position in recruitment. Initially, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was offered the chance to participate in the carrier’s hiring process. When Dace adopted the role of senior training specialist, becoming more involved with SmartLynx Airlines’ employment processes, she was able to hone her recruitment skills.
She says: “That was really the moment or period where I understood that I’m really passionate about recruitment. During the interview process, you’re getting to know people and asking them questions and finding out what motivates them. You also get the chance to be inspired by them.
“As a senior cabin crew member, I had the opportunity to observe the newcomers joining the airline. So, I was always thinking about why specific people were selected and trying to understand that.”
Dace also acted as conflict manager and was responsible for resolving issues between passengers and the cabin crew. She believes that situational awareness is an essential skill for cabin crew members.
“You have to pay attention when people board the aircraft,” Dace explains, “Those are the few moments when you really need to have perfect judgment skills.”
She continues: “If you see a passenger who is already acting aggressively during boarding or is intoxicated and creating trouble, then you need to make a decision to either lead this person on board or not. The next step is cooperation with the pilots and coming to a decision because if things are escalating on the ground, then why lead the situation to escalate it in the air?”
Incident prevention is a crucial part of any flight attendant’s role. Limited action can be taken at 36,000 feet, and there’s a risk of escalation at such high altitudes, so it’s imperative for risks to be assessed while passengers are still on the ground.
Dace adds: “The priority is the safety of the crew and other passengers. I think you need to be a good judge of character and notice those little details during boarding.”
Today, Dace’s career has transitioned from the aircraft cabin to an office, where she now works as a recruitment specialist in the human resources department at SmartLynx Airlines. She arrived at the role quite unexpectedly and was, in part, influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dace says: “As cabin crew, I believe our strongest skills are adaptability, flexibility and crisis management. So, when everything stopped, I wasn’t panicking. I was thinking ‘what’s my next step?’ and as I had already had a taste of recruitment and its processes, I got the idea that it was something I would like to continue.
But Dace didn’t secure her position at SmartLynx straightaway.
“I started working as a technical recruiter at another agency in a different field. This was completely new, but I really used this time to learn new skills and propel my career in another direction. I then applied for another position in SmartLynx Airlines and, initially, it wasn’t recruitment. But it’s a long story. However, here I am now. I’m super grateful and I love it.”