It has been almost eight years since Kristina began flying for the largest air carrier in the United Arab Emirates.
Kristina’s desire to experience other cultures led her to apply for a job as a flight attendant at the Dubai-based airline, Emirates, where she was able to realize her dream of traveling the world.
She says: “When I left [Lithuania], which was 11 years ago, I [relocated] to study in the United Kingdom where I had this first feeling of freedom and an eagerness to travel. I really wanted to see the world and that’s what encouraged me to search for a flying job. The first airline I checked was Emirates and, since it was ranked very high, I told myself that I would love to work for them.”
After beginning her career as a member of the Economy cabin crew member, Kristina was promoted to serve Business Class passengers. While this may seem like an enviable and attractive career option, the role also comes with its own sacrifices and risks.
Kristina explains: “I never thought that being a flight attendant [would offer] you so much freedom and lift your wings up so much. Now, I realize that it’s one of the greatest jobs ever if you want to travel.
“But being a cabin crew [member] is a very responsible job, which requires you to balance your personal and professional life. You need to eat healthy, exercise and take enough rest. Otherwise, the constant change [in] time zones [as well as] following different timings for eating and sleeping can lead to insomnia or fatigue. So, self-care is one of many important aspects in our job.”
But practicing self-care was not Kristina’s only concern. It was also important to keep abreast of continually changing industry regulations alongside frequently undergoing necessary training at the airline’s college.
She says: “[People think that] the main job of a cabin crew member is to take care of the passengers on board. But we must also make sure that everything is secured before the departure and our equipment is not damaged. We strictly follow our safety regulations. So, it’s not just like we [only] serve the travelers a beautiful [in-flight] experience.”
She continues: “We have to be very vigilant on board to notice if somebody is doing something wrong, so we can address and fix the issue on the spot and avoid any unexpected emergencies on board.”
An unexpected lockdown
Kristina feels like the first four years of her career were perfectly balanced. She would regularly be permitted 14 days off, which she used to spend enjoying a glamorous Dubai lifestyle. But, following Emirates’ decision to expand its network, Kristina soon found that her job became busier.
She says: “Because I’m a very outgoing person, I used to go everywhere, the beach, the beautiful desert and mountains, and I still go there. But, in recent years and before the pandemic, our workload increased so much that I [felt like I was] working so hard. It was crazy. I was getting only eight days off a month, like a regular employee who works on the ground, which was not enough because the recovery of a body takes longer after certain flights.
“I even had some thoughts about leaving the company and starting a new job. But then the pandemic [happened].”
When a stringent lockdown was imposed in Dubai, Kristina reveals that, although she was used to traveling and being busy, she was not too upset. But she still felt enormous pressure. For Kristina, the biggest challenge was to remain calm while facing uncertainty about her employment.
She says: “The lockdown in Dubai was very strict. Talking about my job, I felt more physically relaxed because I could sleep and eat at the proper time. I felt good because [lockdown] gave me the joy of taking a break from my duties.
“But mentally, I felt some kind of psychological pressure since I could not do anything, could not go outside and could not fly to visit my family.”
Soon, gloomy stories began circulating and hundreds of colleagues lost their jobs. Despite a pristine employment record, Kristina began to doubt her future at the airline.
She says: “I stopped flying for four months until I got my first flight [and] just to keep my license valid. I was doubting if I should actually stay [at Emirates] or not because the period was stressful and lots of my colleagues were laid off.
“I kept asking myself ‘do I have a plan?’ [and wondering] what I should do and would I return to my home country or [if it would] be better to stay here in Dubai.”
Aviation was Kristina’s passion for almost a decade, but she eventually made the decision to take four months of unpaid leave. Kristina missed her family, so she left Dubai when the opportunity arose.
She says: “I stayed in Lithuania for two months and reconnected with my relatives living there. I wanted to know how it would feel if I returned to my home country because it has been so many years since I left, and I liked it. I saw plenty of opportunities to happily come back, find a job, and live there if needed.”
Freedom and flying
The journey back home instilled Kristina with a sense of confidence and security about the future. During this time, it was not possible to get the COVID-19 vaccination. However, after her trip to Lithuania, Kristina, who was desperate to experience the sense of freedom she got from flying, took two further trips to Norway and Egypt.
She explains: “My passion and love for traveling [allowed me to] feel that whatever happened, I was ready for it. That’s why I took a long [period of] unpaid leave. I was not afraid of getting infected. Since the beginning of the pandemic, luckily, I haven’t had COVID-19 yet. I have already done a bunch of PCR tests and I never felt any symptoms.”
Kristian returned to Emirates in December 2020 and received an intense roster. She was happy to be presented with so many scheduled flights and felt a sense of comfort to be back at work again.
“It’s a great job,” she says. “So, after resting, I told myself that it wasn‘t time to leave aviation [just yet].”
Challenges, change, and avoiding contact
As a result of such a challenging time, cabin crew duties and daily operations have inevitably been altered. To ensure a high level of hygiene onboard, cabin crew members are asked to follow extra strict sanitizing rules on each of their daily flights. In addition to wearing a face mask, the airline also asked cabin crew to put on additional Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
Kristina reveals: “We need to protect ourselves from COVID-19. At first, it was very uncomfortable to fulfill our duties as we used to wear so many additional items, including a gown, a mask, goggles and sometimes even a little net hat. It was tough because we had been wearing all of it for the whole flight.”
As time passes, and the spread of the virus begins to stabilize, Kristina suggests that the airline will slowly make the return to ‘normal’ uniform requirements for cabin crew.
But a change in appearance was not the only adjustment. Kristina says: “[It was] suggested [that we were] to have as little contact with passengers as we could. It means that instead of traditional service, we used to provide a passenger a box of a meal and a drink and then come back to the crew station. That was it. [There were] no conversations at all, nothing.
“It was very hard for me because it felt like we were losing touch with humanity. Instead of being nice and kind to each other, we were attempting to avoid contact.”
She adds: “Everybody on board was sad and just traveling to their destination, while we were just simply doing the job. But it’s getting better now. As passenger numbers increased, and the vaccination became more available, service on board is slowly returning to [the way it was] pre-pandemic. However, protective covers are still being used against any contamination.”
The pandemic has negatively impacted the career of many aviation professionals and resulted in huge redundancies and salary cuts. However, Kristina believes that some positives can be found in the situation.
She explains: “For aviation professionals, as well as for the rest of the world, this pandemic is something [that had been] hard to solve. But I think we need to take advantage of these times by dedicating [the] spare time we have [to] focusing on our well-being and health.”