They always smile kindly whatever jerk you are. They dress with a martial outfit sweetened by soft colours. They patiently care for the passengers even when the plane’s engines are on fire and everybody else is screaming and bouncing along the corridor. Of course, I am talking about the air steward and stewardess.
Many young girls and boys try every year to fit in the ranks of these guardian angels of the sky, but the job isn’t just about travelling around the world and smiling nicely. It’s hard work and the benefits do not always match the expectations.
But what are the requirements for such a role? First of all, behaviour: quite, polite and relaxing, in order to transmit serenity also to those passengers scared of flying as I am.
According to the brief guide draft by Skyscanner, the physical requirements include a pleasant look, age from twenty to thirty and being between 165 and 185 centimetres tall.
With regards to education, you need at least a high school diploma. Also foreign languages are very important: you need of course ti be fluent in the local language and at least one more foreign language (in many countries that would be English). You will have to be available for transfers and many companies require the candidates to own a car. You also need to be a good swimmer (guess why…).
If are lucky enough to be selected by an airline company, remember it is just the beginning. Before starting your service there is a strict course to pass, and its cost may be on your shoulders depending on the company. Then comes the probatory period, and here too terms and conditions are a the company’s discretion.
Also the costs for uniform, meals, transfers and accommodations are issues depending on the company’s policies. Hence, the job’s quality and benefits are largely related to which airline company will hire you and where will be your operative headquarters. I checked out one of the most quoted company on the web: Ryanair.
One of Ryanair’s most staunch accuser is John Foley, who is attacking the company’s policies towards the new employees . He is the father of a girl who, after paying for the course, ended up with no job and no money.
‘To be employed by Ryanair, pilots and cabin crews are taken through a maze of so-called third party provider “agencies” of which new recruits are not fully aware of. (…) Probationary Ryanair cabin crew have an average of two home stand-bys a week, which are unpaid. Most, if not all, will work a minimum of 3 hours extra a rostered shift, which are unpaid. (…) Probationary Ryanair cabin crew only get paid when the aircraft is airborne, no other airline does this. These probationary cabin crew are charged 30€ a month to rent their uniform from Ryanair. They have no food allowance or drinking water on board flights.’
Some time ago the Guardian dealt with this matter, describing how steward and stewardess, after paying for their courses and uniforms and struggling through a difficult probationary period, are often fired, forced to resign or transferred.
Still, opinions and experiences expressed by employees and ex-employees are contrasting and vary a lot. Many still believe the low-cost airline company offers a good work opportunity to many young people and such experience may be used to advance in other companies.
Since a friend of mine works as stewardess for another low-cost company, I asked for her opinion.
‘I work for Easyjet since three and a half years. The course lasted for about three weeks in Luton, and the company paid for everything… The instructors do their best to ease the students’ work and are always available to help who needs it. I was new to this field and it hasn’t been easy, but still doable.’
She added that at the beginning her wage was about 1500 euros a month. She had her share of troubles, especially concerning demanding passengers, but her overall experience has been positive so far.
‘I don’t think it’s a difficult job, but to do it the best way possible, as in any job, you have to work hard. I am happy, but not too much… There are days when I hate my job and I miss doing something more stimulating, but this is what I have and I try to do the best out of it…’
So what’s the conclusion? If becoming an air steward is your dream, don’t give up trying. But be conscious of the difficulties and be resolute. As in any journey: hope for the best and be ready for the worst.