Life in the eyes of  a flight attendant

Saturday March 20 2021
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Left: Pauline Akurut Murungi has travelled near and far, thanks to her job. PHOTO/courtesy.

By ESTHER OLUKA

The flight attendant opportunity presented itself in March 2019. At the time, Pauline Akurut Murungi, 25, was visiting and staying with an aunt in Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), when she decided to check out different job opportunities on the internet.

As she browsed through different sites, she stumbled across an advertisement announcing vacant positions of flight attendants at Emirates Airline.

Some of the requirements that were needed for the position included fluency in both written and spoken English, a minimum height of 160 cm, be at least 21 years of age, must have completed high school, among others.

Recruitment process

Akurut ticked all the boxes and eventually applied for the job. The recruiting team got back to her after a month inviting her for an open day, which is often the first stage of the recruitment process.

Murungi was among the 30 applicants for the job. In addition, she was also the only black woman, while the rest of the other candidates were of mixed races. There were different interview stages on open day. The first was submission of the curriculum vitae.

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Moments later, different applicants were given numbers and a few minutes later, her number was read out, a sign that she had advanced to the next stage. The next round was picture interpretation.

“I was asked to interpret a picture and I remember responding that it was one of a flight attendant playing with a baby. I told them I love children,” she says.

During the third stage, Murungi was paired with another female applicant and asked to talk about her colleague, and, vice versa.

“Recruiters were assessing our personalities, for instance, if I was the kind of person who could break the ice and talk to other people and well, I passed the test,” she says.

Different stages

She passed this round as well before moving onto the final fourth stage of the Open day process.

“For the final part, one of the recruiters measured my height and asked me why I wanted to be a cabin crew member and I told her that it has always been a dream to work with a global professional airline,” she says.

Out of the 30 aspiring flight attendants, only six were shortlisted and Murungi was among them. Although she was happy to be in the finals, the battle was not yet over. Six weeks later, the final six were invited for a Skype interview. Each respective candidate had to answer specific questions from one recruiter. “It was a tough interview. It took about 30 minutes which felt almost like eternity,” Murungi says. She was presented with a number of scenarios.

Annoying customer scenario

“At one point, the female recruiter mentioned that my CV read that I had previously worked as a receptionist. So, basing on this experience, she asked me whether I had ever dealt with an annoying customer before. She asked; what did the client say that was annoying? How did I react? She wanted details,” Murungi says.

The other question she remembers being asked was whether she had ever gotten a solution to any problem at her previous workplace, where she was working as a receptionist.

“I told the recruiter that I proposed the idea of having free internet at the lobby for waiting guests,” she says. 

Weeks later, she became even more anxious when a recruiter called asking for more details about her former Miss Tourism Uganda beauty pageant experience. She was the title holder for the year 2015/16.

She was also asked about what social media platforms she subscribed to and how she was using them.

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Pauline Murungi (2nd right) with her fellow workmates. PHOTOs/courtesy

Golden call

One random day, in July 2019, she got the golden call that she had passed all the respective interviews and was now getting hired as a flight attendant at Emirates Airline. “I jumped for joy. I could not believe it,” she recounts.

She was later asked to submit more documents which were particularly needed for processing her visa. And a few weeks later, she was enrolled by the recruiting team for training at the Emirates Aviation College owned by Emirates Airline, in Dubai.

The training, comprised of reading and practical sessions on specifications about the Emirates aircraft, first aid, security matters, customer care service, ditching scenarios in case there is an accident, among other things. 

After the six weeks training, she commenced work as a flight attendant in September 2019. Her first job experience was on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangalore-India. It was a four hour flight.  “I was panicking. I kept asking my experienced colleagues what I was supposed to do from time to time and they guided me,” she says. It was a nerve wrecking experience, Murungi recalls. The airplane made a return trip to Dubai on the same day. Her second flight was a direct flight from Dubai to London.

“The flight was about seven hours. I was very excited during this flight because I was travelling to London for the first time,” she says.

Murungi has since flown to different destinations including Thailand, Japan, Germany, France, Indonesia, and Vietnam, among other countries.

Challenges

As much as the job offers numerous travelling opportunities to flight attendants, Murungi says it is intense and sometimes, it can get really tiresome.

“This job is not as glamorous as many people think. It is hard work. Imagine standing for eight hours to ensure every passenger on board is comfortable and safe,” she says.

The former Miss Tourism Beauty Queen says that the most difficult hours to work in are during day because during those hours, every passenger is alert.

No social life

During night hours, it is lesser hectic for the flight attendants because then, they only serve passengers their dinner who afterwards fall asleep. This then gives the flight attendants time to rest.

“There is a sleeping and sitting area usually at the back of the plane where we rest from time to time,” she says.

But because she is often flying, Murungi admits, she misses her family and friends, and, this makes her lonely sometimes.

“I miss out on celebrating special moments such as attending birthdays and weddings. And because of this, I occasionally lose a sense of belonging,” she says.

Not forgetting, there are also risks that are associated with the job, including accidents such as plane crashes.

Murungi says she never lets such thoughts bother her while on duty. She instead focuses on enjoying the experience brought about by the profession.

What happens to pregnant flight attendants?

It is on extremely rare circumstances that pregnant flight attendants are allowed to work during flights.

The job involves a lot of movements which expectant mothers may not easily cope with on a flight.

And for this reason, Murungi says that Emirates always has an arrangement for expectant women including giving them some time away from work.

How Covid-19 affected her work

The last time Murungi worked was on March 2020. It was on a flight that was leaving Dubai for Algeria. Emirates Airline (like many other airlines) was affected due to the skyrocketing numbers of coronavirus around the globe. So, she was advised to return home until things return to normalcy.

“I came back to Uganda and sat home for the bigger part of the year, 2020,” she says. Murungi is hopeful of returning to work soon.

Job description

Flight attendants are smartly dressed women and men in uniform who welcome passengers onboard, check their airline ticket, direct them to a designated seat and later serve them eats and drinks. From time to time, they will check to see if a passenger is comfortable during the flight and finally bid you farewell upon arriving to your final point of destination.

Flight attendants manage and monitor safety standards and activities to maintain high degree of aircraft safety standards.

They also assist aircraft staff with safety checks, cabin preparation and passenger checks to ensure safety of all flights and passengers.

The other roles include analysing and resolve safety issues during emergency situations and demanding situations, providing travellers with all information regarding safety guidelines to be followed while onboard and necessary actions during emergencies.

They administer and provide excellent in-flight services such as meals, beverages and attend all customer requirements as per company standards.

Communication

They ensure compliance to company standards and maintain high level of personal decorum and professional conduct,manage all communication with company staff to ensure safety standards in all flights as well as participate in training programmes organised by the company and provide update on all techniques relevant to safety management.

Key

As much as the job offers numerous travel opportunities to flight attendants, Murungi says it is intense and sometimes, it can get really tedious. 

“This job is not as glamorous as many people think. It is hard work. Imagine standing for eight hours to ensure every passenger on board is comfortable and safe,” she says.

The former Miss Tourism beauty queen says the most difficult hours to work in are during day because during those hours, every passenger is alert.

Biography

Who is Pauline Akurut Murungi?

The 25 year old is a daughter of Jeniffer Ampiire and the late Francis Okwii. She has an older sister and younger brother. She completed Primary Seven in 2009 at Luzira Primary School affiliated to Church of Uganda. Then, she completed Senior Four (in 2014) and Senior Six (in 2016) at Kalinabiri Secondary School, in Ntinda. She has a diploma in graphics designing from KAFCO computer school, in Kampala. Currently, she is studying another diploma (online) in early childhood development from Exeed College, Dubai. She was the winner of the Miss Tourism Uganda beauty pageant in 2015. 

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