Any major airline will have tens of thousands of flight attendants, and the personal qualities of each will differ, but there are constants. We spoke with Aeroflot flight attendant Marina Anfitova about what made her choose the profession, what qualities are needed to be successful and what the personal and professional rewards are.
“I came a little late to this, because for six years I worked as a human resources professional before waking up one day and deciding to change my life. In one sense I never planned to be a flight attendant, but in another it was in my blood because my grandfather was in the army and flew a lot.
“Once I’d made the decision I didn’t hesitate about which company to work for, because Aeroflot is the largest airline in our country, and the best known not only here but around the world. So, I changed where I lived, which was fairly close to Moscow about 90 minutes from the city, and moved here leaving behind my family and friends. I’ve now been a flight attendant for five years.
“Although I came late to the job, I’d say that in some ways there are similarities between my previous career and this one. I think a lot of this job is about communication. You have to make a connection between people, between you and your colleagues, and between you and the passenger. So you are like a professional psychologist and need to find the right approach for each person.
“Of course, it is different for each person. Sometimes we have very nervous flyers. I always try to speak with passengers and if it’s bad turbulence they even ask to hold my hand if they are nervous. More generally when they are nervous we talk about the place they are going to, where they are from, their hobbies and we try to calm them down and reassure them.
“After all, if it’s turbulence, it is natural to feel afraid, even when we are always very safe.
“One of the other wonderful aspects of the job is the travel. Each place is unique. When you go to a different country you meet different people, get to know the culture and go sightseeing. I haven’t been everywhere yet, but in general I prefer islands where you can walk on the beach and see the sea. The Balearic Islands in Spain are wonderful, and the Maldives. I like history as well, though, so my favourite city is probably Rome, though there are many historic cities in Russia where, again, the history is excellent and it is important to get to know our own culture as well as those of other countries.
“The best thing about the job is travel and adventure, and we get pleasure with communicating with the people. Aeroflot gives us a reduction on tickets so in our holidays we can travel and we can fly with our relatives as well. It’s a good perk. I do this whenever I have the time, maybe once a month for a vacation when I have two or three days off. First, I try and visit my family but then travel because I am young, and life is interesting.
“I don’t think there’s anything I can complain about, but I think jet lag and tiredness is something you have to learn to deal with. If you fly to China, for instance, Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, the flights can be up to nine hours and we fly overnight, so it’s important to have a routine that allows you to get some rest. We are there for just one day, so I try and see as much as possible and have lunch or dinner, but then always have a sleep before we get back on board. In total, you should always have eight hours sleep before flying back, because then you can stay awake and alert when working on those flights. When I eventually get home, I sleep for a few hours, I go to see my friends or family who are waiting for me, and maybe I have got presents for them.
“In terms of appearance, we have two different uniforms. One for winter, which is navy, and another for the summer which is red mandarin in colour. It is comfortable and also convenient, because we have two sets and have a choice about whether wearing a skirt or trousers. It means when we are travelling from somewhere cold to warm or the other way we can make allowances for that, so if I was going to somewhere like the Maldives then of course I choose red or a skirt. Being smartly turned out is not difficult or a strain. It starts to be like a habit.
“Our training is very good, and after the initial training we also go back every year to the aviation training centre, and every two years also go to the pool to practise water skills. The training includes all the safety materials, and even how to help deliver a baby. No one knows what will happen tomorrow on your flight and we should train for everything. Once I helped a woman who perhaps had suffered a heart attack. Her doctor asked me to administer an injection, but we are not allowed to do this, so we gave her an oxygen bottle and spoke with her, and they were very thankful and I know that after she went away in the ambulance she made a good recovery.
“More often it’s just serving people. We have iPads with information on passengers, their name and where they are sitting and whether they have a transit flight, and of course we talk to them when serving them drinks and the meals, both of which change every three months. We might also explain about the Wi-Fi on board, though of course we don’t use it ourselves since using our phones would be a distraction and we should be concentrating on the safety and comfort of the passengers and helping our colleagues.
“You also meet so many other flight attendants – every flight is a different group, and with many you make good friends and then maybe don’t see them again for months afterwards, maybe not until the training centre days. I like that in a way, though, because it’s good to be able to get on with people you have just met. It’s good training for human psychology.
“Finally, I’d say I’m proud to work at the airline and wear the uniform. And there are some really memorable moments, like carrying the Manchester United team here. When I was a little child I was a big fan so I was divinely happy, meeting them. I felt a little dizzy, but I pressed my professional button and got on with the job. It’s something I never expected, but Aeroflot gave me this chance.”