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‘Caribbean people […] think they can say what they want to you’! Day in the life of a flight attendant

“Caribbean people tend to be so ‘familiar’; they seem to think that they can say what they want to you, however they want. Also, I’ve noticed while travelling with other carriers that passengers aren’t as demanding and difficult to the North American or foreign crew members.

“Something that I still struggle with is the disregard for common courtesies. I still cannot get used to greeting a passenger, while boarding, seeing them for the first time and being totally ignored…”

Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday persons in Trinidad Tobago in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’

Today, we talk to Tarelle Julien, a flight attendant, university graduate and entrepreneur:

Photo: Flight attendant Tarelle Julien and her son Jeremiah.

How long have you been employed as a flight attendant?

I have been a flight attendant for the past ten years.

Have you always wanted to be a flight attendant?

Yes, I have always, always wanted to be a flight attendant. Ever since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of one day becoming a flight attendant.

What are your duties as a flight attendant?

Wow, let’s see. We usually conduct a safety briefing to ensure that we are all on the same page in the eventuality of an emergency. When we get on the aircraft, we check the emergency equipment to ensure that they are not only there, but that they are serviceable.

Before passengers arrive, we check the catering count and prepare the galley for the meal service later in the flight. When our guests arrive, while welcoming passengers, we monitor the cabin for numerous things including proper and safe stowage of bags.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I have a son, so on days that I have to fly I usually ensure that he is prepared for school. That usually includes ensuring that he has lunch and snacks and that his uniform is organised. I usually get up approximately three hours before my pick up to sort him out, but I give myself an hour to get ready before pick up.

Photo: A flight attendant on the job.
(Copyright Mark Skalny 2014)

How has your job affected your parenting?

I’ve been flying since my son was a baby. I thought he would have gotten accustomed to his mom not being around all the time; however, he’s now in Standard Five and, as of late, he has been complaining that he doesn’t see me as often and we don’t get to spend enough time together. So, flying tends to make me miss valuable time with my son.

It can be very difficult balancing parenting, flying, studying and of course co-owning a business. Being a flight attendant and a parent, I honestly don’t think it would be possible without a sound support system. When I lived at home, I was fortunate to get the support from my mom, which at times proved to be difficult as she also had a full-time job. Now, I have the support of my best friend and her mom who help me with Jerry when I’m away.

Similarly in business, I’ve had the support of family and friends who would assist me in delivering items to customers. Customers don’t want to know that I am on a flight and they have to wait until I return to get their items, so I have to make it happen as soon as possible.

Tell us about your business and how do you find time for it?

I am the part owner of an online business called Details By Tarelle. We sell beautiful, unique hand-made, mosaic hard shell bags. These bags are not only used as a purse, but also as a statement piece for any outfit.

Photo: Handbags by Details By Tarelle.

I started this company approximately one year ago [for an] extra source of income, that gives me breathing room and allows me to make life more comfortable for my son and I. People who know me, know I always have a handbag, or a clutch. So I decided to get into a business that I am very interested in. People make time and utilise energy on the things they are passionate about…

My business is an online business, so thankfully I am not required to go into a store at any point. I am contacted via phone or email and only have to face the public to deliver, or if I am attending a pop-up shop to showcase and sell our statement pieces.

How would you describe your journey through tertiary education as a working mom?

Again, this was something that I could not have accomplished without my support system: my family and my best friend. Working in a shift job came with its own set of challenges. When my son was younger, I would allow him to know my roster and on days when I would be getting dressed for school, he’d say: “No Mummy, you’re supposed to be off today.” I would then explain to him that mummy has to go to school.

The journey wasn’t at all easy, as he would interpret it as me leaving him yet again. I would recommend that young people pursue tertiary education before they start a family or start working and have major responsibilities. It has been an extremely difficult road as a single parent.

Why did you not start tertiary education straight after high school?

I wanted to work. I came from a large family and didn’t want to be a burden on my parents while I pursued tertiary education. I also really wanted to be a flight attendant. Additionally, I was quite young when I started my family. When I had my son, I found it necessary to further my education. I wanted to lead by example. I believe it is important to be marketable in this very competitive world that we live in. I did it for him.

Photo: A satirical take on motherhood.
(Copyright Glasbergen.com)

I wanted Jeremiah to know that while some acquire things or navigate through life quite easily without an education; that is not the fate of everyone.

What is most challenging about your job?

[Chuckles] Believe it or not, what can be challenging at times is interacting with people. Caribbean people tend to be so ‘familiar’; they seem to think that they can say what they want to you, however they want. Also, I’ve noticed while travelling with other carriers that passengers aren’t as demanding and difficult to the North American or foreign crew members.

Something that I still struggle with is the disregard for common courtesies. I still cannot get used to greeting a passenger, while boarding, seeing them for the first time and being totally ignored. I would think it may be quite difficult for me to appear invisible. Similarly, the lack of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ before or after a request makes me more diligent in instilling manners in my son.

Additionally, though not very often a personal experience, passengers find lots of ways to gain our attention—such as poking, grabbing, shouting and whistling—instead of using the call button, conveniently located above them!

The boarding of a flight can be very trying for flight attendants since we are required to settle more than 100 passengers in their seats, ensure their bags are properly stowed, that they have found their seats and so on.

Photo: A frustrated flight attendant.

I remember once while boarding, I offered a mother who was travelling with her husband and a baby, an infant loop belt which is required to secure her baby on her lap for takeoff and landing. Without taking the belt, she turned to her husband—who was busy securing their luggage and retrieving things for the baby—and said “Honey on (another named carrier) did we get this? I don’t remember (the other carrier) giving us one of these belts.”

I kept reiterating that on this carrier safety is a priority and that the belt was a requirement. She kept resisting and the conversation went on for quite some time, until her husband said to her: “Honey, please take the (explicit) belt!”

So she finally took the belt!

What do you think of people referring to flight attendants as ‘waitresses in the sky’ or ‘trolley dollies’?

It doesn’t bother me really. People often question or judge things that they don’t understand. While flight attendants are there for the passengers’ comfort, we are primarily there for their safety. For instance, at times we may ask passengers to do things like raise their window shades for take-off and landing; they may challenge us, however, I often explain to them the reason for the request. I tell them that we need the window shades open as they are our eyes and ears onboard the aircraft. Passengers can see things that may be dangerous from outside their windows, that we may not be able to see from where we sit.

We are also trained first-aiders and even firefighters. So at times when challenged, I take the time to explain our role as cabin attendants to passengers, so they are enlightened as to our real jobs.

Photo: Flight attendants in the move “Flight”.

Anything eventful or frightening ever happened to you during a flight?

I was on the ATR once (the small planes used for regional and domestic flights) and we were on the active runway about to take off. I was seated in my jumpseat at the top of the cabin facing the passengers. Suddenly, the aircraft just started shaking a lot. Imagine someone holding a toy plane in their hands and they just start shaking it violently—that’s literally how it felt!

I sat there trying to stay and look calm, not wanting to excite or panic the passengers, who by this time were looking at me for any clue as to if they were dangerous.  Moments later, the captain notified the crew and passengers that there had been a bird strike, which is when a bird—or in this case a flock of birds—flies into the engine, proving fatal for the birds and damaging to the aircraft.

We eventually came to a stop and passengers were disembarked, as the aircraft needed to be repaired. I remember going into the cockpit where I saw a cracked windshield; and I couldn’t imagine that a bird had caused that much damage.

What do you like most about your job?

I know it sounds cliché, but I really love interacting with people because I’m passionate about customer service. I also thoroughly enjoy travelling.

Photo: Customer service is a key asset for flight attendants.

What advice would you give to new or aspiring flight attendants?

For aspiring flight attendants, I would advise them to keep current. For example, a first aid certificate (which is one of the requirements to become a flight attendant) has a shelf life of approximately three years.  Additionally, you may possess a flight attendant swimming certificate, but haven’t swam in so long that your skills may be rusty. Always keep current. Additionally, apart from the basic requirements, try to always add something more to your resume.

For new flight attendants, particularly those with young children, I stress the need for a reliable support system. I recall a colleague opting to call sick because she had no one to watch her kids. This job takes you away sometimes on short notice, and the schedules may change suddenly, you need the assistance of family or trustworthy friends.

Finally, remember the importance of good customer service. Treat your passengers as you would like yourself to be treated, your family or your friends.

About Chennelle Gaines

Chennelle Gaines
Chennelle recently graduated with her Associates Degree in Journalism and Public Relations and is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication at COSTAATT. Chennelle enjoys travelling and has a passion for baking.

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