Long haul does have the advantage to short haul, as you arrive at your destination you get off the aircraft and stay in a very comfortable hotel, all expenses paid in hopefully a nice location.
Many passengers have asked the question after a 16 hour night flight to Singapore “are you flying straight back to London now”! Flying as crew, is exhausting and you have to be fit and any aliments you may have will be exaggerated at 35,000 feet e.g. toothache, headache etc. An average aircraft is pressurised at 7,000 feet and you are breathing in recycled air including your passengers, coughs and colds! All airlines have to work to an agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority (the police of the skies). These stipulate set down rules as to how long a crew member and pilot can work, as safety is paramount. A cabin crew’s role is as important as the captain’s role. If after a very long flight you encounter an unplanned emergency landing, you may well be evacuating a 747 aircraft with 400 passenger’s on board.
Another advantage to long haul flying is you don’t necessarily have to live near the airport. Typically as you may only be going into work once a week, many crew commute even from abroad, especially as they will usually have the benefit of staff travel flying concessions, cheap flights. However, be warned these do come at a peril as these usually work on a stand by basis. This will NOT be a good enough excuse to the company if you miss your rostered flight. It is your responsibility to be on time and report for duty like all your colleagues.
This leads me onto the lifestyle as a long haul crew member. All airlines have to work to a very strict schedule for their flights and a 100% commitment to their customers to deliver an aircraft 365 days of the year. Some airlines try to regulate a fair share division of work amongst their crew, but due to unexpected delays, different aircraft types, sickness levels, stand by availability, maternity leave to name but a few, this proves to be a massive task for scheduling crew to an assigned trip.
Being fit, agile and slim are important aspects of your well being as you are on your feet for long periods, often working in small tight spaces, pushing a heavy trolley, sometimes in turbulence, accompanied by jet lag.
A typical long haul trip will start at your chosen airport ‘base’ e.g. London Gatwick, Stanstead, London Heathrow and you will meet your assigned crew in a briefing room (and often, if it is a large airline, like Virgin or BA you may not know any of your work colleagues, as crew do not fly with the same people every trip). You will be briefed by the in charge crew member of the flights requirements e.g. special destination info, landing cards, VIP passengers, disabled passengers requiring special assistance, passenger loads, unaccompanied children, babies on board, special meal requests. Some schedule airlines will have an international crew member specific for a route e.g. flying into Jeddah they will carry an arabic speaking crew member who will be available for any cultural and language requirement and will live and work out of the Gulf. This is seen as a big plus for the diverse culture we live in. The crew will then be assigned or choose where they wish to work on board the aircraft, some crew will have special training e.g. working in First Class. For the schedule airlines there is a varied choice of working positions e.g. First, business or economy. However on the charter carriers it is usually one class, economy with perhaps some added leg room options.
Once on board the aircraft, crew are expected by the CAA law to check that all safety & security equipment is working correctly in the vicinity of their specific work place. Certain crew members will be assigned the responsibility of checking that all the catering is loaded and the numbers match the passenger loads. This is a very important role on long haul as it can be very embarrassing if you do not have a hot meal for a customer on a 14 hour flight!
Once all these checks are completed the captain is notified and the crew are then ready to board the passengers and providing there are no technical faults with the aircraft, boarding will commence. This can be a very lengthy process on a large aircraft as hand luggage is often a problem, especially if you are flying to a cold destination where there are a lot of coats and scarves or if it is Christmas time and there are lots of extra presents to be carried on board. All hand luggage unless it can either fit under the seat or in the over head locker, must be put into the hold.
Most flights will then have a routine set down meal service followed by the sale of duty free items and distribution of landing cards. Every flight is different, some run smoothly, whilst other trips can be a catalogue of challenges.
When you arrive at your destination and have cleared crew customs, company transport will be waiting for you at arrivals to take you to your haven, the hotel. Depending on the time of day and how tired you are feeling, many crew will meet up for a drink and meal to unwind and discuss the days trials and tribulations. All airlines run a different operation regarding the down route slip times. Again there is always a minimum required amount of time to have proper rest in a bed, before your next flight.
Being away from home, for however long your trip requires you to be, is where you need to make the most of this wonderful opportunity as a long haul crew member. You will be visiting some of the worlds most famous cities e.g. New York and then maybe not so typical like Entebbe in Uganda. Every country holds a wealth of culture and adventure that most people will never have this opportunity to visit.
However, the flight back to ‘base’ needs to be planned into your time away and adequate rest imperative. As this is a life style not just a 9-5 job if you burn the candle and don’t look after your well being this can lead to serious health issues.