Winging it as a Trolley Dolly in the Persian Gulf
During my early twenties, I spent two years working as cabin crew with Gulf Air and living in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. It was the best career choice I ever made as well as one of the most exciting and adventurous experiences of my life. For years I had fantasised about living the glamorous, jet setting lifestyle of a flight attendant — travelling to exotic locations, staying in five-star hotels, sampling exotic cuisine or maybe even getting to serve rock stars in Business Class! Following a very successful interview in London, I was offered the job and a one way plane ticket to Bahrain.
Apart from three months working voluntarily in a youth information centre in Valencia, Spain to improve my language skills, I had never lived and worked in a foreign country. There was a certain trepidation in accepting the job offer — it was a big decision. I had so many questions. Would I be able to adjust to the Arab culture and lifestyle? Would I be homesick? Would I like the food? Would it be too hot? Average summer temperatures in the capital city of Manama reach highs of 40C/104F which is sweltering when you’ve been used to more temperate Irish weather most of your life!
In the end I decided to just go for it and accepted the offer — what did I have to lose? The prospect of adventure and travelling internationally while earning money was very tantalising indeed plus I relished the opportunity of indulging my passion for photography! If I didn’t take this chance I would regret it for the rest of my life.
My new home during the first six weeks of cabin crew training was the luxurious 5 star Gulf Hotel & Spa in Manama. My fellow trainees and I had full board including use of the pool and gym on a daily basis. We had our pick of all the hotel restaurants and spent most of our nights flirting with handsome US Navy officers and sipping cocktails in the hotel bar, The Sherlock Holmes. Our VIP lifestyle was about to begin and we were going to milk it for what it was worth!
One of the hardest daily adjustments was being awoken at the crack of dawn by the sound of the muezzin from the mosque summoning the faithful to prayer. Even when I used ear plugs I could still hear it! The day begins early in Bahrain and our transport was waiting to collect us at 6.45am to bring us to the Gulf Air headquarters for our training.
Jump & Slide!
Safety Procedures was by far my favourite part of cabin crew training. Not only did I get to learn where all the equipment was on the aircraft and how to use it but I always looked forward to the mock ditching! While in a sitting position, we would put on our life jackets & immediately go into the brace position with our feet flat on the ground and our head between our legs. When we ‘landed’, we would line up single file at the emergency exit while the Training Instructor stood at the door yelling, “jump & slide!” repeatedly. When it was my turn I hesitated, the inflatable slide looked a bit shaky & it made me nervous. The instructor gave me an encouraging smile & said “go for it!” I stood there frozen until I felt a push on my lower back then cascaded head first down the slide — brownie points to me for doing it the unconventional way!
I Believe I Can Fly!
After six intense weeks of service, safety, first aid training and exam success, my class and I finally received our wings! I could now call myself an official ‘trolley dolly’ trained to work on two aircrafts, the A320 and the B767. For the first two months, I was working on the A320 which flew around the Arab states of the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia (we did not fly to Iraq) with most flights lasting no more than an hour.
The Milk Run
It was very common for new crew to be on ‘standby’ for up to 12 hours. This meant that they had to remain at home and be contactable by Rostering to be available to operate a flight to replace any crew who went sick or were a ‘no show’. Being called off standby to do the ‘milk run’ was like a rite of passage. Typically you got a call at 3.30am when you were sound asleep in your bed and had to be ready to be collected by transport outside your building at 4.30am to bring you to Gulf Air HQ. You would be flying back and forth around the Gulf all morning then finally heading back to Bahrain absolutely shattered at lunchtime. It took a while to get accustomed to this and there were many times when I ‘went sick’ myself to avoid it. One of those times was when I was out clubbing the night before and received a call from Rostering at 3am. I drunkenly told them they had the wrong number and carried on partying! Miraculously, that was the last time I was called off standby to do the milk run!
On The Game
Not everyone who joined Gulf Air wanted a career as cabin crew. Many girls were lured by money, a lavish lifestyle and the opportunity of escapism that being an ex- pat in Bahrain offered. My friends and I used to regularly hang out at The Hard Rock Café where many wealthy Saudis frequented at the weekends (Thursdays & Fridays in Bahrain). They would pick up naive, young British or American girls who had recently joined Gulf Air, buy them drinks, take them out on the town for some fun then back to their hotel room for some ‘entertainment’. Many girls chose to resign from Gulf Air because going ‘on the game’ and being the trophy girlfriend of a rich Saudi with the added benefits of a designer wardrobe and a fancy sports car thrown in was far more appealing. However, this lifestyle had a short shelf life and before long they would be dumped by their ‘sugar daddy’ when some other Gulf Air newbie caught his eye!
This is just a snippet of my high-flying adventures with Gulf Air and the culture shock of living in a Muslim country. I have so many more stories to share with you including the time I was on-board an aircraft with live falcons in Business Class, so watch this space!