Two Sri Lankan stewardesses in Emirates’ landmark A380 flight to Colombo share career highlights and advice to young aspirants
Arranged to celebrate Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) resurfaced and upgraded runway, a one-off Emirates A380 commercial flight operated from Dubai landed in Colombo recently making a key milestone in Sri Lanka’s airport and aviation industry. This landmark event further strengthened the image of the airport and its services.
The Daily FT interviewed two Sri Lankan cabin crew members of Emirates A380; Jamie Sandrasagra and Thileni Premarathne on their personal experiences, the training and grooming that Emirates cabin crew members undergo, and its commitment to Sri Lankan employment.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Could you tell us what made you choose this career and was your family supportive?
Jamie: When I first started work after school, I was in the service industry anyway. It is a passion I have because in the service industry the range is huge and there is a lot you can do. It has always been a passion of mine, to grow in the service industry. Obviously, Emirates is one of the best airlines in the world. In terms of a company, it is one of the best companies in the world. Emirates is not just an airline, it is a brand. So that is what we are, that is what they train us for; to be ambassadors of our brand. I believe that Emirates is a good brand and that is why I wanted to go on in my career with Emirates. My family was supportive because I do have my family based in Dubai. So for me it was an easy transition.
Thileni: I was a banker before I entered into airline business because I wanted to do more than that. When I applied and got selected, I was head over heels because Emirates is one of the best airlines in the world and is a lifestyle brand as well. My family was supportive because they are not conservative, and were happy for my decision to progress in life.
Q: How long have you all been with the industry?
Jaimie: I have been in the industry for eight and a half years.
Thilini: I have been with Emirates for almost four years.
Q: Has the perception of becoming a cabin crew member changed over the years?
Jamie: Honestly it has. Everyone thinks cabin crew is all about glitz and glamour; don’t get me wrong – it is. Being cabin crew is not just a career, it is not a job. It is a lifestyle that you choose. Emirates put us through five weeks of training and initially when I joined I didn’t know that we had such gruesome training. For us to get through that and those five weeks of teaching, they teach you things that you never knew about. Safety procedures and medical training were all new for us. The service aspect is something that they go into details and teach us a lot at Emirates. My perception of joining crew eight years ago to now is very different.
Q: What does it take to be a member of the Emirates cabin crew?
Jamie: To be cabin crew as females, I would say confidence, which I believe any woman should have, and it is the best accessory that a woman could have. I know there is a very thin line between confidence and arrogance, but to be a cabin crew you need to be confident. You need to be confident when you are telling someone when it comes to safety procedures or medical situations, it is important you remain confident. Even the people come to recruit you from Emirates, they do have certain knowledge of these things and they look for them in individuals that they think excel once they join Emirates. Be confident and believe in whatever you want to get.
Thileni: Be confident and carry yourself as a queen. Be positive about your work, be friendly and approachable.
Q: How do you all
prepare yourself for a flight?
Jamie: It depends on what flight I am on duty. Assume I have a ULR which means a longer flight like New York. I prepare myself two days ahead because the time zone is very different. So, I go to bed early, acclimatise my meals to New York time. We can check on the passenger details before the flight and any regulations to whatever country we are going to and get my documentation prepared for it. Even when it comes to a short flight our preparation is longer than that. For example if my flight is at 8 a.m., my pick up is three hours before and for me to wake up and get dressed it is more. There is no such thing as a short day in flight.
Thileni: If it is a long fight it has to be two days before. If not you need to rest before each flight because sleep is very important, for crew specially. There are certain points during the flight where we need to be really on alert when it comes to safety and security. It also helps you look better.
Q: What are your most unforgettable experiences so far?
Jamie: I guess for me it was the first time getting into A380 because for us initially when we joined, we were not trained for A380. I joined the A380 fleet about two years ago. My first experience getting on the A380 was an amazing experience and the moment in my career.
Thileni: For me the unforgettable moment is my first flight to New York. I felt like I was in a move trailer. It was so good.
Q: Do you all have time for recreational activities?
Thileni: I do Instagram most of the time. Apart from that I do shopping, meet up with friends over coffee and read novels.
Jamie: Since we have a lot of spare time, I do like to read a lot. I love reading. Reading is something specially after being crew, I think the little spare time for myself, I would like to go to a corner and cosy up and read a book.
Q: What is your advice to school leavers, who would like to get into the aviation industry and become a cabin crew member?
Jamie: I would say if you are attending not just Emirates, any airline one thing that everyone misses and forgets is that it is your personality that they are looking for. It is you as a person that they want to see representing their brand. Anyone who walks into an interview, I know everyone is scared; you need to let yourself shine as well. Be confident especially for a woman. Though anyone will not say it, the airline cabin crew industry is female based. As females, we tend to do not have time to ourselves, but we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else; that being said simple things like skincare, sleeping, health we miss because we care more for others. Women need to spare time for their personal care.
Thileni: You need to be confident because if you do not do it, someone else will do it.
Q: How many countries have you been to and what is the favourite destination?
Jamie: I think basically every country Emirates has launched and come up with I have been to. Favourite destination as Thileni said is New York but also Sri Lanka because home is always home. There is no place like it.
Thileni: I have also travelled to all countries that Emirates is operating. My favourite destinations are New York, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.
Q: Do you all miss home?
Jamie: For us home is four hours away. Emirates operate a lot of flights to Colombo; it is just a matter of getting into one and I also do a lot of Colombo flights as well. I do at least two to three flights a month to come home because there is no place like home.
Thileni: As Jamie said we make sure to get into a Colombo flight and get to Colombo when we miss home.
Q: How excited are you all to have A380 in Sri Lanka?
Jamie: As a Sri Lankan, it is a very proud moment. A380 has gone to many destinations, and for it to finally come to Sri Lanka is a big moment. Honestly, as crew I have never seen adult passengers coming onboard and getting so excited. It is an amazing piece of machinery and happy that it is finally coming home.
By: Charumini de Silva
Pic by: Ruwan Walpola