The Best Flight Ever!

Madara Brigzne, who has worked as a flight attendant at airBaltic for ten years, is convinced that being a flight attendant is much more than a job at which the greatest satisfaction comes from passengers who leave the airplane saying, ‘This was the best flight!’ Here she tells us what goes on behind the scenes at her job.

What does it really mean to be a flight attendant?

A flight attendant is a person who takes care of the passengers after they’ve gotten on the airplane. We need to gain the passengers’ trust, because people get on board with all sorts of thoughts and emotions in their heads: worry, fear, joy. But we, on the other hand, are going to work. And it’s a job we love. We want to show every passenger that today is a great day to fly! So, being a flight attendant sometimes means being a kind of psychologist, understanding what each passenger needs on that particular flight.

Some people dream of becoming a flight attendant. What do you think they should know about the job?

Mainly the irregular work schedule. Some mornings you have to get up at three in the morning to work an early flight. And sometimes you have to work nights. Of course, you get used to it after a while. But you need to be really flexible and be able to adapt to circumstances in order to work as a flight attendant. The job is a lot different than how it’s portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Catch Me If You Can. A flight attendant actually has lots of responsibilities before and after a flight, too. What the passengers see is only one part of our work.

What kind of personal qualities does a flight attendant need?

First of all, they need to really want to do this work. Second, they need to be able to tolerate a high level of stress. Third, they need to love both their job and people, because passengers and also colleagues can be very different. Good communication skills are vitally important. There are things you can only learn from experience, for example, which passenger you can joke around with and with which one you should be very reserved. Punctuality is also important – you need to show up at work on time, dressed in a perfectly pressed uniform, because flight attendants represent not only themselves but also the whole airline. But one of the most important qualities for a flight attendant to have is the ability to independently make decisions, especially in stressful situations. I always tell new flight attendants that they have to love this job. Just liking it is too little. Because passengers are very different. Some of them are very scared, some are very intolerant, some need to always argue to get their way. But at moments like that flight attendants must understand that they need to use a smile in order to achieve the opposite. They need to come to work with so much energy that at the end of the flight the passengers say goodbye by exclaiming, ‘This was the best flight ever!’

Is it possible to combine work as a flight attendant with, say, going to school?

There are many flight attendants who combine this work with going to school. I did so myself. But each individual’s desire and motivation will determine how easy it is to do that.

You’re also a line trainer for potential flight attendants. What’s the process for becoming trained as a flight attendant?

Thursdays at the airBaltic office are Open days, when anyone can come and submit their CV, get a first-hand understanding of the cabin crew profession, and begin the recruitment process, which ends with an individual interview. If the first recruitment step is passed, then they undergo a medical test which shows whether the applicant can work in such conditions or not. If the person passes the medical test, then theoretical training begins. After passing the theoretical test, there are a few more tests that determine whether the person knows how to use the gained knowledge in various situations. After passing all of these, then the new employee begins practical training on real flights with his or her line trainer. This consists of four flights, after which there’s a test flight, during which the trainee is evaluated. Then there’s another theoretical exam. If the person is motivated, the whole process from that first interview to becoming certified as a flight attendant takes two to three months.

How did you begin your own career at airBaltic? Can flight attendants advance in the company?

I’ve been a flight attendant for ten years, and I can say that I truly love my job. The greatest satisfaction comes from receiving thank yous and smiles from passengers. When I applied for a job as a flight attendant, there were lots of potential candidates, lots of competition for the positions. After several years as a senior flight attendant, I understood that I wanted something more, so I became a line trainer, who trains and follows the work of new flight attendants on training flights. I’ve been doing that now for four years. Flight attendants definitely have opportunities to advance in their careers; there are even flight attendants who have become pilots. But I enjoy the bustle and activity in the cabin, so I know that’s the place for me. We can also gain experience by working at our partner airlines – I spent two months working at Air Berlin and one month at Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

Although I fly a lot on a daily basis, I also enjoy travelling in my time off. I gain inner peace and recharge my internal batteries by walking along the seashore and also by doing sports. Sports are very important for flight attendants, because they need to stay in shape both physically and mentally.

Speaking of activity in the cabin, surely there’s been some moment on a plane that you’ll never forget, no?

I’d like to say that each flight is an experience. Of course, passengers try to get to know the flight attendants, so we often have big collections of business cards and telephone numbers, and sometimes even marriage proposals (laughs). One time a Georgian passenger wanted to offer my parents one hundred lambs for my hand in marriage. Good thing my parents weren’t on that flight! But it’s also nice to meet celebrities from Latvia and elsewhere. We meet presidents, famous musicians, and athletes as a part of our daily job. And sometimes they also ask that one question we hear most often: ‘Where are we?’ To which we jokingly answer, ‘On an airplane’. BO