“A flight attendant by default becomes a friend, family or advisor to complete strangers who they may never see again” Pinky
Tighten your seat belts folks…we are about to embark on an adventurous journey on a flight with Pinky Eppaturi…through her book 'Nothing but the Plane Truth’. Bookaholicanonymous is extremely delighted to present this interesting conversation with Pinky Eppaturi, she talks about her life and her exciting career.
About Pinky Eppaturi: She is a flight attendant who has worked with top-notch international airlines for several years. She is also a qualified Human Factors and Behaviors facilitator and has trained many pilots and cabin crew in essential non-technical safety skills. As a die-hard globetrotter and independent writer, she has written many travel articles and blogs at peppaturi.wordpress.com
Your book 'Nothing but the Plane Truth' a fictionalised memoir based on true incidents from your life. How much percentage is fiction how much is real?
Nothing but the Plane truth (NBTPT) is based on all true incidents from my life and personal experiences shared by other cabin crew, pilots and even passengers from various airlines. I have compiled these real experiences and constructed the life of Pari Abraham, the protagonist of the book. Certain names in NBTPT I have kept fictional to protect true identities.
What will you say to people who have a common perception that being a flight attendant is a lucrative job in which one gets to enjoy many perks without breaking one’s bone?
Haha! People with such a perception should be around to watch crew members literally break their bones on flights. Crew members by sheer virtue of having to conduct course by course meal services from tiny galley spaces, handling heavy equipment, handbags and at times battling fatigue and turbulence are constant victims of falls and injuries.
While helping a passenger with his hand baggage, a female crew member on my flight had her fingers completely smashed by him as he banged the overhead bin shut by mistake without noticing that her fingers were still inside. And that too few days before her wedding!
It's serious hard work to regularly keep up with erratic rosters and put up with people's whims and fancies.
Yes! Crew members do enjoy amazing perks of seeing the world, get exposure and knowledge of various cuisines, cultures, shopping, meet the best of normally inaccessible, important people etc at their company's expense. But their enviable life does not come easy.
Tell us about the challenges and struggles you faced which lie beneath the veil of glamour and thrill of being a flight attendant?
I guess smart uniforms, attractive grooming, and associated perks give a flight attendant's job that glamorous edge. All true.
But along with the excitement, a flight attendant's career is filled with meticulous trainings and exams, difficult (at times disruptive) passengers, bad weather, delays, layoffs, last-minute unscheduled layovers and flight cancellations. In the process, I have commonly missed out on most festivals, birthdays and anniversaries. A weekend off is a distant dream. At times while administering first aid especially while saving a passenger’s life, crew members expose themselves to medical risks as well.
On days when recovering from lack of sleep, feeling like a zombie in another time zone, suffering sickness, bad news, heartbreaks and other disappointments, I have spread good cheer among people who were complete strangers as though nothing negative ever touches me. Once we operated a flight immediately after a colleague died right in front of our eyes. Please do not ask me how I smiled on that flight.
I have also fallen down on two flights and got hurt when we suddenly hit an air pocket during the monsoons and have heard of crew members suffering serious injuries during evacuations and failed slide deployments in emergencies. Some others have lost their lives in plane crashes, hijacks and terrorist attacks. These events find place in world records and are used as case studies.
You are a flight attendant...and have worked for almost 19 years...how safe has the journey been for you?
I have been a flight attendant for about 22 years now. In most ways, it has been extremely safe as airplanes and airlines today are very technologically advanced and there are regulations which protect the crew in cases of misbehaving passengers.
But there have been times when I have encountered disruptive passengers and have been on two flights where my aircraft has hit an air pocket and I have been badly hurt during turbulence. That is why when a crew member asks you to 'sit down' or 'wear your seatbelt' when the seat belt sign is on, please just listen to them. You have no idea how severely injured you can get! Narrations on many such experiences can be found in my book. Luckily unlike some crew, I have never been on a flight which crashed, ditched, was hijacked or under fire.
Which was your worst experience as a flight attendant?
This was when a passenger physically hit me over a drink request and left me surprised and wincing in pain. I was very lucky to have had the support of my crew and fellow passengers who encouraged me to not tolerate such abuse and offered to be witnesses for me. On my complaint to the captain, after landing, all passengers were asked to remain seated and he was arrested by security personnel from the aircraft itself in front of everyone as per regulations made for the protection of crew.
Which was your best experience?
My best experience was when I was instrumental in saving the life of a passenger having a cardiac arrest on a flight using CPR. Since he collapsed in front of me when I was the only flight attendant around, it was nerve wrecking to attend to him, gather emergency equipment and gain the attention of other crew members all by myself initially. Full marks to teamwork, well-set procedures and the never-giving-up attitude of the crew because of which he survived. This remains as one of my greatest achievements in life and I have taken immense pleasure in dedicating a chapter to this incident in my book.
You have given us a ringside view of life as an in-flight crew member. Tell us one incident that really happened in your life that you have written about?
Oh, there are many. A direct perk of being a flight attendant is that you get to travel a lot either on your layovers or on holidays thanks to discounted tickets.
So maybe I will share an incident with you when I went to Amsterdam many years ago because on that trip one experience ended up making a deep impact on my personality. It was my first independent holiday ever and I wasn't very confident in getting around as I am now. My friend and I visited the Red Light District. I remember being completely scandalized.
Taking advantage of my lack of exposure my friend defied me to walk into a strip club by myself, have a snack and a drink and a detailed conversation with one of the strippers. What he didn't tell me was that he would be around close enough to keep an eye on me and that in Amsterdam this was a perfectly safe thing to do.
It was a dare. I accepted it.
Went into the strip club & realised that nobody was interested in looking at me. Soon I ordered and was served my drink and snack by an ultra-skimpily dressed girl. Since she came that close to me I could see that she was wearing a body stocking. From a distance, you would never be able to make that out and her 'barely covering anything' outfit was attracting a lot of attention. Condition two - I had to make conversation with her.
While talking I came to know that she was a student and chose to be employed in a strip club to pay for her high tuition fees. After completing her studies she would become a lawyer and obviously give up her present job. She also told me there were more girls working there for the same reason. That was a shocker for me!
In that moment I learnt to never judge anyone without knowing them enough. The conversation impacted me so deeply that I have mentioned it in my book. I stayed there till the same girl performed her bold strip show and this time she did it without the body stocking.
Needless to add I won the dare and my friend was highly impressed with me.
What are the perks of this job?
It is a fun and exciting job with a high novelty factor as your teams of crew keep changing and you meet a new set of passengers every flight. It allows you the opportunity to make a difference to lives - both yours and others. A flight attendant by default becomes a friend, family or advisor to complete strangers who they may never see again.
Most famous personalities that you see on TV, in the news, in movies, sports etc., you are likely to have seated right under your nose.
All world cuisines that the airline serves and the know-how around them, appropriate behaviours with different cultures, top class grooming to enhance your personal beauty and mannerisms are all part of regular training throughout a crew member's flying career. It’s a kind of finishing school that you go to, the knowledge of which will remain with you forever.
Last but not the least, travel and adventure are offered to you on a platter. On flight layovers, one can enjoy visiting world famous edifices like the Windsor castle where the recent Royal wedding took place, cherish forever the Keukenhof gardens (Silsila gardens) in Netherlands, eat Galouti kebab in Tunde's in Lucknow or shop in any part of the world your heart desires! And I have not even begun mentioning the exciting vacations you can take with your family and friends using discounted crew tickets. I feel like a world citizen now.
A balanced portrayal of the life of a flight attendant is what works big time in this book says one review of your book. What is your take?
I am grateful the reviewer noticed my effort at a balanced portrayal.
One of the most interesting aspects of the cabin crew job role is the interaction with passengers and the different types of people flight attendants get exposed to. For some reason the stories of troublesome passengers seem to evoke more interest. So you may notice that some books written about cabin crew at times run passengers down drastically. No doubt the painful ones can be found on almost all flights. But I also wanted to draw attention to the funny and the supportive passengers and have done so in some chapters.
To break the stereotypical image of 'trolley dollies' that crew members are given commonly, I have offered enough insight into their rigorous training, repercussions of not following or enforcing safety regulations, hard work, varied human emotions due to loss of a colleague, a heartbreak or disappointment experienced but well hidden under a smile on a flight, delays, bad weather, celebration of opportunities of travel and meeting celebrities etc to a reader.
In short, I have tried my best to highlight both- the high points and the challenges of the life of a crew member.
How do you know when to draw the line when it comes to customer service? Till what point should one indulge imperious and irrational passengers?
Crew members accept that their job is to provide the highest level of customer service for which one has to 'decide' to be extra tolerant and at times overlook even rude behaviour by passengers. Yet some passengers tend to further overstep.
In one of the chapters in my book, I have mentioned an incident where a passenger got violent and hit me over a drink request. Behaviour like this is absolutely unacceptable and there are enough regulations to protect the crew in such cases. I used them and with the support of my colleagues and passengers I managed to get this passenger arrested after landing.
Any form of disrespectful, demeaning verbal or physical behaviour towards the crew themselves or the safety and well-being of the passengers and aircraft should not be tolerated silently out of fear or lack of knowledge. It definitely should be escalated.
Travel is education right? What have you learnt from your travels literally and through your journey as a flight attendant?
As a little girl, I was always curious about distant lands, cultures, cuisines, languages and people. This curiosity increased when I began working as a flight attendant and started flying passengers from different parts of India and the world. I often wondered what their hometowns would be like as I had mainly seen them in films, TV or media. As crew, we had the advantage of stopovers in different cities.
But I didn't allow my experiences to remain limited to my layover destinations and also used the wonderful perks given by my employing airlines to trot around the globe and satisfy my wanderlust. As such today I have risen way beyond pictures and movies and have actually rubbed shoulders with countless nationalities, experienced some exotic natural beauty in the form of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, cenotes, a few Wonders of the World and of course famous landmarks and monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge, the Statue of Liberty , the Red Square etc.
Travel broadened my horizons, took me far and wide and exposed me to this beautiful and colourful world. It gave me the privilege to drop fixed perceptions and become non- judgmental. The more places I went to, within the country and abroad, and the more I looked for differences in people, the more I found that they were all the same.
Cultural differences separate one set of people from the other in the guise of habits. Otherwise, everyone is about love, kindness, great food, family, happiness, peace and celebrating life. Every native I have met has been a brilliant teacher, very eager to host a traveller like me and show off what their land has to offer.
After serving and living in the lap of so many countries and people, I now truly feel like a ‘world’ citizen. A quote a used by a popular airline states that 'Good things come to those who Go!'. Having been on the go for many years as a flight attendant I will vouch for that.
How has this career transformed you as a person?
The opinions we hold about others are the result of the perceptions we develop. Sometimes these perceptions are influenced by the lack of information. Thanks to the vast exposure this career has given me, today I hold no barriers in my mind towards nationalities, religions, caste, colour, age, gender and individual preferences over relationships, marriage, singlehood and intimacy. In short I have become humongously tolerant and flexible and have stopped being judgemental.
Which destination was on your bucket list, which you could fulfill being in this career?
There are quite a few. I have enjoyed the wind in my hair watching the breath taking view of Paris atop the Eiffel Tower, stared up the Statue of Liberty in New York, sipped some crisp wine in Italy, replicated a Bollywood number with a friend on the pristine white and blue locales of Santorini in Greece, hiked the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand, walked right around a waterfall in Iceland , marvelled at the colours of St. Basil's Church in Moscow, felt astounded at the magnificence of human effort at the ancient Machu Picchu in Peru, the list is endless.
Tell us about haunted hotels?
Personally, I am not sure if they actually exist. Flights can be really tiring. So I probably always passed out and didn't have any energy left to feel scared of the supernatural. But most hotels do have a history of murders, suicides and negative emotions expressed behind closed doors of a room. Also, they may be built in the vicinity of graveyards. So stories of haunted hotels will remain forever. In my book, I have narrated a unique scary experience of a crew member which you will find interesting to read.
Would you suggest this as a career to other young women?
Most definitely! If you are interested in any of the perks I have mentioned above this is one career which will not disappoint you. But I will clarify that it is by no means easy. This is a job that requires a huge amount of responsibility. Not many people know that a flight attendant’s main duty is safety and then comes service. Through intense safety training and regular exams, a crew member learns how to save lives, evacuate people, crowd control and first aid, all which can be used in personal lives also if needed. I was surprised to be called by a neighbour to attend to her severely hyperventilating roommate and I was able to recognize the symptoms and help her. A crew colleague has given even CPR and saved a dying heart failure patient's life in her building.
Due to the important role a flight attendant plays in a safety and emergency situation, he/she automatically learns to be alert, have better reflexes and reactions.
On everyday flights, some not very long ones, course by course meal services may be conducted from tiny galleys. Being organised, time managed and well-adjusted to work in small spaces with hygiene and finesse is paramount. Whether going through a heartbreak, missing an anniversary, being in a different time zone, suffering a crew shortage, crew members have to smile and bring good cheer to their passengers. A tremendous amount of self-control needs to be exercised since- 'the show must always go on.'
Wouldn't any woman feel empowered by inculcating all these qualities that a flight attendant’s job teaches them?
Lastly, what unknown facts are you revealing as a flight attendant?
Even if cabin crew provide treatment to a passenger on board whose pulse and breathing are missing and he doesn't recover, which may state the obvious, they cannot declare that passenger dead. Only a registered doctor can do so.
All aviation authorities FAA, DGCA etc., have made regulations to protect the crew against misbehaviour from passengers. So don't think one can behave indecently or inappropriately and get away easily. If reported by the cabin crew, punishments can range from a stern warning by the security personnel to a full-fledged arrest.
Crew members get to meet a lot of movie stars and famous personalities on flights. Due to the absence of press and cameras, they show their natural, uncensored behaviours. Some of them turn out to be classy, gentlemanly, charming, enthusiastic, even more good looking without makeup and others indecent, terribly spoken, disrespectful and the type to throw annoying starry tantrums. It may become so commonplace for a crew member to fly celebs that some may cease to remain star struck.
Crew of certain airlines is paid a 'stress allowance' to handle demanding, difficult passengers of certain ethnicities.
Some passengers can be extremely supportive and encouraging towards the crew. One such passenger tracked me down using just my name and sent me flowers in my hotel room as an appreciation for my hard work on his flight.
Cabin crew may not be qualified psychologists but they apply a tremendous amount of emotional quotient and wordplay if needed, to counsel and help many fliers and colleagues.
When crew members give passengers safety instructions, besides being genuinely concerned for passenger safety, they are bound by regulations to do so and are subject to constant checks by safety instructors and ghost riders who report them. Any unsatisfactory report can result in strict disciplinary action.
Many crew and passengers, including celebrities, have found their Mr. and Miss. Right on board flights
Most of the above actual experiences find a mention in the chapters of my book.
Good luck Pinky Eppaturi, may you fly higher and experience more interesting events in your life and career so that we get to read a sequel!
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