You may have noticed them before.
They stroll through the airport wearing tan coloured skirts and jackets, hair slicked back into tight buns under pillbox red hats, soft white scarves draping down the side of their faces and their lips painted signature red.
They are the flight attendants of Air Emirates.
On Saturday morning I walked into the Fairmont, Royal York to join over 300 young men and women to see what it takes to fly in the sky en rouge.
I am not looking to leave my job but I figured it could be an adventure worth taking in the future. I applied online and was told to arrive wearing a knee length skirt or dress, skin coloured stockings and heels with my CV and a photograph in hand.
I arrived early at the hotel and followed the string of beautiful girls with perfectly pinned back hair, pencil skirts, freshly pressed blouses and red lipstick, of course.
I felt a bit like I was walking into a Canada’s Next Top Model audition and became a little wobbly in my sky high heels. I reminded myself that I was doing this for fun and channeled my inner Pan Am while I got in line beside a beautiful, flawlessly made up brunette. I was intimidated until she confessed her own nerves about the whole process.
After waiting in line for about an hour we were welcomed into a large room with rows of chairs and a projector. Since more showed up than expected, the room was full of people and many were left standing at the back and along the walls. Eventually the two young female recruiters introduced themselves and played us video clips about Emirates. They showed Dubai in all its splendor and gold and clips of flight attendants talking about the glamour but also the challenges of the job.
Afterwards we were told about life in Dubai. We talked about the strict rules of Ramadan, the high summer temperatures that reach up to 50 degrees celcius, the laws againt alcohol, dress code and conduct. I tried to adjust to the idea of covering up even during the hottest months, never being able to drink a glass of wine with my dinner outside of a hotel or at home, and being restricted to air conditioned spaces in the summer.
I love adjusting to foreign cultures and traditions and finding my place in them. But would I find my place in the ultra modern, mostly expat populated, air conditioned mecca of Dubai? I don’t know. This girl loves to roam the streets and drink wine on patios.
After a question and answer period each applicant went up one at a time for a short interview and to hand over their CV and photograph. I sat in one of the back rows with a group of nervous young women while we waited over six hours for our turn. “What do you think they’ll ask?” “I’m so nervous!” “I didn’t have time to do my nails!” It was fun being around so many young women who love to travel and are up for adventure. I could see how easily a sort of sisterhood would form with a job like this, especially after 7 weeks of training and sharing an apartment with two others.
Eventually it was my turn to go up. I nervously pointed out that the first page of my resume might not apply to them as it was all television work, and turned to the second page of my past customer service experience which included hosting the Emirates VIP suite at the Rogers Tennis Cup many years ago. It was short and sweet, and we were told we’d receive a call that night if they wanted us to return the next day.
I left a little tired and confused, and went home to rest up. By 10 p.m. I had given up on the whole idea when my phone rang. I was asked to return for 11.15 the next morning along with the other 60 or so recruits who had made it from the 300+ who had been there that day.
I spent the next two hours researching Dubai, life as an Air Emirates cabin crew, and as many details as possible about the quality of life attached to this job. I came up with a mixed bag of information. I found forums with past flight attendants who loved their jobs, and other pages full of negative comments.
Like many things in life, there is a glamorous side and a tedious side. What attracted me most was the life experience. I decided to wake up the next morning and at least give myself the option of having the option. I pulled on a beautiful dress that matched my nail polish, mastered a more polished chignon, painted on some perfect red lips and headed out the door with a bounce in my step. I told myself “Be yourself and have fun. See what happens.”
Back at the Fairmont I waited in line with a stunning, spunky woman from Mexico city running late for work, a beautiful young woman from Calgary who shocked us all by telling us she worked in a prison, and another impeccable young Lebanese/Palestinian woman who was so full of fire and life I was drawn to her like a magnet. Rather than stand in our heels with all of the other young woman, we re-arranged the big arm chairs so that we could comfortably wait from a distance while keeping our eyes on the line up at the door. I loved the energy and vivacity of our small group and immediately felt they would be fools not to want to hire all of us.
Eventually the doors opened and the first session of girls walked out with papers letting them know whether they had made it to the next round or not. There were some very happy reactions and some who left looking like they’d been kicked in the face. Now it was our turn. We entered the room, were given name tags, and were asked to sit in numerical order in two large circles of chairs. We were then split into partners and given a topic to present. I had read in the forums that the test was mostly for the recruiters to see how you act in a group situation. I knew I should stay poised and quiet, but remembered I was there to be myself and acted in my usual outspoken nature. We also performed a reach test and were asked about any scars or tattoos along with some basic questions.
When all was said and done, we waited outside for 10 minutes and then returned to get our slips of papers. We were told that they could not disclose why they did not choose us, but we were lucky to make it this far and should return to re-apply in 6 months. When I opened my paper I found out I had not been accepted to the next round. To my even bigger surprise, all three of my feisty friends had not been accepted either. Even the tall, elegant woman who could speak and write fluent Arabic (they need an Arabic speaker on every flight) had not been chosen.
We decided to celebrate fate and whatever was meant to be over lunch. We racked our brains to figure out why we hadn’t been chosen and came to the conclusion that we may have been a little too bold and far ahead in our careers. A young French woman said, “They want girls who are more docile“. I have never been described as docile.
I did not walk away feeling rejected. I actually left with an overall sense of happiness. It was a great experience and I was so grateful to meet the inspiring women I did.
I had a taste of a life that intrigued me and realized it wasn’t the right fit for either side.
Until then, I’ll keep mastering my updo and perfecting my red lipstick, if only for myself.