We recently spoke to Jason Pestel, Flight Service Manager at Virgin Atlantic, Personal Trainer and online Fitness Coach. Jason uses his years of experience as Cabin Crew combined with his skills as a Fitness Coach to help train flight and cabin crew members to become healthier and stronger. He shared with us his experiences of maintaining work/life balance and friendships when working as Cabin Crew.
Is it challenging to maintain friendships as cabin crew?
It can be tough to see friends in the physical sense, largely due to the dynamics of flying which include long hours, irregular rosters, frequent travel and chunks of time away from home. However, cabin crew forge such strong bonds with their colleagues and are able to maintain really close friendships despite the challenges of the job. Of course nowadays, we’re blessed with technology, such as smartphones, so your friends are never really that far away.
What would you advise is the best way to maintain friendships with people from home, who you might not see as often anymore?
The most important thing for me is to ensure that you make the time to stay in touch and communicate with the friends that you hold dear. It’s all so easy to get stuck in a cycle of flying (I often refer to it as a flying bubble), and before you know it, so much time has passed. Planning ahead is really important. We all get our flying rosters a few weeks in advance. In between rostered flying duties, I make a point of allocating certain days to reconnect with friends and family. This ensures that I make the most of our time together, and that time doesn’t just slip by.
Have you made any lifelong friends through my career as cabin crew?
Yes absolutely. In fact you can’t help but make special friendships that last. On my initial training course back in 1999, I met someone who became one of my dearest friends. In fact we still speak on the phone almost every day, even now. Flying creates a bond between you that is almost impossible to break. Onboard, you can’t help but form close bonds with other crew and it’s here where such wonderful and lasting friendships are born. You share such wonderful, funny and also at times challenging experiences together. It’s so incredible, the way that you open up to other crew. Those 3am conversations on the jumpseat when you find yourself confiding in your colleagues. Asking for advice, having a good moan, shedding tears…you name it. You just wouldn’t get that in any other job.
Are the friendships you have built with fellow cabin crew members different from friendships you have had before?
Any good friendship that I have has to be real. To me, the ultimate test with a friendship is when you don’t see each other for a while, but when you do, it’s like you saw them only yesterday and you simply carry on where you left off. Flying friends really get this concept. When we meet, at check in before a flight, for example, it’s like no time has passed and it’s just a joy. When you build friendships with non flying people, occasionally it can take a bit longer for them to get their head around your lifestyle and to really understand it. They might wonder why you can’t see them or attend a party for example on the day that you land back home. They might not always get that you’ve been up all night, crossed several time zones, feel absolutely exhausted and in need of an early night. (Maybe I’m just showing my age here!) With flying colleagues, it can feel easier sometimes as they generally always understand concepts such as landing day. They can relate to those feelings of ‘landing day grumpiness’ and the dire need to just get into bed, not talk to anyone and sleep!
What would your advice be to someone whose family and friends struggle to understand the lifestyle of a cabin crew member?
The best advice I could give to them is to talk and try to explain the nature of the job and be as patient and supportive as possible. It can take time for other people to fully grasp the concept of your flying. For a crew member who has just started, it can be hard at first for them to find their flow. There are so many factors that come into play, such as the way standby works and having to request our leave months in advance when we often don’t even know what days we want off. In addition, the flying roster can be so unpredictable and for a new crew member, it can take a while to adapt. For a close friend or partner, it takes even longer. Certainly at first, others don’t always fully understand why you are away or not always there for them. Situations like friends' birthdays or other social occasions are a prime example. People can expect you to be there but sometimes, because of the nature of the job, you just can’t. Even now for me, 23 years down the line, standby duties can still be a challenge. All it takes is one call, and two hours later you could be on a flight to some other part of the world.
What is your best and most favourite memory with your cabin crew friends?
I actually don’t think I can answer this with one specific example that stands out, as I have so many. Over the years, I have so many shared experiences that I truly cherish. Cycling over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town and visiting the Taj Mahal in India. These were just off the top of my head. All with other crew members who very quickly became lifelong friends. Simply magical.
Is it true that cabin crew almost become like your second family away from home?
One thing that has always amazed me is how a group of people, who have very often never even met before, can bond and work together like they have known each other for years. I see this time and time again. It can sound a little cheesy but at times it does feel like a second family when you are away. As with a family, your colleagues are your support network. With some trips you can be away from home for a long period of time and sometimes life happens, things aren’t always great at home but you still have to carry on. This is when you realise and truly appreciate the special bond that you have with your flying friends.
Browse all the latest cabin crew job opportunities here.
Connect with Jason on LinkedIn here.