A Week In The Life Of A Flight Attendant

April 7, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week


Today’s subject is *Tunde. A 29-year-old flight attendant of mixed heritage who tells us that part of the training to become a flight attendant involves learning how to deliver babies.

flight attendant

MONDAY:

I wake up early today even though I haven’t really slept. The people in the Economy cabin kept me up all night with their many complaints and demands: “Do you have Poundo and Egusi?” “Is there Banga soup?” I prefer working in the Business-class cabin because the people there are usually more relaxed and less demanding. Money does that to you. Especially if you are rich in Nigeria. This is a Lagos bound flight and there are a lot of important people seated in Business-class. I spot a current Governor, a Senator, an Actress, and a Minister. 

I have been to over sixty countries but there’s still no experience quite like going back home to Lagos. Getting to make the announcements in the local languages and the people screaming in delight because they feel seen and heard – The passengers screaming, my colleagues asking in jealous voices: “What are you saying?” “The passengers are responding” “What’s the secret?”, all eyes on me. In these moments, I know I was born for this job.

 As we approach the airport, I get up to make the announcements and inform the passengers to fasten their seat belts. After doing the English and French versions, I make the announcements in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Pidgin. The passengers start to clap wildly because they can’t believe their ears. They are usually surprised when they see that I am not fully black because being addressed in a Nigerian language is rare on an international flight. It’s even rarer to see someone who is of mixed heritage that is so fluent.

It’s 5:00 pm when we touch down in Lagos. We will be here for 36 hours before leaving again. As we get off the plane to leave for our hotel, some of the ground staff sight me and they start to scream. “Our favorite flight member”, “Welcome back sir.” They collect my bags, hug me, and ask about my family. The Captain doesn’t look too pleased with all the attention I am getting. He asks why I am getting this kind of treatment. I reply, “I am a Nigerian prince and I am from the royal family in Nigeria. And there’s no hiding place for a golden fish.”

The Captain doesn’t seem very pleased with this reply.

At the hotel, the Captain orders us not to go anywhere because he can’t guarantee our safety. I laugh. Why do I need to be safe guarded in my own country?

At night, I wait till everyone is asleep before sneaking out of the hotel to visit my family on the mainland. I will be back before my crew members wake up tomorrow. How can I be living like a prisoner in my own country?

TUESDAY:

I oversleep, so I wake up late. I say reluctant goodbyes to my family and promise to come back as soon I can. I quickly rush to the hotel and I am lucky that the roads are free. I see the captain as I enter the hotel but he seems distracted. He looks like he wants to say something but he stops himself.

I go up to join my crew members for breakfast and they fill me in. Apparently, the Captain spent the night with a sex worker and she stole his wallet. The Captain is worried about how to report it at headquarters without implicating himself. I laugh so hard because it serves him right.

That’s what he deserves for telling me on the bus to the hotel that the announcement in local languages is distracting. I guess he isn’t used to not getting all the attention. I don’t blame him, it’s the many women who throw themselves at pilots that I blame. Treating them like gods and allowing them take advantage of them. Rubbish. 

After breakfast, I go up to my room to sleep. I need to rest because we are leaving for Europe early the next morning and I must be smart and alert on the flight. 

 WEDNESDAY:

Thankfully, I am working in the Business-class cabin today. I check the passenger list on my iPad to see passengers that have checked in and the ones that are yet to check-in. One passenger catches my eye. An 80-year old woman traveling alone but seated in Economy cabin. She immediately reminds me of my grandmother who I love very much. I make up my mind to help out in the Economy section. Even though the people there can be somehow, I must see her. I console myself with the fact that the Economy cabin is where the fun is.

After sorting out my tasks in Business-class, I go over to check on her. I get another pop-up on the iPad that today is her birthday. I go up to her and wish her a happy birthday. Mama seems surprised and she’s wondering how I know today is her birthday.

I smile.

I can be dramatic, so no one is surprised when I start to sing “happy birthday to you.” And I trust my people in Economy to carry the song with me. No forming in Economy.

After the song, people stand up to go hug mama, shower her gifts, and dash her money. I am moved by the kindness of strangers and it takes everything in me not to cry. Mama starts to address everyone and tells us about how she was expecting a quiet birthday because this is a solo trip. I can’t hold it any longer so I rush out of Economy to find a place to cry.

It’s beautiful when someone starts something that they think is not a big deal and other people take it up and it turns out to mean a lot to the recipient. These moments make me emotional.

After we land, the crew members gather to take photos with mama and we give her the Captain’s hat to wear. Her kids call, she picks and says “Don’t call me, I am with all my children at the airport.” This makes us laugh.

After I get to my hotel, I recall the experience of the day and I cry happy tears. These are the moments I live for in this job.

THURSDAY:

I am going to Asia next. What this means is that I have to do a meal prep. I can’t eat Asian food because I am scared of eating something my system will disagree with. I am going to spend my day shopping at the nearest African market. Thankfully, my hotel room is equipped with a kitchen so I am good to go. All I need to do now is get the raw materials.

I prepare Egusi, Jollof rice, and Efo riro for my trip. I put them in the freezer and set out the bags to carry them in. I also make sure that my portable microwave which goes wherever I go is in good shape. I don’t trust hotel staff with my food so it’s better I control the whole process from start to finish. I also check that all my favourite flours are packed and ready to go.

I go to bed dreaming of eating Amala and Efo riro when I land in Asia.

FRIDAY:

I wonder why people are scared of turbulence. I see it as rocking a baby to sleep. Whenever it happens, it makes me feel very sleepy. The only thing though is that whenever a plane is experiencing turbulence, I pity people who are in the Economy cabin.

All the pressure to balance is on the engine which is located at the back so I can’t even imagine how all the noise and rocking must feel to people there. Well, my job trains me for everything; to be a police officer, security officer, comforter, and to even deliver babies. I have never delivered a baby in the air, but I look forward to it.  

I go over to reassure some of the passengers and calm them down. As I make my rounds, I notice a red light flashing by the engine that I have never seen before. I quickly call my colleague’s attention and he says it’s perfectly normal. His reply doesn’t seem convincing.

flight attendant

I still like my life so I call in to the flight deck to ask for someone to come take a look. The person comes over and explains that there is nothing to be worried about and the flashing light is perfectly normal.

All is well again. I continue to reassure the passengers that there is nothing to be worried about.  

 SATURDAY:

We are staying in Asia for 48 hours. Today, the crew and I are trading experiences on the job and people are sharing some of their escapades. Someone tells us about how sex on a plane should be on our bucket list if it hasn’t happened yet. The reason is that where the crew members sleep is close to the engine room and the noise from the engine drowns out all other sounds. The beauty is that you can moan as loud as you want without anyone hearing a thing. 

Another person shares a story of how a passenger was wanking themselves on their flight. The passenger unzipped their pants and started playing with themselves. Apparently, the passenger had one too many bottles of wine to drink so he was feeling horny.

I remember my own experience with a couple in the Business-class cabin. I had tucked them in for the night in separate beds and I left to quickly attend to something. On my way back into the cabin, I noticed that the husband’s bed was empty. I assumed he had gone to the toilet. However, I noticed movement on his wife’s bed. I realized that they were double instead of single. I quickly went up to them to remove the duvet and said: “Excuse me sir, what are you doing? Go back to your bed, sir”. He was already touching his wife and getting comfortable. I was like “No, no, no, not on my flight.” “We only have 4 more hours to go so please manage.” He didn’t look too pleased but he had to obey. If I had reported him, he could have been banned from flying.

I retire to my hotel room wondering why people get hornier in the air.

SUNDAY:

We are leaving very early tomorrow morning for Europe.Then from there, back home to Lagos.  I need more rest because I am tired. But I must go to church. I look for a local church around me that I am comfortable with and I email them. They send a car to pick me up —  they seem excited to have me. Because of the nature of my job, I am always a first timer in whichever country I find myself.

After the church service, I go back to the hotel. For me to feel well rested, I have to sleep at my usual bedtime in Nigeria because that’s what my body clock is used to. If not, I will mess up my sleep cycle. It’s still afternoon here but it’s already night back at home. So, I close the blinds and force myself to sleep.

I fall asleep dreaming of my next flight to Lagos. I dream of making announcements on the public address system and my people cheering me on. I also dream of being treated like royalty back home and being given the accolades I deserve. I may be an ordinary employee at work, but I am a prince back in Nigeria.


This story was edited for clarity. Some details have been changed to protect the identity of the subject.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life Of” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to me: hassan@bigcabal.com if you want to be featured on this series.

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