24 hours in the Maldives
Why would someone go to the Maldives for just one day? One of my previous travel jobs was working as a flight attendant, which I only did for a couple of years, a while back.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to advertise this on my blog, since I don’t want to be forever labeled as a flight attendant in your minds: I’ve done so many other things and so many other travels. I have a university degree and I did lots of solo traveling before I met my hubby. I’ve done office jobs in tourism and also in completely unrelated fields. I’m adventurous, a daydreamer, I love photography, art, and chocolate. I’m also a horrible cook and I can’t sing at all. So please don’t only think of me as one of those tired, rude ex-flight attendants you’ve met somewhere on your travels and that you still have nightmares about. (Think of me as someone who can’t sing! Just kidding.)
I always feel bad for my ex-colleagues being slammed in social media because most flights attendants I’ve met, here in Northern Europe, were always very friendly and genuinely tried to give their best customer service in every situation, despite the circumstances.
So, what was it like being a flight attendant? It was hectic, tiring, fun, annoying, amazing, a dream job, a lifestyle you chose and a huge jet-lagged blur. One day I’d be in a desert town in the UAE eating delicious shawarmas at the mall, the next day watching movies in my hotel room in a Scandinavian capital, then a quick visit home to do laundry and the next week I’d be sunbathing by the pool at a nice hotel in Thailand.
It was all so much, you didn’t know how to handle it at first. You appreciated it and at the same time took it for granted. I saw so much in such short stretches of time, it was almost like a loophole in time where one week seemed to last an eternity. At one point I was so jet-lagged that I didn’t know if I was coming or going. (Guess it depends on the perspective, too!) I’d look at my watch and I honestly couldn’t tell if it was 4:30 am or 4:30 pm and in which time zone.
Flight attendant jobs can probably be very different depending on your country and the airline, so I’m only speaking from my own experience. Some people say that the job isn’t as glamorous anymore, but I have to say it was pretty awesome in my opinion. It depends on what you compare it to. An ex-colleague put it well when she told me that she doesn’t mind at all smiling and pouring passengers as many drinks as they like for a couple of hours, since afterwards she gets to spend a whole week by the pool while it is mid-winter back home. To her mind, we were the ones who had the winning deal – after all, some weeks we only worked a couple of shifts. That’s less hours than in an office job and much more adventure. You felt alive, like you were doing something.
Obviously there’s the downside: always working holidays and night shifts and sleeping irregularly. I remember spending one Xmas by myself at an airport hotel, just waiting. They had sent me there in advance on one of the last flights before it slowed down for Xmas day so that I would be there, ready and positioned, for the connecting flight I was to work on after Xmas. They stacked me there like a bag of flour on a bakery shelf, to wait until I was needed. It was at times lonely, but that’s what you signed up for, so no complaining!
As a flight attendant, you do your grocery shopping abroad, and you get to know all the best hotel brekkies (my favorite was Sofitel Krabi, Thailand – back in those days, they made fresh fruit juice for you from whatever you hand-picked from a huge tropical fruit banquet, plus there was lots of everything else imaginable). You meet flight attendants with PhD’s in marine biology and who only dream of flying for a living, and your 12 h work shifts feel like 15 minutes but in your body you also feel like you’ve just run a marathon. Or been run over by a truck. Your pick.
I did both long haul and short haul but I preferred working in smaller planes doing short haul flights with a small crew. On those flights, I had more responsibility and I also got to do announcements in different languages, which I loved.
Some memorable flight attending moments from long haul trips
In the largest aircraft I worked in, we had a huge crew and a rotating mandatory rest period. When it was your turn, you’d go up to a crew rest area, so tiny you couldn’t stand straight. There were several little bunks, kind of like in a train but smaller. You’d choose a bed and strap yourself to it with a seatbelt and try to sleep, but not too well since you knew you had to wake up pretty soon anyway. For some reason, my rest period always coincided with the plane flying over mountains causing turbulence, the feeling of which was pronounced when you’re trying to lie down for a rest. I shook like an earthworm being held to the bunk by a thin seatbelt. Very strange. And no, I never fell asleep.
I also remember sitting in the crew taxi riding to a hotel from Dubai airport once and admiring an enormous orange moon over the dry landscape. It was beautiful. The rest of the crew was asleep or texting and I thought, Am I dreaming this? Am I the only one seeing this moon?
I remember the lovely passengers who were always so curious to know about a flight attendant’s job or who told me about their holiday in Barcelona or their summer house in Switzerland. I remember all of those conversations. And I remember a sweet, elderly passenger politely helping his wife with her winter coat, like she was a princess, and he had a proud smile on his face. After all those years together, he was still such a gentleman.
I remember the entire crew discreetly dancing and humming along to the airline’s boarding song on an empty airplane just before passengers boarded. I was positioned at the back so I had a great view.
And I remember watching tiny sharks swim in a circle in the shallow beach waters of an island in the Maldives. Which island? Unfortunately, I don’t know. It turned out, the regular crew hotel was overbooked so they had to relocate us onto a totally different island than we normally would have stayed at. They whisked us away on a little motor boat and we drank bottled water which tasted salty and we felt so sweaty in our full outfits, including obligatory silk scarves and sheer tights, even in this 30-40 °C temperature.
We were all so exhausted that we didn’t even ask where we were going. We just wanted to be there already. It all seemed so normal then. Crew arrangements were made by someone else and in between flights we were just responsible for showing up on time. When we arrived at the beautiful little island, we got our little (non-alcoholic) welcome drinks while the reception sorted us out, then we dragged our luggage in our high heels on the fine, white sand over to our bungalows.
We had each been assigned individual two-storey bungalows with private outdoor jacuzzis. Even the shower was outdoors, in the private little backyard you had to yourself. We all went to the beach together, had dinner, then we left in the morning. But before dinner, I went out to the beach by myself just one last time and looked around. I had always wanted to visit the Maldives but never had the money.
Through all my jet-lagged haziness, I still remember that moment clearly. The highlight of my 24 hours in the Maldives. The sky was pink, quickly getting dark. The water was the exact same color. And just as I was about to tip my toes into the water, I saw those little sharks swimming in a circle in front of me. Just like in a cartoon. That was my Maldives moment.