“It’s a huge cultural shock as women here do not have the right to work, travel or even drive a car. Thankfully my job allows me to fly away”
Morning tea in Paris and evening coffee in Rome! Truly maddeningly exciting! Isn’t it? Well such is the life of Prachi Bhalla, all of 29, bubbly, effervescent and a girl full of life. But hey, as they say there are no free lunches in the world and Prachi pays her price.
Cabin crew for the last 5 years with a renowned international Middle East airline, Prachi says life constantly on the go is thrilling, indeed it would be when you have the luxury of sometimes flying to two countries in a single day! A 9 to 5 job is alien to her but her job doesn’t come without its own share of exasperating ‘now enough’ moments as she tells us “professionally it’s exciting but physically it takes a toll on our body due to cabin pressure and erratic work hours. I do feel like resting but not without knowing my roster for the next month.” So in short she sums up “flying is addictive“.
The real challenge comes when she being a cosmopolitan girl hailing from a liberal family in Delhi has to live in a country as conservative as Saudi Arabia. You thought India isn’t as modern as it should be for women? Listen to this then. “Saudi Arabia is a chess board. Men wear white thobe and women, black abaya, regardless of the temperature outside, 20 degrees or 50. It’s a huge cultural shock as women here do not have the right to work, travel or even to drive a car. Thankfully my job allows me to fly away from this place very often”. Despite these over the top rules and restrictions, Prachi admits that in her heart she’s forged an unsaid bond with this Arab world. She savours their mouth watering delicacies like kabsa (rice and chicken), fool (mashed beans) and a myriad other mystic recipes.
Hearing this, my next question came as if on auto mode. In a far away country and one that thrives on it’s orthodox culture, one of course would sorely miss the comfort of home with family around. Prachi though isn’t all that morose, “It is only on festivals and special occasions that I miss my folks around me, otherwise I get enough free tickets to fly to my home country and see my family as frequently as once a month for about 5 days. But yes I really miss home cooked food. It’s difficult to get that authentic taste at any Indian restaurant located abroad. Probably it’s psychological.”
But of course with a lifestyle that has you jet setting around the world all the time, the biggest compromise comes in the form of letting go of your desire to have a family of your own, well in most cases, as Prachi shares with us, “every take off and landing takes you further away from stable life. Lack of time and greed to travel to new places works against the institution called marriage. It’s difficult to find a partner who can put up with the uncertainty with which you live and if you do, it’s hard to keep it going. That’s why most of the cockpit and cabin crew are either separated or single.”
Well but let me tell you if the cabin crew leads a life without a partner or family, there are enough on board to keep them entertained through their journey. There are hilarious passengers galore for them to encounter every day. I am still not over with my fits of laughter after what I heard. “Sometimes language becomes a big barrier. One Japanese passenger made sounds of all possible animals to know what is being served like ‘may’ for goat and ‘prick prick’ for chicken. Another one on a china flight insisted on meeting the captain. As a policy no visitors are allowed in the cockpit. So he started banging the cockpit door. The captain prepared everything according to the hijack procedure only to find out later that the passenger just wanted to get a picture clicked with him!” Thank god I aint a cabin crew, I would have probably smacked the passenger hard on the jaw.
Those were funny passengers, Prachi tells us about different people in different countries who possess their own unique character traits. She warns us not to think otherwise but Arab men do have a peculiar way to greet each other. “Male camaraderie comes across very clearly. Men kiss men by touching nose to nose and lips to lips in public. Whereas men in Italy are lovers by nature and their appreciation for female beauty borders on almost eve teasing. Words like ‘Bella’ and ‘Kareena’ which means beautiful and lovable are commonly heard on the streets”, quips Prachi.
Now here comes the part that’ll probably have your jaws dropped. I didn’t quite expect my hair to rise when I asked Prachi about her most hair raising experience on board a flight.“The flight started at night from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Manila, Philippines. A pregnant lady started getting pangs just when we were cruising above the sea, so emergency landing was out of the question. The lady was asked to lie down on the floor and blankets were used to make an enclosure. With the training we received, we successfully delivered a baby girl on flight who was named Sabah on one of our crew’s name as she was the one who had cut the umbilical cord.” Wow, lucky baby, she now enjoys a lifetime of free travel with the airline she was born in. Some people are just born to fly!
Like Prachi aptly puts down, “once a cabin crew, always a cabin crew“.
PS: Name of the cabin crew changed for anonymity.