In-depth interviews with travel industry insiders
I once read that one of the more annoying things a passenger can do on a flight is to order a Diet Coke, because at 35,000 ft the fizz refuses to settle, meaning it takes an age to pour.
When I put this to Luke Marshall he laughs and retorts: “Well, that was clearly said by someone who hasn’t tried opening a bottle of Champagne at 35,000 ft!”
Fair point. Luke works as a flight attendant for EasyJet and I’ve met him at Gatwick Airport to find out a bit about his job and what it’s like to travel for a living. We’re perched facing one another on a couple of desks in an otherwise empty room in the higher reaches of the South Terminal. I didn’t even know this area existed, but it’s a fitting location – he tells me it’s where, until very recently, EasyJet used to train new crew members, including himself 7 months ago.
The competition for this line of work is ferocious and it took a staggering five years of applying before Luke – now 23 – got his foot in the door. Literally, the door to this room. But he was determined.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, from a very early age. Aviation has always been a passion of mine.”
I wonder what he would say to someone looking to follow in his footsteps. “If you’re not prepared for a complete lifestyle change then you should really consider whether this job is for you. You have to be prepared to write off some of your social life and to work varied hours. If you are prepared for all of that, then go for it. It’s a very rewarding and enjoyable job and you will make friends for life.”
He is clearly suited to the vocation. When I met him in the Arrivals hall he strolled out grinning, remarkably chipper for someone who’d just flown to Marseille and back. And in the lift he had asked an elderly lady: “Which floor, my love?” I wondered if that was a little forward for addressing a stranger, but such is Luke’s affable manner and natural charm she just gazed at him like a long lost grandson. But surely even for him it must be difficult having to be in a constant good mood, especially in a customer-facing role.
“Occasionally, yes,” he confirms with endearing honesty, “but you’re the face of the airline and you have a standard to meet. The passengers and the crew expect you to be an outgoing person. This is your job.”
Apart from being outgoing, Luke says it’s crucial for cabin crew to have a sense of humour, something he demonstrates when I ask the inevitable question about passengers intent on joining a certain club.
“Ha! Yes, we do get them. As far as I’m aware it’s not illegal. Frankly, if two people can fit themselves into those toilets I have every admiration. But no, I’ve never had an amorous couple on board. I’m really not sure how I’d react to that situation. I’d probably just start giggling!”
Much more grave are people who ding their call bells at inappropriate moments (such as take-off) and more times than is necessary (i.e. once). This, according to Luke, is the single most irritating thing a passenger can do: “I’m sure every cabin crew would agree with me. I don’t know what they expect us to do when the plane is bolting down the runway, but I’m certainly not getting up!”
Even this rare deviation from complete positivity is said with a wry smile: this is someone who cares deeply about his job. “My favourite thing about it is getting to meet such an array of people. I love it. I absolutely love it. No day is ever the same: you never fly with the same crew or passengers and, of course, the destinations are different.”
Ah, the destinations. It all seems incredibly exciting, jetting here, there and everywhere, day in day out, but Luke is quick to inject a dose of reality, telling me that usually the crew just go there and back, with a turnaround time of about 30 minutes. An age old debate among travellers is what actually counts as ‘visiting’ a destination, with the classic point of contention being the brief stint in an airport. I mention this to Luke.
“Technically, you’ve landed on the soil of that country, so in my eyes that counts as visiting.”
I ask him if he enjoys travelling for leisure: “I love travelling and wish I had the chance to do it more often.” With that in mind, I wonder if it must be difficult having to leave foreign countries so soon after landing.
“It’s cruel. One of my favourite places to land is Sardinia. I look out the window every time coming in, and all I can think is that it’s just such a beautiful island. Having said that, on the way back from these places I love finding out about passengers’ experiences, like the places to stay and the things to do. It means when I get my chance I have a base of knowledge to work on.”
Despite the short turnarounds, I can’t help but perceive this job as glamorous, even on a budget airline. Luke’s not so sure.
“The way cabin crew are perceived has changed since the earlier days of passenger flights, when being a flight attendant was incredibly elite and glamorous. There is still a sense of glamour to it – and we all have a standard to meet to ensure we’re looking lovely – but I wouldn’t say that that’s necessarily something associated with low-cost air travel.”
But then he tells me about the time he had Colin Firth on board, and that the other day William and Kate were on the EasyJet flight behind his, and that the Royal Family in general frequently use the airline. And then there’s the Champagne…
It all sounds pretty glamorous to me.
Next week we interview a travel entrepreneur, our second industry insider!
One of my favourite places to land is Sardinia...it's such a beautiful island
"The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time" - Bill Bryson