By IKENNA EMEWU
At altitude 36,000ft on the heavy jetliner, Boeing 777 of the Ethiopian Airline, over 400 passengers were seated and some eight ladies ran the whole length of the two aisles attending to them one at a time.
Sometime into the five hours Addis Ababa-Lagos flight, boredom of sitting for a long time had starting having a toll on most passengers. Being on the shorter of the two-leg flight with an initial longer 10 and half hours from Beijing to Addis, I had the need to stretch out.
The short stroll in the cabin ended in the kitchen compartment of the aircraft located in between two cabins.
It was a nice relief chatting up two strangers – some of the ladies busy attending to the passengers, including me. That chat later turned interesting and a reporter’s delight with the ladies freely telling the story of their challenging jobs without an inkling of the profession of their new friend asking questions without disguising a clue.
It actually didn’t start as interview. But when the answers that came were so interesting, the need to press further and get a scoop arose.
Salam and Hilina are two amiable and beautiful young women in the early and mid 20s by my guess. Whereas Salam had been flying as a career for nine months since joining the Ethiopian Airline, Hilina had done that for two years.
How do they handle the nerve-cutting job of the high altitude and hazards of cruising through bumpy clouds, winds at very high knots that threaten and wobble the stability of the heavy kites? Hilina simply says she sees herself like a soldier who had volunteered to pay the price with her life in the line of duty should that arise. As a result, she gives no hoot about what might happen to her safety although she plans to put in three more years and call it quits with routine and duty bound flights.
On what she would do next after leaving the sky, she said she never gave a thought to that. But my suggestion of business of her own clicked immediately as the trained health officer at a university she never disclosed the name but simply said is in the hinterland away from Addis Ababa, doesn’t contemplate taking up a job in any health facility. The possibility of getting such job is slim as she says Ethiopia has very few hospitals to absorb the trained health workers like her.
To Salam who has put in shorter duration in the job, the thought of quitting is really out of sight and mind. She is still relishing the swag of the job. And who would not after she has flown to over 50 countries in just nine months and with a juicy pay.
Salam is a graduate of engineering who had set out to be a pilot but her ambition was truncated because of her height that fell short of the prerequisite. To compensate for her flying urge and attachment, she decided to not leave the sky and rather work as cabin crew since piloting could not be.
Flying as career has so much trappings as Hilina declared with pride that; She has been to all the 110 countries in the routes of the Ethiopian Airline, and above all “I love the job because while others pay to see and visit the world, I am rather paid to visit the world and it is a thing of pride that I have been everywhere.”
In the four routes Ethiopian Airline flies in Nigeria, Hilina hasn’t been to only Kano, but recalled that next week, she has a schedule to fly to Kano. She had been to Enugu, Abuja and Lagos several times.
Moreover, the issue of sequestration and ban from marriage or having a child crew ladies are meant to abide by is not known in the Ethiopian Airline as the ladies revealed. “Yes, we know that about many airlines and are even sure of those that do that, but here, crew ladies are free to marry or have babies.”
Hear this: “Our job entails flying for at least 90 hours every month and that is hectic.”
On hearing that, I counted it out to Salam that she had grossed 810 hours in the sky in just three quarters of a year.
For Hilina, her two years is reduced to 2,160 hours in the sky working day and night, and having little time for herself. She says she scarcely sees her family where she is the only girl and has three brothers. “My parents and siblings live away from Addis, so I mostly call them on phone as vacations hardly come or get approved. But I don’t worry much because I love the job, and the pay is also good.”
What about social life or seeing friends, Hilina seldom does as she uses her few free hours out of work to rest and do some few other things. So relating with friends is essentially by phone call.
Regarding the passengers relationship with the crew ladies, they said the passengers have good and ill-behaved ones. Some are friendly, many are not, and rather treat us without respect not knowing that all of us are well educated. There are some of us that have their masters degree. But we are trained to handle all manner of passengers and their moods especially in turbulent flights and when they are instructions that passengers sit down or behave in particular ways. Since it is our job, we face it with professional candour.”
However, taking a selfie with a passenger is a flat no, just as allowing a passenger take photo of them. Lifting the camera and aiming at them attracted a vehement refusal. There was no need running foul of the rule as that may endanger their jobs. I had to abide, knowing there would be hundreds of Ethiopian Airline crew photos on the internet for the report.
Moreover, with such courteous and friendly young women chatting freely with a passenger, there was a duty to preserve their jobs, their good nature and culture of professionalism. Hilina and Salam all had the qualities of great ambassadors of the brand they represent. They were simply wonderful African ladies. To Salam who interpreted her name to mean ‘peace’ I reminded I have a daughter her name means ‘peace’ too, and to Hilina who said she is first and only daughter of the parents, I told she is ‘Ada’ in my language. She was happy to admit to be called Ada immediately.
One noticeable thing about Ethiopian Airlines crew team is the preponderance of ladies and virtual absence of men. But the two ladies had a ready answer – the men among them are older and more experienced seniors and therefore work as supervisors. Even the older and senior ladies are also supervisors. However, they are also flights where men serve as cabin crew attendants.
File phoyo of Ethiopian Airline crew from google images