TROLLY DOLLY DISHES
Cooking Katy Perry’s breakfast was just part of the job. So was getting bitten by sea snakes and punched by hungry hippos. Owen Beddall tells all in his Confessions Of A Qantas Flight Attendant. Interview by Jesse Archer.
Confessions of a Qantas flight attendant. Yes, there is a Mile High Club!
DNA: This is one juicy book! Did a defamation lawyer have to look over the manuscript before you published?
Owen Beddall: Don’t worry, the Random House lawyers have been over the book very carefully, several times. This is a personal pet peeve, but why the fuck does it take so long for passengers to
board a plane? [Laughs]. It’s usually because people are so bloody slow and they come on with 50 kilos of “essential” in-f light luggage. Everyone wants to get drunk on a longhaul flight. What’s the best way to go about getting yourself over-served by a
flight attendant? Try being nice. If you can find some sort of engagement and play to their ego, you’ll be lathered in Dom Perignon in no time. The most senior flight attendants get the best schedules and flights. So why are they always the most cranky and
snotty? [Laughs] Your words, not mine. It’s probably because they have been worn down by the changing face of the travelling public.
Just because you get off in a nicer destination doesn’t detract from the marathon of roles you have played in-f light to get there. Plus, in reality people check in their brains and their manners with their luggage. A woman once punched you in the jaw because she didn’t get her meal fast enough. What is it about flying that makes
people crazy? I think that it is the frustration of things taking so long. You check in, go through security, passport control and then sit around waiting to board for hours. People are tired, excited, anxious and very frustrated. They then get shoved from person to person and sometimes the first captive staff member they get is the f light attendant. Their minds and fear plays havoc with them. I must say, though, in any other job you’d be arrested if you assaulted someone at work. Could you imagine being mad that your account doesn’t have as much money as you wanted and punching the bank teller!? What is the number one most annoying
thing an amateur passenger does? When they finish their meal and just put it on the f loor or try to help by rearranging all of the trays and handing you them in one big mess. That, and passengers running toward you during boarding with an “emergency”. Invariably they were worried about a connecting f light some 24 hours away or that their non-lactose vegan diet hadn’t been catered for. You mention giving decaf to people who want coffee so you can get them to sleep – what other tricks do flight attendants pull over on unsuspecting travellers? Well, that’s a trade secret. But I will tell you one thing: there is a very good reason why those lights go out quickly on f lights.
Which airline has the best reputation? Virgin these days. Under the watchful eye of my old colleague, John Borghetti. They always seem so happy and the company has gone ahead in leaps and bounds.
Which airline’s crew parties the hardest? British Airways, hands down. No one likes being out on the lash as much as our BA friends. Singapore was the biggest party hub. At one point, you were off your tits in San Francisco and went to the Qantas doctor’s hotel room naked, got down on all fours and propositioned him. How did you keep
your job? [Laughs] That’s something that many have asked. I was drugged at the time. Let’s keep it in perspective. The thought still curdles milk. The book talks about Qantas’ infamous “kangaroo court”. Can you tell us the worst case they ever heard? [Laughs] Probably my own. No, seriously, I couldn’t possibly comment. Although I’m sure there is some interesting reading in employment tribunals for cases that went beyond the kangaroo court. Selling smuggled duty-free cigarettes for profit is one racket one flight attendant had worked out. Is the pay really that
bad? That was just to pay the body corp on her investment property, darlink! When you asked Katy Perry how you should go about making some extra cash, she suggested posing for magazine covers – how is that working out for you? How
much is this interview paying, again? You had real meaningful exchanges in the galley with stars like Katy Perry, Cate Blanchett and Lily Allen. What is it about long-haul travel that allows these people
to open up and share so much? People are in a relaxed state of mind. Everyone is going somewhere and they are somewhat excited or anxious. Add to that some alcohol and you have a chatty old party in the sky. You talk about flight attendants hooking up with passengers in the toilets and passengers with other passengers, but did you join the mile high club? I’m pleading the
fifth on that. What would a flight attendant do if they saw two people going into the toilets together? Not much, join them. Seriously, you
“Bangkok is one of my most favourite places in the world but seeing a colleague in jail there was pretty memorable and very frightening.”
have to be careful not to assume and accuse so often it’s best to just turn a blind eye. You gained 30kgs in the course of your career – was it all due to plane food? A combination of food, partying, ageing, injury and just too much of the good life. Weight has always been my battle. I recently called up Michelle Bridges and begged her to transform me [laughs]! You got a gastric band and lost tons of weight, but called it the worst money you ever spent. Why? I felt like it was forced bulimia and I didn’t eat meat for five years. I had constant ref lux and felt miserable. Bangkok was your route for a while and all kinds of hijinx happened there from sea snake bites to waxing horrors and lady boy action. What was most memorable? Bangkok is a very special city, one of my favourite places in the world, but I have to say that seeing a colleague in jail there was pretty memorable and very frightening. One famous band offered your fellow flight attendants thousands of dollars to smoke in the first class toilets – do those toilet smoke alarms actually work? Yes, but I know how to turn them off. What’s the first advice would you give someone looking at working as a flight attendant? Not to take it too seriously. Don’t
get caught in the company politics. It’s a fun job and you should use it to travel the world – shag your way around – and see and experience things. Get into first class and bag yourself a rich husband ASAP. You encountered true southern hospitality in Dallas, but this one was platonic. Do many flight attendants have boys in every port? It wasn’t exactly platonic but it wasn’t a notch on the bed post, either. It’s so funny because you see all the boys with their phones out on Grindr and Scruff. A lot of them pretend that they are part of some holy sect but, you bump into them in places of a loose nature [laughs]. A lot of female flight attendants are chasing pilots or trophy husband-hunting in a way that feels very Mad Men. Did it ever strike you as backward? It’s as old as doctors and nurses. I don’t necessarily think it’s backwards but it is very funny to watch. People hunt for partners in all sorts of premises. I think these girls are looking for validation and find it in the, uh hum… cockpit. You suffered a ton of injuries on the job from a broken back to deep-vein thrombosis – and you never even crashed! Is it really that dangerous a job or are you just very unlucky? The job does have dangerous elements. It’s also a very physical job and people don’t see that. A lot of f light
attendants carry niggles and injuries because of the fatigue and physicality. The Qantas crew was encouraged to dob in one another and became increasingly disenfranchised. Is this why they’re going bankrupt? I don’t think its the cabin crew that are sending it “bankrupt”. I suspect that’s further up the tree where the corporate part of the job is completely out of touch with the reality of the job. I don’t think you can run a luxury product as a budget product and expect growth. In the merger with Emirates, you had to go through training on how to accommodate Muslims and one lesson was that if there is an issue it’s vital to find a man to solve it. Has Qantas sold its integrity in such a partnership? I would say Qantas has lost its identity as the friendly, stylish and safest airline. As you mentioned, the f light attendants seem cranky, the destinations and the touches of world star elegance are disappearing. It’s a company that doesn’t seem to offer growth. I don’t understand the idea of partnership when they still compete against each other on the same routes and, more disappointingly, Emirates has more international points of contact between Australia and Dubai and the world than Qantas does, if I’m not wrong. In South Africa, another of your routes, you saw some harrowing things and noted overt racism on board. As part Aboriginal yourself, have you suffered from racism and how have you handled it? Yes, I have. I have experienced it from both sides of the fence and I think you can only try and educate people and make them question why they had such views in the first place. Doing this job has really given me a perspective of different cultures and that there are multiple world viewpoints. Who are the worst – and best – passengers, generally speaking? The best are nighttime passengers because they go to sleep. The worst are the self-important nobodies who f ly at all hours. Culture and class don’t separate them. This is your first book. What are you working on next? I’m working on a TV show called So You Want To Be An Author? and also another book. We have had interest to turn this book into a film and I’m also exploring that. For your next international trip, which airline will you fly? [Laughs] Whoever gives me the best deal. I’m f lying to New York and London on Virgin Australia in the upcoming months.
More: Confessions Of A Qantas Flight Attendant: True Tales And Gossip From The Galley is published by Random House.
Author Owen Beddall with celebrity highflier, Katy Perry.