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Emirates Flight attendants
July 3, 2009 11:05 AM   Subscribe

"Innocuous onboard flirting is condoned: Emirates' rules require attendants to politely accept a business card or phone number if it's proffered by a passenger." Inside the life of an Emirates Airlines Flight Attendant.
posted by Heliochrome85 (28 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
from article, second headline: Emirates Flight Attendants Live It Up; Champagne and Strict Rules on Weight

Wow! Champagne and strict rules on weight? Now that's living it up!

Those lucky, lucky flight attendants.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on July 3, 2009


I get the impression being an employee in any field in Dubai would be somewhat ridiculous and borderline-oppressive.
posted by koeselitz at 11:10 AM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


Then don't take a job in Dubai.
posted by Cyrano at 11:12 AM on July 3, 2009


Hey, they have an airline. I thought they only made football uniforms.
posted by gimonca at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Welcome, Dubai. Welcome to ... the 50's!
posted by adipocere at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would like to fly this airline. Out of curiosity. And it makes me feel kind of like a pig.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The night life is reminiscent of college. Ms. Masillamani recalled a recent party at a room in the 21st Century, on Dubai's neon-lighted main strip. Female crew members danced in bikinis while young men sprayed champagne.

Yup. That's exactly what my college life was like.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 11:32 AM on July 3, 2009 [19 favorites]


They need to remind the one who makes their next in-flight safety video to wag her finger when she says smoking isn't allowed.
posted by localroger at 11:40 AM on July 3, 2009


They need to remind the one who makes their next in-flight safety video to wag her finger when she says smoking isn't allowed.

But wouldn't that be ENORMOUSLY PATRONISING and really bloody annoying?

Oh. Wait.

I refuse to watch that video with that girl with the funny/huge mouth that does that, now on principle due to it's shittiness and school teacher tone. I find it hard to believe it isn't some hang over from the 80's, but it is clearly almost brand new. For some reason, flight safety videos and leaflets seem to operate in a different class of tacky and cheap than anything else of the same ilk.

Has anyone seen the amusing photoshopping on the safety card on (American Airlines, I think it is) where the flight attendant in the swimming pool demonstrating life jackets has a perfectly coiffured face and hair shot pasted on to her head crookedly? Truly awesome and worthy of potatoshop skills that even a one-armed monkey could better.
posted by Brockles at 11:54 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


10,000 flight attendants working for Emirates

Damn. That's an order of magnitude more than I thought they'd have.

Looking at their financial filings I see they have 127 a/c and 110,000 departures.

That's . . . 80 flight attendants per plane and 11 departures per attendant per year, about one working flight a month per attendant. They really do must party a lot. ???
posted by @troy at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Emirates' rules require attendants to politely accept a business card or phone number if it's proffered by a passenger.

Premarital sex and homosexuality are both illegal in Dubai.


Dubai, you flirt.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yep Brockles, I will definitely remember seeing that Delta video for the first time as long as I live, as one of those major WHAT. THE. FUCK. moments that attach themselves to your soul and refuse to go away.

The worst thing about it is that now everyone else seems to think that they need cool, hip flight safety shows too.
posted by localroger at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2009


Hell, Dubai's worse than ‘the 50s.’ For example:

  • The illegal sex industry:
    Anything goes here. I mean anything. Dubai is the place where Arabs come to sin – the Bangkok of the Middle East. Sometimes unfrocking, sometimes not, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Bahrainis, Egyptians, fly in daily like a plague of locusts, buzzing into the bars and discotheques of the city. To meet the huge demand for sex, in come planes from other directions, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, packed to the rafters with gum chewing women, anxious to profit from rich Arab punters. Emirates airlines recently opened a new route to Accra, Ghana. It now does good business ferrying African prostitutes back and forth to Dubai. The city thus profits from the transport of its own service workers. Here is a business model that works. An economist recently informed me that vice, directly and indirectly, accounts for over 30% of Dubai's money-go-round. It is big business, and there in every bar in town. Naïve tourists are often amazed to see Saudis, pint in hand, whirling around makeshift dancefloors with Chinese prostitutes. [link]

  • A lack of free speech:
    The UAE's current media law was adopted in 1980 and is a harsh regime whose selective enforcement does little to temper its ill-effects. The law regulates publication of all films, scientific articles, musical compositions, news documents and most other forms of recorded public expression. The law restricts expression through registration requirements and content-based limitations, providing for incarceration of offenders. It has instilled fear of punishment for speaking against the government's position on political, moral and economic concerns, and has pushed UAE journalists and other media organizations into a protracted period of self-censorship and anxiety. [Human Rights Watch; link; update from yesterday, 7/2/2009]

  • An ongoing history of child slavery:
    Dubai's ruler has been accused of enslaving thousands of young children for camel races in a class-action lawsuit filed in the US…The children were said to be from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Asia…Once in Dubai, it is claimed that the children - some of them as young as two - were kept in poor conditions, starved (so as to keep their weight down), abused and forced to take part in a dangerous sport…The use of child camel jockeys was banned in Dubai 13 years ago. [BBC, 2006, link; see also this excellent and heart-wrenching Ansar Burney Trust/HBO documentary on child slavery in Dubai from 2004]

  • Awful workers' rights:
    More than 4,000 south Asian workers who had been jailed since a weekend labor strike were released Wednesday, India's ambassador said, in an incident that has highlighted labor tensions in this booming city. About 160 other strikers, including 90 Indian nationals, remained in custody in Dubai's central jail after United Arab Emirates authorities determined they had participated in violence during the strike, said Tahmiz Ahmad, the Indian ambassador to the Emirates. The workers went on strike Saturday and Sunday over harsh working conditions and demanded pay increases, improved housing and better transportation to construction sites. On Saturday, workers threw stones at riot police and damaged police cars. Ahmad said most of the estimated 4,000 to 4,500 Asian workers, many Indians, who were released returned to to their jobs. Police and Dubai officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Dubai authorities had not announced that workers had been jailed as a result of the strike. [Barbara Surk, AP, Oct 31, 2007, link; emphasis mine]

    While UAE law governing issues such as workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation, child labor, hours of work and leave time are admirable when taken at face value, there is little evidence of its enforcement in favor of workers’ rights. What is also apparent in the cases examined by Human Rights Watch, as well as those documented in news reports, is that recourse to the government or the judiciary is of limited use to workers. Aggrieved workers are entitled to seek a hearing before the Ministry of Labor, which arbitrates disputes and refers unresolved cases to the judiciary, but the availability of arbitration remains a limited option…Overall, there is a sense that the government considers labor problems a private affair. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, the head of the Work Permit Department in the Ministry of Labor, Abdulla Saeed Saif Bin Suloom Alfalasi, placed the blame for labor abuses on foreign private businesses, saying, “In many cases it is expat employers who are violating the workers rights… We have set up a hotline for workers to report complaints. What more can we do? We are not angels.”128 Furthermore, both public officials and media reports have noted with concern the appearance of a conflict of interest among government officials who are responsible for implementing the labor law.129 Some government officials who work in the Ministry of Labor and the Immigration Administration are themselves sponsors and employers of migrant workers. [Human Rights Watch, Nov 2006, link]

  • Recent allegations of torture by the royal family of suspected ‘double-crossers’:
    A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country's royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails. A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim's arms and legs, and later holding him down as the Sheikh pours salt on the man's wounds and then drives over him with his Mercedes SUV. In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed. "The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior," the Interior Ministry's statement declared. The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother. The government statement said its review found "all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department." [ABC News, Apr 22, 2009, link; emphasis mine]

  • All in all, not a wonderful country in general if you're not one of the wealthy, landed elite.
    posted by koeselitz at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2009 [21 favorites]


    Btw, Emirates apparently has 220 employees per plane. It'd be cool to see a picture of a plane with all the crews and back-office people broken out on the tarmac.

    United has 50,000 employees:

    16,000 support, 13,000 attendants, 6,000 pilots, 5,000 mechanics (plus 10,000 non-union mgmt I guess).
    posted by @troy at 12:19 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


    All in all, not a wonderful country in general if you're not one of the wealthy, landed elite.

    To tell you the truth, it's pretty great unless you're in the bottom 20% or so. (in which case it is pretty awful)
    posted by atrazine at 1:13 PM on July 3, 2009


    Hmm. Weird, disorienting combination of sleazy and uptight. Ick.
    posted by Neofelis at 1:15 PM on July 3, 2009


    Also, while Dubai is indubitably worse than the '50s in, say, the United States or Western Europe, it is also way better than most of its neighbours now - and definitely in the 50's.

    What we think of as 'normal' in terms of human rights might be normative (everyone should strive to emulate it) but is not normal in the statistical sense.
    Those people who do not live in the Americas north of the Rio Grande, or in Eurasia west of the Urals (maybe even further west than that) do not have the rights and privileges that we take for granted.

    Remember people, this country shares a looong land border with Saudi Arabia, strong historical ties with Pakistan and Iran. Many of the leading Emirati families, especially in Dubai - not so much in Abu Dhabi, are actually ethnically Pakistani and Iranian. Many of the midlevel managers here who are the footsoldiers in the abuse of the workers are from Pakistan, from sub-saharan Africa, from the Central Asian bits of the CIS - these are all places where workers are treated even worse than they are 'here' (I sometimes live in Dubai, but I'm actually in Saudi at the moment). So these supervisory dudes are thinking, what's the problem? this is better than how we treat manual labour in Sudan.

    I think part of the problem for Dubai is the way they marketed themselves, as some kind of Utopian holiday destination in the sun. People don't think of the physical geography, they think in terms of airline hubs and spokes - it's like a Tube or Metro diagram rather than a map. People think "Place I saw on the telly with nice hotels and shopping" not "Surrounded by Saudi Arabia and Iran". (Obviously the local tourist board downplays the geography)

    So of course when they market Dubai as a modern city-state, people develop Expectations.
    They say - that shit might fly in Saudi (where nobody goes on beach holidays) but in Dubai, no. It jars with their desired media image.

    I think though, that this kind of recitation of facts, shorn of regional and historical context, is a little unfair. I mean, it's not that any of that stuff is factually untrue. But it would be like me excoriating the American state of New Hampshire as a den of unbridled savagery because:
    -It has a death penalty
    -Gay Marriage is only just now legal O.M.G. (welcome to the 1960s!)
    -Workers rights are for shit
    -No gov't health care system
    Now by my (Dutch) standards all those things are a little weird and antediluvian, but if I used them to paint NH as some kind of reactionary hellhole it would look odd to American readers.
    Because NH barely ever actually executes anybody, actually does have full marriage rights (now at least) and has better worker's rights than many other American States. It's not that the criticisms are illegitimate, just that they fail to take regional and historical context into account. New England isn't exactly the most conservative part of the US, and any account of it that did not mention that would be flawed.

    That's a little how I feel about your list of horrors.
    I spend my professional time mostly in Africa, in the rest of the Middle East, and in South East Asia. Did you know that in India - which is a democracy after all, and a vigorous one - there are upwards of 10 MILLION indentured hereditary slaves? I would say that this whole region is fucked, but the truth is just the other way around. We are privileged, this shit is the global norm for now.

    When I get back from Yemen or Cameroon to Dubai, I am returning to one of the freest places within a 6 hour flight (India is the big exception, its problems notwithstanding). You might say that this reflects more on the region's brutality than on Dubai's enlightenment, fair enough, but it is still true.

    Yes, things are getting better, even here, but the baseline from which they are improving is appalling. And while I look forward to the day that everywhere is up to the standards of Western Europe is now, that day will not come in your lifetime or mine.

    Sorry that this comment ended up so long and ranty, there isn't much to do here at night.
    posted by atrazine at 1:54 PM on July 3, 2009 [28 favorites]


    Weird, disorienting combination of sleazy and uptight.

    That's Dubai for you.

    Mike Davis really nailed the place in this brilliant essay.
    posted by WPW at 2:18 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


    On the flip side of the coin, check out experiences on Emirates from frequent travelers on airliners.net. There's good and bad to be found.
    posted by crapmatic at 2:19 PM on July 3, 2009


    On the subject of whores, I once had a mefi meetup with a visiting mefite at a bar near my house. About five minutes after I mentioned that "There's not likely to be any whores here because it's more of a sports bar", a whole bunch walked in and started circulating.
    posted by atrazine at 2:44 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


    atrazine: When I get back from Yemen or Cameroon to Dubai, I am returning to one of the freest places within a 6 hour flight (India is the big exception, its problems notwithstanding). You might say that this reflects more on the region's brutality than on Dubai's enlightenment, fair enough, but it is still true. Yes, things are getting better, even here, but the baseline from which they are improving is appalling. And while I look forward to the day that everywhere is up to the standards of Western Europe is now, that day will not come in your lifetime or mine.

    atrazine, thank you for your extremely interesting first-hand account of what the area is like.

    I don't have anything close to the actual personal experience with the area that you do, but I get the impression that one of the other things that complicates the matter is the sheer disparity of conditions in Dubai: the richest people in the world live in an extreme and decadent style of luxury alongside some of the most abject working conditions in the world. Like you said, middle managers can say ‘what's the problem? It's better here than the Sudan’—and at the same time, they can say, ‘what's the problem? Almost everybody lives a hideous life of poverty in Sudan, whereas here only the bottom 5% live that kind of life.’ It may well seem scandalous to us that anybody in society has to live a life of abject slavery, but from that point of view it is a kind of progress that the number of people in that condition is decreased.

    I think the thing that makes me most uneasy about Dubai and Saudi Arabia is the fact that they are in many ways the most modernized nations in the immediate area—and they still seem to have problems that, were the whole middle east to adopt their systems, would be disastrous. It's analogous to the problem I see with the current situation in China: many economists have bright expectations for that nation, principally because they expect that the recent rise of capitalism there will bring with it a more open, democratic society. I think this is true, up to a point, but it has some limits which could be disastrous; in other words, a free and open society most likely has to be at least in some degree capitalist (if, in any case, people are to be free to own property and have benefit from that property) but I don't believe that a capitalist society is necessarily free and open. Dubai and Saudi Arabia represent what seems to me to be a somewhat dangerous amalgam of western and middle eastern societies; they allow some great freedoms owing to the fact that they owe their existence and maintenance to large, wealthy patrons, but they allow these freedoms only to those who can afford them, breaking society into a rigidly class-defined heirarchy and perpetuating and even amplifying some of the worst aspects of the traditional Arabian societies they derive from: racism, sexism, social bias, and monetary oppression.

    In short, I feel as though the typically American confidence that injecting capitalism in the form of an embrace and encouragement of monetary exchange will automatically lead to greater freedom is groundless. Dubai and Saudi Arabia seem, in any case, to suffer from a rather severe dearth of public discourse over what justice means, how to arrange society so that justice is increased, what we owe to society and what society owes to us, and how citizens should be involved in governance; they are made up rather of largely independently and privately wealthy citizens who require little more than that they're allowed to run their lives and households as they see fit. This is a kind of ‘freedom,’ but it's a freedom that's not really worthy of the name; as the Human Rights Watch article I linked above on workers' rights puts it, “Overall, there is a sense that the government considers labor problems a private affair;” the same article quotes a government labor official as saying: “We have set up a hotline for workers to report complaints. What more can we do? We are not angels.” This is a mindset to which the very notions of civic virtue and political service do not even occur.

    For this reason, there are some aspects of life which I tend to feel must be better in, say, Tehran; in Tehran, a general equality of conditions and smaller proportion of independently and privately wealthy people leads to much more group-feeling, a sense of connection to society felt by all—so that people can have a lively public discourse about the justice or injustice of the government, about the right or wrong things it has done, and about the free or oppressive nature of its governance. One may think many things about Ruhollah Khomeini, but most of all he was a contradiction: he was a brilliant theorist who governed stupidly, and an expositor of a free and democratic system who managed to subvert that very same system through his own impulsive desire for control. I think there are many fine things about the republic he founded, and I hope that those fine aspects outshine the flaws and foolishnesses.

    As it stands, I think that the democratic inspirations found in the Islamic Republic of Iran probably present a much more hopeful and promising model for future states in that area than Dubai or Saudi Arabia. This may seem counter-intuitive, since Iran is certainly much less free in many ways than Dubai or Saudi Arabia; but I'd rather an Islamic government embrace the best aspects of democracy—as one sees in many of Khomeini's pre-republic writings on how the people must consent to the rule of the leaders for those leaders to be legitimate, and on how the people must be allowed to have real political discourse and involvement in the process of government—than the worst aspects of democracy. I fear that Dubai and Saudi Arabia unfortunately do the latter; this is my interpretation of their kind of open capitalism which turns a blind eye to slavery, oppression of workers, widespread abuse, and even torture.

    That's only my own opinion, however; I'd be interested, atrazine, to know what you think of all this.

    Also, I have a specific question: my sense is that there's a lot of resentment in much of the middle east toward Dubai and the Saudi peninsula principally because these places are often seen as western-influenced dens of iniquity where sinners go to play. Have you found this to be true? Also, the first article I quoted implied that there is a rising tension between Dubai and the neighboring Sharjah, a hotbed of Wahhabism which looks down on Dubai's freedom and licentiousness. Is this true? What's the nature of this tension—is it something people in Dubai talk about much?

    Thank you again for your unique and highly interesting perspective.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:26 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


    atrazine: On the subject of whores, I once had a mefi meetup with a visiting mefite at a bar near my house. About five minutes after I mentioned that "There's not likely to be any whores here because it's more of a sports bar", a whole bunch walked in and started circulating.

    I've been going to the wrong meetups.

    posted by koeselitz at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2009


    I've flown Emirates a couple of times. Absolute luxury, even in coach. What struck me most about the attendants was that they wore the "veil" attached to their hats while on the ground in Dubai, then the veils came off as soon as the plane was in the air. Just a little detail I wondered about.
    posted by brownpau at 4:26 PM on July 3, 2009


    Interestingly enough, I was having a conversation about Emirates with a friend of mine--flight attendant for AC--today. He was hired by Emirates last year (at an astounding rate of pay), but turned it down when he read the following bits of the contract (paraphrased):
    * Upon landing in Dubai, each flight attendant gets one free 5-minute uncensored phone call home to family;
    * All costs (uniform etc) are borne by the employee
    * Men and women are segregated in the compound (which made both of us giggle; are they unaware that approximately 300% of male flight attendants are gay?)
    * If parents visit, they can only visit the compound at specified hours
    * Passports are kept by the airline, only returned when the employee is actually flying. He seemed to indicate that the company takes them back as soon as they are processed through Immigration in whatever country.

    Etc. That luxury--which, piggish as it must be, a part of me wants to try--is coming at the expense of what is (practically, compared to most Euromerican norms of employment) slave labour.
    posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


    When you're on a 24 hour+ flight to London on an Emirates flight, you're not really thinking about the resritctions placed on the flight attendants. I don't feel guilty about it, friends that have taken positions as attendants on Emirates seem to be granted oppourtunities most people from their backgrounds couldn't even dream of. It's still one of the best airline I've ever flown on.
    posted by liquorice at 9:34 PM on July 3, 2009


    koeselitz: Like you said, middle managers can say ‘what's the problem? It's better here than the Sudan’—and at the same time, they can say, ‘what's the problem? Almost everybody lives a hideous life of poverty in Sudan, whereas here only the bottom 5% live that kind of life.’ It may well seem scandalous to us that anybody in society has to live a life of abject slavery, but from that point of view it is a kind of progress that the number of people in that condition is decreased.

    Dubai warrants an increased level of moral scrutiny precisely because, unlike Sudan, it's a playground for the rich and educated. Not only are those with power and influence indifferent in the face of oppression, they gain significantly from it. Of course, plenty of the rich and powerful have financial interest in the Sudan's current disorder. Still, we rightfully are even more disgusted that someone could do such a thing when they are staring their victims in the eyes.

    That being said, thanks to you and atrazine for the excellent commentary.
    posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:55 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


    The basic rule about Dubai - and I'm guessing Emirates - is that it's great. Until it's not. It is a recurring theme in British press these past few months.

    I've flown Emirates a few times. It's undoubtedly one of the best run airlines out there. But would I work for a company, or in a country where a certain lifestyle is tacitly condoned but where the cost of crossing the line is so high? No way.

    A friend of mine who lived in Dubai in the 80s - and whose dad was one Emirates' first pilots, funnily enough - used to tell a story about traffic accidents involving one of the country's elite. If you were unlucky enough to be on the end of someone's bad driving and you were a foreigner you were still held to be culpable on the grounds that if you, the foreigner, hadn't been there in the first place the other guy couldn't have hit you.

    Anyway, back on topic. Emirates also ran Sri Lankan Airlines for 10 years, and with some success. While it wasn't quite on a par with Emirates proper, it was a league ahead of, say, Air India. When the Sri Lankan President demanded 35 tickets at zero notice to fly back from London to Colombo and was politely told that the airline couldn't just kick 35 business class passengers off. Shortly afterwards, the Chief Exec of Sri Lankan Airlines had his visa renewed and the whole partnership disintegrated.
    posted by MuffinMan at 3:08 AM on July 4, 2009


    Agreed, awesome conversation, koeselitz and atrazine.
    posted by crapmatic at 6:23 PM on July 4, 2009


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