A Day in the Work Life of Ugochi Obidiegwu: Airline Cabin Crew Safety Officer
Every time I have to travel by air on a plane, I'm genuinely intrigued by the cabin crew and my thoughts range from the serious - how they ended up in that role, fears and challenges about being up in the air many times, perks of frequent travel - to less important things like whether or not they truly like their uniform!
Thanks to this feature, you and I get some answers to these questions. Ugochi is an airline Cabin Crew and Safety Officer in Lagos, Nigeria. Asides this day job, she's also known as "The Safety Chic" on social media, where she engages in safety conscious advocacy and focuses on creating unique safety education products for children and educators in order to intentionally groom safety conscious children. She's also an author of a child safety storybook series - The Adventures of Muna.
She shares her work life with us, tips for a similar career and perks of the job - amongst other things. I particularly love the story around her most favourable moment on the job - and you will too!
1. On waking up and morning rituals
The days I have an early morning flight, my alarm goes off at 3.40. Then I snooze twice 10 minutes apart to officially get up at 4 am. I really love my sleep so the 3.40 is a way of coaxing my body to get ready to get up! The days I'm in the mood, I squeeze a little exercise before bathing and dressing up. I leave home at about 4.45 but at the latest, 5 am so I can get to work before 6 am. My home is quite a distance from the airport, however, I'm always against traffic so it works for me.
On days I do not have an early flight, I take my time. But if I haven't scheduled my social media posts for "The Safety Chic" platform, I wake up before 7 to do it manually.
2. Getting to work...
Some days I drive. Early on when I got the job, my dad dropped me off when I had early morning flights. I usually got to work about 5.25 or 5.30. After I started driving myself, he'd help out on days I have car issues. But there are days I do public transport. Sometimes, I just want someone else to do the driving so I can focus on other stuff.
3. I am responsible for...
ensuring my passengers get off the airplane as safe as they got on. I am also responsible for ensuring crew get monthly safety information that can boost their well being on and off the job through our physical safety forum. We work 4 - 5 days like other people; however the major difference is work starts at various times of the day and your weekend could be my Monday and vice versa. Some days I'm not flying but on standby duty. This means if for some reason a scheduled crew for a flight does not show up, I have to replace the person if I am the best fit for the flight. It is not recommended for a crew to delay a flight and that is why crew on standby is necessary. If everyone shows up for their flight, work closes quite early.
4. How I got the Job
I studied Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan. I finished with a second class upper degree. I never wanted to be a cabin crew. I remember in my final year, my aunt had mentioned she'd like me to work in this particular airline but I said no and gave her my reasons one of which was I didn't like their uniform. Thankfully that changed few months after I got the job.
After returning from the compulsory mandatory one-year service program in Nigeria (known as NYSC), I was a bit choosy about the places I applied to. Then the same aunt reminded me about the airline. Apparently, they were seeking fresh crew whom they would employ and train. I submitted my CV and pictures and got invited for the aptitude test. I remember that was the easiest aptitude test I wrote because I left the hall feeling I'd score 96 out of 100. I scored about that and got invited for interviews. I could tell they liked me and after two more interviews, I got the job. Now, because it was something I knew I didn't want to do initially, when I got in so easy I figured maybe God needed me here for a purpose. I decided it was a platform for something else in future. Today, I see why I had to go through this job.
5. My typical day at work
As a crew, you report to work an hour before flight departure. When you get to the briefing counter, the lead crew (the most senior crew who would be making the major decisions) checks that our licenses are in order and we have every other material we are expected to fly with each day in our possession. Then we have a safety briefing on what is expected of us throughout the flight both in normal situations and emergencies. This is a quick reminder of our roles during boarding, planned and unplanned landings, medical situation, decompression or fire. After this, we get on-board the plane to prepare for passengers. We perform security checks, ensure emergency equipment on board are still functional, ensure the cabin is organised and ensure catering and other relevant supplies have been adequately provided.
Then we receive the passengers; depending on your position for a particular flight, your role will differ. It's either you're the one making the announcement at the rear or the one in the mid cabin ensuring smooth flow of traffic and assessing the passengers for sick people, pregnant women or suspicious passengers.
After everyone is settled and doors are shut, we perform the demonstration and check that passengers have complied with safety rules. After take off, we serve snacks and clear the trash and then it's time to land. In flight, there are times we get to relate with the passengers
6. My most memorable moment on the job
I've had quite a number but I'd speak on the most recent. I was privileged to meet one of the top people in an organisation I've been trying to support my business. My business is at a phase where I can't finance the next step alone. And it happened because I went out of my way. So on my last flight of the day, my lead crew informed me that we had a baby whose birthday was that day. So she wanted me to wish the baby a happy birthday on the P.A. and sing. I responded "sing? I don't sing for public consumption". Wishing the baby a happy birthday wasn't a problem but singing for everyone to hear was my issue. She just said, "you will do it".
After the snack service, I went on the public address system and did an introduction like I was presenting on the radio. You know how on-air presenters do the typical shout outs? That's what I did. Then I sang and prayed for him and asked other passengers to show the baby some love and they all applauded. Next thing, my lead crew calls that the business class passenger wanted to meet the person that sang. Apparently, she had even mentioned that I was a children book author, speaker, and a business owner! The passenger said he heard I had many talents including the singing. We all laughed and talked about entrepreneurship in Nigeria/Africa and he said he was going to write about my lead crew (she's a fashion designer) and I and share the story with his network. Then he gave us his complimentary card. When I saw the company, I got teary. I'd been trying to get in touch with that organisation without a headway but singing for a child from my heart got me not just a contact but an important one.
7. The worst part of my job.
Well, for me it's the days I have to wake up too early, wait endlessly for hours due to weather or technical issues and by extension return very late.
8. The perks and best parts of my job
I like that my uniform accords me a lot of privileges. I like that I can travel seamlessly anytime at very little or no cost at all. I like that I get to meet interesting people ranging from celebrities to everyday people who are fun and interesting. I like that my job is so flexible because I can start work at varying times of the day. I like that I have 6 weeks leave as opposed to 30 working days that some other people have. I like that I have access to knowledge that ordinarily I wouldn't have got.
9. On misconceptions people have about my job
Some people think cabin crew are just high school leavers and are not well paid. How they arrived at that notion, I do not know. But we are very far from school leavers at least in my airline. We have graduates, crew with a Masters degree, some working on their Ph.D. in a wide array of disciplines. We have crew running successful businesses in addition to their job. And we are well paid compared to a lot of sectors in Nigeria.
Then we have those who think we are airheads who only know how to wear short dresses, lipstick, and heels. Well, in my airline intelligence beats good looks. This is because your good looks will not save a life in a fire or first aid emergency. It is the knowledge you can apply that will do it. It might interest all to know that every 12 months, cabin crew attend refresher courses and they write exams. The minimum score should be 85 marks out of 100 and we do drills to practice how we can save passengers if the plane lands in a desert, jungle or water. Wouldn't you rather be around someone that knowledgeable in an emergency?
Then we have those who think we are luggage handlers. The truth is while we can assist you with your bag, you are actually responsible for your luggage. If we were luggage handlers I bet you wouldn't see people of my size on board - and some luggage can be so heavy! If I were to carry the bags of 100 passengers per flight 4 times a day, 5 days a week, every month, do you think I will still be capable of standing upright? I think passengers need to be reminded that we are on-board for a bigger purpose which is their safety and security.
10. If someone wanted a career like this, I'll advice them to...
There are two ways to get a job as a Cabin Crew. It's either you get yourself trained with accredited service providers and then start applying to airlines as an experienced crew. Or you apply to an airline advertising for fresh people. In this case, once you scale through the recruitment process, you are employed and trained on the company's bill.
11. What I get up to after work
Because I'm building my business in addition to my crew job, I do not have time to do much except sleep and rest. During my rest time, I love to chat with my siblings and friends - I have quite an interesting bunch. I read books, watch movies, listen to my gospel playlist and dance. From time to time, I hangout with friends or take myself out.
12. What I love the most about a 9 - 5
I usually say it's only my job as a Cabin Crew that could have accommodated all I do on the side now. The flexibility of work time helps me achieve so much. I can be a speaker somewhere in the morning and in the evening I'm taking some passengers to Abuja. Or I'm done with Port Harcourt passengers in the morning and I change out of uniform to attend meetings with some officials at the government secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja or to shoot my #60SecondsWithTheSafetyChic video. So I love that I have the privilege of time. It might be tough on some days but I'm thankful for it.
13. If I ever quit my job or if I never had to work, I'd go on to...
If I quit my job, it would be to focus on building my Health and Safety business. I'm currently in the middle of building innovative safety products for our African children. With the way things have been going since late last year, I'd need to throw my full weight behind it soon. I'd be doing that alongside working with different governments to add safety education to school curriculum.
If I never had to work, I'd be more available to help more women and children (teenagers) thrive in their personal and spiritual lives. This is something I've been doing on a really low scale because my hands are full. So, if my hands were freer, I'd take on more.
14. One career I'm genuinely curious about and might try in my second life.
All the espionage novels and movies I've encountered has raised my curiosity about the Intelligence gathering community. I love things that make me think, plan and come up with unique stuff. So I'd probably be in the CIA or Mossad in my next life.
Love how Ugochi cleared up those common misconceptions real quick! I'm such a huge fan of all Ugochi is doing with "The Safety Chic" and it reinforces my opinion on the beauty of a day job which allows some flexibility to pursue other interests. Do follow her on Instagram at @TheSafetyChic.
Were you curious about cabin crew officers? Is it a career you could be interested in?