What It’s Like to Be a Flight Attendant with the World’s Best Airline

We chatted with a flight attendant on Emirates Airline, often considered the best in the world, to find out the craziest requests made by passengers, how she keeps up her appearance and positive attitude while flying everywhere from Dubai to Zimbabwe, and more.

Is today Tuesday?

Crisscrossing the globe isn’t all glamorous, says Maria Ghotti, a flight attendant with Emirates for nearly three-and-a-half years. The most challenging part of being a flight attendant, she says, is fitting in sleep. “One flight could take off at 9 a.m., so you sleep during the night. However, your next flight on another day could take off at midnight, so you have to try to sleep by 5 p.m. the night before.” Another challenge is all the time changes. “You could have a flight to LAX [in Los Angeles] and be in a 12-hour time difference from Dubai, and then a few days later you can be on the other side of the world with a completely opposite time difference! From two hours to 12 hours, time zones really affect your body.”

Flight attendants covet first class, too

It costs passengers some serious cash to make that jump, and it turns out that it isn’t much easier for an Emirates’ crew member to score that upgrade to business or first class, either. “It takes about two to three years to move up between premium cabins,” shares Ghotti. “Some crew stand out more by giving a little more of a personal touch. If a supervisor notices a crew member making a special effort, she or he can write an email to the crew member’s manager and point out what they have done.”

Sommelier with wings

“To work in the premium cabins, we are required to take a wine education course, since the selection is quite different in First Class over Economy,” Ghotti shares. “When we’re serving selections from Dom Perignon and Bordeaux, we need to have a thorough understanding of what we’re pouring: old vs. new world wines, champagnes, bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits.” These are some of the coolest airplane features you had no idea existed.

Love is in the air

Ghotti shares her most heartwarming experience as a flight attendant: “A passenger was traveling with his girlfriend for the holidays and told us that he wanted to propose to her. The A380 onboard lounge upstairs is available to business and first class passengers, but for his proposal, we kept the lounge ‘private’ just long enough for the passenger to deliver his sweet surprise to his bride-to-be. We set up the lounge with flower petals all around, had two champagne glasses ready, and little fairy lights strung along the bar. When we told the girlfriend that her boyfriend was waiting for her in the lounge, she was absolutely shocked when she walked in and saw him down on one knee! She said yes, of course!”

Have baby, will travel

Emirates’ flight attendants have never met a baby they couldn’t help soothe. Most parents fear flying with a baby, and every passenger fears being seated near an infant, but Ghotti has a few can’t-fail tricks up her sleeve: “I always offer extra blankets, toys, and food to help make [a child’s] journey more pleasant. I also offer to watch their baby for a little if they want to close their eyes for a bit or walk around the plane to stretch their legs.”

When a cuddle doesn’t work, there’s always a new toy. “Our toys and goodie bags available on each flight inspire the greatest imaginations and keep kids busy so mom and dad can relax!” If/when the toys get boring, there’s always screen-time time. “Our in-flight entertainment [which Emirates calls ice] helps keep children busy for hours, thanks to over 150 channels, including 50 Disney movies, 100 video games, and [lots of] music.”

As far as the [ahem] lucky passengers seated near babies? “I make sure they are happy…and I offer earplugs!” Check out these 14 genius packing tips from flight attendants.

Sometimes you have to say no…

“One time, a couple asked if they could use a crew cart to rock their baby to sleep,” recalls Ghotti. “While we love to help our passengers in any way we can, this just wouldn’t fit in our safety procedures!” Here are 15 more of the craziest requests passengers have made on airplanes.

Get the blood flowing

You know you’re supposed to get up and move around while en route, but that’s not always possible if your seatmate is snoozing and you’re trapped in a window seat. Ghotti shares this trick to improve circulation while seated: “Motion each letter of the alphabet with your foot to get the blood flowing and avoid ankle swelling. [These] circulatory exercises will keep your cheeks looking rosy and make you look more awake when you step off the plane.”

Spring forward (or back)

To help avoid jet lag, try one of Ghotti’s favorite tricks: “Change your watch to the time zone of your destination as soon as you get onboard.” Don’t miss these 13 other travel secrets only flight attendants know.

Refreshing on-the-go

“As far as keeping up with my appearance, I’m drinking tons of water during the flight, so I have to visit the bathroom quite frequently,” Ghotti says. She keeps her favorite lipstick in her pocket and touches it up each time she makes a pit stop. As for favorite products, her top thee beauty pics for long-haul travel are pure coconut oil, pure aloe vera gel, and rose water. “I keep rose water in a refillable spray container and mist my face throughout the flight to keep my face moist and refreshed.”

Proof that people LOVE their pets!

“A passenger was traveling with her two cats in the cargo of the plane,” Ghotti says. “She asked me during the flight if she could go down and see them. I explained that no one is allowed in the cargo during the flight; however, I assured her that they were safe and happy.” These are the airplane etiquette rules every plane passenger should follow.

“Nice to meet you…”

“One aspect of being an Emirates crew member that many passengers are surprised to learn is that we often only work together for a single flight and rarely see each other again, given the fact that Emirates has more than 23,000 cabin crew members,” Ghotti says. “Occasionally you’ll enter the briefing room before the flight and recognize someone you’ve flown with, but normally it’s always fresh faces.”

Bon appétit

Airplane food is still the punchline of many a joke, but more often than not, the meals and snacks offered on board is actually really tasty—on Emirates airlines that is. “This may sound a bit unconventional for airplane food, but one thing that’s always impressed me—and our passengers—is the food on an Emirates flight is unlike any other airline. It’s all delicious, and always customized to the destination we’re heading,” Ghotti says. Her personal favorite? “For dinner, it’s the grilled cod served with dill sauce and steamed brown rice with peas. For breakfast, I like the pepper frittata served with sautéed mushrooms and potato wedges.” And in economy class, Ghotti says the lasagna on the Dubai-Milan route can’t be beat. “The first time I flew that route, I thought to myself that none of the Italian passengers were going to order it because they tend to be very particular about their Italian food. (How can we blame them?!) To my surprise, everyone wanted it to the point where we ran out and had to give the second option. It’s super delicious!” These are the 13 airlines with the best and worst in-flight food.

“My favorite airport is…”

“…Dubai, which also happens to be my home base,” Ghotti shares. “There’s really no place like home and the Dubai International Airport has amazing food and shopping options, along with 7 Emirates Lounges in Terminal 3.” Here are 22 other things flight attendants wish they could tell you.

“My favorite city for a layover is…”

“It’s impossible to have just one favorite layover!” says Ghotti. “One I enjoy is Spain because I love everything from the culture to the food to the cities. I love to practice speaking Spanish to the waiters and getting lost in the streets and asking for directions.” Another favorite of layover of hers is Bangkok. “We stay in an amazing location near food trucks, tasty local restaurants, yoga and Muay Thai fighting studios, massage salons, and more.”

What gets me through the day

Forget making sure every passenger has a perfect flight experience—the real challenge is maintaining a positive attitude during a long day of zigzagging across planet Earth. “Sometimes it is challenging to remain positive during busy flights. We could be working against our body clocks, or serving passengers from a country where we cannot understand their local language,” Ghotti says. “What keeps me positive is knowing I’m landing in a country where I get to try new cuisines or see a famous landmark for the first time. For example, one of our Paris flights takes off around 2 a.m. in the morning. It’s difficult to stay positive and happy, but knowing I get to have a croissant in front of the Eiffel Tower during sunset is what keeps me going.” Check out these 13 things airlines won’t tell you, but you’ll definitely want to know.

The best thing about being a flight attendant on the world’s best airline

“One of the greatest perks is being able to have dinner in the Maldives one week, and then exploring the bustling streets of Mumbai next,” Ghotti says. “I’ve celebrated Thailand’s New Year in Bangkok, the World Cup in Moscow, and Oktoberfest in Munich!” But better than all of those amazing experiences is the chance to be a citizen of the world. “The amazing thing about being an Emirates flight attendant is working with [crew representing] over 135 different nationalities. I try to pick up little phrases from different languages, learn about local dishes, how one celebrates their holidays and more. I wouldn’t get this opportunity in any other job, so I try to take full advantage and learn as much as I can while I have the chance.” For even more insider info, don’t miss these 40 secrets your pilot won’t tell you.