A passenger took out his mobile phone and spoke sonorously, “Hey, I’m OK, I won’t land at Noi Bai [an international airport in Hanoi] before 2:00 pm because I’m on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City, we’re about 8-10km up.”
The male passenger in his 30s surprised the passengers around him who knew about the rule to turn off mobile phones during a flight.
However, the air hostesses knew exactly what was going on.
The guy just wanted to show off his expensive mobile phone, or it may have been his first time flying with national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines and he was just pretending, for no mobile phone signals reach that altitude.
This was a rare case that brought smiles to the air hostesses. Other incidents leave them in tears when they are out of sight of the passengers.
Behind the smiles aboard
Flights to and from Taiwan often carry many Vietnamese women who are going to marry Taiwanese men. They usually cause a lot of trouble aboard.
“They change their child’s diaper and throw the used one in the aisle,” said an air hostess. “Air hostesses must clear the waste and apologize to other passengers around them for the inconvenience.”
“We put ourselves in the situation of the women and feel sympathy for them,” she explained.
Air hostesses also have to wipe toilets and clean rubbish aboard if a passenger litters.
A brief survey by low-cost airline VietJet Air shows that 80-90 percent of passengers do not lock the bathroom door when they are using it and do not flush the toilet afterward because they do not know how the buttons work.
Some passengers do not even know where the toilet is and go to the kitchen area and sit there.
Air hostesses must help them and clean their rubbish. They use coffee grounds to deodorize and then sterilize the area. One rule is that an air hostess must not make passengers lose face, said Hoang Quyen, a VietJet Air hostess.
Low-cost airlines like VietJet Air have no sanitary staff, and air hostesses must perform the job, Quyen added.
Ten years ago, on a flight that was about to leave Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City, a male passenger threw his mobile phone at Quyen after she requested him to turn off his handset.
After the flight attendant asked him to switch it off for the third time, he unfastened his seat belt, stood up and verbally insulted her.
“Hey, what is the rule that forces me to turn off my phone? What happens if I don’t do it?” he shouted loudly and threw his mobile phone at Quyen.
The pilots in the cabin saw what was happening through a camera and ordered Quyen not to let the aggressive passenger move.
Security staff boarded the plane after the passenger continued to abuse Quyen and the other air hostesses, she recalled.
In another case, a passenger argued about why he delayed turning off his mobile phone, “Hey, you delayed my flight for 20 minutes, why is it impossible for me to delay you a couple of minutes to inform my family?”
Hong Hanh, an air hostess for budget airline Jetstar Pacific, admitted, “This job is well-paid but there are a lot of tears too.”
It is not rare to see passengers scolding air hostesses as soon as they enter the plane, Hanh said, explaining that they are upset about being delayed for hours before.
“This job gives air hostesses a chance to equip themselves with calmness to deal with angry passengers,” said Nguyen Tran Anh Thu, 29, chief air hostess of VietJet Air.
Once, Thu offered to help a female passenger store her bag in the right position, but she refused many times.
The passenger finally shouted angrily, “Do you know how expensive this bag is?”
Even if an air hostess is smiling, it does not mean she is truly smiling, Quyen noted, adding that an air hostess is required to keep smiling at passengers.
An air hostess must sign a commitment to work for her airline three years before having a baby.
It is common to see an air hostess serve four domestic flights a day, meaning that she gets up early in the morning and returns home late at night.
Thu Ha, 38, head of the air hostess team of Vietnam Airlines, revealed that she has worked for 19 years and stayed at home with her family during Tet (Vietnam’s Lunar New Year) just once or twice during the time.
Many air hostesses who passed their initial exams and went through at least three months of training have decided to quit this career because of hardship and the strict rules after just a few flights.
“About two percent of air hostesses leave this job after several flights,” said Hoang Thu Nga, vice head of the team of stewards and stewardesses of VietJet Air.
“This job looks showy but it is really strict and hard because an air hostess must please all passengers on board,” said Ha.
A passenger may become exhausted in unfavorable weather conditions, but an air hostess endures more than that because she has to prepare food and help passengers all while meeting safety regulations.