Life after flying: How to change careers after working as cabin crew

Four former UAE flight attendants share tips on using their experience in the sky to find success in other fields

Nicoleta Buru worked as Emirates cabin crew for roughly five years. Supplied
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Being a member of an airline's cabin crew promises infinite possibilities. It’s a job that offers endless travel, a chance to experience different cultures and interact with various nationalities. It’s for this reason that many in the field say being a flight attendant is more than simply a job – it’s a lifestyle.

However, these perks have led to some in the field saying it has left them complacent. A statement often heard is that it's a temporary job, to be done for a year or two. And before you know it, half a decade has passed.

If you are a member of cabin crew, and you're considering embarking on a new career, here are the stories of four former UAE flight attendants who have done exactly that, by using skills learnt on the job to find success in another line of work.

From cabin crew to stylist

Kelly Lundberg, stylist and founder of Style Me Divine, is former Emirates cabin crew. Courtesy Kelly Lundberg

Many UAE residents will know of Kelly Lundberg, who set up the styling service Style Me Divine in the Middle East 15 years ago. What most don't know is that prior to being a fashion-savvy businesswoman, Lundberg was a member of Emirates' cabin crew. She hung up her wings after two-and-a-half years of flying.

It takes a lot of courage to leave your home country and become cabin crew, just like starting a new business or venture takes a lot of courage

She's now using her combined experience as a stylist and former cabin crew member to host a Brand You masterclass on Wednesday, July 22, from 11am to noon, free for all members of cabin crew. It's her way of giving back to an industry that has been hard hit by the pandemic.

“I want to show people that you can transition from being a crew member and still have a nice life. It’s all about taking existing skills, learning something new and building confidence. Especially if a person were to lose their job, it can be demotivating. I want to inspire them to do whatever they want and show them there is still hope.”

Lundberg says there are some skills that all cabin crew have ingrained in them, which should be played up when meeting potential employers.

“The first is personal presentation. Cabin crew are very good at presenting themselves, which can make them good in careers related to customer service. Then there’s communicating, problem-solving and negotiating, which makes them suitable for quite a few careers from retail to hospitality,” she says.

"It also takes a lot of courage to leave your home country and become cabin crew, just like starting a new business or venture takes a lot of courage."

Stylist Kelly Lundberg from her Emirates cabin crew days. Supplied

Her advice is to take time out to figure out what you are personally interested in, even if it is only a hobby, and see if it’s possible to turn it into a career.

Once you have figured out what you want to do, she recommends learning to brand yourself. “You are always your own personal brand,” she says. “A lot of time people equate their personal brand with their company's brand, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Building a personal brand helps build a wider network and reach new clients.”

In order to develop a personal brand in line with new career aspirations, Lundberg recommends working on your digital presence.

“Check your social media pages, your LinkedIn account, ask people for references, offer to do work in the field, even if it’s not paying a lot, so you can keep busy and develop your skill set. You never know when you might meet the right contact.”

From cabin crew to influencer and then photographer

Nicoleta Buru went from cabin crew to fashion blogger to freelance photographer

Travelling around the world can lend itself to a colourful Instagram feed or travel blog, which is why a number of cabin crew staff find themselves becoming digital stars or influencers by default. While many might not take it seriously, building that social media presence could help launch a career.

This can be seen in the case of Dubai fashion blogger Nicoleta Buru. Hailing from Moldova, Buru worked as a member of Emirates cabin crew for about five years, during which she also started her fashion blog Reinvent Yourself, and eventually racked up quite a following (she currently has more than 66,000 followers on Instagram).

Nicoleta Buru is now a freelance photographer

When she resigned from cabin crew life four years ago, she decided to use her collective experience, both from her years of travelling and social media, to find a different career.

You don't have to wait for a job to come to you, you can create your own job

“Being a member of cabin crew taught me to communicate and, thanks to the blog, I developed a taste for fashion and beauty images. I enjoy photography, so I started doing online courses, learning new photography techniques, and when I posted pictures of my work, I got really good feedback,” she says.

Buru started getting so many inquiries that she decided to seriously consider a career as a freelance photographer, and has been getting assignments even during the pandemic, creating lookbooks for local designers and campaigns for make-up brands.

“The first few years are all about learning. Create that network,” she advises. “During my first few years, I was looking for any online courses and masterclasses I could find and I’m still learning new things in photography – it’s what keeps me going.

“Focus on doing good work, stay active and let people notice you. You don’t have to wait for a job to come to you, you can create your own job,” she says.

From cabin crew to restaurant brand manager 

Aneesh Jog worked with Etihad for more than four years

When looking at alternative careers to cabin crew, one of the first professions that may come to mind is hospitality. After all, like cabin crew, it's service-orientated. Which is why Aneesh Jog, a former Etihad crew member, recommends looking into the field, even though, like aviation, it has been hard hit by the pandemic.

“I know it’s tough right now, but it is going to also be one of the first fields to pick up – people will not stop eating out. It’s the kind of lifestyle we are all used to. People may be hesitant, but sooner or later, they will want to go back to restaurants and hotels,” he says.

Aneesh Jog left the aviation field to pursue a career in hospitality in 2019

Jog was working in the hospitality industry in Mumbai when he got a chance to work as cabin crew for Etihad Airways. It was a role he performed for more than four years before leaving in 2019 to return to India to work as a restaurant brand manager, continuing in the hospitality field.

Today, he credits the position for giving him global exposure. “Even if you’ve had no prior hotel or restaurant experience you shouldn’t have any issue transitioning. It’s just about dealing with guests, making small mental adjustments.”

He says that hospitality can be a tough industry, but it’s not something that should faze those who travel countries for a living. “If you’ve got the experience, it will open doors to better things.”

From cabin crew to public relations 

Laura Rooney worked with Emirates before turning to a career in public relations

From instructing people who have never flown before to dealing with the demands of celebrities in first class, you have to be a real people person to be a member of cabin crew, says Laura Rooney.

This is why the public relations professional firmly believes that being a member of crew can also translate to a successful career in communications and media.

Cabin crew are powerful professional chameleons and it's important to find a job that will tap into your skill set

"Good cabin crew staff naturally make for good PR professionals," she says. The last agency she worked at, she says, hired about six other cabin crew staff during her time there.

“As a member of crew, you have to be friendly, adaptable, well-presented, articulate and clever. You have to deal with high-pressure situations with a smile on your face. The careers are very much aligned."

The Irish national took up a job as cabin crew with Emirates on a whim in 2009 after getting a law degree; like many, she intended to stay in the role for a year or two, which turned into six.

Laura Rooney currently works as a PR professional

During that time, like Buru, she racked up a following on Instagram, where she wrote about food. When she quit her job five years ago, she found it relatively easy to enter the field of PR in the UAE.

“Blogging taught me how to develop influencer relations, which also came in handy with the role,” she says.

Rooney also encourages cabin crew members to look at digital marketing, which she says is growing more popular, with people staying at home for an increasing amount of time while on the computer. “If a person can promote themselves, it shows that they can promote a brand or a product. There is a lot of money that can be made there.”

Her advice to those considering a career in media is to develop an understanding of social media, by being authentic on platforms, and by upskilling using online resources such as Coursera and Udemy.

“Finally, relax and don’t rush into anything. Appreciate and value everything you’ve learnt as crew and give yourself the credit you deserve. Cabin crew are powerful professional chameleons and it’s important to find a job that will tap into your skill set.”

Laura Rooney, third from left, with colleagues during her time with Emirates