Who could resist a book entitled Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant? I couldn't, which is why I took Owen Beddall's gossipy new memoir (Ebury Australia, rrp $34.99) on my latest long-haul flight.
I wasn't flying Qantas but this eye-opening account of the life of an international flight attendant would probably apply to the crews of most airlines. For instance, sitting near the galley, I noticed for the first time that the attendants on my sector stuffed all the rubbish collected from passengers into a vacant toilet before landing.
This is contrary to safety rules, but many flight attendants pushed for time do it, according to Beddall.
Beddall flew with Qantas for 10 years, before retiring in 2012 from injuries caused by a fall after a training course. These days, he's not a happy kangaroo. The latter part of the book smacks of a revenge memoir, highly critical of the company's present corporate culture and management, arising from what he alleges is shabby treatment since the injury.
Nevertheless, Beddall lets loose with a very funny account of what it's like to be a trolley dolly, from the wrangling over the best part of the cabin to work in (first class) to the serious partying that goes on in layover hotels once the plane has landed (along with the regular pooling of contraband champagne from the first-class supply).
Beddall comes across as one of those hilarious gay attendants who seem emblematic of Qantas over the years. "At Qantas there were so many gay men," Beddall recalls, "the only time someone would have to 'confess' their sexuality was if they were straight."
The "gay mafia" took young and indigenous Beddall under its wing. He learnt how to make the most money ("pound hounds" would do the long-haul London leg for the lucrative shifts and allowances), and what "little helpers" to take for a mid-flight nap in the crew bunk.
As Beddall tells it (and most of us suspect) the job can be a stinker - long hours on your feet, constant jetlag, unattractive hotels, back-stabbing among competitive co-workers, difficult and ungrateful passengers, screaming babies, heavy food carts and other occupational safety hazards. The flight attendants are prisoner to seniority and schedules (the least-senior crew with the fewest hours clocked up get the worst jobs, such as doing the duty-free trolley on China flights, where passengers haggle over the price of goods.)
Beddall's chatty account is full of anecdotes about misbehaving crew members, accidents and arrests, nervous breakdowns and some tricks of the trade, such as giving wide-awake economy passengers the "horrible" decaf from business class to stop them from constantly pressing the call button for coffee.
But the job has its attractions, certainly once a flight attendant works his or her way through seniority to doing premium service. Starstruck Beddall met many of his favourite celebrities in the first and business class cabins, including Venus Williams, Cate Blanchett, Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Russell Brand, who all earned big ticks for friendliness.
Other identities who impressed him less included the federal Member for Warringah, who was "loud, self-assured and smirky".
On one flight, the member of a British pop band offered all the flight attendants £1000 each if they'd let him smoke a joint in the toilet. (They didn't.)
Then there are the racier aspects of the job. Like doctors and nurses, female flight attendants and pilots commonly hook up, often using their gay colleagues as matchmakers. Flight attendants who specifically target pilots are known as TCMs - Tech Crew Molls. As far as I can tell, there is no pejorative term for male pilots who chase female flight attendants. Sexism flies high.
How to annoy a flight attendant? One thing that drives them "insane above all else" is the person who barges against the flow of people boarding to ask a stupid question.
Beddall tells the recent story of the American flight attendant who could no longer stand the pressure. On landing, he went to the galley, got a beer, opened the exit door, activated the emergency chute and took off. "There isn't one flight attendant who hasn't wanted to the do the same thing at one point."