An in-depth interview that may help you decide whether you'd like to become a flight attendant.
Azita Mofidi has traveled the world. After working her way up to a supervisory flight attendant position with what is now one of Iran’s top airlines, she moved across the Atlantic to start a new life in North America. But she won’t settle long. Once she completes her photography studies, she plans to continue exploring, this time as a photojournalist. “It will be difficult,” she tells me, and I know it’s true; it’s a very competitive field. But after hearing her story, I have no doubt that she’ll make it happen. From her years working in the stressful and ever-changing travel industry, she learned to be flexible, patient, hardworking—and ultimately, unstoppable.
How long did you work as a flight attendant?
I don’t remember exactly, a little more than seven years.
How did you become a flight attendant?
I was a librarian at the time, living with my parents in the north of Iran. One night, my uncle called me at a party. One of his friends was a pilot, and he had told my uncle about a new private airline that they wanted to start: Mahan Air. It’s now one of the major airlines in Iran. They wanted to hire new flight attendants. When my uncle heard about this, he thought, “Azita would be good for this,” and he called me the next day.
So I went to Tehran, where my uncle was living, and left my resume there. At that time, I met one of the guys who was actually very important for hiring people. I was very lucky at that time. I went there, and he saw me in the elevator while I was looking for him. He asked, “Looking for who?” and I said, “Captain XXX.” And he said, “Okay, go and sit over there and he will come.” [Laughing] I went to sit, and he—the same man!—came over. After that he accepted me and I passed the eight months of training.
You needed eight months of training to become a flight attendant? What kind of training?
It’s kind of a school for flight attendants. It’s for safety, service, security—for everything.
So after your training, what happened?
I resigned from my librarian job at the government—it was in the planning and organization department. I quit and then I became a flight attendant. But I lived by myself in Tehran, and Tehran is so crazy, crazy expensive. One of my family members, the wife of my other uncle, had an advertising company. I worked for her when I wasn’t flying. It was very flexible work.
You were a full-time flight attendant and you had a second job?
I worked every day. Four days a week, I worked as a flight attendant, and then the two or other days, I worked at the advertising company. It was a very part-time job.
How long were your shifts? What was your work schedule like?
Twelve hours, max. With at least six hours to sleep in between. Legally, if you work twelve hours, you have to have at least six hours. My flight attendant shifts changed every week, but most of the time I had night shifts—almost all of my flights were during the night. And we’d have rest days in other countries sometimes, depending on the schedule. I’d arrive in Tehran at 3 am, I’d sleep, then go to the office at 10 or 11 am.
How did you manage such a crazy schedule?
I don’t know! I was young.
Did it affect your work life balance?
It depends. When I wanted to go to a party with my friends, I was always sleepy.
Is it possible to have a normal social life while working as a flight attendant?
Not at all, not at all. It affects everything. If I wanted to go, for example, to a party, I wouldn’t necessarily have Saturday and Sunday off. Depending on the schedule, maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. If I was lucky, I didn’t have any flights, but I’d be often be on standby. When you are on standby, you have to answer the phone.
One time, in the middle of a party, they called me: “You have to go to Shiraz.” Oh my God. I told everyone, “Okay, bye, everybody,” and I went to Shiraz. I had to stay overnight, and I got all these emails from my boyfriend saying, “You prefer your job to me.”
That’s one of the reasons I never got married, I think—because I didn’t have time for anybody. I’m 38 now. Most girls, they’d be married at my age. But your desires change, you know? You see many things and you want more for your life.
That’s one of the reasons I never got married, I think—because I didn’t have time for anybody. I’m 38 now. Most girls, they’d be married at my age.
What drew you to this career? What did you like about being a flight attendant?
I liked it because I don’t like sticking somewhere. I hate that, having to stay somewhere for a long time. So that was my favourite: getting to see so many places.
So you got to travel a lot with this job?
Well, I found that as a flight attendant, you can’t see all of the world. Sometimes you had a stopover that was long enough to explore, and that was good. But we’d have special stop locations. For example, Thailand. Every month we had to go to Thailand. I would have preferred to go to some other places—to visit Korea, Malaysia, other places—but you have a schedule. It really wasn’t bad, though.
Do you ever get free flights when you’re not working?
It depends. We do have some opportunities to take free flights. Every year, we got one international flight (there and back) and twelve domestic flights.
Were you happy with the pay?
I was making good money at the time. Yeah, it was good. I was happy with that.
And what are the people like? The social environment?
One of the good things about flying is you see lots of people. Every flight they change: the captain changes, the crew changes. It’s not like in an office, where every day you see the same people. That was very good.
One of the good things about flying is you see lots of people. Every flight they change: the captain changes, the crew changes. That was very good.
In the airlines, rank is so important, seniority is so important. We had to respect our seniors all the time. If they tell you something is wrong, you have to respect it—that’s the rule in the airline industry.
And with customers? What are they like?
In the airline, you’re working with customers all the time. Lots of very different people. I learned that with customers, the customer is always right. Always. And I accepted it. Because if they come, if they buy a ticket, I have a job. I found that I had to be so patient with the customers. That was a big achievement for me—to learn to be patient. When I was younger, I wasn’t patient enough.
Is that because customers complain a lot? Are they often difficult to deal with?
Customers complain about everything! About the service, about the seat, about every single thing. And when I worked as a flight purser, I had a lot more responsibility. If one of the flight attendants did something wrong, the passenger would call the flight purser. Many times, I warmed up crew meals for passengers, because I wanted them to be satisfied.
What’s the craziest thing a customer has asked you for? I’ve heard about people slipping flight attendants their phone numbers...
It happens a lot! Some of our coworkers ended up getting married to customers. You don’t have to call them back, but it happens.
What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a flight attendant? What kind of advice would you give them?
You have to be so patient. And if you want to do it, just go and try it. Because if you don’t you’ll always think, “I wish I did it when I was young.” And if you like it, it’s a good experience—for a period of time. But it’s not something you want to do for a long time.
If you want to do it, just go and try it. Because if you don’t you’ll always think, “I wish I did it when I was young.”
So people tend to leave the industry pretty quickly? What’s the career trajectory like?
It depends. For me, I started as a flight attendant, then I became a First Class flight attendant (serving the first class), and after that, I became a flight purser. The purser is the manager of the flight—a commander of sorts. But there’s also instructor, auditor, office work... things like that. So some people stay for a long time. Sometimes they transfer themselves to the ground, into office jobs. Sometimes people stay flight attendants for a long, long time. But it’s hard to manage. Your life, your schedule—all of the time—it’s not for you, it’s for them.
It’s hard to manage. Your life, your schedule—all of the time—it’s not for you, it’s for them.
Was that the most difficult thing about being a flight attendant?
It’s a very stressful job. When you have an emergency, for example, and there’s no doctor on the airplane. It happens. We don’t have medical certificates, so if we don’t have any customers who are doctors, the captain has to land in the nearest airport. It’s so stressful.
One of my friends, she was working a flight, and one of the passengers was almost nine months pregnant. But they didn’t know at the time. Normally, you have to have a permission letter to fly. But, you know, some people don’t have a very big bump and you can’t tell, and she was one of those people. She went to the washroom, then realized that the baby was coming. They gave the baby the name “Mahan”—the name of the airline.
What’s the biggest misconception about your career?
At the time that I started as a flight attendant, we were 150 people. When I left, we were 1000; the company grew so much. And the people who applied and became flight attendants, some of them were so... They thought that flight attendants just had to come and smile—that we have nothing to do!
I didn’t know this before starting the job, but when you work as a flight attendant, you have to listen to the complaints of all the customers, you have to do hard work. And when you work at high altitudes, it’s different, because there’s so much pressure. Physically, it’s too much—you have lots of pressure on your body. You have to carry all the trolleys, and they are so heavy.
The other thing is that, for example, you have to clean the washrooms. When you’re flying for ten hours, who has to do it? Many of the flight attendants, the new ones, they’d say, “I can’t do this!”
What else do you wish you’d known before going into this career?
If I’d known I’d become a flight attendant, I would have gone to university to study languages.
Do you have to know a lot of different languages to become a flight attendant?
No. But if you know more languages, it’s an asset.
Is it difficult to find work as a flight attendant? What’s the job market like?
I was lucky—really lucky. It’s competitive. You have to have good experience, good training, but one of the most important things as a flight attendant is the interview—the first impression.
Why did you leave the career?
I had a friend, Reza, who worked at the airline with me. One day, Reza asked me, “Azita, would you like to immigrate to Canada?” and I said, “Reza, come on! They don’t need flight attendants in Canada.” But he told me, “Today I have an appointment with an immigration lawyer. If you like, you can come with me.” So I went. We were told that with our career and all the experience we had, we could apply as a Quebec school worker. But we’d need to study French. So I took three months off from the airline and I studied French. After that, I came back to work. I applied for Canada in 2009, and they invited me for an interview in 2010.
Do you miss anything about it? About flying?
Sometimes, when I was tired, or on a long flight, I’d go sit in the cockpit and I’d talk to the pilots. They put the plane on autopilot sometimes, and sometimes, you know, they’d get bored. When you sit in the cockpit, it’s so amazing. You can’t believe it. It’s very, very beautiful.
I remember this one flight. It was a special time of day, about 4 or 5 am, and the captain called me in: “Azita, come to the cockpit.” On the left side of the plane, it was so dark because the moon was rising, and on the other, it was so bright. We were exactly on the line between night and day. It was amazing. I miss those times.