Nawal flies with Emirates Airlines
In 1987, Nawal Al Suwaidi, 32, became the first Emirati woman to join Emirates' cabin crew aged just 18 - an appointment that generated a flurry of media interviews. Fourteen years on, she has been promoted to cabin service director. Unmarried, she enjoys flying too much to accept a desk job, let alone an alternative career.
“When I was younger, it was my dream to fly. I loved aircrafts, and thought they were so beautiful. My family knew that I always had this career in mind; when I told my mother, she said yes - when you grow up. Then, when Emirates launched, it was a great chance for me. I was very proud to be the first Emirati woman. When I started, Emirates only had turn-around flights that returned the same day. Then, gradually, I started 24-hour stopovers in London and things grew from there.
“I used to wear the abaya, but not any more. We were never asked to cover our hair. I don't think that would work with the uniform. These days, the abaya is not so important for us - the main thing is that, even when wearing western clothes, you should be covered in a proper way.
The worst thing about flying is timing; you get up in the night, there is no routine - you eat different things at different times. You might have steak at 6am because it's dinner time in Singapore. You cannot always be with people you want to be with; sometimes during festivals - Eid, or Christmas - you have to work, and won't be back for several days. You miss people.
“I'm not married; if I was it would definitely be harder. It is possible to do this job and to be married, but you would have to be organised. There are so few Emirati women in this industry because of tradition, culture, family pressure and their future plans. Having a family has priority over having a job.
“The best thing about the job is that you are paid well, and the facilities are very good. The airline gives discounts on tickets, and at shopping centres. And we have the opportunity to meet people and see different places, so you learn about everything - people, culture, history; it's an education. Some of my friends are definitely jealous of my job - going everywhere and, best of all, the shopping. I'm not a shopaholic, but I love to go abroad and buy souvenirs.
“Grooming is not a problem: I think women should always look beautiful. After all, if you visit someone, or go to a party, you have to look good. It's part of the deal. It's about a balanced life, eating healthy food, getting enough rest and exercise. If you want to do it, there's time, though the big question, sometimes, is whether to go shopping or go to the gym! From time to time, I deal with emergencies - mostly health situations; people getting sick, or sometimes technical faults. I never faced a major emergency yet, alhamdulillah. Flying is safer than driving.
“When I started, I found it difficult to deal with people - especially different nationalities. I had only known my own people. But with experience, everything has changed. Now, I know people better and if there's a problem I can deal with it. It's about nationality, sometimes, or about the heat. Mostly, it's about human nature.
“Strange requests? Well, maybe phone numbers sometimes. That does happen. Often, men don't understand that being nice is doing your job; they think that being nice means that you like them. You just have to be clear: sorry, I'm really not interested. And I don't think that men really push themselves so much. They do understand. It's how you handle it that counts.
“This job has made me more confident: I know what I want. I have learned a lot about people, dealing with them every day. You have to be vigilant, travelling to different places; you learn not to put yourself in difficult situations. I would recommend it to other women definitely - it's a great education. I think you can continue this career after you're forty: if you don't have children, why not - as long as you're happy and healthy. If the right time comes, I will get married. But whether I give up or not depends on the circumstances - I haven't thought about it.
“The next step in my career would be as a trainer, or in the office, but I'm not ready to give up flying just yet. I just love being in the aircraft and being with different people. I still enjoy it, and hope to carry on until I'm not happy doing it any more. It's not as easy as it looks, or as glamorous. It's hard work being on your feet all the time - but I love it.”
Source: Arabian Woman