Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant by Owen Beddall

I’ve read quite a few cabin crew memoirs over the years and this one is one of the better ones. Though he’s not really dishing out anything new or extraordinary (we know Kylie is nice and Katy is down to Earth, Beijing is dirty and LA vapid), what he does document in his 10 years in the industry is the change 9/11 wrought on the airlines. I contrasted his thoughts with my experience flying London to Brisbane in 2008 and was saddened to see how things must have changed since then. And even sadder to see that Qantas, like the US airlines, is just a hypocritical about ‘cost cutting.’

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The book is broken down by Cities. Starting with the US and then ending up in what was, at the time he was employed, Qantas’ newest destination, South America. Within each section are vignettes and stories about the location, passengers, and perks/downsides of working in the cabin. Other non-relatable sections such as children and babies on board are neatly placed within the chapters.

What to expect to read in the book?  Pretty much everything from a few celebrities he talked with (not interesting), antics of pilots and crew (several amusing observations), various cities and their cultures in a nutshell (ran the gamut on interesting to feeling somewhat stereotypical or shallow), working specifically with Qantas (very interesting), and because he is gay, a lot of perspective on everything from gay bars in various cities to the boys he went into a relationship with in the various ports.

There were some great stories in there. For example, he was in Mumbai when the shootings at the hotels occurred; his hotel went on lockdown and it was difficult to get out of the country. Robberies, drunkenness and debauchery, strange passengers, and the interesting cities and their quirks. There were less interesting stories as well (e.g., none of the celebrity stuff was interesting at all – mostly that he talked with someone on a long flight). Issues with weight and appearance were also glossed over without providing any real insight or necessity.

From the beginning of the book, I was a bit worried that this would be embellished fish stories and pointless observations and how to hate on passengers (as with a recent book, Confessions of a Hostie). Or that it would be a revenge type of book for an unfair firing (as with The Vogue Factor). The difference here is that Beddall makes some poignant and interesting observations on the change of the airline industry – over the past four years especially. He doesn’t name names but there is a refreshing candor.

Author Bedall was injured on the job later in his career for a long term period and when he returned, the company had greatly changed from a government-run entity into a corporate, cost cutting obsessed, indoctrinated robotic type of organization of 2013. He notes the same observations made in books like The Next Crash: How Short-Term Profit Seeking Trumps Airline Safety: airlines are so obsessed with the bottom line that passengers and employees pay the price for that (less comfortable travel, terrible work conditions, etc.).  I was curious if Bedall had the same observation as in The Next Crash – that the excuse “consumers want discount tickets and we have to give it to them” from management doesn’t explain why, then, the top executives are earning in excesses of 10s of millions of dollars. I’m starting to feel from this and other books that the money is coming out of the employees and benefits to travelers so as to line corporate exec pockets.

Confessions is an easy read and Beddall writes in a friendly and accessible manner. I wish the US section had been a bit bigger (really, only a few stereotypes that LA people are stupid, Texans are friendly, and New Yorkers are partyers) – but then, I recognize his career didn’t take him to the US very often. However, observations on his more frequent destinations, especially Asia and London, were very interesting.

So while you probably won’t read anything new here and there are a lot of stereotypes, it’s still an engaging read.  It’s a shame though about Qantas – I personally had such a great experience with a friendly cabin crew in 2007 that I probably wouldn’t have today should I have chosen to return to Oz.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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