ATA People

Taking Off With a New Career

Natalie Miller

Natalie Miller

12 minutes read

Mon Feb 13, 2023

Taking Off With a New Career

Our paths to Ataccama all look different. Some even arrive from the clouds, via Airbus A380.

By “some,” we mean our lovely back office & finance specialist Patricia. Before joining our Prague team in early 2022, the Slovak native was living a luxurious life in Dubai as a member of the Emirates cabin crew.

How does a former GL accountant working in the Czech Republic find herself on the other side of the world, traveling with the biggest name in airlines? Inspired to make some big life changes and leave her office job, Patricia attended three Emirates open days back in 2018, and landed the wandering soul’s dream role — getting paid to see the world.

Keep reading to find out about Patricia’s adventures, get some incredible travel inspo, and see why she traded a life of globetrotting for Ataccama.

Why did you want to join Emirates?

I knew that Emirates was the best airline in the world, and I wanted to travel the world and to live in Dubai even though I had never been there and I had no idea what it was like there. It sounded so glamorous. But now I know it’s just like living in a golden cage.

How did you get started?

First you get two months of training, which is very difficult and very intense. You have it from Sunday to Thursday, because at the time this was their work week. You had to be in the training college at around 6:30 AM and finish at 3:30 PM. Then you come back to your apartment and study for the next day’s mock ups and exams. You have this kind of training where you need to show what you learned the previous day. It was very difficult as it was all technical English. It was very hard for me to remember everything about the airplanes.

What do you remember about your first flight?

You have to go on 2 supy flights (one turnaround and one layover), where you observe how the cabin crew work and you can ask them about anything. Usually, this should be a trip somewhere like Sydney or Paris, and I remember my both supy flights were to Jeddah. This flight is a very short turnaround which is very, very busy so I didn’t even have time to ask anything because by the time we were doing the service we were already landing. Also, the customers on this flight are very specific. The majority of the passengers were going to pray to Mecca.

One good thing was that we had so many layovers, which other airlines don’t do. Some airlines just do turnaround flights, which is basically going there and back to your base with no layovers. I prefer to have at least a 24-hour layover to explore the cities.

It can also be a very long day for you when you have even a five-hour flight and you’re coming back the same day. You do the five-hour flight, then you have two hours on the ground for the cleaners to clean the plane, and then you’re coming back. It’s basically a 12-hour shift. If you didn’t sleep well before, it’s very hard to keep up. But it is what it is, and it’s specific to this job and you need to be ready for it.

We also got our schedule about one month before, but it’s never 100% sure you will go on a particular flight. Aviation can change from minute to minute. And there is no “work week” because you might have one layover and one turnaround, and between some flights you get a minimum of 16 hours rest. The length of your breaks during the flight really depends on how long the flights are.

How do you adjust to a life of travel and still stay awake and hospitable during flights?

It becomes a habit. You get used to not sleeping as much and not being so fresh on every flight, and you have to just put on a smile. You try to be nice to people and you also have to be very empathetic because you never know what is happening in their lives. Emirates is very strict about customer service since they’re the best in the world. So you should wear your smile all the time. This was very difficult for me at the beginning, especially during training.

How do you handle someone who is rude on a flight?

They teach us at the training college how to handle any kind of situation. You must act professionally on the flight and when you feel you cannot handle the situation by yourself anymore you send one of your colleagues to handle it before the whole thing escalates. So sometimes the best thing to do is to just walk away and let your CSV (cabin supervisor) handle it. Usually, the customers complained in order to be upgraded to business class, which 99% of the time, did not work. 😄

What did you like most about working there?

The best part was traveling the world and meeting interesting people from different parts of the world. Now I know more about other cultures and habits from around the world, which gave me a lot of insight I wouldn’t find in Prague or if I just stayed in one place. Emirates connects the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Africa, and the US as well, so you can see all those people traveling and I am more enlightened about their behavior.

What was the best trip that you took while working with Emirates?

The best trip I had was right before the pandemic. This multi-sector trip to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires took almost one week off my roster and I felt like I was on a little vacation. We had about a 48-hour layover in Rio de Janeiro, 48 hours in Buenos Aires, and 48 hours back in Rio de Janeiro, before going back to Dubai. So I had time to explore and eat and party and chill at the pool. And I also got some good sleep as well.

When you actually have time to sleep and explore, it’s a good combination, because usually you either sleep on your layover because you didn’t have a chance to sleep before a flight, or you explore but you are not mentally there. You are just physically there, but not really present. But when I was in a city for the very first time, I pushed myself to go out even though I was dead. So this was the best trip for me, on New Year’s in 2019.

How did things change in your work after COVID?

I remember this like it was yesterday. I was on my leave in Prague when all the airports were closed suddenly. I was actually lucky to be stuck here because the restrictions were quite loose compared to Dubai. In Dubai, you need to have an SMS confirmation to do grocery shopping. There were cameras everywhere and people were being watched, so they were not free at all there. At least when I was in Prague, we could go out for a walk and I finally had some nice sleep after a long time.

So, in the beginning I was very happy. But then I had no clue when I was coming back or what was going to happen. And they started to push everyone who was outside of Dubai to come back as soon as possible. Then there were some layoffs, unfortunately.

I managed to come back on time, but then it was just waiting every day if your roster would change to some flight. This was very frustrating for everyone. We drastically went from 100 flying hours per month to zero. And I couldn’t go anywhere because I was still on duty but I had no flights. With so much free time, I felt like I wasn’t productive at all. I just woke up, went to the gym, went shopping or for lunch with your friend. That’s it. I felt like I needed to do something to develop myself. I tried to learn Arabic but it was so difficult that I gave up after one month. 😀

In August 2019 they offered us unpaid leave for four and a half months so I came back to Prague and I was looking for a job here but didn’t find anything. I had friends who stayed in Dubai and they were still getting one flight per month, which is nothing. So it was a very uncertain time.

When I came back after my unpaid leave I had to go to training college to renew my licenses. The first month of flying (January 2020) I did 3 only flights. I was excited to be back but at the same time, it was frustrating to spend the layovers only in hotel rooms. We were not allowed to leave the hotel and in some destinations like Australia, Asia, and New Zealand, we couldn’t even leave our rooms.

Do you think you would have stayed with Emirates if the pandemic didn’t hit?

Maybe yes and maybe no. After 3 years I felt like it was the right time for me to leave. My dream had been fulfilled and there was nothing more that Emirates nor Dubai could offer me. I missed my family, fiancé (boyfriend at that time), and my friends. Living in Dubai is not as pleasant as it may seem at first glance.

And one month after moving to Prague you started working at Ataccama. Why did you want this role specifically?

I believe I was a great fit for this role because I have experience in accounting and also in customer service. With my role as back office assistant and finance specialist, I can combine my work experience. Now I am processing received invoices and also doing the travel agenda which consists of planning the business trips, booking the hotel and flight tickets, and in the end processing the expenses after the trip. It’s like I’m traveling through our colleagues. And right now I’m testing an expense management system, which could help us automate the whole expense process. I’m very excited about it.

How did working at Emirates, and in that field in general, help you in your current role?

As I mentioned, customer service was crucial in Emirates so this helped me to communicate effectively with our clients. I understand what travelers may need and how much time the traveler might need during the transfer, and last but not least I now know the airport codes by heart. 😉

And have you traveled much since you joined Ataccama?

I believe I actually travel more now than when I was with Emirates. It’s good to know that I can still travel, but now I’m more choosy about where I go. Before, I would just go anywhere that I hadn’t been before. After being in so many nice and safe places, my demands are higher.

Where have you traveled since joining Ataccama?

I was in Belgium, Poland, Germany, Latvia and the southern coast of Italy. Puglia region (Bari) was very romantic and I never knew some place in Europe could still surprise me like that. Before, I’ve been in the Caribbean, I’ve traveled to Australia, and New Zealand and all these beautiful places around the world. So I’m so glad that in Europe, there are cool places like Italy that are nearby. And for me traveling is different now too, because I can actually enjoy it and I have time to explore. This is much better than when I was flying.

What was it like living in Dubai?

It was very glamorous. Spending time at beautiful resorts by the pool, going shopping at the biggest mall in the world, trying the international cuisines, melting on the beach, driving the expensive cars, visiting the best Instagram spots, ice skating in the mall any time of the year. The list goes on and on.

There were a lot of rich people, but also many poor people. As part of the cabin crew, we had a good life. We got so many discounts and a Membership Cards to use at spas or resorts or shopping malls. It’s very affordable. But I was also missing fresh air and fresh water. You can’t drink the tap water, really. You could and you wouldn’t die, but it doesn’t taste good.

It’s these basic things that you realize you had before and you miss them. It’s your family, and being able to visit them anytime you want. And then you’re actually alone, because even if you make friends on a flight, every flight you work with a different crew. And when you finally make some friends and you don’t have the same days off scheduled, it’s very hard to meet with them and to actually keep up with the friendship.

So you like your life on the ground?

Yes I am much happier on the ground and being more healthy. I have moved to Prague which is not so different from Dubai (except for the beach). Prague is also international with many expats and there are so many nice bars, restaurants, cafes, fun parks and many other options for what you can do in your free time.

I was working as a GL accountant, then I was flying, then went back to the office. It’s kind of a phase of life that I needed to experience. And I’m glad I could experience it fully and realize that I do not want to fly forever. This job is very challenging and hard on your body. And without your family and friends it is even harder. There are many people working as cabin crew for many years and raising their kids in Dubai. But I could not see myself like this in the future.

Every Ataccamer has a back story. If you’re feeling inspired by Patricia’s adventurous life, you should meet some of our other colleauges!

Read our blog about our Ata Ambassadors program (and the inspiring people involved) or hear the story of Vojta, one of our favorite colleagues who’s been with us for 15 years!

Taking Off With a New Career was originally published in Life at Ataccama on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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