Cristina’s story: from commercial to freelance flight attendant
Cristina Tung’s aviation career spans an impressive two decades. She has spent 20 years working as a flight attendant where she has travelled across Europe, Asia and the Middle East under the employment of several airlines and operators. However, flying was not part of her original plan.
After completing high school, Cristina was unsure about furthering her education and heading to university. Instead, she began work as a customer service agent for Iberia, which was her first taste of the aviation industry.
Cristina says: “While working as a customer service agent, I used to see cabin crew coming and going from flights. So, I thought ‘well, that looks like a very good job to have, to have a good lifestyle and to get paid for traveling’.”
That single thought alone changed the course of Cristina’s life and sparked the beginning of her cabin crew career. Shortly after this experience, in 1997, Cristina moved to London and began researching companies that recruited cabin crew personnel. During that time, many airlines would recruit every six months, presenting multiple opportunities for anyone eager to join or transfer airline cabin crews. It was here that Cristina solidified her career in aviation.
During the next 20 years, Cristina flew with over 17 different airlines operating in both private and commercial aviation. These flights spanned across Europe, Asia and the Middle East and included well-known carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Air France, Japan Airlines, BA Cityflyer, Imperial Wings, AirX Charter, AVCONJET, AMAC Aerospace and NASJET.
Today Cristina is a corporate flight attendant at Freelance Flight Attendant, with an EASA cabin crew attestation. She has flown on both short and long-haul aircraft family types such as the ATR42/72, RJ100, Boeing 737/747/757/767, Airbus A310/319/320/321, McDonnell Douglas MD-11, Boeing Business Jets, Gulfstream G450/550/650, Citation Excel/Sovereign/Falcon 7X/900EX, Global Express and the Bombardier Challenger 604/605.
So, what’s the driving force behind her career?
“I've lived in so many countries and I've been based in different places. I’m an adventurer,” says Cristina, who also admits that as a travel hobbyist she enjoys seeking out new experiences. “Working for many different airlines gives you the chance to live in different places. For me, that wasn't the plan, but it ended up turning out to be more than okay.”
Cristina began her aviation career with commercial operations from 1997 to 2009, where she naturally progressed and moved between carriers. In 2010, after being based in Saudi Arabia and flying for four years, she became a freelance flight attendant. The motivation behind this change was to strike a balance between her work and personal life.
She explains: “When I finished my contract in Saudi Arabia, I came back home to Europe and thought that I would try and find the same type of contract and schedule that I had there, which was one month on one month off. But after a while I realized that it's really hard to find that type of contract when you're based in Europe. So, I thought I’d rather start freelancing and then I have my ‘off time’ and I can do my own thing and still have a personal life.”
While each role requires different abilities and procedures, Cristina wouldn’t pick one over the other.
She adds: “Both jobs are very good. If you're a regular flight attendant, you do have a contract, so you have more stability and you have a roster, so you know what you're doing moneywise, and you also fly often. As a freelance flight attendant, you have different destinations, and you get to see different people and different customers. So, I wouldn't say one is better than the other. It's just different jobs, different types of contracts. But both are good.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic was both “disruptive” and “surreal”, Cristina has found an unexpected silver lining. With more time on the ground than ever before, Cristina has had the opportunity to catch up with friends and relatives, something she rarely had the opportunity to do during her usually busy flight schedule.
She says: “My professional life was really affected because I've been flying far less than I used to. Even though business aviation was doing very well during the pandemic, companies tend to ferry you to wherever the plane is to operate the flight. And say, if you're based in London, Paris or any big cities, you're going to be fine, but I was based in Bilbao, Spain and there's not a lot of private jet movement around there.
“During the few flights I did, service was kept to a minimum. We had to keep our distance, the passengers didn’t want anyone in the cabin, and we had to sanitize the cabin after each flight. So, the whole thing was surreal. But on a personal level it was fine. I mean, I enjoyed the downtime at home, and I took a sabbatical year.”
Despite the uncertainty of the current global crisis, Cristina encourages all aspiring and grounded flight attendants to remain positive and utilize their time wisely, particularly when searching for a position in aviation’s private sector.
“If you want to go into the private sector, then try to get some good training, including service training, cooking classes, food pre-plating classes and wine workshops. And once you feel ready, then go and send your CV off to every company out there.”
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