The glamour and glitz promised by the cabin crew profession when flying for one of the major airlines in the Middle East is daring hundreds of thousands of candidates to take a chance at their dream job every single year.

You see advertisements of smiling, happy crew traveling the world and offering their inflight customers award-winning services while earning envy-worthy tax-free monthly incomes and enjoying benefits few other workplaces can offer.

One thing that tends to get overlooked with consistency though is the fact that getting there requires you to pass an interview full of hurdles and, once successful, uproot your life and start over fresh in a new organisation from a new country, within a new cultural environment and away from everything you are familiar and comfortable with.

Now this isn’t a review on the local airlines or the treatment offered to their cabin crew, rather just an insight into the local lifestyle and what can new cabin crew expect to discover upon their arrival there.

So what’s life in the Middle East like for an expatriate young lady (or man)? In this article we will review a few factors to consider when taking the big step to relocate to the region.

There are a few points common to all countries in the Middle East: climate, religion, certain cultural specifics and weekends.

CLIMATE

Whether you are moving to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, the weather conditions are identical: hot and humid summers lasting 9 months a year and very pleasant winters, resembling the European early spring.

If you want to get a real feel of what that level of heat feels like at its peak, don your training suit and walk into a sauna, that should give you a pretty accurate feeling. 😀

Summer starts around mid March and it reaches its peak around the month of July when you can expect temperatures as high as 55 C and humidity of approximately 85%. Towards the end of October it starts to cool down although the lowest temperatures will not fall below 10-11C at night and 17-20 C during the day. It is the best period to spend as much time as possible enjoying outdoors activities.

RELIGION

The entire region is predominantly governed by the Islamic code of conduct and foreigners are expected to be considerate towards and very respectful of the local customs and traditions.

Muslims pray 5 times per day throughout the year, with the first prayer taking place at the break of dawn and the last at sunset.

Uniformity is important in the local culture, so everybody prays at the exact same times of the day and the call to prayer is given by each mosque through loud speakers installed at the top of the minarets.

Each neighbourhood has a nearby mosque and the call to prayer resounds through the entire country so don’t panic when you hear the very loud chanting at 4 am. That is part of the daily routine and, in time, you will get used to sleeping through the call to prayer. 

Women pray at home however men go to the mosques to pray which is why you will notice a lot of traffic around mosques during prayer times.

If you find yourself in a shopping mall when prayer time comes, you will notice that music sources are turned down or completely off and many men head to the specially designated prayer rooms.

If you notice people/men praying in public, avoid passing in front of them until they finished. That is very dis-considerate and many might scold you or become very harsh towards you.

RAMADAN

All Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan during the 9th month of the Arabic calendar. The exact period of the Ramadan changes from year to year and is dependant on the moon phases. The month is spent in prayer and fasting. Eating drinking and smoking in public places during the daylight hours is strictly forbidden for everybody throughout the month.

The frequency of flights to the holy site of Mecca, Saudi Arabia increases and all flights are full of pilgrims going for the annual Haj (religious pilgrimage of high religious significance).

The days are quiet with most shops (particularly restaurants or any food-serving places) being closed until the break of fast/sunset – a time when all fasters can have their first meal of the day.

It is family time and everybody gathers to break the daily fast with family and friends, so you can expect very heavy traffic right before and after breakfast. Everybody will then head to the malls or parks, the night becoming the time for all the usual daytime social activities.

CULTURAL SPECIFICS

You can’t wear revealing clothes – especially in malls, restaurants, office buildings, etc. What that means is that your shoulders should be covered (no spaghetti straps), you shouldn’t wear a deep cleavage and your skirt/dress or shorts should be (at least) knee length. That wont be hard to follow though, considering that everywhere you go (malls, restaurants, etc.) the air conditioning is blasting 19C and you will want to be covered to avoid freezing.

If you are going to the beach (generally private beaches belonging to 5 star hotels) you can wear your normal swim suit but definitely can’t sunbathe topless or walk around the surrounding areas in just your swim suit. If you’re heading out for a drink at a night club, you can let your hair down a bit and wear a shorter skirt or a deeper cleavage.

You can only have an alcoholic drink at bars/restaurants that are within or affiliated with a hotel. If you want to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine in the comfort of your home, you will need to obtain an alcohol licence which grants you permission to buy from a specialised liqueur store.

You can’t openly discuss certain topics like religion, politics and sex. These are considered taboo subjects and are best avoided, even if somebody else initiates the discussion. You can easily insult, offend or hurt somebody by expressing opinions and convictions that contradict their own so if challenged to such a discussion, politely change the subject or avoid it altogether. It is the safest approach and best way to stay out of trouble.

You can’t kiss in public – it is considered very inappropriate, especially if you are in places frequented by families with children.

You can’t sit in the family section or visit the mall during “family day” if you are a single guy (not accompanied by a girl/lady).

Life is pretty easy, with most services you need being just a phone call away. Free home delivery is common to most shops. If you need your laundry collected or delivered, your grocery shopping done, a mechanic to fix your car, your rental car delivered or collected, your meal from your favourite restaurant, etc. all you need to do is dial the right number to get it to your doorstep.

WEEKENDS

Unlike Europe and other western countries, weekends in most countries in the Middle East is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being the first working day of the week.

When it comes to lifestyle particulars, there are a few (smaller or bigger) differences between the countries within the region.

QATAR

QATAR is more conservative than the United Arab Emirates (UAE), however overall lifestyle (food, transportation by taxi, cinema tickets, etc.) is cheaper here (1 QAR – 3.65 USD). There are also very few options for extracurricular activities so crew based here get to save more money than those based in the UAE.

During days off, crew generally go shopping, camping or dune bashing in the desert, sunbathing, or they simply relax and catch up with friends over coffee.

At the entrance of each shopping mall you will notice a board with the dress code. It is always good to be respectful of those guidelines to avoid any raised eyebrows from the local nationals (especially those having children with them).

Night clubs switch their lights on at 3 am however there are other places (the local Souq – old city or Katara – cultural village) where many coffee shops and restaurants are opened around the clock and you can enjoy an outdoor coffee or shisha (narghile) until very late into the night.

Flight deck crew can apply for and obtain a liqueur licence allowing them to buy a certain amount of alcohol for home per month. Cabin crew unfortunately don’t have this benefit at the moment.

You can’t buy alcohol at the supermarket and pork products are completely forbidden into the country.

There are a few small public beaches however they aren’t looked after and generally populated by local boys taking their jet skis out to play.

If you wish to spend a day at the beach, you can do that at the private beach of one of the many 5 star hotels. You would have to pay a daily fee (ranging anywhere between $30 to $60) but can enjoy most facilities of the hotel’s beach club.

Cabin crew tend to get generous discounts in different outlets (restaurants, shops, beach clubs, etc.) just by presenting their cabin crew ID card.

Women can drive in Qatar and many nationals (men or women) having valid driving licences in their home countries can obtain a Qatari driving licence without having to go for a test. You can find out if you are among those nationalities here http://qatar.angloinfo.com/transport/driving-licences/exchanging-a-licence/.

Qatar is generally a very quiet place, with a lifestyle very conducive to a slightly conservative family lifestyle.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (UAE) is favoured by most cabin crew for the openness of the place and the fact that it is much closer to the European lifestyle, with certain limitations.

Dubai is a very cosmopolite city while Abu Dhabi is the green city of the dessert.

The dress code is still observed and expatriates are expected to wear conservative clothing whenever visiting malls or being anywhere in public places. Many expatriates dress quite comfortably though (ladies in short shorts/skirts, spaghetti straps, etc.), especially during the hot months of summer, and that rarely (if ever) raises any criticism from the local citizens.

The cost of living is much higher than Qatar (1 AED – 3.67 USD) and there are many options for extracurricular activities so cabin crew based here end up with minimum or no savings, especially in the first months of their employment.

You can skydive, surf or stand-up paddle, swim with the dolphins, go for a desert safari or a hot air balloon ride, take a dinner cruise around the Dubai creek, enjoy a panoramic view of Dubai from the top of the world’s tallest building, ski, have a hot drink in the ice bar or indulge in the Saturday brunches that everybody loves and looks forward to every single week.

If you want to head out to the neighbouring emirates, everything is within (maximum) 3 hour drives. Abu Dhabi (1.5 hr drive from Dubai) is quieter than Dubai yet more vibrant than Doha and home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster (by Ferrari), the impressive Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Yas Island, hosting countless cultural and social events throughout the year.

In Al Ain (part of Abu Dhabi) you will find a very unique (in the region) artificial surf pool where you can take surfing lessons or enjoy perfect waves on demand.

If you’re happy to take a 1.5 hour drive towards Oman, you will come across natural cold springs that are quite a surprise in what everybody believes to be the middle of the desert.

Ok, the list can go on but you get the drift…

To make everything even better, cabin crew tend to get generous discounts in different outlets (restaurants, shops, beach clubs, etc.) just by presenting their cabin crew ID card.

There are many public beaches that are highly popular for among western families, particularly during the weekends.

Alcohol purchase from specialised stores for home consume is much easier here, in comparison with Qatar, however you still need a licence for it and there is a monthly quota on how much you can purchase.

You can’t find alcohol to buy from the supermarket, however there are many international chain supermarkets (e.g. Waitrose or Spinneys) that host a designated area with exclusive pork products.

Nightlife is very active and you can find a party place for every taste while in Dubai.

Women can drive in the UAE and many nationals (men or women) having valid driving licences in their home countries can obtain an Emirati driving licence without having to go for a test. You can find out if you are among those nationalities here

http://gulfnews.com/guides/tourists/convert-a-foreign-driving-licence-in-uae-1.1247846

The UAE is a very animated place, with plenty of social and cultural events going on throughout the year.

SAUDI ARABIA

SAUDI ARABIA is the most conservative country in the region and it is important to be aware of all the cultural nitties and gritties before moving your entire life to the Kingdom. The economy is pretty stable and cost of living is reasonable compared to the cabin crew income (1 SAR – 3.75 USD)

If you’re relocating to Saudi Arabia, scrap all the dress code guidelines from above and just bring along a lovely abaya since that’s what you must wear whenever you are outdoors. You can pretty much wear whatever you wear under your abaya, provided you don’t reveal any skin if, by any chance, your abaya lifts and reveals your legs. It is always good to carry your head scarf (either wear it on your head or carry it around your neck) just in case you are asked to cover your hair while in public.

There’s no such thing as liqueur store in Saudi Arabia so your cravings will have to wait until you fly out of the Kingdom.   

Speaking of shopping, women can only try clothes on before purchasing in designating trial rooms (1 or 2 in the entire mall) where everybody goes to try clothes bought from around the mall. So the routine is pay now – try later (in the designated area or at home). If the clothes don’t suit , you can bring it back within 7 days for a return or a refund.

You can’t spend the night at a hotel with an opposite sex person unless you are 1st degree relatives (siblings, parents and children or spouses). Most hotels in the Middle East and all those in Saudi Arabia will ask you to produce proof of your relationship (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.) upon booking or checking into the hotel room.

There’s also no cinema or other opportunities for extracurricular activities so crew based here get a lot of relaxing time and hanging out with their friends at home or shopping.

You shouldn’t wear excessive make-up if going to public places (malls, restaurants, etc.) in Saudi Arabia. You’re gonna have to trust us on this one.

In Saudi Arabia all public services (shops in the mall, restaurants, etc.) cease activity for approximately 20-30 minutes during every prayer time.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia however cabin crew generally have shuttles provided by the airline to take them, once or twice per day, from the company-provided accommodation to shopping malls.

If you’ve been out of touch with yourself, being based in Saudi Arabia provides the perfect opportunity for self-reflection, catching up with the books you haven’t read during your school years.

BAHRAIN

BAHRAIN is an in-between place, quite westernised yet fairly conservative as well.

Cost of living is quite high as the local currency is reasonably strong (1 BHD – 2.65 USD).

The local specifics are very similar to Qatar, although nightlife is much more animated and not disrupted at a specific hour as it is in Qatar.

When choosing to relocate, it is important to be aware of all the challenges ahead and all the changes you will have to adapt to. It isn’t always flowers and rainbows and only knowing the downfalls as well can help you make an objective decision whether this lifestyle really is for you or not.

Although one of these countries/cities will be your home base, you rarely get to spend more than 8 to 10 days at base in a month since the rest of the time you are flying or laying over in other cities around the world.

You will often get to hear very conflicting opinions on the lifestyle across the region and many of these opinions tend to be quite negative. We encourage you to give yourself the chance and enough time to live your own experiences and judge a place, airline or people based on your own perspective because that will most often be very different than everybody else’s.

Make the most of your time and see all your challenges as opportunities for growth and development rather than obstacles and reasons to turn bitter and very negative.

We wish you continued success in the field and, as always, very blue skies.

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