Marisa Mackle: Don't expect Mums to join the crew

Marisa Mackle

It's not easy being a working mum. Your life revolves around balancing childcare and being a good employee. It seems a shame to have to choose between them.

When I worked for Aer Lingus I was single with no commitments. My heart used to go out to the mummy cabin crew who would get up at 3am to make sandwiches for their school-going children before arriving to the airport in the dark with a smile ready to start their day's work.

Picture this. You're exhausted and finally sitting down having your meal break. A customer blows his nose, throws his tissue on your dinner tray and says: "Can I give you this?" That happened to me when I worked as cabin crew. You see, passengers think when you're having your break, that you're being lazy and that you should really be pouring them another vodka instead. I remember having a nap on a long 13-hour flight to LA, which I was entitled to. A passenger pulled back the curtain and shook my shoulder. He became abusive when I explained I was on my break and that an on-duty air hostess would serve him.

Cabin-crew meal-breaks were only ever 30 minutes long, but now staff are expected to do European flights without any meal break at all. Nobody else does up to 11 hours duty without a break. Should cabin crew not eat?

Maybe they shouldn't sleep either. Up until now crews were guaranteed 24 hours off between transatlantic flights to recover. Under the new rostering systems they can be expected to make do with a 12-hour turnaround, meaning they can operate the first flight to New York and fly home again that night.

As Aer Lingus cabin crew I was only allowed one weekend off in every eight. Now, under the draconian new rostering system, that one weekend request is no longer available. Want to get married? Forget it. The chances are that neither you nor your colleagues will be free to attend the wedding anyway. You want to Christen your baby? No chance. You're off to New York and, under the new rules, your flight schedule can be changed the day before by up to four hours.

Worst of all, as cabin crew you can be stationed at a foreign base for up to 26 days. Therefore if you have a partner or children at home, don't expect to see them for nearly a month if the company so decides. For a profession that is predominantly female, it is now sadly one which excludes mothers. It is such a pity there are no creche facilities in Aer Lingus, unlike other big establishments such as RTE.

Back in the day, airhostesses had to give up flying once they got married and here we are again at square one. Working for an airline you expect to work unsociable hours. -- 3am wake-up calls are normal and long delays are part of the deal. Flying is more than a job; it's a way of life. But like all humans, cabin crew would like to eat, sleep and see their families now and then. There's a big difference between accepting a way of life and having no life at all.