I met Olya on my flight arrival last month, she was assisting First Class passengers upon arrival in Dubai; taking them through fast track, answering all of their questions and making sure passengers met all the entry requirements. She was extremely enthusiastic about her job and willing to share more details of her work as airline ground staff.

Tell me your background

I come from a very unusual background, not what you might think of a person who you meet behind the airport check-in counter. My path is from teaching to aviation. I used to be an English teacher for an IHWO, International House English, school in my hometown Poltava, Ukraine. I have had 7 years of experience in making my students’ dreams come true; through teaching and creating interactive programs and educational trips abroad for my learners. At the same time my students were the ones who motivated me to pursue my dream as well!

I represented our school at various conferences, won the title "The teacher of the year 2016" and gained a huge amount of experience in dealing with people’s needs and goal achievements.

And I always felt that I could do even more and in a bigger place on a higher level. This idea kept me inspired to go for something where I could interact with the whole world. Where is a place where you could meet the whole word? an international airport of course!

Why did you want to work for airlines?

As simple as it may sound, when I was a little girl I watched the movie "Home Alone". I saw the airport for the first time and fell in love with that atmosphere. I was wondering how those ladies walked around the huge airports in their smart uniforms and dealt with all the many issues. How that huge place is the place to take a step into your dreams; to go to you dream country, reunite with your family, go for a desirable job and much much more. Child dreams apart when I travelled abroad for the first time, I admired seeing the ground crew helping people; being so serious and responsible and imagined myself there! This was just something I fell in love with. I felt that was a very noble and helpful profession. 

Sometimes it seems that our life is like an empty jar, one which we must fill with our emotions. Only travelling can give you these unbelievable emotions, emotions that stay with you for all your life. I wanted to be a part of it, helping people to fill up their jars.

How did you get your job? Do you have previous experience in aviation?

I do not have any experience in aviation - ta-da! But I now have 7 years of a customer service experience and dealing with extreme situations.

Being a teacher prepares you for literally anything in this life, as you have a responsibility for the most important part in any person’s life - their children.

Living my teacher life, I accidentally came across a friend of mine who I had not seen for a very long time. It also just so happened that she worked for an airline in Saudi Arabia and had come for a vacation in Ukraine. She looked so happy telling me about her job and of her experiences living in the Middle East. She was travelling the world and experiencing different cultures, she had friends from all of the continents and was definitely not an upset and lonely girl at all; she broke that stereotype for me. I decided that it was the time for me to try and reach for my dream! 

I started googling just 1 word - airlines; however nothing came up except of cabin crew vacancies. I had always admired the role of flight attendant, but at the same time I had never considered becoming one. I started exploring and learning about International airlines; among all the airlines out there, Emirates was the one that caught my eye. I found a company in Ukraine which collaborates with Emirates and sent them my CV, never really expecting much. However within just a few days of one of the big holidays, Saint Nicholas day, I got an email “Come for an interview in Kyiv”. On the 31st of December my New Year's gift was a call with the golden words "Welcome onboard and to Dubai”.

Walk me through a typical day in your job

My working day starts from the moment I put on my red hat and wear my red shoes. Everything must be perfect starting with the hair band and finishing with the tone of the nail polish.

Grooming is an essential part of our job, as there are specific standards for being an ambassador for one of the biggest and best airlines in the world.

It takes about an hour to make myself perfectly groomed and this is when I start work. 

My first task can be Check in, your registration for the flight. I must say that our ground staff are heroes, we can check in any passenger to any destination. We do not have a dedicated counter to some specific destination, all our check ins are for any of the available destinations. During one hour I could check in people to Brussels, Cairo, Peshawar or Entebbe. It is a very serious and responsible task; we work on an international level and each country has their unique rules, which are updated every day. 

Let's say you are travelling in business to Sudan, and you had visited Israel before, having an Israeli stamp restricts you from entering Sudan. Perhaps you are travelling to Egypt and your PCR test is soft copy, if so then entry is not allowed; this is because Egypt requires hard copy only and must be stamped at the certified clinic. If you are going to CDG and you have done your PCR test 75 hours before departure, then also no entry; because the country you want to fly requires max 72 hrs. If you want to experience the beauties of mountains in Pakistan, make sure you download a special mobile app called “Pass track” upon your arrival and have your visa!

Along with document checks and governmental requirements we also have to follow safety guidelines. Did you know that you cannot keep your power bank in your check in bag? This is considered as a dangerous item. Of course you know that no liquids greater than 100ml are allowed in your carry on luggage, so better not put the biggest bottle of your favourite perfume in your cabin bag.

We deal with lots of stressful situations. Visas, document validity, fitness to fly, any supporting documents are our responsibility to check.

After I have had a few hours of check-in I can be allocated at the Arrivals for the Premium Connections Task. This one is my favourite, hosting and assisting you through our huge airport. As our airport is international, we have many connecting flights. Sometimes you arrive and your next flight is within an hour! If you are not familiar with the airport it is very easy to miss your connecting flight, which is where I appear to prevent this.

Also I can meet with you when you arrive and get you what you need for your journey through our airport; be it hotel registration, passport control, customs, chauffeur drive, whatever is needed really.

One more task I can get during the day is a departure task. You will see us checking documents, scanning boarding passes, collecting your hand baggage, all of these are very important to make the flight take off on time. Every minute counts.

How has COVID changed your work?

Operations on the ground have changed along with how the world has changed. Top priority is of course the safety of our passengers and staff. Many safety measures have been implemented. All staff now wear a mask and at some points additional PPE and goggles too. We also provide hygiene kits for every passenger. Each counter has protection screens between us and the passengers. There are social distancing markings and temperature measurement gates at each entrance.

With any new set of operational requirements, come new tasks for us as ground staff and premium ambassadors. Hygiene kit distribution, thermal screening, queue combing, thermal guiding, etc. Each role is vital and very interesting. The idea of the importance of it all keeps us motivated. Everything has been changed to minimum or zero contact. Biometric path, self check-in kiosks, self-baggage drop off, all of this is automatic and at the same time we are always there to assist.

Your proudest moment at your job

I am really proud to have been chosen as a Premium Services and VIP ambassador, this happened after I completed my training and passed my exams. It is not only a moment that I am proud of but also a state of my soul. This is what inspires me to continue my self-development.

I am also a big fan of our Emirates Social media! So it was a proud moment for me when I was invited to participate in our lounge promo photoshoot. So, you can see me in some of the Emirates Instagram videos and photos.

Any advice for others who want to work at an airline as ground staff?

If you are looking for something which will always keep you interested, motivated and updated, then this could be the career for you. But be ready to work night shifts, rush hours and adjust to an intensive world change. Also this job is only if you love people! It is not a boring office job where you only talk to your PC. Each customer has their emotions and you need to listen and hear everyone.

What would you like to do in 5 years?

I believe I would like to have in my Instagram bio - teaching aviation. Something that combines sharing my experience with others and being a Social Media ambassador is what would make me really happy!

You can follow Olya on her instagram.