An ultra long-haul flight is a non-stop flight composed of one sector that usually involves the longest distance operated by commercial aircraft, requiring over 12 hours of flying. Aircrafts covering these distances are wide-body types of aircraft (with 2 aisles inside the cabin). Besides the ultra long-haul, airlines use some other flight length terms for shorter distances, such as short-haul (up to 2-3 hrs), medium-haul (up to 4-5 hrs) and long-haul (up to 12 hrs). In my career of over 10 years with Qatar Airways, I did dozens of ultra-long flight and I can tell you that during an ultra long-haul flight, it is compulsory for all crew members to get their in-flight rest period of time of minimum 3-4 hours, in specially designated areas (about these areas we will discuss in another article). After completing an ultra or long-haul route, flight attendants always get a layover (rest time), having from 12 to 72 hours of rest on ground, while being accommodated in four or five-star hotels.
Every flight is different. Some flights run smoothly, like a 16-hour flight that I had from Doha to Houston, with only 60 passengers on board and a quick service, so I gave to the entire time extra time for relaxing: 6 hrs and 5 min. Others can be full of challenges, as customers get bored and try to fill their time with food and drinks in excess; again this happened on a Houston flight (16 hrs and 58 min flight time). On this flight, because of the full load, the cabin crew had only 4 hours to rest, as the passengers were really demanding during the first service.
A typical ultra long-haul trip starts at the assigned base, where crew lives. Every crew member is picked up by a bus that the airline provides and must arrive in time at the airport in order to attend the joint crew meeting taking place in the briefing room. It’s the moment when crew meets their captain, first officer, and all the other cabin crew colleagues. The bigger the airline is the smaller are the chances to fly with a crew met on a previous sector. The Cabin Service Director/Purser, in charge of the cabin crew team, is the one who decides the work position of every crew member and also the first and second group of rest according to a list previously made. When taking important decisions, the supervisor must keep in mind crew training skills and seniority and all the flight information needed: load, aircraft capacity, special passengers’ handling with special needs, passengers’ nationality, flight time, altitude, flight deck crew names, arrival airport name and any other specific destination information. It’s important to know that almost every flight has a native language speaker crew who is able to communicate better with the passengers in their own language, a thing very much appreciated.
Once on board the aircraft, after completing the safety and security checks, the cabin crew can start preparing the items they need for the service. The ones responsible for the galley areas (small kitchen inside the aircraft) have to count thoroughly the passengers and crew meals, making sure that everything they need during the next long hours is there for the passengers.
During the boarding process, the entire crew has to help the passengers with their seat number in order to find it as fast as possible and with their luggage to be stowed securely and safely. Immediately after take-off, the crew has to distribute the extra pillows and blankets that passengers asked for, children or infant kits and menus. The service usually commences with the distribution of wet towels (warm in premium classes), bar and snack service (if noon time), followed by the first hot meal service and ending with hot beverages service. After collecting all the used trays, the duty-free service is offered by the crew in charge with the sales, passing by the Economy cabin, as these days the sales for premium cabins are done by prior request. Now it’s the time when half of the crew can relax in the Crew Rest Compartments, while the others in the cabin have to serve non-alcoholic drinks every now and then, in order to keep the passengers hydrated. The second service (hot/cold snacks and beverages) is provided mid-flight by any of the crew not resting. Usually, 2 hours before top of descent the last crew rotation is in the cabin, as the third service must be done 2-3 hours before landing, depending on the passenger’s load. Hot meals and beverages are served again by the cabin crew. If landing cards are required by the customs and the airline has them on board, this is a good time to hand them into the passengers.
When arriving at the destination, each crew has to fulfill the task of the minimum rest requirement, depending on the flight. Of course that everyone is allowed to go out and visit as much as possible, to plan trips with the other colleagues, to meet for a drink in the hotel’s crew lounge, to feel relaxed like a tourist, but just keep in mind that the minimum hours of rest must be respected before your next duty.