“WE HAVE THE VOICE!” says Agnieszka Rutkowska, a former Norwegian Air and Qatar Airways Cabin Crew

Interview by Nicoleta Gherman, Founder and Trainer

Aga, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I graduated the Faculty of Tourism and Recreation in 2003. Shortly after that, I moved to England where I had various jobs like waitress, babysitter, lifeguard, hotel receptionist but also travel agent for one local tourism agency. I have been living and working abroad since I was 22 years old if I remember well, young I would say… but looking back at those times I wouldn’t change a thing. All that period spent abroad made me become who I am now, both in my personal and professional life.

Did you choose this job because you liked it or it just happened to attend a cabin crew interview?

I attended my first cabin crew recruitment/assessment day in 2005 for Qatar Airways. I was looking for a job at that time and saw their announcement in the local newspaper. I said ‘Why not, try it”, as it seemed like an interesting and exciting career; plus it offered me the opportunity of seeing the world which is what I always wanted to do. So I decided to give it a go and this is how my adventure started.

For how many airlines did you work and for how long?

I worked for three airlines up to this moment. I started with Qatar Airways in 2006 and worked for them for 5 years and a half; then I had a short episode with a domestic airline in Poland in 2011 for a few months and then I moved to Norwegian in February 2013. So it’s over 12 years of being a cabin crew, these days working on another field.

How was working in the Middle East?

I remember I was very excited when I found out that Qatar Airways accepted me for the position of cabin crew in Doha. I was a bit concerned about how my life was about to change when moving to the Middle East. However, I’m happy that I made lots of great friends, visited many places that others don’t have a chance to see. I have been flying all different types of aircraft, met some famous people and had the chance to be part of airline promotional flights and events. I was also given the opportunity to work in first and business class, learn about fine dining and try some of the most delicious foods.

A lot of people ask me ‘How was Qatar Airways?’ which is a difficult question to answer to. It requires a longer conversation. I had good times and bad times while working for them. Living and working in the Middle East is very challenging for Western people, as it is not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s worth making a proper research before deciding to move eastbound to avoid disappointment and not feeling the entrapment or the cultural shock.

Has your personal life suffered as a result of your constant traveling?

I’ve had a very good social life in Doha. Most of my friends were having ground jobs or office jobs, therefore they were always there. I remember we would meet for lunch, dinner, barbecue (if the weather permitted), go to the beach, do sports and all sorts of other activities. Outdoor life in Doha is very limited and defined by seasons. Boiling hot summers are not the best time to stay outdoors and summer lasts for 6 months!

How was your life in the Middle East compared to the one in Europe?

I have to say I feel free now that I live and work in Europe. I’m European and this is my home. I find it easier to communicate with my fellow colleagues, my customers, the management, etc. The company trusts us, treats us very well, includes us in the decision-making process, understands our needs, we are not that anonymous, we have the voice!

I travel a lot around Europe on my days off, distances are not that big and Europe is so beautiful! I enjoy a lot of outdoor activities, going away for a night or two, socializing is not limited as it used to be in Qatar. I enjoy my life now more than ever.

And then you suddenly decided it was time to move back to Poland. Why is that?

I was tired of Middle East. Qatar Airways was rapidly expanding and our layovers became shorter and shorter, the rosters were busier and life was more stressful. The management decided that a new crew control system would be installed in our accommodation with cameras and ID swiping system along with the minimum rest rules; all these made me feel like a prisoner, being locked in a golden cage. I felt so suffocated that I decided that enough was enough, I missed home and the European lifestyle, I wanted to be closer to my family and enjoy freedom.

How did you end up working for Norwegian Air and how was the recruiting interview?

First I have to say that I did enjoy working for Norwegian very much. The company opened a new base at LGW (London Gatwick) in February 2013, so I had the chance and pleasure to be part of this success. We were a mixture of nationalities there including Polish, Spanish, British people, Czechs, Hungarians, Portuguese, just to name a few.

The recruiting process was rather short and very prompt. After sending the application form, I received back a set of tests, followed by a telephone interview. Then there was the last part, namely, the face-to-face interview over there at Gatwick and that was all. After one week we had the results.

Has your past experience as cabin crew helped you in getting this job?

Oh, of course! The airline was recruiting only experienced cabin crew, so it did help a lot. Also, my previous customer service experience was absolutely an advantage.

Do you like all types of persons and personalities?

I enjoy receiving positive feedback from our passengers. Lots of them thank us for the lovely flight they had or they compliment our hard work, etc. Others are difficult to deal with, especially with those drinking too much because they become aggressive and argumentative. This doesn’t happen a lot, but still, when it does it’s not pleasant. It frequently happened on Ibiza flights or destinations that are famous for clubbing.

Which is the best sector/flight that you had with Norwegian and what are the benefits they offer?

The airline operated short and medium-haul flights (Europe) at that time, so we didn’t have many layovers. However, we got a few, mainly in Scandinavia, my favorite, which was awesome to visit around. Norwegian, later on, opened a long-haul base in Gatwick (LGW), flying out to the US with some brand new B787s. Other benefits would be the ID staff travel tickets that we could obtain for ourselves, our partners, family, and friends so that we can travel cheaply in our spare time. But I will tell you more about my life with Norwegian in another interview. Keep in touch!