Cabin crew careers are still held in 1950s-esque regard in Thailand, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? A host of health requirements hindered by irregular sleeping and eating hours are just a few of the gripes facing flight attendants, but every cloud has a silver lining. With an income anywhere from five to 10 times higher than the minimum wage paired with flexible hours and days off, cabin crew are uniquely positioned to explore their passions outside of the workplace. Here, we uncover the secret side-hustles of real flight attendants, learning how they manage to juggle two careers.
“I wanted to become a writer” says Jirat Chalermsanyakorn, a flight attendant of a Star Alliance founding member airline who also happens to have won the Silpathorn Award from the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture for his writing. For Jirat, becoming a cabin crew member was a way to diversify. “I believed that being cabin crew would be beneficial for my dream of becoming a writer. It would broaden my life experience, which would generate material for my writing.”
In his fourth year of flying, Jirat’s passion for writing grew stronger, so he decided to pursue a master’s degree in comparative literature to develop his skills. He eventually followed this up with a doctorate, which led to editorial roles in publishing and being selected as a judge for the esteemed S.E.A Write Award—all while maintaining his career as a flight attendant. When questioned why he puts himself through this in spite of his success as a writer, Jirat explains, “It is my safe zone. I can be certain how much [income] I will get each month.” As he grapples with his schedule, he notes that self-discipline is key—“I can’t be lazy because every minute counts.”
Nuntawat Chanyalikit, on the other hand, has a burning passion for cooking. His pursuit of it landed him the winning place on Season 3 of “Master Chef Thailand.” Currently a flight steward for a boutique airline in Thailand, he also runs a bakery in Chiang Mai called Nanafruit Dessert. How is that possible, you ask? “I’m on leave without pay,” explains Nuntawat. “The company policy allows me to take a break from my flying job so that I can focus on my bakery. I am able to maintain my benefits like staff tickets and annual leave and it doesn’t affect my performance at the company, either.”
Prior to taking leave, Nuntawat managed to switch schedules with his colleagues in order to attend culinary school and film “Master Chef.” His motivations echo those of Jirat. “Cooking is what I’m good at. It also allows me to improve myself every day. At the same time I consider being a flight attendant my comfort zone, where I feel financially secure and I can support my family,” he explains.
While passion is the driving force for Jirat and Nuntawat, knowledge and hard-earned skills push fellow flight attendant Haruetai Wongnang to lead a dual existence. After earning an MD from Siriraj Medical School, she gained a role as a general physician at a public hospital. However, her passion for traveling won out, leading her to pursue a life as a frequent flyer. She decided to reduce her role in the hospital—hardly your typical side hustle—to one day per week and become a full-time flight attendant.
“When I first started working as cabin crew, I wasn’t sure if I could continue my career as a doctor, but after a couple of months I realized that I had plenty of free time to do something else,” Haruetai explains, adding that she’s able to adjust her assigned flights each month to fit around her doctor’s duties and appointments. “I decided to make use of my MD degree and do a service for society,” she continues. Haruetai even views her two paths as two sides of the same coin. “Both provide a service to those who need it. Cabin crews usually ensure the happiness and excitement of passengers, while a physician addresses a patient’s suffering and pain.”
Chutipat Yibchokanan, a junior flight steward for a leading airline in Thailand, has a part time job as a model. He was selected by Cleo magazine as one of the city’s 50 “most eligible bachelors” and has walked for various brands during Bangkok Fashion Week. “It seems like everybody in my workplace has a second job, so I think that pushed me to find one too,” he tells us. “I was asked by a friend to be a model for their thesis, then one day I was approached by a modelling agency for a professional job.”
When asked which career path he prefers, Chutipat says, “Modeling gives me a better return, but it is a waiting game.” He adds, “When there is a clash between my modeling and flight duties, I choose the former because it helps build my modeling profile.” Though Chutipat enjoys the fun and creative elements of his modelling career, he affirms that being a flight attendant guarantees him a more stable income. Though the jet-setting glitz and glamor of the golden age of flying may be over, it seems there’s a clear reason why a career as a flight attendant is still such an attractive prospect. Financial stability paired with the time and funds to pursue your passion? Sounds like a win to us.