High Flying Women

The country’s national carrier recruits new crop of stewardesses in an effort to attract international customers.

High Flying Women

The country’s national carrier recruits new crop of stewardesses in an effort to attract international customers.

Seasoned international travellers may find it slightly unusual to be greeted by an air hostess wearing an all-encompassing burqa – but that isn’t going to stop a new generation of Afghan women taking to the skies.

Afghanistan’s national airline Ariana is currently recruiting female cabin crew, a move unthinkable only a year ago, when the oppressive Taleban regime was still in place.

As the airline celebrated the launch of its first flights to Germany for two decades, 25 women graduated from a training course designed to bring a higher level of service to its international passengers.

Parwana Ghazal was one of the successful students and wears her new uniform – a specially designed hejab (a long coat) - with pride. “During the workshops, we were taught how to look after our guests, received training about the planes’ technical systems, and were instructed on what to do in an emergency,” she told IWPR.

However, not all crew members will be sporting the Ariana livery. Some, such as experienced flight attendant Narges, are sticking to the heavy blue burqa. “I cannot stop wearing it - it has become a habit for me,” she said.

The recruitment of women will help shore up staff numbers after several flight attendants took advantage of their jobs to escape life under the brutal student militia.

The airline’s commercial manager Nader Fayaz said, “In the five years of Taleban control, nine of our flight attendants sought refuge in European countries. When the regime discovered this, they demanded cash guarantees of up to 15,000 US dollars from cabin crew on international flights.”

While life may be getting back to normal for Ariana staff, its customers find conditions on the airline to be somewhat less than they might expect. Regular traveller Haji Hafiz, from Kabul, feels improvements are long overdue. “The basic needs of passengers are met by Ariana, but it cannot compare with European and Asian airlines,” he said.

“There’s no television or music on the planes or a modern food service for passengers. Also there are no announcements during the flights or access to facilities in the departure lounge.”

Hakim Khan from Paktia had plenty to grumble about his flight from Dubai. “The food was bad, drinking water was given to several passengers in the same glass, and the toilets weren’t clean,” he said.

But the airline is lucky to be flying at all. Ariana lost six of its eight planes in United States-led air strikes against the Taleban, and has struggled to resume a normal service.

With the resumption of flights to Frankfurt augmenting its services to Islamabad in Pakistan, Dubai, Amritsar in India and the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Ariana is making a concerted effort to become a truly international airline.

Mohammad Haji Gulbahari, who has 35 years’ service with the airline, told IWPR, that the stewardess recruitment drive should put the company on a par with some of its regional rivals.

“There isn’t very much difference between Ariana and the airlines of Iran and Pakistan - apart from the fact that around half of their flight attendants are female,” he said.

Mohammed Muneer Mehraban is a freelance journalist in Kabul.

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