First class stars and mile-high club tales
Owen Beddall served all the celebrities during his days as a flight attendant and is sharing all the galley gossip and insider airline knowledge in a new tell-all book. Hannah Stephenson checks in for a preview
Ever wondered how to get upgraded on a flight, what the cabin crew actually do in the galley, or even how the rich and famous pass their time in first class? Ex-Qantas flight attendant Owen Beddall has seen it all, having served the likes of Katy Perry and Russell Brand, Cate Blanchett and Lily Allen, among other high-profile names.
He has travelled to more than 40 countries on six continents and partied his way around major cities, staying in top class hotels.
"I chose to be in first class to be with the best of the best," says Australian Beddall. "If you are going to do a job, you may as well be at the top end. I was a little nervous around them [celebrities], but I thought my job was always to make them feel comfortable.
"It's a dichotomy with celebrities. A lot of them are quite insular, but to be around the calibre of celebrities I've been around has been amazing."
Most famous faces were well behaved, but the crew were apprehensive when Oasis brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, who'd been banned from flying with a number of airlines because of their bad behaviour, were on the flight list.
They were seated in business class, but during the flight, one of the female flight attendants from that section kept Beddall informed about what was going on.
"She whispered that one of the Gallagher brothers had offered the attendants £1,000 apiece to turn a blind eye while he smoked a joint in the toilet. What should she do?
"I was all for it," he confesses. "'Get the money up front', I suggested. 'Let him smoke the joint – it will set the smoke alarms off, and then maybe they'll go to sleep and leave you alone'."
As it turned out, the transaction never took place, and they all fell asleep soon afterwards.
The celebrity who most stands out for him is Lily Allen, he reveals, whom he'd never heard of when she was a passenger on his flight in 2006 and had a number one hit in the UK at the time.
"She exuded 'celebrity' from 100 seats away. She was in business class, I was in first, but I invited her up to the first class galley for a drink and a gossip. What a delight! Lily and I kept in touch."
Beddall spills the beans in his new book, Confessions Of A Qantas Flight Attendant, charting the ups and downs of his 12-year high-flying career, including having to restrain passengers, being bitten by a snake in Bangkok and being caught up in a terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Celebrities who travel first class don't tend to be more demanding than other passengers, he reflects.
"They are travelling all the time and it's work for them. It's usually the people who are getting upgraded who want to flex their corporate muscle, or show how important they are, who are the painful ones," he says.
"Those who travel a lot offer minimal fuss and have a routine," he continues. "The newbies or the upgrades want to try everything. They will guzzle through the wines and the food and they will want an extra amenity kit or extra pyjamas. They want to experience it all."
So, how do you get a free upgrade?
"Board last. Upgrades have to happen on the aircraft – unless they are being done through airline points – at the discretion of the crew, which is why you always need to engage your flight attendant."
Those who try to share their upgraded seat with their travelling companion are likely to be given short shrift.
"Individuals would sit up and have the service and then go to 'talk to their friend' and swap seats."
The friend would then settle in and want to start a full service too. Obviously, there wasn't enough food for this to go on, and so when people wanted to swap seats to let their friend 'rest' we would say, 'You must decide who is sitting in here once and for all, you can't swap back'."
Alcohol can be a big problem, he admits.
"For every drink on the ground, it's like three in the air. On top of that, people are taking sleeping tablets, with the invention of flat beds. When you put the combination together, it can be difficult."
Passengers aren't the only ones who take pills to help them through the journey. Cabin crew are also regular visitors to the pharmacists in a variety of countries, says Beddall, stocking up on uppers, downers, anything that will kill the jet lag and help them sleep when they need to.
"It was something I learned about very early on in the game," he says. "Jet lag is such a painful thing."
And what about the mile-high club? It certainly exists, he says.
"Miranda Kerr and Ralph Fiennes had their episodes of fun [ex-Qantas flight attendant Lisa Robertson claimed she and Ralph Fiennes joined the mile-high club on a flight from Darwin, Australia, to Mumbai, India in 2007, while supermodel Miranda Kerr recently confessed to being a member of the club].
"Pilots have jumped into bed with first class passengers in the front of the plane, but it usually happens in economy. Don't ask me how they do it in economy. They usually end up in the toilet, although I have seen the blanket go up and down a few times."
The mile-high club was something he never wanted to join.
"The more you did the job, the worse the passengers looked. For me personally, after a long flight, the last thing I wanted was to shag anyone. My idea of a happy ending was a long Radox bath, a mud mask, blinds down and a sleeping pill," he admits
He was often too busy dealing with the super-rich passengers, who ordered anything from macrobiotic meals to Dom Perignon, insisted on observing Ramadan practices or wanted their hands exfoliating there and then.
"It can be outrageous sometimes," he admits. "The airline ran around after Kim Kardashian after she had announced her divorce in Australia [in 2011]. They ordered more Dom Perignon and other specialities and she wanted just two bottles of water during the whole flight."
Last year, Beddall left the airline after breaking his spine in a fall during a training exercise. Now based in Sydney and pursuing a writing and broadcasting career, he doesn't miss the long-haul flights and politics of the job, he says.
"I don't miss a day of it, and during the flights I've done recently [Beddall's on a whistle-stop international tour to promote the book] and waking up jet-lagged and feeling sick, I wonder how I ever did the job full-time."
Confessions Of A Qantas Flight Attendant by Owen Beddall with Libby Harkness is published by Ebury (£18.99)