Gay Flight Attendant Talks Celebrities, Culture Shock, Upgrades
Flight attendant Owen Beddall has seen it all, and he's ready to tell the world about it. During his 12 years with Qantas airlines, the Australian traveled the globe and met some of the world's most fascinating people. After recently retiring, Beddall wrote a tell-all e-memoir about his amazing experiences in the first-class cabin, which he writes is "one of the only jobs in the world that was completely gay-friendly." Released earlier this year, Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant documents Beddall's most outrageous moments: wrestling an Olympic swimmer who downed way too many sleeping pills, being bitten by a snake in Bangkok, and gossiping with the A-list celebrities who make their way through his cabin. We caught up with Beddall to dig a little deeper on what a career in the air is really like:
Out Traveler: What are some of the most surprising things you've seen on your travels?
Beddall: The job of being an international flight attendant has given me such a world perspective. I remember flying to New York for the first time. I just was in tears because it was just so overwhelming to see, growing up on the other side of the world, only seeing it in the movies, and suddenly being there amongst it all. But also, to work in my job as a first class flight attendant throughout the years and meet people like Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Venus Williams, and Cate Blanchett was equally as aspirational and inspirational. Along the way, I've been able to be in Bangkok, Indonesia, Japan, Africa, South America, and throughout Australia. It's just been a great job to give me such a great world perspective. Flying also gave me the ability to see that men and women do things differently, ok we know that, but other cultures do things differently as well. And I was taught very early on not to judge another culture by your own standards. There are many different ways to do things and many different opinions and perspectives, and I think that's something that I really learned along the way as well.
What are some of those different perspectives you learned?
One of my first times flying, I was only in my twenties, and I was really affronted when I had to fly to South Africa. Born in Australia, growing up with a lot of American and English friends, I hadn't really had any experience with South Africa; hadn't been reading about Apartheid and seeing different movies. When I started flying there, [I saw] a lot of white South Africans clicking their fingers, calling me "boy" and often not really knowing how to treat me because I was in a subservient role, but I wasn't black. Of course, in South Africa at the time, black people worked in subservient roles and the white people were running the show. So that was really affronting for me, and I really had to learn, "Gosh, things aren't always done in the same way." And equally, when I started flying to Indonesia. In Australia, we go to Indonesia like Americans would go to Mexico. It's such a fun place, Bali is such a great place. But it has the biggest Muslim population in the world. I remember once being at a food court, and when I sat down at a table with all these women, they got up and ran away! I just wondered, "Have I done something to upset these women?" And my friend who works for Emirates [Airlines] actually said to me, "Oh no, Muslim women would never sit down with a Western guy. There's no way they would do that." Things like that, I really had to learn along the way. You know, things weren't necessarily rude or horrible but just different. I actually think they're really stimulating and interesting things to see happen.
Who are some of the different people you've met?
In terms of inspirational people, I've met Katy Perry, and she was just obviously a standout, a high star. I wanted to really pick her brain because she doesn't come from Hollywood royalty. She made it on her own, and she really had to learn on the job. We had such a funny conversation, and I mention it because she said to me, "What are you doing, love?" and I said "Oh, I'm reading about you, love! You kissed a girl and you liked it and you made 50 million dollars. I kissed a girl and I didn't like it and now I'm making you breakfast and that doesn't really seem fair." And that sort of broke the ice with her, and we ended up having a friendship. I've met her several times while she was traveling with Russell Brand, and he's completely different from his character. He's very intelligent, very spiritual; he's a vegan, just such a novel person. I was really really impressed by both of them. And equally, Venus Williams, we all know her story. She was just so inspirational and writing a book the same time as me. And I've also met Kelly Osbourne, I've met Cate Blanchett, Lily Allen, Princess Anne, just so many great, inspirational people along the way.
You said in your book that being a flight attendant was one of the most completely gay-friendly jobs. How so?
Flight attendants — it's absolutely jam-packed full of gay guys and not necessarily gay women, but as far as the guys are concerned, it's probably about 90 percent gay men. Anytime anyone was really pestered about their sexuality was when they were straight [laughs]. And usually their punishment was to work deep down in the back of economy.
Have you ever felt intolerance in different countries?
Yes, definitely. In fact, I had a partner in Singapore. This is a guy who was highly intelligent, was very high level in a bank, very worldly and traveled a lot. Yet, he wouldn't go into my hotel room. When he did, it would be like he was preparing for a bomb or a tornado. He pulled the blinds down, and I used to say "What are you doing?" It's so blatant in nature that certain people are openly gay. And he said "You don't understand. It's illegal, and we can get the death penalty." And that really made me realize that in certain countries, people really do live under that threat of being attacked or treated so abominably because of their sexuality. I've been assaulted because of my sexuality, I've been head-butted, I've been called awful names.
What would you consider the best perks of your job?
Well, being such a gay-friendly job, you get to meet loads of fun people, and go to great parties and great clubs and meeting all sorts of celebrities and staying at luxurious hotels. I got to go to Pride in New York, I got to go to Pride in London and in Europe. And I've had the opportunity to meet boyfriends abroad. In fact, I've never actually properly dated in Australia. I'm afraid!
What are some of the not-so-great parts of your job?
Well, I think no one wants to have to deal with a 200 kilo man who just ruined his adult diaper [laughs]. People don't really realize how manual the job is, pushing carts that are very heavy, hundreds of pounds heavy. You're in a plane that's rocking and jerking and going 1,000 kilometers an hour. You're bending, you're stretching, you're moving and bumping into things, you're surrounded by ovens. And I think the fatigue — the one thing you can't buy a flight attendant is sleep. You're in so many different time zones and countries, so many different climates as well. So keeping healthy and also proper rest is just something that doesn't seem to happen for flight attendants. Fatigue is not just a difficult part of the job, it's an emotionally draining part of the job too.
Do you have any travel tips?
Well, if you're looking for an upgrade, which is what a lot of people ask me, travel alone. Look for the person who's having a good day and not dealing with a lot of children or families and approach them. Find a gay-friendly guy who's having a nice day and tell him you're looking for a bit of extra leg room, and they'll have you right within no time. This is a general travel rule: I like to be quite self-sufficient, so I like to take a pillow with me and a blanket and a jumper because those long haul flights can get very cold. I always take some of my own stacks of magazines since invariably the in-flight entertainment always breaks down. And just really engage the flight attendants because they're the ones who are going to be giving you the alcohol and serving you meals. You can sort of engage with them, and you'll get the best chance for being looked after and getting all the tricks and amenities.
Do you mind passengers trying to strike up conversation with you?
No, not at all. I always love talking to passengers and finding out where they're going because people are invariably on the plane for a reason. They're going for work or for holidays or for a wedding, some sort of event in their lives. It's really interesting to see the sort of migration of people around the world. I love people's stories whether they're Joe Blokes from Small Town, USA or Ellen DeGeneres.
Want to hear more of Beddall's adventures? Check out Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant here.