Life of a flight attendant (Part 3): Vanessa's story of debt, pain and emptiness

What’s life really like behind the bright smiles, perfect uniforms and five-star hotel stays of jet-setting flight attendants?  In a three-part series on the inflight service industry, Yahoo! Singapore finds out that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. In the third part of this series, we speak to one Singapore stewardess who was carried away by the good money and high-flying life but now finds herself in poor health and even poorer finances. (For the purposes of this series, only first names have been used as most flight crew are bound by confidentiality agreements).
 
SQ stewardess Vanessa (not her real name) is only 29 but she has over ten credit cards and is more than $30,000 in debt. Despite her growing credit card bills, she continues to live in style, driving a European sports car and owning a wardrobe full of expensive branded bags and clothing, most with their price tags still on.
 
Her extravagant behaviour is far from uncommon in the industry she works in – in fact, she said, most of her colleagues lead the same lifestyle. Young, beautiful, well-paid and jet-setting, their motto is to “live in the now” – and spend far more than they earn.
 
In Vanessa’s case, however, she might have bitten off more than she can chew: she has accumulated so much debt that she currently only pays the interest on her credit cards to keep the banks at bay.
 
“I know I’m in trouble, but I don’t know how to get out of it. Maybe I’ll sell some of my bags to pay it off. But I can’t sell my car, I’ll make a big loss,” said the petite, pixie-faced young woman during a recent three-hour interview with Yahoo! Singapore.
 
Vanessa started working as a flight attendant after graduating from a private university here about five years ago and was instantly swept up by the free-spending behaviour of her fellow flight attendants.
 
“I started off buying one branded bag per long haul trip, which works out to maybe two or three bags or S$4,000 a month for luxury brands like Miu Miu and Prada. Within half a year, I "graduated" to even more high-end brands like Chanel and Hermes and was spending about $7,000 a month on my bags,” said Vanessa, who cringed when she said the amounts out loud.
 
While she declined to comment on how much she earned a month, she said that it was "at least" $6,000 on average.
 
Out of this sum, $2,500 a month goes to paying for her car, which she admitted she hardly uses because she is seldom in town, and everything else goes to either shopping or paying part of her debt.
 
“Of course, I feel very stupid. I drive an expensive car, carry an expensive bag to meet my friends, but I always leave before meal times to go home and eat plain bread because I can’t afford to eat at a restaurant like them. I have no savings at all. In fact, my balance has been negative since I started to work,” said Vanessa.

Immaculate make-up, tightly-coiffed hairs buns and the figure-hugging sarong kebaya form part of the SIA Girl mystique …

However, instead of turning her life around and adopting a lifestyle change to clear her debts, Vanessa said she has no intention nor determination to give up her so-called “high life”.
 
“My colleagues and I have an inside joke. We all owe quite a lot of money, and we always say – all we have to do is a “Jamie Cuaca” and we’ll be secure for the rest of our lives,” said Vanessa.
 
The ex-Mrs Jamie Cuaca, now Jamie Chua, is a former SQ girl-turned-socialite who married Indonesian tycoon Nurdian Cuaca after the pair met when the latter flew in Business Class. Their acrimonious divorce saw demands from Chua for maintenance of $500,000 a month, and she is famous for owning more ultra-expensive Hermes Birkin bags than celebrity Victoria Beckham.
 
“I feel that the only way I can stop my crazy spending is to quit my job so that I don’t feel the pressure of keeping up appearance(s). But the money is too good – and I’ve been doing this for five years, I can’t imagine working in any other job,” said Vanessa.

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