38 years soaring: Kenya Airways flight attendant’s secret to avoid job boredom

Kenya Airways' longest-serving flight attendant Dickson Nyibuleduring the interview at KQ offices on May 23, 2024.  

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Many young professionals rarely spend five years with one employer before reaching a level of unhappiness or dissatisfaction that they find the job intolerable.

But Dickson Nyibule has clocked 38 years on the skies, working as a flight purser at Kenya Airways (KQ).

When he finished his A levels at Kenyatta High School in Taita Taveta County in Mwatate Sub-County, he saw a KQ job advert. That was in 1985.

He went through two interviews, beat 48 other candidates, and got the job.

The post had attracted close to 50 applicants and it was only Nyibule and one more person that were successful.

“I wanted to travel not just as a crew but to see the world,” says the soft-spoken Mr Nyibule during an interview with the BDLife.

He is now the senior-most flight purser at KQ. “I like working with people. When we close those doors and whether it’s a 14 hours flight to New York or a nine-hour flight to Bangkok or even an hour flight to Kisumu, it’s you and the people and you must take care of them and this is what I like doing,” he says.

A flight attendant’s tasks include keeping passengers safe, ensuring that everyone follows security regulations and that the flight deck is secure. But there is a dark side to dealing with passengers with disruptive behaviours.

Favourite destination

The job comes with the perks of touring the world. He has been to all the 45 destinations that KQ flies to, 37 of which are in Africa. They include Dubai, New York, London, Bangkok, Ghana, Johannesburg, Kisumu and Mombasa, among others.

His most special destination? “Bangkok,” he says.

Bangkok City is special to him because when his twin daughters were growing up, he used to take them on vacation to Bangkok together with his wife.

“They flew with me as passengers while I was working. Upon landing in Bangkok, due to my tight schedule, they would go around seeing the city and shop with their mother then we would catch up later,” says Mr Nyibule.

Bangkok is renowned for its vibrant street life, rich cultural heritage, and majestic temples like the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. It is also famous for its bustling markets, delectable cuisine, and lively nightlife.

Stand-out passengers

For a man who has been flying over the past three decades, who are the most memorable passengers that he served?

He has flown with the late former head of the Catholic church Pope John Paul II, the late President Mwai Kibaki, the late President Daniel arap Moi, retired President Uhuru Kenyatta and the current President William Ruto when he was serving as Deputy President in the last administration among other senior dignitaries.

Jobs come with monotony and people's desire to transition.

Mr Nyibule says boredom rarely cripples in because service never stops on the flight deck.

Flight attendants, he says, sometimes operate on flights that last more than 10 hours, and one has to be alert throughout because you may think that a passenger is sleeping yet that is not the case.

“So you have to be alert throughout the flight to respond to emergencies. The fact that they have to be attentive for the entire flight journey gives them no room to feel bored on a flight,” he says.

The challenges

But just like any other job, working as a flight attendant has its fair share of challenges. For him, the most challenging part is balancing between his job and family.

He has missed family birthdays, weddings and funerals because of his tight work schedule.

The airline industry remains a heavily male-dominated sector, but male flight attendants represent a small percentage of the workforce. So how does one stand out as a male flight attendant? I ask.

“Passion for the job is key. The fire in me is still burning to date and this is what has kept me going,” says Mr Nyibule.

Life turning point

If there is one habit that he is grateful to have dropped in his work life is alcohol.

A former alcoholic, he says he quit drinking 16 years ago when he realised that his life was taking a dangerous direction.

“Alcohol addiction messes up your life. I thank God because the decision I took changed my life completely. The person you are speaking to today is a different man,” he says.

As a man who has been with the airline for decades, he has never thought of throwing in the towel even during turbulent moments at the airline, more so in 2020 when Covid-19 struck.

He says that this is because there were proper structures in place for staff to navigate the tough financial situation. Workers took pay cuts in 2020 to preserve cash and cut costs during the coronavirus outbreak that grounded airlines across the globe.

The airline reversed pay cuts on signs of business recovery as MPs approved a Sh20 billion bailout in August 2022.

The situation at the airline has been improving in the last few years.

KQ, which has been surviving on State bailouts since the Covid-19 pandemic, narrowed its net loss by 40.6 percent to Sh22.6 billion in the year ended December 2023, helped by a surge in revenues.

The last man standing

Retiring from a job one has been at for most of their career is often bittersweet — relishing a chapter successfully concluded while grappling with the transition into a new phase of life.

Mr Nyibule is currently 58 years old and he will be retiring in two years.

“I will be retiring with my head up high. I call myself the last man standing because, out of a team of 37 flight attendants I found at KQ when I joined, I’m the only one who is still around. The rest of us we joined with in 1986 most of them have left KQ,” he says.

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