A casual walk-in interview changed Saloni Khanna's life, then a 17-year-old. Still in the second year in college, Saloni was in the shower when a close friend called up to inform her about the Jet Airways walk-in for cabin crew.
"I never thought of becoming a cabin crew member. Can't come, I told my friend. She insisted that I accompany her, and her brother drove us down. I was selected, though I fell short of the age limit by one year," said the 28-year-old Saloni, who had leave St Stephens College, Delhi, midway to take up the job.
Without formal training, Saloni, like many girls in the profession, had all the qualities for a perfect cabin person. "The job is not a skilled one. You only need to look good, be in shape and speak good English. With a little training, one can be put on duty immediately," said Saloni who worked in Jet Airways for three-and-a-half years.
In the late '90s, opportunities were limited and crew members had to work for years before getting a promotion. As Saloni completed her graduation, she headed for an overseas job with Singapore Airlines where she worked for three-and-a-half years.
"Here, I got international exposure. I was based in Singapore and was flying across the airline's network. I had to come back to India in 2004 to attend to my ailing father," said Saloni, the first one to work in the services sector from her business family.
In India, her career almost got grounded. Despite having worked for top domestic and international airlines, there were no jobs. "I had to take up a job with Air Sahara for a year and was counting my days when Kingfisher Airline started recruitments. I joined as in-flight manager," said Saloni, summing up the opportunities that opened up soon after.
A year later, she was promoted as assistant base manager, in-flight (Delhi). She helps the base manager handle 280 girls. She flies occasionally as an in-flight manager to retain her crew licence.
In her 10-year career, Saloni has emerged as a bright star in this sector. She attributes her success to being in the right place at the right time.
"The entry of new players opened up the market and promotions were quick. These days, the girls maintain themselves a lot and fly for many more years. If they don't want to fly, there are multiple job openings in the sector," she said.
Earlier, girls from metros used to join the profession but now they come in large number from small cities like Jalandhar, Guwahati, Indore, Surat and Jaipur.
Most cabin crew members, who start earning Rs 25,000 or more from when they are very young, spend most part of their earnings in buying branded cloths, expensive cosmetics and partying. In Mumbai, they stay close to the airport in areas like Bandra, Khar, Andheri and Goregaon.
But Saloni says she is different. "I don't party, nor do I socialise. I prefer to take a nap during free time at home. I don't argue with anyone, even with my mother. This profession has taught me to be humble and mature. For us, the guest is the king and he/she is always right."
As the red Chevrolet Optra enters Saloni's housing colony to pick her up, her neighbours peek out to glimpse the local star.
(Saloni Khanna is an Assistant base manager, in-flight, Kingfisher Airlines)