Confessions of an Airline Nanny—Everything You Need to Know


Flying with kids isn’t so tough when you have a nanny on board. (Photo: Etihad)

If you love travel and you love children, there are few jobs more enviable than being a Mary Poppins in the sky.

Sara Adra is one of the flying nannies for Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, and one of the premiere luxury airlines operating around the world today.

Most parents can’t afford to bring their own personal nanny along for a flight. Etihad makes one available on demand. The job of a flying nanny is to be an extra pair of hands for parents. They do they everything from preparing kids to go to bed, keeping them entertained and making flying enjoyable for the whole family. They’re skilled in arts and crafts, hand puppetry, origami and even face painting and magic tricks.

It sounds downright brilliant to us. Isn’t it in every passengers’ best interest to keep children well-behaved on a plane?

We got a chance to ask Adra what it is really like to be a flying nanny for a premium airline, taking care of the smallest of “VIPs.” Frankly, it sounds pretty great.

Yahoo Travel: What do you like the most about your job?

Sara Adra: I assist all our true VIPs of the flight, the ones that are just over a week old that don’t yet know how precious they are to the world, the ones that are discovering their feet and have mommy chasing them up and down the aisles to the ones that are way too cool to be coloring in and are totally in love with watching movies like “Frozen” and of course, there’s the real special ones that want to be a flight attendant someday so when they meet me they feel today is the day. I see myself as the new and reimagined Mary Poppins. What isn’t there to like about my job?

A flying nanny can truly be a mother’s best friend. (Photo: Etihad)

My favorite part of the job is when I see all the happy face at the end of a flight and I know it’s not just because the flight is over when I’m showered with farewell cuddles and I get beautiful cards made for me.

My second favorite is when I become shadowed by this little figure. I’ve had children attempt to help me collect the headsets and point guests to an alternative direction for another lavatory when the line is too busy. It’s just too cute.

It’s so nice to see the parents in a state of happy shock too, when they realize the flight was nowhere near what they expected on the scale of difficulty and also when they see their children being so entertained and social with the crew.

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Yahoo Travel: What exactly are your duties?

Sara Adra: My role is to help every family have a smooth flight. I meet and greet all the lovely little VIPs with a special package that has coloring pencils, a book, cards for a fun game of memory, stickers and more. I help show the children how to navigate the movie menu for our kids’ club section. I show mom how to block any other movies on our screens in case she falls asleep while her little angel is breaking bedtime rules. I am there to help any family to have an easier flight — whether that means to cater their meal times differently to our serving times, to distract the child with coloring competitions and other fun games while mom and/or dad take a break or even help mind the children while the single traveling parent takes restroom breaks and a quick stretch.

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Yahoo Travel: How did you get into this gig?

Sara Adra: I wanted to be a flying nanny after I finished my cabin crew training course and found out more about the role. I was lucky enough to get the position and be trained by the world-renowned Norland College and I haven’t looked back.

Yahoo Travel: How often are you on the road? Is it tough on friendships and personal life?

Sara Adra: As an on-board nanny, I am usually scheduled for anywhere between six to eight flights per month and mostly ultra-long haul flights to the U.S. It is a unique lifestyle. For me, it’s been great. There is no other job in the world where I could say I’m going to London this weekend to see a friend or I’m in Los Angeles next week so let’s go to Malibu for lunch. I love that I can so easily connect to my friends who are living abroad and can see them more than just once a year. So overall, no, it’s not really tough. It’s more of a blessing, I am absolutely grateful and lucky to lead the life I have where my personal life is enriched with travel benefits, cultural awareness and just general opportunities. And, of course, all the incredible people and new friends I have gained.

Yahoo Travel: How often are you in the air?

Sara Adra: Everyone’s roster is different but for me I’ve found myself doing anywhere between one and two short flights a week or one long flight a week. A four-day working week! Yes that’s right, I get that a lot. Etihad offers great work/life balance.

Yahoo Travel: What is a typical day like for you?

Sara Adra: I don’t have a ‘typical’ day. Every day is different and it all really depends on where I am. If I’m on a layover somewhere, I can guarantee you my day will involve massages and pampering if I’m in Asia. When in Europe, I am outdoors walking and exploring and when I am in the U.S., you can be sure to find me in the nearest shopping outlet. Every day is really full of surprises. The only day that I can guarantee you laziness in is when I’m home in Abu Dhabi, relaxing and enjoying a bit of me time.

Sara comes armed with chocolate cake and coloring equipment. (Photo: Etihad)

Yahoo Travel: Any hilarious situations involving the kids?

Sara Adra: I have had some funny moments with many children I’ve flown with since becoming a nanny. [During a game of dress up] I had a little girl get completely transformed into a cabin crew outfit. We put the whole lot on her - the jacket, apron, hat, gloves and scarf. She was so adorable and the funny bit was watching her waddle about to show her parents. The sleeves were so long on her and the jacket was almost at floor level. She was only about four.

Yahoo Travel: Are the first class parents any different?

Sara Adra: I do not think that a cabin “class” of travel differentiates parenting skills or parenting nature. We are here to make the flight as enjoyable as possible for children and parents across all classes of service.

Yahoo Travel: What do you wear to work?

Sara Adra: I wear the same uniform as the rest of my crew however, I change into the signature orange apron that Ettore Bilotta designed for our nanny crew. We have a dress type of apron rather than just a half apron like my colleagues which provides more protection from the coloring pencils and markers used for crafts and the occasional baby drool from cuddles.

Yahoo Travel: What do you hope to do after this?

Sara Adra: I chose to apply and work for Etihad not because of the luxury I get with my travel opportunities or living in the UAE. That was all a bonus for me. I came from an office environment so this is a completely new experience for me. I chose Etihad because I believe in the company’s vision. I researched Etihad and I really like the fact that they are fairly new in the aviation industry and their achievements so far have been beyond fantastic so I wanted to be a part of that team, knowing that there will be plenty of room for growth and potentially a career with the same company – from cabin crew to the head office. Of course, this will be in the future and first I need to let go of my nanny apron and dip my toes into business class service.

Yahoo Travel: What’s the best way to get a baby to stop crying on a plane?

Sara Adra: There is no magic potion I’m afraid. It all depends on why the baby is crying. If you can work that out, your job becomes a lot easier. Generally, if a baby is crying during take-off or as we descend it’s because of the aircraft pressure so their ears may hurt. I always suggest to parents to use a pacifier during these times as it helps the baby’s ears pop. The aircraft is a completely new environment for children with new sounds and experiences so being close to mom or dad always helps. I also recommend parents bring along their child’s own baby blankets and cuddle toys which give them added comfort.

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