Getting a job as a flight attendant is tough, especially in a sluggish economy. Competition is fierce and training is grueling. Flight attendant candidates can expect to train for 3 to 8 weeks in an unfamiliar city where they will most likely share a hotel room with another candidate. Attention to detail is extremely important during flight attendant classes in terms of personal grooming, articulation, memorization and especially on-time performance. In many cases, showing up late to class will eliminate the candidate from potential employment–after all, passengers and fellow crew members expect to depart on time. Candidates are tested on their lessons each day, and any score below 90 percent is considered a failing grade.
Flight attendant candidates must know the aircraft on which they will be working from nose to tail. On the outside of the aircraft, candidates must know the location and function of everything from ailerons to elevators to engine numbers. But the inside is most important to a potential flight attendant. Flight attendant candidates must know about the interior components and function of all doors and window exits as well as the inflatable slides and rafts. In the passenger cabin they must know how many seats and rows are onboard and where the emergency exits are. They must know how the oxygen system works and deploy stuck oxygen masks. In the galleys, they must memorize galley stowage, circuit breaker location and functions, cabin lighting and public address control panel functions, and plumbing gauges and valves.
Flight attendants are required to uphold dozens of Federal Aviation Regulations, or FARs. Failure to adhere to these laws can result in fines, termination of employment or both. FARs are straightforward, such as making sure everyone is belted in for takeoff. But some rules, even though well-defined, change regularly, such as whether a flight attendant can enter the jetway while the plane is on the ground. Flight attendant candidates are expected to know all the FARs that apply to them. A complete list of FARs is available at the Federal Aviation Administration’s website.
Flight attendant candidates are trained in the areas of firefighting, self-defense, bomb relocation, hijacking procedures, first aid, CPR and in some cases swimming. Candidates are expected to conduct mock evacuations, and they are required to demonstrate their ability to do so annually after accepting the flight attendant job. Recurrent training and testing is also conducted yearly.
Flight attendant candidates shouldn’t expect a multiweek course on mix Bloody Marys. In fact, cabin service is the shortest part of inflight training. Airlines need to make sure their future flight attendants know which fire extinguisher to use and use a defibrillator more than the need to be confident in their ability to serve drinks.
Being a flight attendant is a lifestyle choice in addition to being a career. Before pursuing a career as a flight attendant, consider the logistics of working inside a plane. Are you so tall that your head will graze the exit signs? Are you too short to reach the overhead bin door when it’s open? Will you have the physical and emotional strength to help lift a quadriplegic into a seat? Can you stand to babysit unaccompanied minors on top of your other tasks? Are you uncomfortable working in dark, confined spaces? Will you be put off by unscheduled reroutes during irregular operations?