Chapter Eight: The Flight Attendant Role
Airline careers have an attraction all over the world because there is no other industry that can provide the fun and variety with worldwide travel as part of the job!
Flight attendants form part of an overall aircraft crew – a Flight Crew (the pilots and navigators) and Cabin Crew (the flight attendants)
Flight attendants work as part of a team to provide a range of services to passengers, and have a key role in ensuring that on board safety regulations are followed.
Major airlines are required by law to provide flight attendants on most of their aircraft, although some small aircraft that carry only a few passengers are exempt.
The role is often misunderstood, with some people describing flight attendants as ‘trolley dollies’! It requires good physical health, excellent communication skills, tact and diplomacy, along with plenty of patience and understanding.
This module provides an introduction to the specifics of the flight attending role, and will help you to identify how well you match up with the requirements of airlines.
On completion of this chapter you will be able to:
- Identify key attributes and personal qualities required in a flight attending role
- Identify the key physical requirements for success in a flight attending role
- List the prime functions and responsibilities of a flight attendant on a commercial aircraft
Prime Responsibilities – What do Flight Attendants Actually Do?!
The primary responsibility of a flight attendant is passenger safety, followed by customer satisfaction and comfort.
Flight Attendants are expected to handle all situations in a professional way, providing excellent customer service whilst remaining extremely well groomed at all times. In addition to serving meals and refreshments, flight attendants have to be able to deal with a wide range of situations that may occur on board, including health and safety issues, terrorism, evacuations and emergency landings.
Flight attendants start their ‘shift’ by attending a briefing by the In-flight Service Director that takes place at least one hour before a flight departs.
Prior to a flight, the entire crew receive a briefing on the flight, its schedule, passenger load, special service requests and general operating conditions, such as details of any unusual weather en route, problems at either the departure or destination airports. Crew who have not worked together before are introduced, and they are issued with a passenger manifest – a list of all passenger names and seating, so that they know which passengers have ordered special meals, can identify the location of babies and children, identify unaccompanied minors and VIP’s.
On arrival at the aircraft the crew check all cabin equipment, first aid kits and other emergency equipment, and make sure the plane is carrying sufficient supplies.
As passengers board the flight attendants greet the passengers at the aircraft door, check their boarding cards to ensure they are on the correct flight, direct them to their seats and provide help to ensure that cabin luggage is stowed safely.
During this pre-flight stage flight attendants are very busy attending to passengers needs as they get seated, and this often means re-seating passengers who have not been able to get seats together, sorting out sky cots, pillows, blankets and other aircraft items. The flight attendants distribute headphones for the aircraft entertainment system, along with airline kits such as socks or eye masks.
As it is critical for the aircraft to take off on time the cabin crew work under pressure to ensure that all the passengers are seated, baggage is stowed, and seat belts are fastened, before they take up their positions to deliver their safety demonstration showing passengers what to do in an emergency.
Safety is one of the main aspects of this role, and the cabin crew’s prime responsibility during flight is to ensure that all passengers are safe and that they follow instructions from the crew as different situations arise.
Flight attendants ensure that passengers are familiar with emergency equipment at the commencement of their journey. In an emergency they stay calm, make sure the captain’s instructions are followed, and check safety equipment is being used correctly.
Flight attendants are trained in a range of emergency aircraft situations, and will put this training into action in the event of an emergency.
At take-off the flight attendants take up their positions around the aircraft, often seated in ‘jump seats’ facing the passengers. This is designed to provide passengers with a uniformed airline representative providing a calm, reassuring manner.
During flight the crew heat, prepare and serve meals and drinks, maintain a clean and tidy galley, and on international flights, sell duty free goods.
Looking after the passengers takes up most of the flight, and on long flights the role of passenger service becomes particularly extensive. Flight attendants distribute reading materials, pillows, blankets, headsets and other in-flight equipment. Drinks service takes place on all flights, and on long flights can take place several times, with cold beverages, hot teas and coffees.
On most flights there will be at least one snack or meal service, and the cabin crew will heat/arrange and service the food according to standards laid down by the airline. Depending on the class of service this can range from full silver service (First Class) to the distribution of lunchbox meals with cold snacks.
The cabin clear-up is also handled by the cabin crew, who clear away the remnants of the food service, and operate a recycling system so that the aircraft is clean and rubbish sorted and stowed before the aircraft lands. With short flights this may involve working with tight time pressures!
In between serving meals flight attendants help passengers who are sick or nervous, attend to families travelling with young children, help unaccompanied minors to feel more reassured, and generally mix and mingle in the cabin making sure that the passengers are ‘fed and watered’ and as comfortable as possible. If a passenger becomes sick, all cabin crew are trained to administer first aid.
Dealing with medical problems is a common feature of the flight attending role – from passengers who may be nervous or suffer from air sickness, to passengers who have a medical problem during a flight. This could include anything from a passenger with a severe migraine to a heart attack or early onset of child birth! Flight attendants all take part in first aid training as part of their induction training and are regularly re-trained to keep up with current practices.
Whilst many airports now offer passengers duty-free shopping either on arrival or departure, most airlines continue to offer in-flight duty-free shopping particularly on longer flights where time permits. This is handled by the cabin crew who are provided with a range of popular items that passengers can buy on a duty-free basis. Typically this includes perfume, liquor, cigarettes, and jewellery such as watches, bracelets and earrings. The flight attendants perform the role of retail sales person and reconcile their stock and product sales before the end of the flight as the duty-free cartons are sealed prior to landing.
Flight attendants are also alert to security problems, notifying the Captain of anything untoward, and keeping an alert eye on passengers who are causing concern because of inappropriate behaviour or whose behaviour may threaten the safety of others. The cabin crew are the eyes and ears of the flight crew during flight, as the flight crew are located in the flight deck at the front of the aircraft, behind locked doors, and not able to observe what is happening in the passenger cabin.
A flight attendants job doesn’t end when the plane has landed! They compile reports, and ensure all paper work is completed for Customs, and complete the ordering of items for the continuation of the flight or the next flight that the aircraft will make.
Most people have a preconceived notion that this is a glamorous job and whilst it is exciting to travel around the world as part of your job, it is also a physically and mentally challenging job. Flight Attendants are not ‘glorified waitresses’ – rather they are there to provide passengers with safety in the air as well as a comfortable flight. They undergo rigorous training in order to be able to deal with dangerous or unexpected situations that may present on any given flight.