Expert advice on how to become a flight attendant
Until someone invents a ‘beam me up’ type transporter, you’re unlikely to knock off work and find yourself in a different country to the one you started in. Unless, that is, your day’s work happens to involve manning a commercial airline. The idea that life as a flight attendant is one long glamorous jetset might explain the job’s appeal – but, of course, the image only portrays a tiny part of the reality.
If you’re also prepared to work long, erratic hours, on your feet, for relatively little money, and are ready to deal with difficult situations, from vomiting and violence to turbulence and emergency landings, then this could well be the job for you.
There are thousands of cabin crew working from the UK – British Airways alone employs 13,500 air stewards and stewardesses. Most airlines insist that applicants be at least 19 years old and 5’2” tall (and usually under 55 and 6’3”), conform to a range of physical requirements and have some customer service experience.
Despite these restrictions, the low pay and the unsociable hours, there’s obviously something about the job that appeals to lots of people – so competition is fierce.
To the casual observer it may seem that cabin crew do little more than hand out food and clear it up again.
In fact, a cabin crew’s main responsibility is ensuring the security of the passengers. To this end, flights are bracketed by briefings and reports, and staff are trained to deal with all sorts of emergencies, and drilled in giving those infamous safety procedure demonstrations.
On short-haul flights there is a huge number of tasks that have to be completed within a tight timescale from pre-flight preparations to serving meals and duty free. On long-haul flights, jetlag sufferers or hyperactive children will test your patience.
Personality-wise, you’ll be expected to be able to remain calm and efficient under pressure, to be friendly and polite, and a good team player. If you have no previous experience, training will be followed by a probationary period of up to six months. Then you can start moving up the ranks to cabin crew, purser (with responsibility for a specific cabin) and then cabin service director.
The perks go a long way towards explaining the stiff competition. Not only will you spend time abroad as part of your job (accommodation is paid for while on duty), you will also qualify for free flights. EasyJet, for example, offers unlimited travel on its network for the crew member, their dependents and three nominated companions, while Virgin Atlantic gives cabin crew up to seven free flights a year (partners and friends are likely to get hefty discounts).
You can make that go further by working a flight then taking time off in that destination before working on the flight home – you’ll have had the holiday without eating into your flight entitlement.
Be flexible - you have to be prepared to work nights, weekends and public holidays; delays and cancellations can disrupt any plans you might have made.
Live near an airport - many airlines require that you live within 45 minutes of the airport.
Work with the public - potential cabin crew will usually be expected to have a GNVQ or equivalent in nursing/ hospitality/care services/travel and tourism, plus up to two years’ customer service experience.
Having a foreign language – or being able to sign for the deaf – will be seen as a clear advantage and may boost your salary.
Learn to swim - most airlines ask that you can swim 25m quite happily. Try not to be put off by the reasons behind this requirement.
Persevere - don’t worry if you aren’t hired on the spot – airlines can be interested in recruiting people with different skill sets depending on their current workforce and route network.
Smarten up - a well-groomed appearance is essential. Visible tattoos or body piercings (other than a simple pair of earrings for women) are a no-no.
Do your research - chat rooms on cabin crew websites are good places to get the lowdown on issues affecting cabin crew from the people themselves.
Get fit - all airlines require a good level of physical fitness and weight ‘in proportion to your height’. This might sound vague but means that at the least you can walk comfortably down the aisle facing forwards, and fit into a jump seat harness without a seatbelt extension.
Suzannah works as a senior flight attendant with Virgin Atlantic - how did she get her job?
“I’d been backpacking before university and desperately wanted to continue travelling after my degree – becoming a flight attendant meant that I could satisfy my wanderlust while paying off my student debts at the same time.
"I really wanted to work for Virgin as they only offer long-haul flights and their staff concessions are so good. The competition is stiff – the actual qualifications needed are relatively few, but about 50% of applicants have a university degree. Personality is key so you have to make sure that yours comes out in your interview.
"I spent three years working in economy, and have spent a further four years in upper class. I am currently working towards becoming a cabin service supervisor."I adore the variety of my job – my social life takes a real battering but I love the fact that each day is spent in a different part of the world. In the middle of each month, a brown envelope lands on my doormat with my roster for the following month inside. Sometimes it’s great news and I’m leaping around the hallway, other times I might get dozens of kid-filled flights to Orlando – then I could cry. But that’s the nature of the job and I love it.”
Top tip: “Know exactly what you are getting into. Be adventurous and, above all, flexible."
British Airways' careers section offers lots of information on current vacancies, role requirements and general advice
Virgin Atlantic - more vacancies and what the roles entail
aviationjobsearch.com - vacancies within the aviation industry
cabincrew.com - career advice, news, recruitment information, jobs, chat forum and training courses
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