Yay! The graduation photo of the newbie class I sat in on!
Have I bored you all with my flight attendant training blogs yet? 🙂 I hope not. I have enjoyed writing them and I hope you have enjoyed reading them. I know I learned quite a bit and have changed my perspective on what flight attendants do. They frek’n rock!
On this final post I just wanted to talk about some thoughts I had about the experience that didn’t fit into one of the other blogs.
I was originally set up to sit in on two classes for the first day, but the trainers did a great job of moving me around to a bunch of different sessions. The cool part was most students didn’t know who I was until the second day, which meant they weren’t behaving just for me.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to slide down their practice slide during my visit!
The classes and personnel there were all very professional, but also fun. There were some very serious topics discussed, but everyone was able to have a good time and laugh. I personally think building a positive relationship with your co-workers and the company you work for is very vital in the training process. By the end of the second day I really felt part of the AirTran flight attendant team.
During my life, I have had to sit through way too many boring PowerPoint presentations, but luckily the ones at the training were far from boring. I flew a red-eye from Seattle to Atlanta, got three hours of sleep and went right to the training facility, but I didn’t yawn once since it was interactive (I was yawning the second day, not from lack of interest, but lack of sleep catching up with me).
Something I never thought about were the different aircraft types airlines have. Unlike a pilot, a flight attendant is not assigned to a certain aircraft type. This means that flight attendants must know how every plane in the field works. Even though AirTran has an “All Boeing Fleet,” The Boeing 717 started its life as a McDonald Douglas MD-95 and is not very similar to the Boeing 737-700. It can’t be easy being a flight attendants on larger airlines like Delta or American that have to know the systems of many different aircraft types.
That's me. Telling the passengers to sit down and shuddup because we are leaving!
The overall training for new flight attendants lasts about four weeks and is quite intense. About five of the new students that I met were flight attendants from other airlines and wanted to change employers since they heard good things about AirTran. One of the trainees, Alan (Hi Alan!), said this was the best training he had since PanAm. That is a huge compliment since PanAm was known for their amazing training.
Last Friday, April 16th, all the newbie flight attendants I met graduated and will start completing test flights to hone their skills before being released into the wild. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF YOU! Now they will ride on some flights to be tested and then end up on the bottom of the seniority list for which flights they have.
A nice AirTran Boeing 737-700 drawing in the trainer's break room.
Seniority seems to be a pretty big deal in the airline business. The higher up you are, the more benefits you get. Flight attendants will be flying 20 days of the month and off for ten. Those at the bottom of the food chain (ie newbie hires) get last dibs on what days and flights they will fly on. It was interesting that to determine seniority for those in the class, BINGO balls were used.
I went into the training, not quite sure what I was going to get out of it. I think there are a lot of misconceptions of what flight attendants do and the glamor of traveling the world and just serving drinks. I hope this blog series has let you see how complex and important the flight attendant’s job really is. Almost every flight attendant I spoke with says it is the best job in the world and they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. To me, that is pretty cool.
A special thanks to AirTran and all the wonderful people that made this blog series possible!
AirTran Boeing 737-700 that I flew from ATL to MKE
What better way to test out the things I learned than flying home via AirTran?
After my second day sitting in on classes, I left the AirTran training center and headed straight to Atlanta International Airport (ATL) for my AirTran flight to Milwaukee (MKE), then back home to Seattle (SEA).
Yesterday I looked at how some airlines provide very little space for passengers, but on this trip, I was lucky enough to test out AirTran’s business class (which has a seat pitch of 37″ — ah yeah!). In Business Class, the seats are bigger, you have more room, free drinks and premium snacks. Being up front also gave me the opportunity to watch what the flight attendants were doing and see if they were doing everything I just learned about earlier that week.
On the flight home, I had a totally different perspective than I had on my previous flights. Like most frequent fliers, I feel like I know how everything works and I don’t need to pay attention. This time, I couldn’t help but notice how the flight attendants did the safety announcements and prepped for the flight.
Once all the passengers boarded, I could see the flight attendants close the front door and arm the slides. When I heard the call, “cross check, all call,” this time I finally knew what it meant. Each flight attendant double checks to make sure both doors in the front and back have the slides armed and then call back, “cross check complete.” This is also done after reaching the gate to make sure the slides are dis-armed.
Once we hit that 10,000 foot mark, it was time to get on to the internet. AirTran and GoGo In-flight were offering WiFi for 20% off, so how could I refuse? Cost me less than $10 and let me have access to the internet on both legs of my flight.
Every AirTran flight has WiFi, which is awesome!
The flight from ATL and MKE went very fast. I caught up on some blogging (what better way to be inspired than blogging at altitude). The leg was uneventful and I enjoyed my free adult beverage and premium snacks. I ended up not having a talkative neighbor and that was ok with me.
When leaving ATL we were told that those of us continuing on to SEA would stay on the same aircraft. Fine by me, I could just surf the internet while waiting. Once we landed, I sat on the plane while others de-boarded around me. One of the flight attendants was standing in front of me thanking the passengers and I started talking to her about how many flights she had left. She told me this was her last flight for her and the plane. I thought she might have just been messing around with me. Turns out, she wasn’t.
With the extra room, my netbook easily bit on the tray and in Business Class you get free drinks!
While in flight AirTran changed plans and now people flying to Seattle would have to change planes. Between that decision being made and us landing at MKE, no one had informed the passengers. Not a big deal, this just meant I got to watch a totally different AirTran crew at work.
In my hurry to get to my next plane, I accidentally left my carry-on bag in the overhead bin. While waiting in the jetway an AirTran pilot who was dead-heading (not flying but commuting from one place to another) asked if I needed help and went to get my bag (since he had the spiffy uniform on, people got out of his way). That was very nice of him, since it was not expected.
There were probably about ten of us who had to change planes who were on our way to Seattle. Most of the others were upset that we weren’t told and found this to be a huge inconvenience. One guy even mentioned that AirTran was definitely going to hear from him about this incident. Really? I mean this stuff happens. The airline business is very complex and planes have to be moved around all the time. We all got our same seats, and left right on time and got to stretch our legs. Not a big deal to me.
I spent two days training with AirTran flight attendants, I flew two flights with two different flight crews from ATL to SEA…how did they do, you ask? Well it depends. Did they do every little thing they were originally trained to do? No, but that seems okay. How many of us do everything exactly the same way we are trained at our job? If I was just a normal passenger, not knowing all the specifics, I would be very impressed.
For example, in Business Class, trash is supposed to be taken away on a tray (vs the economy class uses bags) and bags were used on one of the flights. Do you think anyone came close to noticing that? No. Did passengers get less for their money because their trash was picked up in a bag? I surely hope not.
One of the things I enjoy most about flying on AirTran is that I know that on every plane, every flight will have internet and XFM radio. That is something that’s important to me. AirTran believes consistency is important on every flight; not just with the amenities available, but the type of service that passengers receive. On a flight that takes me 10 hours to get from one side of the country to another, I sure am willing to pay more knowing I will have Wi-Fi: something you can’t always get with others airlines.
That's me, trying out the service cart. Not as easy to handle as it looks and I really should have a second person helping me.
The last twodays I have talked about how flight attendants at AirTran learn a lot about safety. Luckily most passengers will never see the safety training in action, but they will see in-flight training in action on every flight.
Flight attendants provide a welcoming environment for passengers and can be the only contact a person has with an airline. Nowadays, with being able to buy tickets and check in online then go right to the gate, passengers don’t interact with other airline employees that often. This means a smile and a positive attitude can go a long way. Sometimes it can be difficult to smile after having a long day and dealing with difficult passengers.
Being a server at a restaurant can be a challenging job. You should try it at 30,000 feet, locked in a rocking cylinder with over 150 customers. It might just look like flight attendants come down the aisle and give you a drink and some peanuts, but it is a bit more complex than that. The process of getting passengers their drinks and snacks starts when the airplane pulls up to the gate.
Practicing pushing the cart in the classroom.
While passengers prepare to board, the catering company will load stocked service carts on the plane. Even though catering companies do a great job of properly loading the carts, it is important for flight attendants to double check. Could you imagine what would happen if there wasn’t any ice on the cart? Passengers would start a riot.
After it is confirmed the carts are properly stocked, it is time to start taking care of the Business Class passengers. The folks up in the front of the plane pay a premium and get the benefit of being offered a drink before the flight takes off. They also receive a higher level of service.
During boarding, it can be a juggle for flight attendants. They welcome people boarding the plane, take orders from Business Class, fill those orders, keep up with the announcements, help passengers find their seats, and work with the overhead bins. There are three flight attendants, but it is a lot to get done before the plane is ready to leave.
Game time! Newbie flight attendants try out their new skills in the mock Boeing 717.
The flight attendant working the front of the plane also needs to make sure they keep tending to the Business Class passengers and pick up any trash before take off. This can be a challenge weaving through boarding passengers.
After trash is picked up, a flight attendant’s job turns back to making sure the passengers take off and reach cruising altitude safely.
Once the plane hits 10,000 feet on AirTran, you can hear the pilot say, “Flight Attendants, departure check.” It is time for the flight attendants to prepare for the flight service. At this time they will also announce that electronic devices can be used. Getting the cart safely out of its housing and preparing it can be quite a challenge, since the aircraft is only at 10,000 feet and still rapidly climbing to around 30,000.
AirTran’s drink selection is quite vast, which means drink orders can get a little more complicated than just “Diet Coke please. ” Since there are so many alcoholic options, the flight attendant also becomes a mini-bartender.
The Newbie Flight Attendants wait outside the mock Boeing 717 to be boarded for their fake flight to no where.
Most AirTran flights have two alcohol kits which holds 70 small alcohol bottles each. Flights to Las Vegas will have three kits, since more alcohol is consumed on those flights on average (and probably need more aspirin for flight from Las Vegas).
Even though there is plenty of alcohol aboard the plane, flight attendants are trained how to respectfully tell a customer that they have had enough to drink. We often hear or read about some passenger getting unruly and it being directly related to alcohol. The high altitude and dry air of the airplane can make passengers feel the affect of alcohol much quicker than on the ground. If a passenger has too much to drink, flight attendants don’t want to create a situation with a drunk and angry passenger by bluntly stating a passenger is too drunk to drink more. Instead, they are trained to politely suggest another type of (non-alcoholic) drink or hint that it might seem the altitude has affected them a little hard.
Getting cups with ice ready and opening drinks you know will be popular (ie Diet Coke) can save time!
There are also specific rules on how to ask passengers if they want a drink. Ladies in a row will be asked first, then passengers in the window seat, middle, and aisle seat last. The plane will be served from the rear of the aircraft to the front. These are things that most people would never notice, but it is something every flight attendant must be aware of (probably the ’œmagic’ of in-flight service will be ruined a little since I will now notice all of these little things).
The inside of the mock Boeing 717 with new flight attendants waiting to be served.
Flight attendants must also be aware what time the flight was scheduled to depart. If the flight was scheduled to depart before 10am, that means they are to give out AM snacks and after 10am means passengers will get PM snacks. That seems easy enough, but when you are traveling all over the country or even the world, it can get a bit more complicated.
If the flight is short, there will only be one service, but if the flight is longer, there can be a few services performed in the main cabin. Once the first is done, flight attendants must start to prep for the next. It can be tedious work, but it keeps them busy and out there connecting with passengers.
Learning all of this in the classroom was helpful, but trying it first hand is much more important (and more fun). After a few hours in class, we all headed down the hall to the mock Boeing 717. Being in the mock aircraft seemed to be every one’s favorite (I know I liked it and I got to play with all the buttons). The newbie flight attendants got to practice all their speeches and in-flight service procedures. They actually served real drinks to other classmates (no alcoholic ones), but I was too busy running around getting photos (something that would most likely get me in trouble in a “real” plane) I didn’t get to be served a drink.
I was impressed with how complex just one day of in-flight training was and have a new respect for flight attendants. From what I saw, it looks like AirTran will have a great batch of new flight attendants who should be taking to the skies in the next few weeks, as well as be ready to greet you with a smile!
The ditch training was inside a mock Boeing 717 with about seven rows. The flight attendants had no idea that fake smoke would be pumped into the cabin. I knew it was going to be dark (I had night vision on my camera, in reality you could barely see anything). I knew it was a water landing. I knew there was going to be smoke pumped in. I also knew it was all fake. However, once the training started, it was very disorienting and although the flight attendants were yelling to get my life vest, I initially forgot it and had to go back to get it. That could have been the difference between life and death.
In the video you can hear some laughing and we were all having a good time with the practice, but it was taken very seriously. There were only about 15 of us in that small cabin, but it was shocking how long it took us to get out. There obviously was no real panic or rush to save our own lives, I couldn’t imagine the chaos that would occur during a real crash with over 150 passengers trying to evacuate an aircraft.
I wish every passenger could experience something like this, to be prepared to react in a life or death situation, since reading the safety information card, just cannot prepare you.
Class of new flight attendants learning how to open and close the main cabin door.
Every time you board an airline you are greeted (at least should be) by a friendly flight attendant. You will also see them serving you drinks, snacks and, if you are lucky, a meal. However, their job is so much more important than the things you see on an average flight. I think each of us frequent fliers feels as though we have a good idea of what a flight attendant’s job duties are. However, I wanted to see what they are taught first hand.
Recently, given the opportunity to see AirTran flight attendants train, I flew down to their flight attendant training program in Atlanta, GA in order to hang out for two days and get to see some of the training each of their flight attendants receive. I was surprised how much I learned in the two days I was down there.
During my visit I was able to see and experience the two main aspects of a flight attendant’s job: taking care of the customers and safety. Luckily airline accidents are rare and most people don’t have to see a flight attendant’s safety training in action, but that training is extremely important.
Current flight attendants putting on full head gear to use while putting out a fire.
There were two classes that I kept bouncing back and forth between. One was a group of new hires (I shall call them “the newbies“) who were about two weeks into their four week training and the other group was current flight attendants (I shall call them “the pros“) who were training just for one day.
The newbies were mostly going through customer service and in-flight service training whereas the pros were practicing different safety procedures. Seeing both sides really let me know how important both aspects are to being a great flight attendant.
Hopefully most people will never have to witness a flight attendant’s safety training kick in, but it could help to save your life someday. During the time I was following the pros around I witnessed them practice putting out fires and providing first aid. They have to know which type of extinguisher to use on specific types of fires, how to make the extinguisher work, when to put on the full head gear and how to properly put out a fire. This stuff is much more complex than just pouring a cup of coffee.
Practicing how to use all the safety equipment and hoping they won't ever have to use it.
Most people responded with things like, “check the soap level,” or “make sure it is clean.” Although, yes that might be part of their job, no one really answered any safety related questions. Here are the five things they have to check:
1) Make sure the smoke detector is operating.
2) Check the trash lid to make sure it automatically closes. This is because passengers will try to smoke in the lavatories (big no-no) and put their cigarettes out in the trash, which can catch fire.
3) Make sure the fire suppressant system for the trash is full (a bit off topic: I heard a story that some passengers will hover over the toilet and blow smoke down the drain to avoid being detected).
4) Look to see that the “No Smoking” place cards are still there.
5) Make sure the ashtray is functioning. This might seem silly for why there is an ashtray, but in reality passengers will try to smoke on flights and if they do and the alarm goes off, they want them to properly dispose of the cigarette instead of putting it in the trash and possibly starting a fire.
Practicing to make your seat cushion your best friend.
The five items to check in the lavatory are just one example of the many things that flight attendants do, that passengers have no idea about.
Yes, they are going to make sure the bathroom is ready for you to use, but they also make sure it will be a safe flight.
Back in the day, flight attendants had to be nurses. In case something happened mid-flight, they could then assist the passengers. Even though being a nurse is no longer a requirement, they must still be trained in proper CPR procedures. In most cases there will be a trained nurse or doctor on a flight that will be able to assist a passenger in trouble, but if not, flight attendants are trained to keep a sick passenger alive until the flight can land.