A flight attendant is someone whose primary duty is to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers during an airline flight. They are part of the cabin crew for the plane, a team of personnel who operate a commercial, business, or even military aircraft while traveling domestically or internationally. Since the career began in 1912, male flight attendants have also been known as stewards or air hosts and females as stewardesses or air hostesses. Flight attendants are specially trained for the aircraft in which they work, since passenger safety is their foremost concern.
Almost all of the flight attendant's duties are safety-related, though customer service is also important. Approximately one hour before each flight, attendants are briefed by their captain. Weather conditions, possible turbulence, flight duration, and other factors that may affect the upcoming flight are discussed in detail. They are also briefed on safety details and emergency equipment supplies relevant to the aircraft they will be flying. A list of passengers is verified and attendants are notified if any special needs passengers, small children, or VIPs will be boarding the flight.
After the briefing, flight attendants inspect the aircraft, ensuring safety equipment are in place and working properly. If a piece of equipment, such as a fire extinguisher, is found unserviceable, flight attendants must replace the item prior to takeoff. Once passengers are called to board, flight attendants assist with the boarding process. They aid any special needs passengers, children, or VIPs to ensure they receive the proper care while boarding. Tickets and seating positions are verified, and attendants check for both accuracy and possible fraudulent or stolen tickets. Attendants also monitor passengers; they are trained to detect suspicious behaviour and evidence of malicious intent to prevent hijacking or terrorism. In addition, they help passengers load carry-on baggage, checking that each adheres to aircraft or airline size and weight restrictions.
Flight attendants are also responsible for briefing the passengers on safety standards specific to the aircraft in a safety demonstration. Passengers are made aware of how to locate their nearest emergency exit, how to properly buckle their safety belts, what to do in the event of turbulence, how to operate safety vests or flotation devices, and how to use the drop-down oxygen masks. In some cases, passengers will watch a short video covering this information while the flight attendant monitors their behaviour. After the safety demonstration, attendants secure the cabin, making sure electronic devices and cell phones are turned off, carry-ons are stowed correctly, seats are in an upright position, and tray tables are stowed. The entire procedure, from boarding to takeoff, is known as Pre Take off Service.
After the plane is safely in the air, flight attendants check for passenger comfort. They deliver headphones or pillows to passengers who request them and serve food or drinks. In addition to serving the customers, flight attendants must conduct regular safety checks and listen for unusual noises. Once the plane begins its descent, attendants must ensure all trash has been removed from the cabin and seats are in their correct positions before performing a final safety check. After landing, attendants assist passengers in safely deplaning the aircraft.
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The minimum requirement for flight attendants is a high school diploma, though a post-secondary degree, especially with a focus in public relations, is preferred. After being hired by an airline and passing background checks and drug tests, attendants train for six weeks to six months, depending on the country and airline requirements. Typically, they are trained at the airline's hub or headquarters and earn a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency after successful completion of the program.
Training focuses primarily on safety for both the crew and passengers. Attendants are trained in first aid and can perform CPR and defibrillation, when required. After training, they are able to handle minor injuries, nosebleeds, and illness. Procedures are also outlined for how to handle on-board births and deaths, dangerous liquids or gasses released into the cabin, and intoxicated passengers.
In the event of an emergency, flight attendants know how to safely evacuate passengers from the plane and fight fires. They are taught survival skills in the event of a decompression emergency or remote emergency landing in a jungle, sea, or desert environment. In many cases, attendants are also taught self-defence and even the use of deadly force in the event of a terrorist attack or hijacking.
In addition to safety training, flight attendants learn good weight-management and personal grooming procedures. While they are no longer restricted to a particular weight, attendants must maintain an appropriate weight in proportion to their height in order to work in the tight, cramped spaces on an aircraft. Height requirements are also in place to ensure attendants are able to reach safety equipment in the event of an emergency. In addition, personal grooming habits must be impeccable not only to put across a positive impression to customers, but to prevent the spread of illness and disease.
Since airlines operate day and night, year-round, flight attendants must have a flexible schedule. Generally, they work no more than 12 hours per day, but may in some cases - especially in the event of oversea international flights - work 14 hours or more. Attendants also work on holidays and weekends and typically fly for 65 to 90 hours per month, with another 50 hours spent on the ground preparing or waiting for flights.