She don’t wear no pants and she don’t wear no tie
Always on the ball, she’s always on strike
Struttin’ up the aisle, big deal, you get to fly
You ain’t nothin’ but a waitress in the sky
”Waitress In The Sky” – The Replacements
There are a lot of – at best – misconceptions about the role of a flight attendant. At its worst, it’s as the song above reflects. (For a little background, the singer’s sister was a flight attendant, and he wrote a song based on the stories she’d tell.) It’s obvious that yes, we are the ones who will be bringing your drinks and who you’ll be rolling your eyes at when we ask you to buckle your seat belt. (Yes, I saw that.) And naturally, should the unthinkable happen, we are the ones you will be looking to to tell you what to do.
For the most part, we are really lucky in that we use very little of our training on a day-to-day basis. So little, in fact, that we must attend yearly recurrent training to remind us of how to do our emergency procedures and to test our proficiency in them. People probably just assume we are taught how to pop open a door and scream, “GET OUT” and that’s the end of that, but there’s much more to it. Here are some things, obvious and otherwise, that we have to do in our initial as well as recurrent flight attendant training.
You could have guessed this one, and probably did, but there’s likely more to it than you realize. We get on fake airplanes, act out scenarios on aircraft simulators (some of which actually fill with smoke or move around) and jump down slides, just like the little guys in the picture on the safety card. But there’s more to it than that. We act out entire planned emergencies, going through checklists to make sure we’ve gotten supplies ready and prepare the cabin and passengers for an emergency landing on land or on water. Speaking of water landings, we also have to get into a raft and erect the raft canopy, sometimes (usually only during initial training) in a swimming pool. A lot of embarrassing and awkward pictures are taken in that swimming pool.
We have to show off our firefighting chops to the instructors by bravely extinguishing a barbecue grill with a fire extinguisher while dressed like a cheap knockoff version of Daft Punk, as we also have to demonstrate that we know how to properly don and use the onboard smoke hood, or PBE (Protective Breathing Equipment). It looks insane and because they don’t actually have the oxygen flowing to it during training – because imagine how many oxygen canisters that would waste! – you kind of have to suffocate for a few minutes. It’s fun.
Okay, now you’ve screamed, jumped, built a floating fortress to hold your planeload of people for days on end while you decide which person you’ll eat first (senior flight attendants, watch out for those junior ones) and dressed like a spaceman who hates barbecue, now it’s time to do your CPR as well as abdominal thrusts. We do this on adult-sized dolls but also baby-sized ones. Going through this training made me realize how essential this is, given that babies are more likely to choke. I had to begin doing infant abdominal thrusts once (thankfully the food dislodged on its own) and know people who have saved the lives of choking babies thanks to their training. Side note – learn infant CPR and abdominal thrusts, especially if you have a baby or one on the way. It’s simple and could save a life.
For obvious reasons I can’t talk about what we learn in this part. Especially not the fact that they give us nunchucks engraved with our names on them and make us study the entire Bruce Lee library.