Here’s what a random selection of flight attendants had to say about their flight attendant training experience:
- “Eight weeks in the training center was definitely more difficult than four years at college.”
- “I’ve formed a strong bond with my trainers, classmates, and supervisors. It’s really been a very short period of time, but even so I feel like these people are practically family.”
- “FA Training will kill your social life. In the last week I’ve seen my partner twice, and only for a few hours each time. Outside of class we get a lot of homework, so when I’m home, I’m either studying, sleeping or eating.”
- “Flight attendant training is often considered an extended interview and if you want to succeed, you should treat it that way.”
- “Listening to lectures, answering questions about emergency procedures, and hoping to not get kicked out over grooming standards, punctuality, or maybe even just smiling the wrong way, gives you some idea of what you will experience in flight attendant training.”
- “A few of us in the training class are what I would describe as “book smart.” Memorizing the training manual and acing the written exams was easy however demonstrating the correct operation of safety and emergency equipment and performing evacuation drills was another story. The training taught me the difference between practical and applied knowledge vs. academic knowledge.
- “Training was like boot camp. It revealed my strengths and weaknesses and prepared me for life on board.”
Depending on the number of aircraft type in a company’s fleet and the aircraft systems and procedures to be covered, flight attendant training can last between 4 to 8 weeks. During this period, expect to eat, sleep and breathe airplanes.
Service vs. Safety Training
Most airlines offer very little in terms of customer service training during the training course. Approximately 95% of the training curriculum is related to cabin safety. Course content includes evacuation drills, operation of emergency equipment, safety demonstrations, fire fighting and aviation security just to name a few.
Since most airlines hire candidates for their people skills, it will be up to your peers to train you on board. Flight attendant training is an expensive for the company hosting the training. The current trend among airlines is to fulfill all of the regulatory training requirements and send you up in the air as soon as they are fulfilled. It is expected that your customer service skills will be learned on the job.
Where will you be trained?
Generally speaking, flight attendants are trained in a simulated aircraft cabin known as a ‘simulator’. It resembles a passenger cabin and usually has a variety of exit types corresponding to the various exits in an airline’s fleet. One airline jokingly refers to their trainer as “The Stimulator.”
Larger airlines have more advanced, high tech training facilities with classrooms and simulators. Smaller airlines sometimes rent the training facilities of larger airlines or they use older unserviceable aircraft or aircraft that are in the hangar for repairs.
The Flight From Hell
The intimate surroundings of the simulator are where you will spend much of your time during training. Within its confines, you will experience “The Flight from Hell” in all of its and themes and variations. For example on some practice flights, you could have severe turbulence, followed by a disruptive passenger followed by an emergency landing. “The Stimulator” is the ultimate classroom. Memories of it will linger long after you’ve completed your training.
Whether its fire in a smoke-filled cabin, an attempted high-jacking or an evacuation that is complicated by blocked emergency exits; expect to be put through your paces and scrutinized to see how you can handle the pressure at 35 000 ft.
Process of Elimination
Training is designed to weed out the weakest links. Although candidates have been interviewed and pre-screened, round the clock time spent with the trainers and flight attendant hopefuls reveals the most well hidden personality traits.
During training the airline tries to screen out candidates who might possess annoying habits, be poorly groomed, who are racist or intolerant of others or who cheat on exams, for example. Once you are on board and in uniform, you are the airline’s brand ambassador. Airlines do not want to risk their brand with nasty, unreliable or politically incorrect employees.
In addition to the simulator exercises, equipment hands-on, written exams and oral shouted-commands will be tested and punctuality, personal grooming and interpersonal skills will be evaluated on an hourly, daily basis and weekly basis.
If you can handle time changes, lack of food and water in an irregular flight situation or the sight of blood during an on-board medical emergency, than read on.
The instructors will find unique ways to test your tolerance levels through odd classroom start times, delayed lunch breaks or by sudden changes to the exam schedule. The flight attendant lifestyle is never routine. If you can’t go with the flow and deal with change, you will be shown the exit door.
The Flight Attendant Bible
During training, the Flight Attendant Manual or FAM is your bible. You will refer to it at every step of the training process. If you are lucky enough to work for a technologically advanced carrier that has gone paperless, you won’t have to lug the FAM around with you to Tokyo, Paris or London.
Airlines that have gone digital sometimes keep a hardcopy version of the FAM on board. In this case every F/A’s keeps a downloadable version on an electronic device of their choice. Whatever format it’s in, be FAMiliar with the FAM!
Graduation and the FAM flight!
Congratulations. You’ve passed your initial Flight Attendant training. There is a feeling of exhilaration when your shiny new wings are pinned on you. “I believe I can fly…” as the song goes. Well almost. There is one more step before you leave the nest. The last step is the FAM or “familiarization flight.” (You may have noticed that FAM is a popular acronym in the airline world).
Also known as a line indoctrination flight, the FAM flight is a government requirement for all flight attendant trainees. Prospective flight attendants are placed on board as additional crewmembers and are required to observe as well as participate in the service.
In some cases, if there are a large number of trainees, a single, line indoctrination will be organized on a flight operated without any passengers.
If you want to know more about how you can join the flight attendant ranks, check out my new book “Airborne.” (link) It’s loaded with helpful tips and information that will help you launch your flight attendant career.