Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers. They also ensure that the flight deck, where the pilot and co-pilot are, remains secure. Formerly called stewardesses and stewards, flight attendants serve beverages, snacks and sometimes meals. When there is an emergency, they assist passengers and help keep them calm and safe.
Flight attendants typically do the following:
• participate in pre-flight briefings with the pilots, to discuss cabin conditions and flight details
• conduct preflight inspections of emergency equipment
• greet passengers, monitor carry-on baggage and direct passengers to assigned seats
• demonstrate the use of safety equipment and emergency equipment
• take care of passengers’ needs, particularly those with special needs
• reassure passengers during the flight, such as when the aircraft hits turbulence
• if an emergency arises, provide direction to passengers, including how to evacuate the aircraft
• respond to onboard medical situations.
A National Senior Certificate with English and Maths is typically the minimum educational requirement for becoming a flight attendant. However, some airlines prefer to hire applicants who have further education or previous work experience in customer service. Those who work on international flights may have to be fluent in a foreign language. There are various courses available that cover: passenger handling, reservations, emergency procedures, first aid and catering. In addition, candidates must have South African citizenship; be 18 years or older; be at least 1,58m tall and have a reasonable proportion of height and mass; pass a selection test; and pass an aviation medical examination.
Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended:
Big Sky Cabin Training Academy & Charter
South African Airways (SAA)
South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) – www.caa.co.za
Why did you choose this career?
I chose to become a flight attendant because I wanted to travel the world. I worked for Emirates for five years, and then moved into the private sector.
Explain what it is that you do
I fly on the private aircrafts of the Royal Prince of Saudi Arabia.
What training did you undergo?
I did my ab initio (initial) training at Emirates training college. Every year you have to do a course to renew your license. To get into private aviation, you need to have a few years’ airline experience as well as business or first class experience for at least a year.
Describe your typical work day
My day starts four hours before departure with a pre-flight briefing, where we discuss the flight, special cases, and have a safety talk. We then go to the aircraft to perform a security search and prepare for the passengers, ensuring the catering is correct and the cabin is clean. Then we take off and supply the meal service. After landing we perform landing duties, stowing all equipment.
What do you enjoy most?
I really enjoy travelling to new destinations and experiencing the different cultures and food. I also enjoy meeting colleagues from all over the world.
Do you have any work dislikes?
Missing special occasions with my friends and family is especially difficult for me.
What hurdles have you been required to overcome?
The biggest challenge has been to understand the differences in culture. In the Middle East there are rules and laws that aren’t the same as in South Africa. You have to be mindful of your actions as well as the way you dress and speak to ensure it is not perceived as insulting.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
The highlight so far was meeting Richard Branson on a flight I was operating. He was one of the three people I most wanted to meet because he has such a positive outlook on life.
What are your future goals?
My future goal is to come back to South Africa and to start my own business.
Experience vs formal training?
I would say that they’re both equally important. You have to be properly trained as you have a big responsibility to ensure that any emergency on board is handled correctly. Once you’re comfortable with the job, you will be able to guide your fellow crew members, and this is where experience is essential.
Are there certain traits one should have to do this work?
You have to have a good attitude, and be very patient. There are many times that you’ll be disappointed with flight changes and delays, resulting in people becoming upset and asking questions.
Advice for newcomers?
You have to be disciplined and hard working. The job isn’t always glamorous and you have to be prepared to sacrifice time away from family and friends. You also have to have empathy; not everyone is travelling under pleasant circumstances.
Describe your job in three words
Exciting • Disciplined • Challenging