Flight Plan

How cabin crew smile through a high-pressure job

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on January 21, 2020

There's a lot of hard work behind that cheery namaste or 'welcome aboard' that the cabin crew greet us with. Ashwini Phadnis has the details

Of all the professionals associated with operating a flight – pilots, engineers, maintenance people and the check-in staff – the easiest job seems to be that of the cabin crew. But if you think that all you need to be a successful cabin crew member is a pleasant personality and a people-friendly nature, think again.

The job involves a high degree of training, situational awareness, grooming and knowledge about a variety of issues. All this, after you have the requisite qualifications, including passing the 10+2 examination from a recognised board or university. Besides you have to be at least 18 years of age and be of a height that enables you to reach the safety equipment on board an aircraft and also the overhead bins. You also need to have the right height so that you can place your feet firmly on the floor when seated on the jump seat in a brace position.

Equally important is passing all oral and written exams and undergoing training like water survival, emergency evacuations and door opening and closing. There are a number of institutes in the country that provide courses for cabin crew members.

First things first

Important though these qualifications and training are, what you do on every flight brings its own list of things to remember, things to check and how to prepare for emergencies where you also use situational awareness and think on your feet.

After you have been picked by an airline, you have a set procedure to follow for every flight. Says Enrico Pereira, Regional Head of Training, Air India, “The first thing that a cabin crew member does is report at the airline check-in counter. Here, crew members check in their bags and, more importantly, check if their names are on the General Declaration or GD.”

That over, the cabin crew reaches the movement control office called CCMC. "There, the first thing is the pre-flight medical check, which involves being checked for intake of alcohol or other substances. Once you pass this test, you go and sign in and wait for the crew to congregate for a briefing by a cabin supervisor,” Pereira adds.

The cabin crew supervisor briefs the crew about different situational aspects. For example, if it rains, the captain might say 'there could be turbulence, so do not move around' or sometimes the Captain might say 'I might turn on the seat belt sign but you may continue with the service depending on how bad the weather is'.

Countless tasks

Once on board the aircraft, the first things that the cabin crew does is check for the emergency equipment on the location chart, more popularly called LOPA.

All cabin crew members have a check list and it is important to go through this despite years of flying as the crew might be suffering from fatigue or might be facing other problems. Cabin crew members check fire-fighting equipment, medical equipment, oxygen bottles and first-aid kits. The public address system also needs to be checked because that is an emergency equipment. “You also check if the seat belts are fine, whether the door is fine and check the pressure gauges on the door for opening it. In case you are at a door close to the wash room, then you check the wash room too. You check for smoke alarms or any other alarms that are in the dust bins. Once you have checked them all, then you give the okay to the cabin supervisor,” explains Pereira.

Each cabin crew member also has a Quick Reference Handbook popularly called the QRH and the training manual, which contains the policies, procedures and other guidance or information necessary for crew members to perform their duties and be in compliance with applicable regulations, rules and operator standards. Every cabin crew member carries a torch, which is pulled out in case of an emergency like electrical power failure on the aircraft.

An eye on safety too

The list does not end here. There are a number of dangerous goods on board the aircraft, each of which has a unique ID number and drill code. The drill code tells you how to handle the dangerous goods. For example, if it reacts with water, what extinguisher you should use to negate its effect. Everything is enumerated – how to handle a fire in the toilet, in the rest areas, and in closed spaces.

At the time of take-off, other things have to be remembered by the cabin crew, like which brace position to adopt in case of an emergency.

"If you are seated facing Aft, which is towards the tail, you actually press your body to the seat. In case of any evacuation, the G effect does not throw you forward and you do not have any whiplash,” Pereira says.

Besides, there also has to be crew coordination as sometimes, in an emergency, passengers have to be directed to either the front or back of the aircraft as the only serviceable door might be there.

As if all this is not enough, cabin crew members are the face of the airline they represent who interact the most with fliers. So, they need to keep their cool, be friendly and, in case of an emergency, be calm. Over and above all this, sometimes they also have to deal with unruly fliers and face their wrath for no fault of theirs.

Published on January 21, 2020

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