The Rigors of Flight Attendant Training During COVID

Flight attendants work tiring, jet-lagged hours with sometimes little outward appreciation from passengers, but the perks of the job can sometimes outweigh the stress. But getting hired in the first place is no easy feat. At top airlines, acceptance rates can be as tough as winning the lottery, with multiple rounds of grueling interviews and training that lasts for weeks.

The job is so much more than slinging meal trays and hanging jackets after all. Flight attendant wannabes undergo rigorous written and physical tests that entail everything from learning how to open and close doors of various aircraft types to jumping down slides and evacuating passengers in a pool to simulate a water ditching. They learn about nutrition, fitness, and staying healthy while on a draining travel schedule: One day they may be in Tokyo and a few days later in Los Angeles, if hired.

They must be familiar with airport codes, cultural norms and, these days, keep up with COVID-related requirements. We took a peek behind the curtain at a flight attendant training for Emirates, to see what it takes to join the team at one of the world’s most glamorous airlines.

Learning how to handle any medical issue

The flight crew is fully trained in first aid and knows how to save lives in most every situation. In fact, they spend as much time (if not more) on safety-related issues than in-flight food and beverage service. During training, they learn how to carry out CPR, identify signs of various illnesses, and even how to handle mid-flight births. Emirates crew delivered three in-flight babies during 2020, its highest number ever—no less, during a year when it flew its fewest number of flights. With more people racing to get home before lockdowns or traveling at the last minute between countries, flight attendants took care of more pregnant passengers. On a recent flight, the newborn’s mother was so grateful for the crew’s help that she named the baby for the lead flight attendant.

Flight attendants can also rely on a satellite link to the ground for backup medical advice, which is important if there are no passenger doctors or nurses on board. In 2019, Emirates flight attendants made 16,337 calls to medical personnel on the ground. In the same year, flight attendants saved four lives by using an onboard defibrillator. Cabin crew can put out fires, save a passenger from choking, and even perform self-defense toward an attacker.

Perfecting service at 30,000 feet

Emirates crew pride themselves on offering a high level of both safety and service standards. When it comes to delivering food and drink on the plane, there are more than 500 steps the cabin crew must learn. Potential flight attendants start in a classroom before moving to a mockup cabin to, lastly, a real-world setting serving meals to their fellow classmates from working galleys on the ground.

Most airlines go through various forms of food service training, but Emirates offers some unique amenities that require additional skill sets. On its Airbus A380 planes, first-class passengers can take an in-flight shower and first- and business-class passengers can visit the plane's bar and lounge. Flight attendants must learn how to set up these stylish perks. For example, the bar requires stocking the shelves with pricey bottles of wine, Champagne, and liquor on display. Cabin crew are taught how to precisely lay out multi-tiered towers of tea sandwiches and sweets, which are always available as passengers relax in the lounge. A separate attendant, however, sets up and cleans the shower.

During service training, the new flight attendants also learn the proper way to hold a heavy beverage tray. Even in economy, Emirates flight attendants serve drinks from silver trays. And no matter the cabin, crew must hold the tray using the palm of their hand from the bottom (like a server in a restaurant). It looks more professional, but is also sturdier, according to Emirates trainers. When placing a napkin or coaster on a passenger’s tray table, the carrier’s logo must always be facing up and in the proper position. During training, the crew learns how to prepare and carry the tray of pre-takeoff drinks, too, although instead of practicing with real Champagne, they substitute it with glasses of water with two drops of apple juice.