One of the best-known images of any airline is its cabin crew, commonly known as flight attendants (or FAs). They are the friendly face we find when we arrive, helping us to board. They greet passengers as soon as they step onto the aeroplane and accompany them throughout the flight, offering them information, drinks and food. The FA’s job, however, involves much more than that. Highly varied knowledge about aviation and the needs which may arise in this context are needed to obtain a qualification enabling one to apply for this kind of job.
Being a cabin crew member therefore involves being much more than an airline’s image.
The first thing they have to learn about is the concept of an aircraft and the ability to identify their different types. They must also learn about an aircraft’s main structural components, and their configuration, equipment and main instruments. They are trained in basic aerodynamic concepts and the principles of flying, an aircraft’s basic movements and actions, and its control and stability components. They know about an aircraft’s main functional systems and their location and use. They even receive practical flight training in case of an emergency.
Their technical preparation includes knowledge about air navigation, airspaces, their classification and the functionality of the different areas, as well as the different flight phases (especially the critical phases) and the way to act. They receive training on meteorology and its effects on aviation.
They are kept up to date about the most relevant institutions for civil aviation flight personnel such as EASA, AESA (Spanish Air Safety Agency) and ICAO, as well as the role of each of them and the agreement that serves as a framework for international civil aviation.
Apart from being informed about air transport agreements, their terms and conditions, the airlines’ liability and air insurance, these employees must be able to help organise common medical incidents during a flight by applying suitable measures with the healthcare materials onboard, if necessary. They are trained to identify the physiological effects of flight on people and should be able to offer first aid during any in-flight medical emergencies which may arise. They must also know how to treat cases of asphyxia (Heimlich’s manoeuvre), basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and with a defibrillator, as well as how to treat fractures, cuts, burns, etc.
In the event of an air accident, they set out the guidelines to be followed and determine the urgency of the injured, choosing who is to be transferred first. Another requirement is to have knowledge about concepts related to human and resource management factors, which can them help analyse the main factors connected with reliability, stress, fatigue and the way to combat them.
They are also responsible for ensuring that relevant documents and manuals are updated with any changes made by the operator. Before each flight, they must attend an informative meeting during which the obligations and responsibilities of each passenger cabin crew member are organised and emergency procedures reviewed.
Regarding the transport of hazardous goods by air, and in accordance with current regulations, they must identify these goods, and take the relevant precautions and necessary measures if any such goods have been hidden in hand luggage.
They ensure that any baggage and service elements in the passenger cabin are securely stowed to prevent any risks these elements may pose to passengers by obstructing or damaging emergency exits in the event of an evacuation. They are responsible for ensuring that general behaviour guidelines are properly adhered to during landings, emergency landings on sea or depressurisation, or in cases of survival in hostile environments (polar, desert, jungle or sea areas). Given that their essential task is to save passengers’ lives in the most critical situations, they carry out mandatory rescue training activities in aquatic environments.
They are also in charge of security, to protect against illegal interference and they must apply current regulations regarding national security, quality and training programmes which determine the common rules and detailed measures aimed at ensuring civil aviation safety.
They are trained in fire protection. They should be able to deal with any emergencies involving fire or smoke rapidly, using protective equipment and extinguishers. In these circumstances, they must determine the guidelines for action to extinguish or prevent fires, while at the same time frequently checking areas that could constitute a possible focal point, such as toilets for instance.
Being a cabin crew member therefore involves being much more than an airline’s image. A cabin crew member has to go through a rigorous intensive training programme in first aid and rescue, and also receives instruction in aviation concepts and even flight training due to the fact that their main mission is to ensure the safety of each passenger.