Good morning, passengers: Exploring the skies with flight attendants

Flight attendants regularly make sure that everything on the flight runs smoothly; they bustle around the plane, guiding clunky carts of food and drinks through narrow aisles, ushering passengers on board to their designated seats, and demonstrating pre-flight safety routines. An entire flight could go by without passengers recognizing and appreciating the work that these attendants do.

“Oftentimes, people would think that if you’re pretty and tall, being a flight attendant is the easiest way for a job. They only see us as people who would meet, greet, and assist them during their flights, serve them food and beverage, and most of all, they think that all we do is stand and look pretty,” explains Patricia Gonzales, a seven-month rookie flight attendant from a local airline company.

However, the job description of a flight attendant is not as cut and dry as it appears. High beauty standards and approachability are just the tip of the iceberg and do not completely define what it means to be in this field. This line of work truly requires extreme dedication and patience, with many elements going much deeper than the visible facade of a working flight attendant.

Pre-flight announcements

Faced with the pressure to represent the Philippine aviation industry, flight attendants are responsible for keeping passengers safe and prepared for any emergency situation within the aircraft. They are the frontline workforce of multi-million peso airliners, being in service of the public directly. But before they reach the point where they can showcase pre-flight safety demonstrations, flight attendant applicants go through rigorous processes and heavy screenings.

Gonzales shares that she applied during a mass hiring in Bacolod. There were a number of physical requirements for the job, including having “good complexion and eyesight,” and being at least 5’3 for females and 5’7 for males. Applicants were also desired to have a “pleasing personality and proficiency in English and Filipino languages.”

Mikel Villamora, also a fairly new flight attendant with eight months of experience in the field, serves as an inflight Chinese interpreter exclusively for China and Taiwan flights. How a person presents themselves, including their character, is a major aspect considered when applying for any job, but Villamora notes that a good personality is one of the most crucial requirements specifically for being part of a cabin crew. “You have to be pleasant-looking, approachable, and most of all, alert,” she says.

While beauty doesn’t encompass the entirety of the job, the appearance of a flight attendant remains essential per most airlines’ standards. Villamora says that she upholds her company’s expectations to serve the passengers with integrity, “I am always conscious [about] my look since I have to smile and welcome [the passengers] as my daily routine.”

On the other hand, Gonzales holds onto the image of a flight attendant to preserve the merit of her profession. “We are expected to look presentable [because] it’s not only the company’s expectations that we are trying to reach, but that of everybody who looks at us as representatives of the Philippine aviation industry,” she shares, but notes that the role also requires having “the guts and the brains” to fulfill one’s duties.

Once accepted, aspirants begin their rigorous training process. Prospects are required to memorize and apply all aircraft safety protocols and procedures, explains Gonzales. Above all else, these flight attendants-in-training learn to put the needs of the passengers before their own, especially in cases of emergency.

Direct your attention

Once they’re up in the air, attendants are expected to facilitate the review and practice of safety protocols while in flight, as well as ensure the passengers’ comfort onboard. Villamora attests that the flexibility of a flight attendant is put to the test regularly, utilizing practical skills such as first-aid, time management, and problem-solving when encountering different situations every day. “[A member of the] cabin crew wears a lot of hats besides just serving meals to passengers,” she shares.

Patience and compassion are key for flight attendants as their service-oriented work entails countless interactions with a diverse array of people; not all passengers will have a heart of gold, though. Gonzales admits to having been on the receiving end of some harsh treatment, at times encountering passengers who would “come off as rude and disrespectful.”

However, dealing with these circumstances allowed her to improve her communication skills and learn to be more patient with the people in her personal spheres. “I was able to acquire better communication skills that paved the way for me to have better human relationships,” Gonzales shares.

Service across the skies 

A flight attendant’s workday is typically determined by the flight schedule, as in the case of Gonzales, who is required by her company to work for about six days a week and 12 hours of rest daily. “My body clock [has to adjust] for the sudden changes because everyday is not like every ‘other’ day,” she says, referring to how flights that are set in the early morning or the late evening tend to hamper her sleep schedule.

Yet, the gratifying act of service masks the tireless hours the flight attendants give to the job. Villamora attests to this; although she initially had reservations about the challenging work, she now declares that, “Once you experience it, I am sure that your perception of what a flight attendant is like will change.”

Each flight entails a completely new set of difficulties and problems to adjust to—from the passengers, the time and place of their departure, and the cabin crew they work with. Flight attendants hustle everyday with a smile on their face, despite the limited hours of sleep they may have in the tank, all to ensure that each passenger is safe and comfortable as they fly across geographical borders.

With conditions very different from the usual 8 am to 5 pm job, being a flight attendant can prove stressful—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Still, Gonzales these flight attendants find it uplifting to be of service to individuals in transit, as she expresses, “I go about my day, seeing smiles of people returning home to [their] families, friends, and special individuals just lights up my face and warms my heart.”

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