In-flight kung fu for Chinese airline

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The Independent Online

A flight attendant's working life was once a simple round of pointing out the emergency exits and serving food and drinks to passengers. But now, faced with the threat of global terrorism, a Chinese airline is looking for 70 young ladies who can pack a punch as well as hand out bags of peanuts.

In an attempt to boost security, Sichuan Airlines is recruiting female flight attendants with martial arts skills to work on a new route between Chengdu in western China and the South Korean capital, Seoul.

As well as being aged between 18 and 24 with a knowledge of Korean, skilled in singing and dancing and of "nice appearance", the new flight attendants will be trained as "part-time security guards" on the flights. "There's no specific type of martial art we require, it could be kung fu or tae kwon do," said Cai Chao, a Sichuan Airlines spokesperson.

The decision to hire the fighting flight attendants comes as China's General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC), which oversees the domestic airline industry, is becoming increasingly concerned by the threat posed by terrorism. Two thousand armed air marshals were recruited from police forces around China in 2003 to guard international flights, but this is the first time women have been selected to work as in-flight security.

Last week, a China Southern Airlines flight from Guangzhou to Sydney was forced to make an emergency landing after a note containing a bomb threat was discovered in a lavatory on board. The plane returned to Guangzhou, where a 39-year-old Hong Kong-born Australian citizen was arrested after he admitted writing the note while depressed over a love affair.

More than 500 women attended the first round of interviews in Chongqing on Thursday. One interviewee described the competition for the jobs as "harsh", with applicants expected to have a college diploma as well as martial arts training. But the women were also judged on the way they looked. "We do emphasise a nice appearance. They should make a good impression on the passengers," said Mr Cai.

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