The world is your workplace

Airline cabin crew need to be fit and intelligent, as well as skilled at public relations. And they can also have a lot of fun, reports Tim Walker
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The Independent Online

Of course, these oases of calm are the product of a rigorous recruitment process. While the average passenger never has to experience the benefits of their first-aid and emergency training, every airline sends new recruits on a month-long training programme, followed by a period of six months' probation, in which they are shown the ropes by experienced cabin crew members. And the safety training is accompanied by training in customer service, the crucial element of the job from day to day.

"We're looking for people who can provide intelligent service, treat people as individuals and deal with their needs accordingly," says Joy Hordern, director of in-flight service for British Airways.

Mark Hobson, a cabin crew manager for Easyjet, agrees. For example, he explains: "You have to be aware that you don't know what's happened to a passenger before they reach your flight. They may have been stuck in traffic for hours on the way to the airport, or been contending with screaming kids. If they get angry during the flight, it's probably nothing to do with you."

Before they even reach the training centre, aspiring cabin crew members need to meet certain criteria. British Airways wants its recruits to be between the ages of 19 and 54, to be a minimum height of 5ft 2in, with proportional weight and good physical fitness.

"The requirements are safety-related," explains Hordern. "The cabin crew have to be able to carry out all the emergency procedures, and to reach the overhead lockers."

And you need to be a sociable creature: dealing with passengers is one thing, but you may never fly with the same crew. "You may be working with someone different every time you fly," Hordern says, "so you have to be able to integrate with a team very quickly."

There are further desirable qualities in a cabin crew member, such as a knowledge of languages. Easyjet crew are paid extra for each language they learn. Although, as Mark Hobson explains, this can cause trouble. "On a flight back from France once, a French lady asked for orange juice without any artificial additives, because she had an allergic reaction to them," he says. "My French wasn't brilliant, and I was trying to explain that the orange juice had no preservatives, so I kept saying 'sans préservatifs', without knowing that préservatif' was actually the French for condom."

New recruits begin by working on short-haul flights, from short hops between London and Manchester, to longer ones as far away as Moscow.

A starting salary with BA is about £10,500, but this doesn't include the allowances, of at least £500 a month, which are dependent on flight-related incentives - payments for each flight, and commission on any in-flight sales, for example.

Being trapped 30,000ft up between Heathrow and Malaga with a planeful of 18 to 30-year-olds may not be quite your cup of tea, but keep one eye on the career opportunities. Tara Panchaud has a job that any green cabin crew member would envy. As a flight service manager for Virgin Atlantic, she mingles with upper-class passengers in glamorous surroundings on flights to Los Angeles, Shanghai, Miami or New York. The senior crew member on such flagship routes, she is an ambassador for the airline.

With anything up to four nights away in each city, she can also indulge the passion for travel that draws the majority of recruits to the industry. "I love Manhattan and Shanghai," she says. "I have my own routine now for when I arrive in New York. In the morning I'll go to Starbucks for a coffee, have a wander down Broadway, do some shopping on Fifth Avenue..."

For Panchaud, flying is a lifelong love. "My dad used to take me to see the Red Arrows from the age of two," she says.

"The first letter I wrote, at 11, was to Britannia Airways, asking them how I could get into flying. I started working as a crew member in 1990. I thought I'd get it out of my system in five years, but I'm still there, and I'm still loving it."