Backstage Travel: No 2 - Cabin crew

The people behind passenger satisfaction... and safety

They're the smiling faces who serve our drinks and clean up after us, but there's much more to cabin crew than being the human face of the airline. First-aider, babysitter, travel adviser, and survival expert, they're the all-rounders who ensure our flight goes smoothly – turbulence aside.

"People look to you to be able to take control of situations and handle whatever happens on that day," says Jayne Deasy, 46, who has been part of British Airways' 14,000-strong cabin crew for 25 years, She is a cabin service director, responsible for leading crews on the airline's worldwide long-haul network.

Their first priority is passenger safety. BA flight attendants undergo an initial six-week training course in aviation medicine and safety, and emergency procedures – including water survival skills, managing medical emergencies and dealing with dangerous goods – and must pass refresher exams every year.

"A number of our cabin crew have come from medical backgrounds," adds Deasy, "so quite often we have a wealth of experience on top of what is a very high level of first-aid training." There's back-up on the ground, too: in the event of an emergency, crew can phone a US medical centre for guidance.

Beyond safety, the crew's role is to provide customer service, and for that, preparation is all. Prior to a flight, Deasy will spend time online reading the news and weather in her destination before meeting and briefing her crew, which changes each flight. They study any changes in procedures, go through the passenger list and identify those with special requirements.

On board, it's all about keeping the customer happy, which could mean entertaining a toddler, acknowledging a birthday or dealing with unusual requests. (Deasy recalls one passenger who washed her hair in the toilet cubicle and wanted a hairdryer.) "You don't have a boring day," she says.

Of course serving people – particularly tired, stressed, cooped-up people – isn't always straightforward, so diplomacy is a flight attendant's default setting. "We are trained in people skills and how to be as effective as possible in a difficult situation. You have to be realistic; you can't always deliver. But we can hopefully offer the best possible solution."

The perks outweigh any problem passengers. BA's "fair share" policy means Deasy isn't assigned a single route but will travel to most of the airline's 90 non-European destinations in the course of a year. "It certainly keeps the job fresh," says Deasy. "I still get a buzz from the fact I go to work here and get off in another country."

Caroline Bishop

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