My Former Life as a Flight Attendant
This story is the sole property of Peg Cole. Any copying, reproduction, publication or use without written permission of the author is a violation of copyright laws.
One phone call that changed my life forever came as I was about to graduate from cosmetology school. I had a job lined up at a salon where I worked part-time as a receptionist and was eager to become a hair stylist, when I took a few days off to visit family in Fort Worth.
One of my regular customers at beauty school heard I was heading to Texas and asked if I would call her daughter while I was there. At the time, long distance calls were expensive. Only local calls were free. When she handed me her daughter's business card with the phone number, I tucked it into my pocket and gave it little thought.
Training on Board the Aircraft
The Phone Call
Once I settled in with the family in Texas, I gave the daughter a ring. It turned out, she was an executive in Flight Attendant services. She was happy to hear news about her mother in Florida and we had a nice phone visit during which I mentioned I had always wanted to work as a flight attendant.
She told me that they were currently recruiting for flight attendants, and although she wasn't allowed to interview me, she would ask someone to give me a call, although, she couldn't promise anything.
I thought that would be the end of it until the phone rang at my Mom's house.
The call was from Flight Attendant staffing, asking if I was available for an interview the next day. Of course I said yes. That started a flurry of activity looking for an outfit to wear other than my vacation clothes. It was a memorable day with my Mom in downtown Fort Worth.
The next day, I borrowed the car and headed to the airport. Weaving my way through the confusing twists and turns of the huge facility, I managed to find the building and a good parking spot. As I headed for the door, I could feel my makeup withering in the sweltering summer heat.
Down the Spine of a 747
During the interview, I was questioned on my work history and the reasons I wanted to be a flight attendant. They asked what would make me a better flight attendant than someone else, what does a flight attendant do along with a barrage of other questions designed to evaluate personality and suitability for the job.
Despite my nervousness, I thought the interview went okay.
A few hours after I got back home, the phone rang again with an invitation to a group interview. A panel of pilots, senior flight attendants and training instructors would interview several applicants at the same time. If we made it to the finals, we would have individual interviews following the group session.
There was an advantage to not being chosen first to answer a question. We learned from the reactions of the panel not to say, "I want to be a flight attendant because I love people." They were sick of hearing that. The challenge was coming up with something original to say after others already answered the same question. When the group session finished, I was chosen for an individual interview after which I resumed my vacation.
That's when I got another call.
The Last Call
This call changed all my plans going forward. The friendly voice on the phone said I'd been selected to attend Flight Attendant Training starting in one month. When my vacation was over, I flew back to Florida. Until the offer letter arrived with the date to report for training, I could hardly believe this happened. It was like a dream where I didn't want to wake up.
Flight Training on the Emergency Slide
Miles from Home
Over the next weeks, I finished the remaining hours of beauty school, quit my job at the salon, sold most of my belongings and packed my car for the trip, leaving behind friends and my home state of Florida.
Heading up Florida, I stopped in Pensacola where I took my State Board Exam for my Cosmetology license and stayed in town only the one night. My roommate agreed to come with me that far to serve as my hair model. She flew home after the exam was over while I continued the twelve-hundred mile trip to Dallas alone.
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Rejections in the Past
When I was twenty-one, I had filled in an application with Eastern Airlines, hopeful for an interview. At that time, most airlines didn't accept married applicants and they sent me a letter of rejection. Things changed and I applied again a couple of years later. This time, they sent a round trip ticket to Miami along with an interview date. It took a few weeks before another rejection letter came in the mail.
At twenty-five, I applied with Northwest Orient Airlines and was scheduled with an interview in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the middle of winter. They explained that only thirty spots were available for flight attendants and they were reviewing eight hundred applicants. We were rushed through the interview process and told they would let us know. A few weeks afterward, another rejection letter arrived.
Flight Attendant Training
During the five-week training course, we lived in The Royal Dunfey's Hotel in Dallas in shared rooms. After breakfast each morning, we were bused to the training facility on Lemon Avenue where we listened to lectures, practiced emergency drills and CPR. We learned the different codes used between the cockpit and crew and trained making announcements.
We jumped out of second story windows onto scorching hot evacuation slides, practiced using fire extinguishers on real fires and fumbled our way through dark airplanes locating safety equipment. We trained to open window hatches and the door of a 747 five stories above the ground.
"Again!" the emergency procedures instructor would yell as we practiced pulling the emergency hatch off the mock up airplane.
"Now toss that hatch on the seat and move those passengers along."
Rookie Flight Crew
Preparing for the Final Exam
We spent hours practicing airline announcements, reading them from our manuals as required by the FAA. We worked in galley mock-ups learning how to use convection ovens and coffee makers. We served seven-course dinners on real dishes and glassware. We trained for a week on bartending skills learning cocktails and how to serve wine and make Cappuccino.
At night we studied our training manuals and memorized configurations for the fleet of Braniff jets. We formed groups and quizzed each other on airport codes and their abbreviations. We practiced and role played for hours, but it was nothing like serving on board a flight with real passengers.
On Board the Aircraft
Our travel assignments were based on seniority or the length of time we had with the airline. Each month we bid on different schedules that were available. Some flight attendants had fifteen years or more with the company. The schedules with only five trips to Hawaii during the month usually went to them.
Newbies like us had little seniority and usually won a schedule flying as a reserve. This type of schedule had nine specified days off during the month with the rest of the time serving on twenty-four hour call. The scheduling department could assign us a trip with as little as a one hour notice to fill in for absent employees or those delayed by mechanical difficulties on a previous flight. We had to be ready to fly out at a moment's notice and kept a packed suitcase handy.
Despite the unusual hours, the waiting by the phone, the meal service on back-to-back commuter flights and the rigors of standing hours at a time, the job was a lot of fun. I'll always remember those days as some of the best of my life.
From Braniff Flight Attendant - Sandy Bentley Moore
© 2009 Peg Cole
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