Fires, escape slides and champagne: training Emirates' cabin crew

By Chris Chamberlin , March 20 2015
Fires, escape slides and champagne: training Emirates' cabin crew

Most airline passengers likely see cabin crew as waiters in the sky: serving up food and drinks, often with a smile and a little pre-flight training, before reaching your destination and bidding goodbye.

But that's just a by-product of their main task – ensuring your safety – and here in Dubai at the Emirates Aviation College for cabin crew, it's clear that this isn't your typical hospitality job.

Whether it's evacuating over 500 passengers from the world's largest aircraft, fighting fires in the air or pouring your glass of Moët or Dom Pérignon, here's what it takes to be a flight attendant with Emirates.

Emirates cabin crew training: hair and make-up

Occupying just one day of a five- to six-week induction course, Emirates cabin crew are schooled in the basics: acceptable hair styles, skin care techniques, nutrition, and how to manage the job's impact on their personal health and fitness levels.

This might seem like a remedial class and one we'd peg as the easiest to pass for most cadets, but with cabin crew flowing in from 136 different countries and cultures, it's a course that all new recruits must take before earning their wings.

Ladies also receive make-up lessons as part of the training...

... and can choose from one of three lipstick shades that best matches their own complexion.

Female crew also learn how to 'wear' the signature Emirates hat, which must sit precisely two finger widths above their eyebrows, on a slight angle, and with the attached scarf in a 'figure six' pattern – never coiled around their neck or tucked into their jacket.

Completing the essentials: professional conduct in the air and on the ground during layovers, plus appropriate conversation topics on-board with both religion and politics on the 'no fly' list.

Preparing for inflight emergencies and evacuations

"This aircraft is also fitted with escape slides and life rafts, which the crew will operate in an emergency" – something that most flight attendants will never actually need to do in a real-life scenario, but one that's practiced all the same, whether on dry land...

... or in the water – a skill that proved vital for US Airways cabin crew in New York, who faced a sudden and unplanned landing atop the Hudson River.

(The pre-inflated slides attach to the life-sized A380 mockup during training.)
(The pre-inflated slides attach to the life-sized A380 mockup during training.)

On the other side of the superjumbo stands an evacuation slide from the Airbus A380's upper deck: towering some 7.9 metres above the ground and ideally used by each flight attendant just once in their career – during training, of course.

Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin studied the safety card carefully, donned an Emirates jumpsuit and adopted the recommended slide posture for some hands-on research...

Fun aside, Emirates crew are also trained to respond to sudden aircraft decompressions, smoke in the cabin, preparing for a crash landing and a range of other scenarios in life-sized cabin simulators...

... and much like the full-motion flight simulators used to train airline pilots, these can tilt, sway and produce life-like sounds to emulate a real flight.

When it comes time to actually open the doors and evacuate, Emirates has that covered too with separate practice areas...

... and on the A380, an LCD screen mimics what you'd normally see through the window:

As the doors aren't always safe to yank open – such as when there's a fire right outside – the image can also be manually set or randomised to assess how the crew react in varying and unexpected situations.

If that fire breaks out at 40,000 feet, flight attendants will think back to their time at this specially-built cabin fire trainer:

But this is no ordinary, match-lit simulator: using a computer control system, the training team can switch on real towering flames that can pop up almost anywhere.

Water-filled fire extinguishers stand at the ready, but in an even more hi-tech step, they boast built-in wireless sensors that detect the angle to and distance from the flames.

When it's calculated that the extinguisher is being held in the optimal way, the computer automatically lowers and terminates the flame.

That odd-looking metal cube above isn't merely ornamental – it's used to emulate a fire in a passenger's laptop...

... being either on a tray table or stashed away in the overhead lockers. Fires in the galley amidst ovens and refrigeration equipment can also be fought in this facility:

When the task is complete and the lives of everyone aboard have been saved, the crew are also trained to say that they've "put the fire off" rather than out to avoid any confusion with others who speak English as a second language.

('Off' would normally mean that something has been disabled, such as switching the TV off, while 'out' ordinarily refers to outside – e.g. "I'm just going out".)

Emirates cabin crew training: on-board service

Starting their journey in economy and working upwards to business class and first class, Emirates flight attendants also face one last test: working in the cabin.

We're aboard the 'practice' A380, which comes with everything from a life-sized galley...

... through to the wine baskets...

... aircraft seats...

... full bar facilities...

... and a "hands off!" sign on the delicious snack basket in first class:

The aircraft door that each flight attendant mans during take-off and landing determines which passengers they'll personally serve, and with couples often travelling together in the centre 'honeymoon' seats, the crew must be sure to serve both of these guests at the same time.

There's also a 'cheat sheet' in the rear galley to keep track with each step along the way...

... and up in first class, a replica of the on-board shower spas.

Read: Emirates Airbus A380 first class 'shower spa' review

As the showers on long-haul flights are most popular in the three hours before landing, the adjacent self-serve first class bar also transforms into a small oasis, which the crew must learn to assemble:

So the next time you're tempted to use the term "trolley dolly", swap it with "cabin crew" – after this much training, we're confident they've earned it.

Want more? This 2.5-minute video shows the crew hard at work during the various stages of their training:

Stay behind the scenes:

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Dubai as guest of Emirates.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Very informative article Chris, an enjoyable look behind the scenes. For those wanting more, can I recommend a search on YouTube for NatGeo's 10 part (I think) Emirates Dubai Airport doco. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jan 2012

Total posts 255

Ultimate Airport Dubai, Season 1 and 2. It's a show about DXB, rather than EK (officially), though EK features heavily of course. There's also a few cameo's by a QF A380 in Season 2.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Thanks Nix, I didn't realise there was a Season Two. I came across an episode by accident once and found it quite interesting. I did see a Qantas plane on the tarmac in one episode I watched, but they didn't talk about about them sadly. Was interesting to see how Concourse A came together.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

10 Jan 2012

Total posts 255

Season 1 is mainly about the operations of EK and building of Concourse A, whereas Season 2 is about the resurfacing of the runways, building the 777 parking lot, cargo operations, ATC and Ops Centre operations and of course the running of the terminals. 

EK are the only airline usually mentioned by name. You'll see other airlines planes (including QF), but they don't say their names. 

S2 also features an Australian airport services manager, who I love, she's fantastic and an Australian engineer who is overseeing the new 777 parking lot build. 

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 15

Interesting piece. Surely, part of the PR push by Emirates to get more cabin crew? I've been reading a lot lately Emirates' high turn over of cabin crew due to the poor management and factors like the 24 hour layover (compared to other airlines' 48 hours). Most CC barely last out a year hence the latest mass push to hire with the nice PR spin of "look how we're growing we have to hire this many thousands of people!" Does anyone have any more evidence of this? Or anecdotes? I've talked to a few ex EK CC. 

All this said, thanks for the piece! 

"Surely, part of the PR push by Emirates to get more cabin crew?"

As always, our article was written independently and wasn't based on any "PR push" – as we were already going to be in Dubai, we made a request of Emirates that we be able to tour and photograph this facility, as it's something that regular passengers would never otherwise get to see and experience, and that we thought could make for a good article on its own.

I'll leave others to comment on the other aspects of your post, but to your closing line, cheers. :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

I don't have an intimate knowledge of ME3 staffing issues, but from what I do know it's generally held that Qatar (QR) struggles the most (due to internal policies, lower pay, arbitrary firings, etc) - it tends to pick up EK's shower attendants (personnel who didn't make the EK FA cut) rather than EK's FAs.

Emirates, I understand, doesn't like to hang onto it's FAs for too long - preferring younger staff (using an upwards or out policy after 4 years I heard) and suffers due to the large scale of their operations (it's been said they were much more stringent on air crew selection in the past than today, simply because they need so many cabin crew these days they can't be so fussy).

Etihad, I understand, generally is a first pick so does pretty well for applicants, but I imagine many factors influence first choice other than the airline itself.

Like the whole of the hospitality industry, I don't think anyone goes into these jobs to get rich (they don't pay heaps), it's usually to obtain the fringe benefits working these jobs can provide. Hotels/Airlines/Restaurants/Cafes/Pubs are generally industries that naturally have elevated turnover of staff, compared to other employment.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

Does anyone have an insight into the salary the crew make? I am thinking not too much ($40K) and also they get to travel around the world.

Yes I basically answered my own guestion but would like to know the real sum.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Actual salaries are usually lacklustre for many airlines (although some are worse than others) - people usually accept this trade-off for the staff non-duty travel benefits which increase considerably in value over length of service and seniority (not just for them, but their families and partners too). There is a vast array of fringe benefits for the staff of some of the better airlines.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Emirates cabin crew pay is made up of three components: a fixed basic salary, an hourly pay for operated flights and an overseas allowance. 

As everything other than the base pay varies on roster, I can only give an indication on base pay for a newly qualified FA which is about $1.4K a month nett. But this figure is almost meaningless given the other payments and fringe benefits.

I think it is better to say that the job must have some pulling power to us Australians because I know of a fair few Qantas cabin crew that took up cabin crew jobs with Emirates (so obviously there is something in it, especially since that restarts their travel benefits entitlements).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Sorry, that's roughly $1.4K AUD nett base pay a month for starter FAs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

Thanks alot for the information!! Much appreaciated! I guess the QF cabin crew took their jobs with EK just in case if they ended up in the 5000 people being sacked off and also for those benefits you mentioned.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

I'm not sure lately what EK poaching of QF staff is like, as this was from the last decade (before the Qantas purges), when I was in a relationship with a Qantas FA. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 591

If been there and speak from experience when I say that the 777 cabin sim is great fun when its shaking around and smoke is going everywhere.  For some reason I had a case of the giggles when we were carrying out emergency landing.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 558

Cabin crew "hard at work" training - seriously????

04 May 2015

Total posts 249

From the media reports this evening, it looks like that hard work was worth it. 300 passengers and crew evacuated from a burning plane with nobody dead.


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