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.
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.
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:
- Keeping Emirates flying: inside its Network Control Centre
- Photos: inside an Emirates Airbus A380 pilot training simulator
- The inner workings of the Airbus A380 factory...
- Designing your own Boeing 787 at the Dreamliner Gallery
- Photo tour: inside Boeing's 787 Dreamliner factory
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Dubai as guest of Emirates.
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