“One can’t make a career of serving orange juice with a smile. The in-flight crew soon realizes that” is how Ashutosh Upadhyay, a person who runs a placement agency ‘The Headhunters’ sums up the job of cabin crew in today's Times of India (After Pink Slip - 27 Oct 2008). I believe this is not only the perception of Mr. Upadhyay but nearly every one who travels, or thinks, about air travel. The cabin crew’s job is considered to be that of a glorified server. This is misleading, and may only be partly true. The truth is……
The cabin crews are professionally trained flight crew whose carriage is mandated by regulations across the world. The aim of these regulations is to assist the Captain in providing safe transportation to the passengers while they are on board the aircraft. The aircraft is a very sophisticated piece of machinery and is very reliable, but can have problems like any other machine – the only difference being that this machine is in the third dimension and in a very hostile environment too. Sitting in a pressurized cabin gives one a false feeling of security, as the cabin is maintained at settings that are comfortable for people. This can change any minute. Although the probability of this happening is very low, the possibility always exists. Imagine what can happen to a person exposed to the extreme temperatures and pressures at the flight altitudes.
The regulations lay down the minimum number of cabin crews that are needed to be on board based on the number of seats, not the number of passengers. This is to err on the positive side, keeping passenger safety in mind. In case you have not perceived this earlier – it is the cabin crew’s job to apprise all passengers about the safety precautions while on board. Most people ignore these briefings by the cabin crew, although it is vital for the passengers to be familiar with all of them like belt locking/ unlocking, use of emergency oxygen, actions on take-off/ landing, position of emergency exits, actions on crash landing/ ditching etc. Emergencies do not come announced. So it is best to be prepared and listen to the safety briefings by the cabin crew.
The cabin crew’s job does not finish with just the briefing. They have to ensure that the briefings are complied with so that the safety of passengers is not compromised. Have you ever noticed them going around checking that your seats are upright and the table folded during take off and landing and that there is nothing obstructing the pathways. Most mishaps happen during these two phases of flight and thus these are extra precautions that are taken by the cabin crew.
In case there is an in-flight emergency the cabin crews are trained to fight fires, administer emergency oxygen and any other assistance that may be needed. They are also required to check on the health of the cockpit crew, so that the flight can be conducted without problems.
Once these primary functions of the cabin crew are over, they become the more visible part of the customer service process of the company they fly for. Aviation is also a service industry and thus it is this service that gets highlighted with fare paying passengers. These are secondary functions but have a higher visibility, and thus the perception of most people.
So next time when you travel please try and see what the cabin crew do during the flight.