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Behind the scenes of flight attendant training

CBS News 1/18/2023 Janet Shamlian
0118-cbsm-flightattendanttraining-shamlian-1634285-640x360.jpg © Credit: CBSNews 0118-cbsm-flightattendanttraining-shamlian-1634285-640x360.jpg

Air travelers have had plenty to complain about in recent weeks, with issues ranging from the Southwest Airlines meltdown to an FAA computer glitch that led to a nationwide ground stop just last week.

Flight attendants are among the industry's frontline workers when disruptions like these happen – and they're being trained to meet new challenges. 

All future United flight attendants go through rigorous schooling at the airline's newly-opened, 56,000-square-foot training center in Houston. It's six weeks of instruction, drills and testing as the airline aims to hire 4,000 flight attendants this year.


Michielle Sego-Johnson, United's vice president of inflight services, said many people want the job.

"I mean, 69,000 applications over a year, hiring less than 6%," she said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic saw thousands of flight attendants who either quit, were furloughed or took a buyout. Then, as travel rebounded, airlines were short-staffed. All of them are now hiring.

Karl Gilbert, 57, is currently a trainee. 

"I thought I was kind of old but then I thought this would be a nice career transition to take me into retirement," he said.

Kylie Streck is also being trained. She was previously a firefighter but doesn't expect her new line of work to be less stressful. 

"You're going to be a firefighter, you're going to be a healthcare responder. You get to be in customer service and you get to travel the world," she said.

First, trainees must learn tasks like the mechanics of opening the doors of six different aircraft types. A model of a plane's fuselage in the new aquatic center has trainees practicing for water landings. There's also the everyday duties of food and beverage service.

That's not all. A big part of the training focuses on de-escalation techniques – a sign of the times.

With a pandemic trend of unruly passengers, there's emphasis on how to react. 

Teams run through potential scenarios, like someone complaining about a flight delay. 

"We put them in scenarios where they have to respond in a way they can be empathetic and informative," said Sego-Johnson.

The median pay for flight attendants nationwide is just under $62,000 a year. New hires earn less. 

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