It takes a lot more than learning how to push a drinks trolley and donning a uniform to become known as one of the worlds best cabin crews. Learning to walk the walk, talk the talk and dress the part are just a few of the areas cabin crew are taught during their training. For those wanting to work for Malaysia Airlines the large white buildings, located just a short ride away from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, are the training centre and hotel accommodation for up to 600 staff-in-training.
Growing up in Adelaide, Malaysia Airlines was one of only a couple of International airlines that flew into my local airport, and I wanted to be one of these glamorous ladies who made flying look so graceful with their long skirts and carefully styled up-do’s. On a recently trip to Malaysia, I was given a glimpse into the life of a cabin crew trainee when visiting the Malaysia Airlines School of Excellence.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
First off, I feel that we need to address the elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about the immense challenges Malaysia Airlines‘ faced in 2014 and they were harshly criticised by the Media as the airline suffered through two terrible tragedies. In March Flight 370 went missing; The plane, passengers and wreckage have still not been found, with it was officially announced yesterday that the crash was an accident and the passengers onboard deceased. Then, just as the airline was beginning to move forward and rebuild, Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. Nobody – Russian military, Ukrainian rebels or others – has claimed responsibility for this event.
No airline in aviation history has ever been through two major disasters in such a short time and came out the other side, so I applaud Malaysia Airlines for fighting forward for the airlines survival. I have a lot I want to say on a more personal note after meeting with staff of the airline, but I will write about this in a later post.
Going Behind the Scenes of Malaysia Airlines Cabin Crew Training
Consistency and a great flight. These are the two key things that Chang Chin Kwang, manager of In-flight Services Training and Standard Operations at Malaysia Airlines, hope that the airline will be able to show passengers. From flight safety procedure, intensive first aid, food service, grooming, and etiquette, the trainee crew learn it all during their 69-day training period before graduating as a probationary flight attendant.
Like their studies, classroom styles vary but my favourite were the three replica models of aircraft from the MAS fleet where in-flight classes take place. Inside classes were working on announcing calls and vocal projection. Crew members are encouraged to speak with their natural accents rather than imitating English accents to ensure they don’t sound fake or forced. After hearing the even cantor and skill of one of the students, some members of the group I was with, including artist and Chef Poh Ling Yeow who is currently working on a new dish for the airline, had a go at making an announcement. Trust me when I say it’s not quite as easy as it sounds!
Cabin crew need to be prepared for a variety of situations onboard. Unruly passengers, emergency evacuations, and even birthing a baby (it does happen! Earlier this month a baby was born on a Royal Jordanian flight between Jordan to New York). During the cabin crews initial training they are required to obtain a First Aid certificate and then every few years crew are required to complete a mandatory review of their skills at the Academy.
Joining a class of experienced cabin crew there to refresh their skills, I learnt just how serious First Aid training is for airlines. While no one wishes for an incident to happen, the reality is that it can and the crew are the first line of action when something does happen. After going over the theoretical procedure of heart attacks and resuscitation, a few members of the group gathered on the floor and practiced manually resuscitating a dummy passenger and administering defibrillation through a portable device.
When their ‘passenger’ was revived one of my group asked if any of the experienced crew ever had to treat a passenger for heart attack, stroke or other serious medical emergency. Thankfully, no one in the room had to while onboard but said they felt confident they could handle the situation.
“Can we please take the life raft?” a student I hadn’t seen before asked from the doorway. It’s a question I never thought I’d hear but as he and four other students hauled the massive yellow bag from atop the cupboard, I realised that a stored life raft really was in the chunky bag.
First aid kits, seat belts, life vests, fire extinguishes, life rafts, megaphones, black boxes… there are dozens of pieces of safety equipment onboard aircrafts, many hidden in plain sight. At the Academy, they have a classroom specifically designed to familiarise trainees with all of these items.
Leaving the room, just a little bit of flight safety knowledge etched into our minds, the group I was with were asked if we wanted to take part in evacuation drills. My hand shot up. I’d even bought bathers so I could take part in the water drills, but only one other was interested in the water drill. When given the option of taking part in a land evacuation a few more hands were tentatively raised. Boarding the plane, we were instructed on emergency brace positions, how to slide properly (yes, there is a specific way to slide to ensure you don’t get friction burns) and then the countdown to evacuating the plane began.
Read my post on Monday and taking part in Emergency Evacuation drills.
Whenever I see cabin crew members in the foyer of a hotel or airport – particularly Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia with their long skirts – I can’t help but gaze at their elegant walk, beautifully printed clothing, and perfectly put-together hairstyle. Even the men look handsome with slicked hair and – sometimes – waist coats underneath their blazers.
All cabin crew adhere to a strict grooming policy. Hair, clothing, jewellery and even weight are monitored to ensure it complies with company policy. While men learn about applying moisturiser (a must when your working environment is so dry), acceptable hair & facial hair styles (moustaches should not be below the lower lip; hair styles cannot go past shoulder length but the ‘crunchy’ (gelled) look is now allowed) and the correct watch sizes (cannot be larger than 1.8cm diameter for men); the women are taken through an extensive hair and makeup application course, including learning that a minimum of three shades of eyeshadow must be worn and the colour of your kabiya (skirt) denotes what colour makeup you wear.
As a girl who grew up wanting to work as part of the cabin crew for an international airline, I found the grooming instruction to be very critical against women. In their long skirts with a full-leg split, the women crew members have to alter how they walk to ensure the folds don’t show leg but they still appear graceful, bend and move in the constricting garments, and they can’t get pregnant in the first five-years. Maintaining a set Body Mass Index is also within their contract – it must fall between 22-25 for women, 25-28 for men – if they want to fly on the best routes (aka: in the A380), which is a little on the low side I think. Twice a year crew members have their BMI tested. Should they fall outside of these limits they will be tested on a monthly basis until they maintain the set range for two consecutive months.
To get a glimpse behind the scenes at Malaysia Airlines School of Excellence puts into perspective the hard work and dedication that goes into being flight ready. It’s something most passengers probably won’t even consider when flying. The cabin crew are the people who give a face to the airline and ensure that every flight is consistently a good flight for everybody onboard.
Now it’s over to you
Which airline has your favourite uniform?
What would you want to see if you got a behind the scenes tour of an airline?
- Taking Part in Emergency Evacuation Drills
- Going Behind the Scenes of Malaysia Airlines Catering
- Going Behind the Scenes of Malaysia Airlines Engineering Department
- Flight Review: Malaysia Airlines Business Class
- Should I fly Malaysia Airlines?
My trip to Malaysia was arranged by Malaysia Airlines.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.