Air Cabin Crew

The Job and What's Involved

Air cabin crew are the main point of contact for air passengers, and their primary role is to ensure the safety of passengers. They also attend to the passengers, to make sure they have a comfortable and pleasant flight.

All air cabin crew are trained to deal with safety and security issues. In the event of an emergency, air cabin crew encourage the passengers to follow the captain's instructions, remaining calm at all times and dealing with any further problems as they arise. They also oversee the evacuation of the aircraft if necessary.

Before boarding the aircraft, the air cabin crew are briefed about their flight. Then, once on board, they may be responsible for:

  • Checking that the plane is clean and tidy, and stocked with food and drinks.
  • Making sure the cabin equipment and onboard medical stocks are in order.
  • Overseeing the boarding of passengers on to the aeroplane.
  • Making sure that passengers' hand luggage is safely secured in the overhead lockers and that all passengers are wearing seat belts.
  • Informing the passengers of the aircraft safety procedures, and making sure that they all listen.
  • Serving meals and drinks, and selling gifts or duty-free products during the flight.
  • Communicating with the pilot or captain during the course of the flight about safety and comfort - for example, seat belt warnings and turbulence.
  • Giving first aid if a passenger becomes ill.
  • Dealing with passengers who may not be fit to fly, for example after drinking too much alcohol.
  • Making sure passengers disembark safely on landing.

In addition to these tasks, air cabin crew also fill in forms, for example detailing any sales of food and drinks on board, immigration documents and flight reports. They work as a team and may work with different members of staff on each flight.

There is no typical working week for air cabin crew. They work irregular hours on a rota - including nights, public holidays and weekends. Part-time work may be possible.

Some air cabin crew may work only on short flights, such as European or internal flights. Others may work on long-haul flights, with long periods spent away from home.

The working environment is often quite demanding. Cabin space is restricted and the galley where cabin crew prepare meals and refreshments is a small area. A lot of time is spent moving from galley to cabin, standing up and attending to passengers. Cabin crew may experience jetlag due to crossing different time zones in a single flight.

Air cabin crew wear a uniform and must be well groomed, with no visible tattoos or body piercings.

A driving licence may be useful.

The starting salaries for air cabin crew may be from £10,000 to £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Air cabin crew work for British or foreign airlines. These may be small budget airlines or large national ones. It is helpful if air cabin crew live within easy access of an airport.

The airline market is changing, with a growth in smaller airlines offering low-price flights, and an increase in the number of routes. Although competition for jobs is intense, there are growing opportunities in this area.

Job vacancies may be advertised by individual airlines, in local and national newspapers and by recruitment agencies.

Airlines often set the following requirements for applicants:

  • A minimum age of 18 to 21.
  • Weight needs to be in proportion to height, and there may be a minimum height.
  • Physical fitness, with the ability to swim at least 25 metres.
  • Normal colour vision and good eyesight.
  • Fluent in English and, for some airlines, a second language.
  • A valid passport allowing unrestricted world travel.

In addition, previous experience in a customer service role is often required. Cabin crew may also be subject to criminal records checks for airport security clearance.

Education and Training

Entry requirements vary between airlines, but all applicants should be educated to GCSE/S grade standard. Airlines may require four or five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications. English, maths and a foreign language are useful subjects.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are nationally-recognised qualifications for people who want to work as air cabin crew:

The Edexcel BTEC Level 2 Certificate in Preparation for Air Cabin Crew Service is an introductory course.

EMTA Awards Ltd (EAL) awards the EAL Intermediate Certificate in Air Cabin Crewing, a vocationally-related qualification that covers all aspects of the job and assesses students on their performance in a mock-up air cabin.

NCFE Level 2 Certificate for Airline Cabin Crew.

Edexcel BTEC Level 3 National Award, Certificate or Diploma in Aviation Operations - candidates need four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications.

Airlines run their own structured training programmes, which last from four to six weeks. These cover a series of practical and written tests in:

  • Safety and security issues.
  • First aid.
  • Food preparation and service.
  • Customer relations and passenger care.
  • Customs and immigration regulations.
  • Galley management.
  • Currency exchange.
  • Cultural awareness.
  • Assertiveness training.
  • Personal hygiene and grooming.

The training is a mixture of theoretical and practical knowledge. Much of the learning takes place in role-play situations.

Having completed their training, newly qualified air cabin crew have a probationary period of three to six months. During this time, they are monitored by their trainers or senior members of staff.

Work-based training courses are also available, leading to NVQ/SVQ Aviation Operations in the Air - Cabin Crew at Levels 2 and 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Air cabin crew should:

  • Have a friendly and welcoming manner.
  • Have excellent communication skills and a clear speaking voice.
  • Be tactful and assertive; able to deal with difficult situations politely but firmly.
  • Have common sense and be ready for any situation, from a medical emergency to a nervous passenger who has never flown before.
  • Have a calm and reassuring manner.
  • Work well as part of a team
  • Be flexible and able to work quickly and efficiently.
  • Be interested in travel.
  • Take pride in their appearance.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Be punctual.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects vary from one airline to another. The first level of promotion may be to purser, taking responsibility for a particular cabin such as first class or club class.

There may be opportunities to move into ground-based employment, such as passenger check-in officer, or to work as a trainer of cabin crew. Some cabin crew may also go on to senior roles within airlines such as flight or aircraft operations.

There may be opportunities to work overseas.

Get Further Information

Careerroo practice tests specific to the aviation industry

EMTA Awards Ltd (EAL), SEMTA House,
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 652400

GoSkills, Concorde House, Trinity Park, Solihull, West Midlands B37 7UQ
Tel: 0121 635 5520

NCFE Awarding Body, Citygate, St James' Boulevard, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4JE
Tel: 0191 239 8000

The Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ
Tel: 020 7670 4300

Are Lingus, Employment Section,
Personnel and Catering Building, Dublin Airport, Co Dublin
Tel: (003531) 7052651

British Airways Recruitment and Selection,
PO Box 59, Heathrow Airport, Hounslow TW5 9QX
Tel: (020) 8564 1020/1021

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., Customer Service Recruitment,
Virgin Flight Centre, Victoria Road, Horley, Surrey RH6 7PY
Tel: (01293) 444890

British Midland, Cabin Services Department,
Donington Hall, Castle Donington DE74 2SB
Tel: (013) 3285 4000

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