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Part I: A week in the life of an air hostess
Jet Airways [Get Quote] air hostess Tanisha Thakkar* discusses how she got into the airline, the training involved and the salary one can expect:
I embarked upon my career as a member of Jet Airways' cabin crew when I was only 18 years old, fresh out of Class 12. You need to be a graduate only if you're applying to a government-run airline; for any other Indian airline, the only educational qualification required is an HSC certificate. That is not to say, of course, that I left studying altogether -- I continued with my graduation through a correspondence course with Mumbai University.
When the day of my interview came, I was at the venue before time, dressed in a pencil skirt, a well-cut silk shirt and closed-toe, low-heeled shoes; my hair was neatly tied back in a bun and I had applied daytime makeup.
The interview consisted of three rounds and was presided over by a panel of judges. At the end of each round the judges would confer and select a few candidates to go to the next round.
During the first round, batches of ten candidates at a time are seated in front of the panel and by turn give a self-introduction, discussing their family background, why they want to join the airline etc. A few candidates were then chosen to move into the second round.
The second round of the interview consists of a group discussion. The candidates are segregated into groups and each group is made to speak on a particular topic, such as customer care, professionalism etc. The judges then eliminate a few more candidates and the remaining ones move into the final round.
In the third round, candidates are individually interviewed by the panel. If you get through this round you've gotten the job. Of course, before you're confirmed you have to undergo medicals -- a panel of doctors selected by Jet Airliners ensures whether you are physically fit or not through a battery of blood tests, x-rays etc.
It isn't easy to get through all three rounds of the interview -- on the day I appeared, of the 12 candidates interviewed only one was selected -- me! You need to make sure you introduce yourself and answer the judges' questions politely, sensibly and with confidence. Your personal appearance is also very important; grubby fingernails, unkempt hair and acne will all go against you, so make sure you're well groomed.
If in spite of everything you don't make the cut, don't be disheartened -- you can reapply in Jet a year after your first interview and you can always try your luck in other airlines as well.
Once you've passed your medicals, you are enrolled into the cabin crew training programme, which lasts for around two-and-a-half months. Since the airline has a number of different aircraft, selected candidates are assigned to fly only one particular kind of aircraft. When I started off, I was assigned to the Boeing 737, then moved up to the larger Airbus A340 and earlier this year was moved to Jet's recently acquired Boeing 777-300s. Before switching from one aircraft to the other, you have to go back to training to familiarise yourself with the new aircraft's safety equipment, facilities etc -- they are always different.
Candidates have to attend all-day lectures at the airline's training centre through the week -- it's a lot like college, except that you have to dress appropriately and the subjects offered are slightly different. The three courses you have to study are:
~ Service, which consists of grooming, service procedures, finesse etc.
~ Safety measures, depending upon the aircraft you will be manning.
~ First aid, which covers dealing with medical emergencies the crew may face on board, such as asthma, food poisoning, motion sickness etc. We are also taught how to administer CPR and EAR.
Candidates then have to take a written examination for each course, plus two oral exams for safety and first aid.
First aid is particularly important, as it can mean the difference between life and death if a colleague or passenger suffers a medical complication in-flight. Often, drinkers on board an aircraft forget to drink enough water alongside their alcohol -- it's easy to get dehydrated while flying and it often happens that when they leave their seats to visit the restroom or disembark, they fall down unconscious. Crew members then have to resuscitate them. All Jet Airways crew members are certified first aiders.
Sometimes, however, it gets much worse. When I was still operating domestic sectors on the Boeing 737s, a nine-year-old girl suffered an acute bout of motion sickness on my flight from Mumbai to Trivandrum -- she vomited 15 times in a span of 20 minutes and was in danger of becoming severely dehydrated.
We quickly learned that she had suffered motion sickness all the way from New York to Mumbai on the flight before this one, but the crew of the airline she and her father were travelling on had done nothing about it. As a result, the situation had gotten out of hand and she had fainted at Mumbai airport, but was medicated by ground authorities and allowed to board the domestic flight to Trivandrum. Once we took off, however, she had worsened. I paged for a doctor on board -- I was hoping someone would step forward, because doctors sometimes refuse to identify themselves on flight, or even decline helping with a medical emergency to avoid complications.
Luckily for us, a lady doctor stepped up. Aside from the first aid kit on every flight, we also have a physician's kit ready to use for just such emergencies. She opened it and administered the little girl an injection, which helped curb her vomiting. When we reached Trivandrum, she was hauled off to the hospital straight from the airport to be treated.
Once training is complete and you have passed your exams, the airline assigns you your first two flights as a trainee. Then you go back to the training centre for a few days and the in-flight executive who headed your trainee flights submits a report documenting your capabilities on board. Following that, a proficiency check is conducted and your safety emergency procedures card is endorsed -- you're now ready to fly as a full-fledged crew member of Jet Airways.
When you first start out as part of the domestic crew, you earn Rs 30,000-35,000 per month, depending upon the number of hours you fly. An in-flight executive on domestic flights earns around Rs 45,000-50,000.
As for international crew, each member can make around Rs 65,000-75,000 per month, provided they save the allowances the airline gives them while abroad. IFEs on these flights can make as much as Rs 90,000 per month.
Of course, there is a limit to how many hours you can fly in a month -- the upper limits are approximately 75 hours for domestic flights and 80-85 hours for international. Also, no crew member can fly more than 1000 hours a year -- if that happens, the airline has to pay a fine to the DGCA, as it's against the rules.
You may think that the salaries are great, but don't forget, you are working very hard to earn that money. You're slogging for long hours on flight and have to get on duty at unearthly hours of the day. When you are on duty, no amount of personal conflict can affect your professionalism. You have to welcome and graciously serve passengers with a smile -- else you will be giving your airline a bad name.
Sometimes problematic passengers can get very aggressive if things don't go their way. Meal mix-ups and other mistakes may cause them to yell at you in front of everyone else. One of my colleagues had a mobile phone thrown at her head by an irate passenger who was requested to switch off his mobile phone before take-off! When security was called in, he promptly apologised and was allowed to remain on board.
If you're the kind who will lose your cool at the drop of a hat, this career isn't for you. If, however, you have it in you to play a gracious host/ hostess and love travelling, this may turn out to be your dream job.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
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