Come Fly With Me
August 27, 2009 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed for Australian High School student who wants to be a flight attendant.

Year 10 is coming to a close for my 15yo daughter & tomorrow today at 2pm AUS EST time we have a date at her school for choosing her Year 11 VCE subjects.

She is far more creative than academic but has struggled through and and acheived good results in her chosen subjects. It doesn't come easily, but when she puts her mind to it she acheives good results.

She droppped French after Yr 9 but is aware she needs a language to even be considered by any airlines. Because of our location, an Asian language is probably going to be most useful. She suggested Japanese, but a (Australian born Japanese speaking) friend has suggested Chinese might be an easier language to learn? She did some Chinese in primary school from years 3 - 6 so has had some basic exposure to Mandarin.

She will have to pick up the language outside of school. She attends a well regarded state high school. She won't be able to pick up a language in VCE having dropped French after Yr 9. She wasn't particulary interested in French, but I think she'll do better with any language now she has the goal of this career to strive for.
She'd like to learn Spanish, but it's not remotley on the list of desirable languages in this part of the world.

I know someone who is a professor of Asian languages at Melb Uni, so I'll be picking her brains, but if anyone has suggestions on where beginner students can go to learn Asian languages all sugegstions greatly appreciated. We're in the Camberwell/Glen Iris area.

She is having great difficulties with math and has a weekly tutor. We've been receiving conflicting advice about Math skills & being accepted in the Flight Crew course.

She is interested in doing the VET course which leads to Flight Attendant/Baggage Handler positions. I believe there are only 20 places available though (per year? I'm assuming per semester?) The same course is available as as tertiary subject, and also a VCE/VCAL subject.

We've looked at VCE vs VCAL and are pretty sure VCE is the way to go.

The subjects she has done well in, and enjoyed, and will probably be continuing with in 2010 are: Health, Psychology, Food Tech, English, & Multimedia.

Personally, I bloody hate flying (tedious, boring, uncomfortable) but she thinks it's exciting & exotic & has a strong desire to fly.

All experiences positive or negative, from flight crew also appreciated.
posted by goshling to Work & Money (13 answers total)
I have a good friend who tried to be a flight attendant and eventually quit after going through a three month screening process. He said that the major thing that a person considering being a flight attendant needs to remember is there is a LOT of downtime and a LOT of rude people. I would suggest, as per conversations with him, that she take some basic psychology courses/human behavior courses. He said about 90% of the job is placating the angered masses and wishes he had a little more customer service background before accepting the job.
posted by banannafish at 7:51 AM on August 27, 2009

Thanks bananafish, (I promise I won't respond individually to every repsonse)

As mentioned above, she is doing Yr 10 pysch & doing very well & will be doing VCE psych. We were just discussing how psych would be a great asset to have going down this path.

She is a very quiet child (young woman?). Very much an observer, quite shy, & does not like conflict. She's doing this Peer Support program where she as a yr 10 has a group of yr 7 students where she helps the junior student to adjust & become comfortable in their new environment.
I think with an injection confidence, she could probably deflate the poopiest poopie head, mostly because she is just so damn calm & quietly spoken all the time. If she added a bit of gentle authority to her voice I think she'd be quite impressive.

I've had a few clients who are/were cabin crew, so I've passed on comments about worries about job security in recent years, also that the longer serving staff get the pick of the shifts and it's not as glamorous as she might imagine.

Nothing I've said has put her off yet.

Also, her presentation is pretty impeccable and I bet she'd look soooo cute in any uniform *sigh*
posted by goshling at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2009

From personal experience: Japanese is WAAAAY easier for an English-speaking person to learn than Chinese is. Both are very worth learning, though.
posted by Citrus at 8:45 AM on August 27, 2009

I just spoke to my friend, who was a flight attendant for Continental from 2000-2005. She's familiar with places US airlines fly to and pointed out that language-wise, at least US airlines have a lot more routes to Spanish-speaking countries than Asian language-speaking ones.

Australian airlines are probably different; it could be that there are more routes to China, or places where Chinese is spoken (like Indonesia or Malaysia) but that all other things being equal, choosing a language to study based on which language would have more routes and therefore more open flight attendant positions might be best.

So she suggested taking a good look at the routes of different Australian airlines to see where they generally end up; even though there may be a lot of passengers to and from China, say, it may be that there are fewer flight attendants needed based on number of routes, if that makes sense.

Also, she pointed out that being a flight attendant is a job where you have no fixed schedule, which was for her the biggest drawback; it's something for your daughter to keep in mind, she'd be getting up at all hours of the day and flying to places, staying for a few hours or a day or more, then flying elsewhere, which plays havoc with one's internal clock.

And definitely, spoken Japanese is very easy, especially compared with spoken Chinese.
posted by breezeway at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2009

A relative of mine spent some time as a flight attendant (for a north-american airline). She started out in phone customer service for the airline, worked there about five years, applied for transfer to the flight attendant position, did several months of training/screening, flew for about a year, developed back problems due to lifting luggage into overhead bins, and applied for transfer back to phone service. The moral of the story is: the job involves lifting heavy, bulky things. The job also involves placating rude customers. In many cases, the job involves lifting heavy, bulky things that belong to unreasonable customers in need of placating. As banannafish says, psych and customer service will help a lot. Also, seriously, start working out. Remember, you stand more or less the entire flight, plus aforementioned rude customers with absurd bags.

I second Chinese as the language to learn. Ten years ago, Japanese would've been it (and is what I studied), but with the economic ascendance of China, yeah, that'll be useful. On the other hand, spoken Japanese is far easier to learn than spoken Chinese, since it's not tonal. Breezeway has a point that the deciding factor is probably the number of routes that would require each language, though.

I can't imagine that math will be a significant issue for cabin crew, though I could be incorrect. It would be a show-stopper for a pilot-track position (weight and balance, fuel load, navigation, to name a few) but I don't think it will stop her from working in the cabin. I could be wrong, though.
posted by Alterscape at 9:28 AM on August 27, 2009

Also: apologies for the double-post and mild topic hijack, but is there any reason she'd rather be a flight attendant than a pilot? I may have some inherent I'm-a-pilot bias here, but I love the flying part of flying far more than the being-a-passenger part of flying. I know I stressed the importance of math skills above, but the math involved is mostly algebra and a tiny bit of trig/vector math. I know flying is traditionally considered a boyzone, but I have several female friends who are professional pilots. It's something to consider, anyway. I recommend trying an intro flight at a soaring club like Geelong Gliding Club because (1) soaring is awesome, and (2) it's cheaper to get started in than powered. I have no direct experience with that club, but google says they're near-ish to you, and soaring people tend to be decent folk.
posted by Alterscape at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2009

hHs she considered learning sign language? I believe a lot of airlines will count this as equal to a spoken language.

Also, flight attendents are going to be marked on being 'bubbly' and 'outgoing' in interview (don't ask me)as well as able to deal with difficult and unruly people. I get the impression from your question that she may not be that sort of person.

Also FA's are in a difficult situation right now. A lot of firms are switching to a model that takes in younger cabin crew on permanently low salaries, works them hard until they quit and then replaces them. Adding to the pain is the contraction of air traffic generally.

(IANAFA but I have dated a few).
posted by fingerbang at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2009

Nthing the Japanese is easier, but Chinese may be more useful, sentiment.
posted by chez shoes at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2009

I've known two flight attendants. Neither stayed in the field for more than 1-2 years. The biggest complaint they had was about their pay vs. hours worked. The pay for their first years was extremely low-- ~$15k per year, if I'm remembering correctly. They weren't paid for the time they spent between flights, only the time they were actually in the air/on the plane actively working. So the days were long and the pay was low. They had to pay for the uniforms themselves, and they're very expensive.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:31 AM on August 27, 2009

Here's a fun factoid that you might not already know: many airlines require that their flight attendants do a physical test - swimming X metres (I forget how many laps? 100-150?) fully clothed.

My building is full of flight attendants, and they all slid in on the job as they had languages skills but were quite surprised when a physical test was sprung on them. Check the possible future employers requirements, they usually list them on their sites.
posted by dabitch at 11:42 AM on August 27, 2009

This advice comes from my mother, who just celebrated her 25th year as a flight attendant.

Jobs in retail and food would be fantastic for building a base to work on. It makes her that much more of a standout.

fingerbang is correct, in that many firms are switching to contracting. She should aim for working with one carrier (Air Australia or whatever). If your daughter aims to be a career flight attendant she will get tons of benefits (free flights for herself and friends, days off in exotic locations) good insurance and decent pay. The longer she stays with a company the more she gets paid. Not to mention the extreme flexibility.

That said, there is a lot of down time and the airline industry is more volatile than ever before. Conflict truly is common on flights (I've heard enough horror stories) and there are stressful situations (medical emergencies etc.).

My mother still highly recommends the job. This is in the US. And the second language really does help.
posted by DolorousEdd at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2009

I applied to several companies a few years ago. Didn't get anywhere because I don't have first aid or responsible serving of alchohol certificates. Languages were certainly useful, but the other two seemed way more valuable. I guess she's too young to do the RSA course just yet, from memory there is an age limit, but it might have changed since the dim dark days of my youth!
posted by jonathanstrange at 2:40 PM on August 27, 2009

She's old enough to get a job in retail now, and that sounds like it would be a good idea.

Another thing to consider - do you have the finances/does she have the inclination to go on exchange. If she really focussed on the language, she could become fluentish in 6 months. It's also a brilliant way to travel, experience new cultures, see the world, grow up and have new experiences.
posted by kjs4 at 11:21 PM on August 27, 2009

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