At 72, there’s nothing new about Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines. However, the company, which is enough of an industry stalwart to brag that it partly got its start by acquiring a company that Charles Lindbergh was chief pilot of, tries to keep its recruiting and training methods as up-to-date as possible.
The process of flight attendant recruitment begins with a telephone screening followed by two in-person interviews, one by a panel of three or four flight attendants, and another that is one-on-one, says Gary Cordray, manager of flight attendant training. Questions usually focus on gauging the potential employee’s grasp of good customer service, he observes, “to try to drill down to see how that person will treat other people.” Another characteristic the panel evaluates is the recruit’s ability to work on a team.
To get a sense of how applicants would handle themselves on board, they are also given hypothetical scenarios to work through and are asked to explain how they would handle various situations that might happen in the air.
Recruiters also are eager to see how well the applicant is able to work in a diverse environment, Cordray says. He says a potential employee might be asked if she were a waitress in a restaurant, whether or not there would be any group she would not want to wait on, such as table of senior citizens, teenagers or individuals from another country.
American tries its best to replicate on the ground the conditions flight attendants will experience up in the air, Cordray says, through the use of two types of simulators, one that is used to train new hires in the art of food service, and another that is used to train them how to handle emergencies. “They look exactly like a real aircraft, real seats, real galleys,” he says. Adjacent to the simulator there’s a viewing area that allows instructors to keep an eye on new hires as they go through their exercises. Here, students practice “serving” each other to get a feel for the real-world demands of catering to passengers. The simulator isn’t an operable airplane, but Cordray says it was built with aircraft parts. “It’s the actual parts re-built into a classroom setting,” he says. Students’ performances also can be videotaped for further review.
Approximately six-and-a-half weeks long, initial training, like all of the training provided to the company’s flight attendants, is conducted in Dallas, home to the American Airlines Training and Conference Center and the American Airlines Flight Academy.
“The major components of [initial] training are the customer-service aspect, the service they provide on the airplane, food service, making sure passengers are comfortable, the safety and security and being able to handle any kind of emergency situation, all the way from medical to evacuating the aircraft,” Cordray says. In addition to the use of simulators, in-flight crisis training is also facilitated in a separate room at the training center that has a mock-up of every door and window exit flight attendants need to know how to open.
American currently has close to 19,000 flight attendants, with about 100 receiving federally required recurrent training most days of the year at one of its Dallas facilities, Cordray says. To accommodate this volume, American holds three classes a day at three start times, with approximately 40 flight attendants in each class.
The simulators used to train flight attendants to handle emergencies are located at the Flight Academy, and, in contrast to the simulators used to train employees in food service, consist of both exterior and interior parts of real aircraft, Cordray says. Having both an outside and inside real-life construction helps trainees learn how to master such skills as evacuation. There’s also a large pool used for international training, in which a raft is launched; flight attendants are required to practice boarding it.
Attendants who complete the initial training are qualified to work on the Boeing 737, 757, 767 and the Boeing Super 80. Additional training is required to work on the Airbus 300 (A300) or Boeing 777.
Trying to stay on top of the latest learning trends meant early adoption of e-learning. The company boasts a lab offering 60 computer banks at the Dallas center, Cordray says. E-learning is used for “transition” training, in which a current flight attendant receives qualification to work on a particular aircraft, as well as for recurrent training, the two days of annual training all attendants are required by federal regulations to complete. In transition training, if an employee is seeking qualification to work on the Boeing 777, for example, a portion of the course is given online; the rest is administered through instructor-led sessions in Texas with an online test.
For new hires, all testing at American is done online, and there are modules containing reviews of course material that can be accessed during training.
American also hosts a flight service Web site to reference procedural changes and other training-related concerns, says curriculum program developer Pete Zografos. “When we first embarked on e-learning, we evaluated where our instructor-led curriculum was currently, and through several sets of evaluations, or tests on what type of audience we had, and the way it was presently conducted, we determined which [classes] would be good candidates for e-learning and which should remain instructor-led,” says Zografos, adding the company also consulted about this with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “There are some classes that are practical, that require some sort of practical, accomplished task, and would not be a good candidate for e-learning,” he says.
One reason there isn’t heavier use of e-learning at American, Cordray says, is that it’s only been a couple years since the FAA has given the company approval to migrate coursework online. “So, it’s fairly new as recognized by the FAA as an approved method of delivery, and we are moving more and more in that direction, and for us it helps reduce a lot of the cost of training, like it does for other companies,” Cordray notes.
Since e-learning allows flight attendants to complete preparatory work at home, what used to require an overnight stay in Texas can now be done in one day, Cordray says, thereby eliminating the money spent on hotel bills. He estimates that costs associated with transition training have been reduced by almost 50 percent thanks to the technology.
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