Written and contributed by Josef Randall Tolentino
For every flight attendant, the very first flight will always be the most exciting, the most terrifying, and the most memorable of all. It is a day when everything they’ve learned from day one of training until the day before the first competency checkride will be put to the test. It is that day when they first walk down the catwalk that is the aircraft cabin. It is the day when they show the glamour and the beauty of the career they chose as they walk pass the admiring eyes of passengers at the airport. It is the day they experience what being a cabin crew truly is.
To become a flight attendant is no laughing matter. To the unwary passenger, all they will see are the gorgeous men and women walking along the airport floors from the check-in counters to the gates, the men and women who come out into the cabin to welcome them on board, and the men and women who serve their meals and attend to their inflight needs. Is that all it takes to be a flight attendant? Most certainly not! To me, the initial flight attendant training or basic class is one of the most gruelling short courses ever designed. It puts the capability of candidates to memorize, understand, apply, and execute a wide range of information, procedures, policies, etc. Everything from what kind of cheese is being served to where a portable oxygen bottle is located in a 242 ft long Boeing 777 to operating a cabin door to delivering a baby inflight.
Being a flight attendant is one of the most sought after career in the world. Some have made it. Some have lived the life and retired from it. Yet there are some who decided to take their flying career a notch further. These are the flight attendants who decided to move further up the front of the aircraft and into the flight deck or what is more commonly called the “cockpit.”
From cabin crew training to flight training.
The transition from serving food and attending to passengers’ needs to taking off and landing the plane. The jump from the cabin crew jumpseat to the pilot’s seat. Just like cabin crew training, flight training involves learning a lot of procedures, policies, and maneuvers. It entails memorizing and understanding so many subjects from weather to human factors to navigation to the technical specifications of the aircraft.
Unlike cabin crew training which lasts for a few months, the road from the cabin to the flight deck is quite longer. Flight training is broken down into 3 stages lasting from a minimum of 18 months to several years depending on the capability of the student to meet the required number of flying hours. From that point a pilot cannot just show up at an airline’s doorstep and say that he is qualified for the job. He cannot just say that he qualifies because he got his commercial pilot’s license after 150 hours of flying. The reality is that it isn’t enough just to receive your license. A pilot must meet the minimum flight time requirement of airlines and other companies for them to be hired. For some schools such as PAL Aviation School and for those who will graduate from Cebu Pacific’s Cadet Pilot programs, their absorption to Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific is guaranteed except for unforseen circumstances which may delay their entry to the above-mentioned airlines. Cabin crew who decide to take these institutions would, in essence go on study leave since these are full-time schools. Other schools on the other hand like Fliteline Aviation School and Masters Flying School in Plaridel, Bulacan, OMNI Aviation in Clark, or Leading Edge in San Fernando, La Union to mention a few, offer opportunities for cabin crew to take up flying without having to go on prolonged leaves or resigning. They can study while still working as cabin crew. These programs normally take longer since the schooling part is but part-time as against the full-time flying school students. Some cabin crew have also decided to take up flying in other countries as full time or part tine students. Regardless of where each of them studied, they all have the same goal and aspiration.
Learning to fly is no easy task even if you’ve been flying as a flight attendant for several years. Like cabin crew members, becoming a pilot entails a lot of studying. Truth be told, the learning process will probably end the moment you retire, but flying a plane gives the former flight attendant a different view of his or her office in the sky. Very few flight attendants have seen how a runway looks on final approach or how approach lights look at night. If the first flight of a flight attendant is exciting, how much more would the first flight of a student pilot be?
Firsts are always exciting. For the student pilot, this is what he has been looking forward to since the first day of ground school. That first flight marks the first milestone of his journey toward becoming a full-fledged pilot. That first take-off where he himself pulls back on the yoke instead of feeling the lift-off from the cabin crew seat is truly life changing. That is only half of it for when one takes off, one must also land. If taking off is exciting, landing the plane multiplies that excitement ten or a hundred times over. For a flight attendant, the next step would be graduation and the first productive flight where the crew is released from the clutches of his instructor and applies his knowledge on his own. For a student pilot, the next, most important, and most memorable part of his flying career is his first solo flight. This is when the instructor determines that the student is competent enough to get the plane off the ground, fly the traffic pattern, and land the plane all without an instructor whispering in his ear. This is when he consolidates everything he has learned from the first day of ground school till that momentous day. This is the day the student earns his or her wings. This normally happens between eight to twenty hours of total flight time. From that point, it’s just continuous learning and flying all the way to earning the much awaited private pilot’s license, the commercial pilot’s license, instrument rating, and eventually the airline transport pilot’s license.
If one is already flying and living the glamorous life of a flight attendant, why does one want to become a pilot? A pilot has more responsibilities, they have so much more to learn, they have more procedures, and they have shorter layovers. There is always “the pay is higher” answer but more importantly, the simplest answer to that is because they just want to fly. For most of them, it was a childhood dream. Let me correct myself. They don’t just want to fly. They really love to fly. And by flying I mean actually flying the plane. You ask a flight attendant who has manned the cabin of different types of aircraft which plane he or she dreams of flying, the student will answer “the Boeing 777”, “the Airbus A-350”, or “the Airbus A-380.” The reality is, they dream of flying these planes and probably prefer it if given the choice. But, put them in whatever aircraft you have and they will do their best to learn to fly that aircraft and fly it with pride. Why? Because as I said, they just love flying.
The number of cabin crew training to become pilots is increasing as years go by. This can be attributed to the inspiration provided not only by the pilots themselves but by their fellow flight attendants. Here in the Philippines one would find former flight attendants and stewards as second officers, first officers, and captains of major airlines and as captains and first officers in several general aviation companies. One can also find active flight attendants as students and flight instructors in some of the more popular flying schools in the island of Luzon. As a cabin crew, the climax of one’s career is when one becomes a flight purser or cabin manager. But why stop there? Why not go for more? That is exactly what these flight attendants have done and are continuing to do. They are going for more. They are chasing their dreams.
Being on board an aircraft is nothing new to cabin crew turned pilots. Being 1000 ft or 40,000 ft above the ground is something they’ve already gotten used to. What makes it different other than the pay is that……….IT’S A DIFFERENT VIEW.
In memory of +Capt. Archie Rebollido and +Capt. Paula Robles who lost their lives chasing their dreams.
Some parts of this write-up have been modified. Original article may be found here: https://3starsandasun109591543.wordpress.com/2018/08/11/a-different-view-the-road-from-the-cabin-to-the-flight-deck/