Words by Recto L. Mercene. Photos from Gary Sato and Flyhigh Manila
"Marry me? Fly with me" is the hoary joke among those who wanted to be a flight attendant the easy way, getting hitched with a pilot. That is because a member of an airline cabin crew is seen as glamorous like a Miss Universe or a movie star. Not anymore - PAL attendants are highly trained professionals and highly respected.
A PAL cabin crew can easily stand out from the crowd. Poised, confident, charming, physically fit, and communicates well, he or she is a team player, has pleasant manners, intelligent, and hardworking.
But aside from all these qualities, there is also the "it" factor that distinguishes a PAL cabin crew from the rest, according to Helen Mogan.
Mogan, who has a doctorate degree and a former PAL flight attendant, is a consultant for WINGS, an organization that takes care of the educational program to fit the current requirements of the airline industry.
The "it" factor is hard to pin down, but it makes a cabin crew candidate stand out from the rest. "It's the unexplained pull of someone that separates successful PAL cabin crew, the smile, the charm, and evidently strong personally that gets the attention of recruiters. Along with other intangibles and the ability to communicate well, you have a flight attendant that's headed for success," Mogan added.
PAL had to go to great lengths to find and train the men and women who represent the airline to the world at large and this starts from the day they apply until the day they retire according to Maria Cecilia "Marsha" Monfort, a purser and inflight trainer. Purser Masha became a flight attendant in 1979, and today, is part of the airline's inflight services training department.
Monfort said applicants must have a college degree and the wherewithal to endure rigorous training that includes the ability to swim and save the lives of passengers under trying circumstances.
She said the most difficult part was the weeks of life-saving training that they had to undergo, where they were actually pushed underwater and then pulled to the surface "just like what we would do in real life to save someone."
Monfort said that very few fail the water safety test, "even if we have to drink all the water in the pool."
Raul Cid is a flight purser for the last years of his 28 years spent with the flag carrier. He had flown many years of PAL's fleet of airplanes starting with the turbo-props Avro HS748, the YS-11, the BAC-111, the tri-jet DC-10, all of the Boeing and Airbus airplanes in PAL's fleet.
Among thousands of applicants, Cid was among the few who hurdled the initial test but had to undergo weeks of rigorous training in oral, physical, medical, practical, and psychological tests.
"Every little girl dream to be a stewardess because it is glamorous and one gets to reach may countries. However, reality sets in during the difficult part of the training and those who make the grade are destined to become successful cabin crew," Monfort said.
"The airline industry and the profession have truly become a profession. People don't look down on you, it is glamorous and you are respected," she added.
Monfort said that since majority of the PAL cabin crew are highly educated and have vast experiences, many of them have something to fall back on if they choose to. They could be in demand in other professions sich as in hotels and the service industry.
There are standard physical requirements, such as passing the minimum height of five-foot three inches for ladies and five-foot seven for men. Clear skin and proportionate height and weight are a must.
Cabin crew must have the personality to match their commanding traits. The academic performance must be higher than the ordinary.
PAL intentionally gives the most rigorous training to week out the weak. Morgan says many candidates back out in the initial phases of the course, such as undergoing the emergency procedures. Trainees are also allowed to encounter people of different orientations and temperaments to test their emotional mettle.
Ma. Angela, on the other hand, said that the most difficult part of the training program are the emergency and safety drills "because passenger welfare is of utmost importance to the airline."
"It does not matter how good the service is. If there is a perceived lack of safety, no one will fly the airline," she said.
During the indoctrination program, which follows after PAL had weeded out the unfit, trainees undergo the cabin crew program, which includes personality development, aircraft familiarization, and executing emergency and security procedures in accordance with the policies of the aviation industry.
When applicants pass through the training, which could last for about three to six weeks, they are permitted by the airline and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to fly. If the airline is service-extensive, meaning if it has first class and business class flights, the crew is expected to spend some more time training.
"As the most senior crew member, a purser of cabin crew manager's job is to prepare all the members physically, mentally, and emotionally," Socorro Grey said. Grooming standards are observed and any lingering problems at home are left behind not to be discussed in the workplace.
Most of all, "act and think like a PAL flight attendant-one who represents the Philippines," she said.
The cabin crew must have the personality to match their commanding traits. The academic performance must be higher than the ordinary.
Note: This article originally appeared on Philippine Airlines's coffee table book "75 Years of Celebrating the Heart of the Filipino", printed in 2016. A few modifications were done to fit today's time.