It’s pretty safe to say that the majority of international flight attendants have a pretty good gig – after all, they’re getting paid to travel the world. And then there’s the ridiculously cheap First Class flight perks (as long as you make the standby list that is). Nothing new there we hear you say.
Of course, these perks all come at a price. There’s the time spent away from family and friends to consider – missing important anniversaries and parties. It’s hard to make plans due to irregular rosters and then there’s the crippling jetlag. Recent studies have even shown that flight attendants are more likely to develop certain types of cancer.
On top of all that is the responsibility which is far removed from the glamorous stereotypes that persist to this day. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) don’t call their members “aviation’s first responders” for no reason – flight attendants are trained to deal with all matter of incidents, including being able to evacuate a whole plane full of passengers in less than 90-seconds.
Flight attendants also have to undergo rigorous First Aid training. After all, there’s not going to be a doctor on every flight so someone has to be able to calmly and confidently deal with a medical emergency at 38,000 feet. Look no further than your nearest flight attendant.
Luckily, these skills don’t need to be put to use all that often but when they are, flight attendants accept it as being part and parcel of their role. Nonetheless, there’s probably not an airline in existence that doesn’t have a way of recognising staff who have gone above and beyond – just like many other corporations really.
Yet, a recognition scheme launched by American Airlines last year really is worthy of a specific mention. And if you’ve ever seen a flight attendant wearing a cape onboard your flight (no, really, we’re not kidding) then you’ve seen this recognition scheme in action.
(It’s called the Real American Hero award and it was launched by American in 2016 to honor employees for exceptional acts of heroism such as performing CPR, applying First Aid or even using an automatic external defibrillator to save someone’s life. The airline takes the award so seriously that it gifts the recipient with a prize of $1,000 (sadly tax deductible) and a commemorative Real American Hero cape.
But this isn’t limited to just a few American staffers each year – in 2017, the airline recognised 127 employees under the scheme and even groups can be considered (say, a group of flight attendants working together to save a passengers life).
Take, for example, Presad Rennie (main picture), a passenger service agent at American’s regional carrier Envoy. She used her First Aid training to save the life of a 19-month old toddler who was choking. Rennie knew exactly what to do and performed the Heimlich maneuver to quickly dislodge food from the choking toddler’s throat.
It’s fair to say that North American carriers and in particular American Airlines can come in for a fair bit of criticism over service standards. Admittedly, some of the criticism is understandable but come on – this is such a fantastic way to acknowledge some of the amazing work airline workers and flight attendants are doing every day!
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.