Trainees in what is believed to be the longest flight attendant training course in history have just received their wings and are ready to finally take to the skies after a mammoth 88 weeks. The graduated flight attendants will now start flying for Delta Air Lines as the Atlanta-based carrier ramps up recruitment to meet a surge in passenger demand.
In March 2020, 24 flight Attendant trainees in Delta’s training Group ‘G’ had just entered week five of what was supposed to be a six-week course. The unfolding pandemic brought the training course to a grinding halt but little did the trainees know how long they would have to wait before being invited back.
The flight attendants had made it to day 35 in their course with just five days left to go before they received their wings. Graduation day was in touching distance but Delta’s team of trainers had to break the bad news that the course would be suspended.
“We were devastated to have to make that decision,” said Jennifer Anderson, Delta’s manager for initial flight attendant training. “We recognized the sacrifices that are made to come to training, and we knew the news would be difficult on everyone.”
At the time, Anderson and the trainees thought the course would be restarted in a couple of weeks. As the days quickly passed by, it soon became apparent that Group G wouldn’t be graduating for some time.
Group G was given a promise, however. Once training could safely restart, they would be the first to be invited back.
Of course, it was anyone’s guess as to when that might happen. It wasn’t just the fact that the pandemic meant people were asked to stay at home. The airline industry was going through its worst crisis since 9/11 and senior leaders at Delta and many other carriers believed it would take years for their businesses to recover.
Existing employees at Delta were encouraged to take long term unpaid leave and early outs. What hope would trainee flight attendants have with the airline for years to come?
And then the recovery began. Far faster than anyone could have imagined. It caught some airlines off guard and Delta, like its rivals, is on a massive hiring spree to keep up with demand.
“During the pandemic, we retained the knowledge we had from training,” said Gail Clarke, one of the members of Group G. “But we were learning other things too. We were learning how to be patient.”
“In that 18 months, we had a baby born, parents pass away, someone found out they had, and then beat, cancer… and we all made it because of the amazing support we had from one another.”
But it wasn’t until August 23 that Delta was finally ready to restart flight attendant training. And true to its promise, Group G was the first course to return – although, they had been renamed Group A to mark the fact that training was restarting.
The 24 classmates all returned and had to repeat much of the training all over again. From emergency drills, fighting fires, handling medical incidents and service training, it all had to be retrained.
On October 1, Delta witnessed its first flight attendant graduation since the start of the pandemic. In total, 99 flight attendants received their wings but the airline is still ramping up training.
Around 1,500 candidates had been invited to join Delta and were waiting for a training course just before the pandemic. They are now being invited back and are starting their journey’s to become flight attendants.
Delta is also on the search for a further 1,500 flight attendant hopefuls who will join the airlines through 2022. Competition, though, remains intense and only 1 percent of candidates will make it all the way through the process.
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.