The cabin crew recruits look intently at the scene unfolding before them, by a mock Boeing 787 aircraft door, as a colleague bellows, "Seat belts off, leave everything!"
"Come this way, jump and slide!" she repeats, urgently motioning imaginary passengers towards the door.
This is only one of the many practical sessions that cabin crew at Etihad Airways undertake at the airline's advanced training centre in Abu Dhabi during a six-week programme to prepare them for working on flights.
This group of young flight attendants are learning how to operate the doors of a Dreamliner in an emergency evacuation and under normal circumstances.
In an adjacent area, male and female pilots take turns to slide down a giant inflated evacuation device from a mock A320 aircraft as part of a refresher safety course.
The National took a tour of Etihad Airways' training centre as the airline expands its workforce to meet the rebound in travel demand.
The airline is hiring 1,000 staff, mainly cabin crew and pilots, in a process that began in October 2021, as it expands operations.
Capt Jihad Matta, head of crew recruitment, performance and support at Etihad Airways, said the airline was optimistic about the post-pandemic recovery.
"We were more optimistic in seeing a recovery and we wanted to make sure that we didn't lose any chances of the recovery coming and us not being ready," he told The National.
"So even though we started off small, every person we brought in meant that we could operate more flights."
The recovery was stronger than Etihad's initial forecasts.
The airline rehired hundreds of pilots that it had either furloughed or let go during the Covid-19 pandemic, Capt Matta said.
"The industry lost a lot of crew who said 'we don't want to do this any more'. They found other jobs or settled at home, so flying was not on their agenda any more."
After recruiting early and tapping into the pool of its experienced former pilots, the airline is adequately staffed to meet the surge in travel demand during the peak summer season, despite a global shortage in aviation workers.
Etihad's recruitment campaign for cabin crew will continue "until further notice", based on how the recovery progresses, Capt Matta added. It has to hire crew two to three months in advance of scheduled flights to complete their training.
Who is eligible to apply?
Candidates who are interested in a full-time, entry level cabin crew position have to be at least 161 centimetres tall so they can reach emergency equipment on all aircraft types.
Applicants must be high school graduates, but holding a higher qualification is an added advantage.
They should be fluent in written and spoken English. Those who are multilingual will rank highly in the application process. Candidates must be able to communicate effectively and clearly, especially in case of on-board emergencies.
Recruiters are also looking for the right personality and an energetic approach when screening applicants.
"For aviation, you want someone who is passionate about the job," Capt Matta said. "That's what we look at in the final interview: is this person passionate about the job? Are they there just to go from A to B or do they want to do something different?"
Applicants must meet Etihad's "style and image" guidelines on the uniform, make-up, hairstyle and fitness.
Maturity is essential as crew must also handle the responsibility of saving passengers' lives in case of a problem in the cabin or a medical emergency on board that requires quick reaction.
"We're looking for someone who can speak well, who is presentable, who is mature, who can take on these roles," Capt Matta said.
Finally, crew applicants should have the potential to rise through the ranks from the entry position of flight attendant in economy class to progress to other roles.
Etihad is now focused on promoting its existing cabin crew who worked during the pandemic.
"We're going through this period of growth where we have one of the highest numbers of the percentage of the population moving ranks this year, which is a huge morale boost for somebody who got close to that opportunity to upgrade but got stuck for two years of the pandemic in their position," Capt Matta said.
How does the recruitment process work?
In the coming weeks, Etihad will hold recruitment drives in Lebanon, Jordan, the UK, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Thailand.
Here's what to expect during the selection stages when applying for a cabin crew job at Etihad Airways:
Candidates must complete the application form on Etihad's website.
- First, complete the application form on Etihad's website
- The recruitment team reviews applications and shortlists candidates
- The airline holds assessment days in various countries where shortlisted applicants are invited to attend
- During the interviews, recruiters will test for English communication skills, hold group exercises, assess the applicant's style and image
- If picked for the last stage of the selection process, candidates will be invited for a final interview
- Candidates' paperwork is then sent to Abu Dhabi for final approval, kicking off the onboarding process which takes up to 35 days.
What type of benefits do cabin crew receive?
Benefits for pilots include a basic salary, medical and life insurance, housing allowance, schooling allowance ― if they have children ― relocation allowance and a hotel stay for the first month until they find permanent accommodation.
Once they start flying, they get an additional flying allowance for every hour they fly and a layover allowance to cover their meals and expenses while they are abroad.
Pilots and cabin crew get discounted tickets for themselves, family and friends. Successful cabin crew recruits will have free accommodation in Abu Dhabi, free transport to and from work, as well as concessional travel benefits.
Six-week training course: from safety to service
Once cabin crew are hired, they will undergo six weeks of training at the Etihad aviation training centre in Khalifa City.
There is also an induction team that takes care of the recruits when they arrive and settle in Abu Dhabi, introduces them to the city, guides them on the local culture and traditions and helps with housing.
The cabin crew's initial training covers a broad set of skills, from safety measures to meal service, first aid and firefighting — in case of an on-board emergency. Recruits will also learn how to react in case of an evacuation, such as opening aircraft doors, using emergency slides and life rafts.
At the academy, new recruits practise these skills in mock set-ups of wide and narrow-body cabins, in a pool equipped with rafts, giant inflated emergency slides and with replica aircraft doors with their instructors.
Pilots hone their skills in the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 flight simulators.
In a classroom at the training centre, cabin crew recruits respond to questions from their instructor Natalija Jagmasevic.
"You're joining one of the best cabin crews in the history of Etihad," Capt Matta tells the masked students. "We are all a family, we're here to guide you."
While one batch is huddled around Thales and Panasonic in-flight entertainment systems with their instructor, another fusses over coffee flasks during service training.
In another room, lined with mirrors and mannequins in Etihad uniforms, the recruits will learn the airline's "style and image" rules. As a precautionary measure during the pandemic, they must obtain their own make-up kits but are instructed on the colour palettes particular to the airline.
In a full day of training, they learn practical tips and standards on hairstyles and make-up.
Lipstick shades must be "pink, nude or purple", said Seloua Touli, style and image performance officer at Etihad.
The Italian-designed uniform is reminiscent of the classic 1950s look, she said.
Recruits can also get guidance on exercise and nutrition from a specialised dietitian at the airline's medical centre, she added.
"We're in a phase of growth, that means excitement like the buzz we have currently in the training academy," Capt Matta said.
"The ability to join an airline that is growing with the most sustainable aircraft is definitely a benefit. For the next few years, this growth will continue and it's just an exciting period to be back in."