Behind the scenes: how Emirates airline trains its cabin crew

Whether jumping into cold water or becoming acquainted with duty-free fragrances, the trainees do it all with a smile

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As one of the world's best-known airlines, Emirates needs to provide a high standard of service to stay on top.

With a fleet of 220 aircraft currently in active service, the airline needs 16,000 highly trained cabin crew to keep things running smoothly.

However, this elite team of emergency-sliding, fire-extinguishing medical responders do not just turn up to the recruitment drive with these skills. It takes weeks of training, practice, exams and recurring checks to ensure they keep their jobs in the sky.

So what exactly does it take to become part of the Emirates family?

The National spent the day at Emirates Cabin Crew Training College to find out.

Safety and emergency procedures

The first port of call for new recruits is a hands-on exercise where they learn how to operate the emergency doors on the aircraft and safely hurl themselves down the inflatable slide.

It is important to make sure everyone on the course can handle these aspects of the job as without them, they cannot secure their licence.

The ab initios, which is Latin for 'from the beginning' and which Emirates calls its new cohort of trainees, are taught on the only Airbus A380 built specifically for training purposes in the world. The trainees practise evacuating from both the lower and upper deck, just as they would have to do in real life. The distance to the ground is exactly as it would be on a real aircraft, too.

"This is the first stop for Ab Initios when they start their training with Emirates," said Flavia Nicolae, Safety Emergency Procedures Training Specialist.

"If they can get through the physical requirements of evacuating an aeroplane and putting out a fire in the galley as well as the formal learning session of Safety and Emergency, then they are good to go on and complete the rest of their learning journey."

Trained in groups of 15-20, the trainees form a tight bond with each other as they navigate the path to their first flight. Many remain close friends throughout their Emirates career and it is a friendship that flourishes under pressure, prompting the term 'batchmate'.

Jumping in

Dressed head to toe in black, the ab initios practise procedures for landing on water. The slides that propelled them to safety in the last section now disconnect to form life rafts. Together, life jackets inflated, the trainees learn how to survive the icy ocean waters.

Emirates' 'ab Intios' trainees were shown the proper technique for descending the emergency slide. Pawan Singh / The National

Things are kept realistic and the water they must dive in to is kept at a chilly 17°C. After undergoing the process to keep themselves and their fellow batchmates warm, they are allowed to swim to dry land and exit the pool.

"This is my favourite part," said one shivering recruit having just emerged from the pool.

"After the classroom sessions, it’s nice to get out and be a bit more hands on."

Other training sessions include putting out fires on board, helping to find passengers when the cabin is filled with smoke, and dealing with medical emergencies from heart attacks to child birth.

The trainees must get to grips with the safety and emergency procedures to continue on the course, but they are given every opportunity to pass this section.

Exams have an 80 per cent pass mark and each person is given four chances to pass the practical side. If that is not possible, they can return to training and prepare again for the assessment. After this, they will have four more chances. However, if by this point they still cannot make the grade, then their training is over.

Fortunately for ab initios, this rarely happens.

Tania Hettiaratchy, an Emirates training instructor, gives instruction on what to do if you find yourself in cold waters. Pawan Singh / The National

Sparkling service

Once the rough and tumble of evacuation procedures are over, it is time to move on to the more refined part of the job.

Emirates prides itself on providing a level of service found only among the top airlines in the world and its training reflects this.

Retail services on board generate serious revenue for the company, so each member of the cabin crew is told about the qualities of everything for sale on board. This means they smell the fragrances and handle the jewellery so that should a passenger want to know more about a product, they are well equipped to help.

"We like to cater for the tastes and desires of our guests," said Kim Ho Shong, a Hospitality Learning Partner.

"That's why we now offer a healthier range of snacks, as opposed to something like a chocolate bar."

In a replica of the inside of an Airbus A380, we meet already qualified crew training to upgrade to a different cabin.

Practising on each other, they plate up food for first-class passengers and offer a selection of drinks and snacks. They also taste the food themselves so they know exactly what experience the passengers will have.

Inside the Cabin Service Trainer A 380-800 business class section at the Emirates Aviation College Crew Training facility. Pawan Singh / The National

"It's very important that our crew know what it is they're serving and what kind of experience they're providing the guest with," Mr Ho said. "So, while half are having a go at serving, the other half are getting the customer experience."

The famous red lipstick

Around week five, the ab initios will arrive at the Image Station. This is a room with mirrored walls, impeccable lighting and an array of skincare and beauty products on show.

The women are shown a selection of six approved hairstyles, devised to suit all cultures and hair types, and the men are taught the importance of a good manicure.

A 60-page manual entitled 'Taking Centre Stage' is filled with rules and guidance on appearance, etiquette and deportment.

Emphasis is also placed on keeping the body fit and healthy — and the skin protected from the sun.

“Ab Initios are given the tools to ensure they are representing the brand to the best of their ability,” said Sally Cayzer, Hospitality Learning Partner-Image & Uniform.

“During their training we include topics such as nutrition, the importance of maintaining a good skin care routine while travelling the world and make-up application techniques.”

To finalise the look, Ms Cayzer demonstrates on her colleague exactly how to wear the internationally recognised Emirates red hat with white veil.

"The seven pleats represent the seven emirates of the UAE," she says, expertly folding it in half twice and draping the veil in line with the V of the jacket. After tucking the tail of the material around the back of the neck and out of sight, the look is complete.

After all, when representing a multi-billion-dollar brand, it is important to look the part.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 6:09 AM
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