Inside British Airways: How To Train Cabin Crew – Part 1

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British Airways has given Simple Flying exclusive access to report on life behind the scenes at Britain’s flag carrier. Across a series of articles, Simple Flying will learn what life is like at British Airways as it finishes celebrating its 100th Birthday. To start off with, we spent a day with cabin crew trainers at the carrier’s Global Learning Academy.

Inside British Airways, Cabin Crew, Training
What does it take to train a member of cabin crew? Photo: British Airways

Initial cabin crew training can last between 24-26 days, and across this period, a variety of different skills are taught. Around 2,000 new cabin crew will pass through the doors of the airline’s Global Learning Academy each year. As such, it is no wonder that BA’s training center is a full-time operation. However, after their initial training, the training doesn’t stop. Crew will return to the facility once a year to undergo a refresher of their training.

British Airways very kindly invited Simple Flying to spend a day in the life of a member of cabin crew being trained. Our morning focused on the safety and security aspects of flying. Here’s what we learned.

Medical training

You may have been on a flight before when, over the intercom, a flight attendant asks for a doctor to make themselves known. While sometimes a doctor is available, this isn’t always the case. As a result, it is crucial that flight attendants are able to deal with any medical emergency that comes their way.

Inside British Airways, Cabin Crew, Training
British Airways cabin crew have a wealth of kit available to use in a medical scenario. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

British Airways has two crucial bags of kit onboard its aircraft. The first is a fairly regular first aid kit, with the addition of common medications such as paracetamol and aspirin. The second kit contains much more specialized equipment. Some of this, such as EpiPens, the crew are able to use. Others, such as catheters, are there in case a healthcare professional happens to be onboard.

With the exception of the kit reserved for healthcare professionals, the crew have to know how to use it all. However, it doesn’t end with how to use the kit. The crew must also gain basic medical knowledge to be able to deal with each scenario. For example, we are told that in the case of an aggressive passenger, there may be an underlying issue. As such, it could be better to initially approach such a problem with a medical train of thought engaged.

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A specific scenario

One specific scenario which the British Airways training team took us through was how to deal with CPR on board an aircraft. We were led onto a market-leading multi-purpose cabin simulator known as the iCraft. Here the crew gave a demonstration of how CPR would be carried out on an aircraft. What’s initially apparent is the lack of space available.

Inside British Airways, Cabin Crew, Training
Space is at a premium performing CPR on board an aircraft. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

While on a previous first aid course I was told to give CPR from a right angle to the patient, this is just not possible in the confines of the aircraft. Instead, one member of cabin crew will give CPR from on top of the patient, with the other managing a defibrillator, and rescue breaths between CPR.

In such a scenario, each member of the cabin crew takes on a specific function, working as a team to obtain the best result. In the case of CPR, the crew would spend a minimum of 30 minutes performing CPR. Given the stamina required to keep this going, this could well take the whole crew.

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It was explained that crew are also trained on how to manage such situations, and when they need to stop. For example, the cabin crew cannot continue to give CPR while the aircraft is landing for reasons of safety. In such cases, they may well have to deal with passengers questioning their decision to cease CPR.

Evacuations

After the seriousness of CPR, it was nice to take a step back and prepare to learn what goes into training for evacuations. However, British Airways took this opportunity to throw us in at the deep end with a simulated evacuation.

 

 

We took our seats in the cabin as if undertaking a normal flight. The safety briefing was given as normal and, other than the fact we weren’t moving, this could have been a regular flight. Soon, the emergency began, and I realised how unprepared I actually was despite expecting it. This makes me wonder how passengers manage when they’re not expecting an emergency.

 

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The first action that was required of me was to brace. While the safety briefing had mentioned reading the safety card to learn how to brace, I hadn’t done so. Instead, I instantly felt like a rabbit in the headlights, trying to figure out exactly what to do. All of a sudden the lights went out. I was in such a panic at this point that I didn’t notice the low-level lighting illuminate.

All of a sudden, cries of “BRACE BRACE, BRACE BRACE” changed to “EVACUATE, COME THIS WAY”. All of a sudden I was fumbling to undo my seatbelt. However, as soon as I reached the front of the cabin, the cries changed once again to “WAIT WAIT, SLIDE INFLATING”. This caught me off guard, and again I was unsure what to do. Cabin crew are instructed to physically block the door while the slide inflates before instructing passengers to jump.

Inside British Airways, Cabin Crew, Training
Don’t forget to observe the safety card! Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Now jump!

Of course, the logical next step after exacuating the aircraft is to go down the slide! I won’t lie, this was the part of the day that I was most looking forward to. After a short safety briefing, it was time. We started off small on the Airbus A320 slide.

Now, I’m not scared of heights or speed. In fact, I’m often the first to want to head for a rollercoaster at theme parks. However, standing on the ledge of the slide felt a little strange and surreal. What was I doing? Of course, this didn’t deter me. However, I was shocked at the speed of the slide. Before you even think about sliding down, you’re already running off the end of the slide.

Inside British Airways, Cabin Crew, Training
It’s surprising how quick the slide is. Photo: Simple Flying

However, this wasn’t the main event. Right next door to the Airbus A320 slide was a Boeing 747 main deck slide. With even more height, this proved even more of a thrill, however, it also demonstrated the importance of adopting the position shown in the safety card while jumping.

Our wonderful trainers for the day informed us that, prior to opening the doors and inflating the slide, the crew already have to be thinking about what’s on the other side of the door. Is this a water landing? Then the slide could become a raft. However, if it’s raining outside, they could need to prepare for more injuries as the slide will be more slippy.

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The day was great fun, and Simple Flying is grateful for the time given up by the training and press teams at British Airways. Part two of the training cabin crew articles will focus on the customer service aspect of the role.

Are you a member of cabin crew? What do you remember most about your training? Let us know in the comments below!

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