"It is a very special occupation. Only very few people can pass the requirements. Once the [aircraft's] door closes, they are responsible for the safety and service response for the over 300 passengers," says Melody Keung, career development and resourcing manager at Cathay Pacific Airways' inflight services department.
Cathay has about 19,020 staff and is adding 1,000 flight attendants this year. It has a rigorous interview process to screen around 15,000 applicants who apply every year.
The online applications are first checked and applicants are initially interviewed on the phone. Then they are invited for a one-day group assessment at Cathay Pacific City on Chek Lap Kok. This also includes a computer-based English test. The next step is to pass a psychometric test and finally a one-on-one interview. Finalists must pass another test in Putonghua and a medical examination to become a full member of the Cathay community.
"We observe applicants from the administration stage on, their interactions with each other, how they talk to and disagree with each other. We look out for a positive image, a smiling face making people feel warm, positive service mindset and can-do attitude. The final interview is more of an in-depth conversation," says Keung. "Strong language ability is highly regarded, as they will be speaking to international travellers."
About 79 per cent of the new hires are university graduates, although Form Five is enough to be considered for the position of flight attendant. Only very capable candidates pass the assessment, so failing the intensive and tough six-week training is rare, says Keung. This is usually organised for 24 people at a time at the training centre, which is equipped with a mock cabin including all the safety equipment. Training includes first aid, safety and service. Trainees take turns playing the role of passengers and enact different scenarios, such as serving a pregnant woman or dealing with a drunk passenger.
"We had to learn and absorb a lot of new knowledge within a short period of time... My dear induction classmates turned my intensive training into the most memorable moments I have ever had," she says.
Lau practiced daily to remember everything correctly. "To make sure I memorised the evacuation commands correctly and shouted them loud enough, I practiced every day as soon as I got home. Luckily there were no complaints," she says.
Newly joined flight attendants first serve on economy class. After one year, they get a top-up training to serve in business class and separate training for other aircraft types. "Some start on Airbus and others on Boeing. They would have to get additional training for the other aircraft type," Keung says.
The retirement age for flight attendants is 55. Many serve until retirement or become trainers if they want to stop flying.