NBAA Flights Attendants Conference: Annual event focuses on professional development for cabin crewmembers

 - July 31, 2007, 12:01 PM

The focus of the 12th annual NBAA Flight Attendants Conference, held June 29 and 30 in San Diego, was raising awareness of the need for professional, well trained flight attendants and cabin crewmembers aboard corporate flights. To accomplish this, the NBAA flight attendants committee introduced the standards of excellence in business aviation (SEBA) training guide, an NBAA-developed career roadmap that addresses safety, service standards and the professional development of business aviation cabin crewmembers.

“This particular committee is very concerned with getting us recognized as a third crewmember,” said Cyndee Irvine, a contract flight attendant based in Hawaii and a member of the flight attendants committee. “Flight attendants must recognize how important it is that they’re trained for corporate-specific [flight duties].”

The SEBA guide outlines training in four levels: SEBA 1 for corporate cabin crewmembers; SEBA 2 for senior corporate cabin crewmembers; SEBA 3 for lead corporate cabin crewmembers; and SEBA 4 for manager/supervisor cabin crewmembers. Training requirements include such topics as Part 135 standards, medical training and food handling for SEBA 1 participants; business protocol and etiquette for SEBA 2 participants; high-altitude physiology, fatigue countermeasures and security for SEBA 3 participants; and management training for SEBA 4 participants.

Mike Hesslink, chairman of the NBAA flight attendants committee, explained that the SEBA guide helps attendees choose which seminars and breakout sessions to attend, depending on their level of experience and the recommendations in the SEBA guide. The guide, Hesslink said, was “designed to give people a little bit of education in all of the things that go into being a flight attendant [or] flight technician.”

Jay Evans, NBAA director of operations, added that “safety is a big focus” of a flight attendant’s training, but the committee addresses several aspects of professional development using the SEBA guide. Professional appearance, character development, catering standards and food safety were among the topics presented this year.

Laura Jarmoszko, incoming chair of the committee, said the conference provides business aviation professionals with “information to take back to their flight departments, so they, as flight departments and as individuals,” can improve business aviation standards. In addition, she told AIN, “We’re giving [attendees] the tools they need to further their careers,” no matter what stage of their career they happen to be in.

In his opening speech, Steve Brown, senior vice president of NBAA, said it is important to ensure that flight attendants “get the recognition [they] deserve.” He added that more needs to be done in terms of outreach. CEOs, for example, need to improve their knowledge of the people they are hiring. NBAA also needs to work with the FAA to ensure that the corporate flight attendant is recognized as a “critical” aviation occupation. “It’s a challenge, but we need to do more,” Brown said.

Safety Factors
A number of seminars conducted during the two-day conference related to professional and personal safety. One seminar featured closing remarks by United Airlines flight attendant Darryl Blankenship, who described his experience aboard a Boeing 747 that suffered explosive decompression over the Pacific Ocean in 1989.

Flight 811 had climbed to 22,000 feet after departing Honolulu for New Zealand when the R5 cargo door blew open, ripping a hole in the side of the aircraft and ejecting five rows of business-class passengers. The crew flew the airplane back to Honolulu, but damage was extensive and many people were injured.

“You can be flying along, and from one second to the next, your life can change,” Blankenship said of the accident. He suffered a severe fracture of his right arm after being pinned by a food cart, but he was able to direct economy passengers to safety by yelling instructions over the noise and confusion. With help from another flight attendant, he also prepared passengers for impact. “We never thought we were going to survive,” he said. “It’s like having a gun to your head. You don’t know when you’re going to crash.”

Blankenship, who had never before spoken publicly about his experience, told AIN he hoped his presentation would help other flight attendants realize the importance of safety training. “Because I had just gone through [training], I knew exactly what I was supposed to do,” he said. “I was incapacitated, but I still had my voice.”

He also emphasized the importance of donning an oxygen mask after a rapid decompression. “Most people don’t understand how important it is to put your mask on,” he said. “Most people think, ‘Oh, we’ll get to it,’ but you need to do it immediately.”

Nora Marshall, survival factors division chief at the NTSB, also discussed the importance of training during an accident summary of the 2005 Challenger crash at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey that resulted in the airplane running off the departure end of the runway, crossing a highway and coming to rest in a warehouse.

According to Marshall, the cabin aide had received only one hour of safety training when she was first hired. “She described the training as ‘informal,’” Marshall said. Although she was not a qualified flight attendant, many of the passengers referred to her as a “flight attendant” during interviews with the Safety Board.

The investigation led the Safety Board to recommend that the FAA require all cabin personnel “who could be perceived by passengers to be a qualified flight attendant” to receive safety training that is “documented and recorded.”

“It is the first time the NTSB made a safety recommendation for cabin staff,” Marshall said. She further explained that Safety Board recommendations are based on specific accidents; as a result, there is no recommendation to require flight attendants on all flights. According to the current recommendation, if flight attendants are on board, they must be trained, but they are not a required element of the flight crew.

The NTSB investigation also revealed that the cabin aide’s version of the accident differed from passengers’ recollections. The aide told investigators that all the passengers had their safety restraints on before departure, but according to passenger accounts, only four of the eight passengers were actually secured before the takeoff roll began.

Two passengers put their restraints on during the departure roll; the remaining two passengers were thrown from the divan during the impact. Investigators later found their safety restraints tucked beneath the charred remains of the divan cushions. As a result, the Safety Board recommended that the FAA require Part 135 operators to “ensure that seatbelts are visible and accessible to passengers before each flight.”
“Restraints are the cornerstone of crashworthiness,” Marshall said. “Once takeoff starts, appearance is not important.”

The aide also told investigators that she evacuated the burning airplane only after the passengers had exited, but according to the passengers, the aide was one of the first people off the airplane after it failed to lift off due to improper weight-and-balance calculations, overran the runway and collided with a warehouse.
One of the passengers, according to Marshall, “landed on [the aide] when he evacuated.” The cabin aide had also failed to collect glassware before the departure, and at least one passenger said the lacerations on his hands and wrists were caused by the china cup he had been holding during the departure roll.

“I think the biggest issue right now for corporate flight attendants is not being regulated and not required, and it not being mandatory that we have corporate-specific emergency training,” said Susan Friedenberg, owner of the Corporate Flight Attendant Training Program. “It’s unacceptable that you can take any person and throw them in the back of an aircraft. The CEO and the guests expect, in the event of an emergency, to be saved when in fact that person will be a liability.

“People need to start asking questions, and unfortunately, it’s going to take more blood on the runways because of untrained, unskilled, unprofessional people in the back,” she added.

“You would never share your cockpit with a guy who wasn’t type-rated on an airplane or trained to fly a Gulfstream. Why would you put an untrained flight attendant in the back?”

Personal Safety
The issues of personal safety and security were also addressed during the conference. Darlene Radloff, chief of security training and education for ASI Group, and Fred Towers of Universal Weather & Aviation discussed the risks involved in global travel in a seminar titled “Security: Assessing our Global Risk as Flight Crewmembers.”

Radloff used the September midair involving a Gol Airlines 737 and Legacy 600 in Brazil as an example of the problems crewmembers face when flying abroad. Even cabin staff could be incarcerated in a foreign jail, detained and possibly abused, she said, and noted that it is “important to be prepared in a foreign country.” Knowing the culture of a country, the type of government, unemployment and crime rates, as well as the location or contact information for the U.S. Embassy, medical services and local police are all part of what Radloff called “The Traveler’s Golden Rule: assume first responsibility for your personal safety and security.”

Women, especially, should prepare before entering a foreign country, she said. In Iran, for example, Western women are known as “women without morals.” Over one two-day period in Tehran, more than 300 women were detained and more than 3,500 others were given warnings for being “insufficiently veiled or dressed in an immoral fashion.” A female crewmember must ask questions before traveling, Radloff said, including: “What role do women in that country play? How do women dress in that country? Must women travel with a man? Are local police or militia capable of protecting a woman?”

To protect oneself from crimes such as theft, Towers suggested keeping laminated copies of passports, birth certificates and other important documents while traveling. Crewmembers should also plan for emergencies, such as the death or injury of a crewmember, terrorist attacks, kidnappings or military coups.

It is also important, Towers said, to have a rally point in case of an emergency. During the London bombings in July 2005, for example, cellphone networks were shut down. “Your cellphones are not going to work,” he said. “Your means of communication are not going to work. Chaos will make travel near impossible, and government restrictions may prohibit departure.” The important thing, he said, is to have a plan before traveling, such as establishing an emergency situation response worksheet that crewmembers should keep with them at all times.

Professional Development
The conference also paid special attention to the issues of character and professional appearance. Peggy Post, spokeswoman of the Emily Post Institute and a former Pan Am flight attendant, listed some of the traits that flight attendants must possess: a passion for their work, empathy and respect, adaptability, physical stamina, organization skills, sense of humor and patience. “All of these traits are driven by good character,” she said.

Post also noted that etiquette, which is a combination of good manners, consideration of others, respect and honesty, can help diffuse difficult situations. “Etiquette solves problems and improves service,” she said. Listening to a passenger with detached emotions, not taking complaints personally, discussing the issue and offering solutions are the keys to solving a conflict.

Professional appearance is also a key factor in whether a flight attendant will succeed in business. Nancy Taylor Farel, of Nancy Taylor Farel & Associates, noted that people generally have only one chance to create a first impression, and that impression “will influence how the observer ranks your abilities.”

“Think of your business image as a tool that helps you achieve your best,” she advised. A casual dress policy, for example, should not be “interpreted as license for an unprofessional image. It is always better to err by dressing more conservatively rather than too casually.”

Irvine explained, “People have to understand that if they’re going to work on a private jet, they have to have a professional look about them. We don’t necessarily have a uniform, but we do have the ability to wear conservative, black or navy blue suits. And high heels are out.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions on in-flight entertainment systems, ground safety and security and catering standards. “I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from people,” said flight attendants committee chair Hesslink.

“They enjoyed being able to pick the classes that they wanted to go to.” He said the conference–attended by flight attendants, flight technicians, military representatives and aviation professionals–was the largest to date, and he hopes the number of attendees increases next year. “To me it was a really big success, considering we had more than 250 people attend, and of those, 111 were there for the first time. That’s a pretty healthy increase from last year. It keeps getting bigger and better every year.”