Flight Attendants, Prepare for Hazing
Flight attendant new hire training is a form of hazing. (Haze [haz]: to haze: verb: To harass with unnecessary or disagreeable tasks.) The need to haze flight attendant trainees is understandable. It would be foolish to take a group of people who looked forward to an easy, glamorous job and not prepare them for reality: once we were to graduate from our seven-week training, we were to be faced with abuse and exhaustion as real flight attendants.
Our training class started with 50, but only 39 graduated. Some failed our simulated aircraft evacuations. Some were sent home because they did not like being told what to do by our Dallas Princess instructors. Some fell apart simply because sharing a hotel room with a random roommate, being woken up at 4AM every day, and spending countless hours learning how to serve drinks off a cart and put out fires on planes, pushed them over the edge. For weeks, we’d eat every meal with our classmates, spend all day in class together, and study together after class, and then, poof! Someone would vanish. Banished from the Charm Farm (training center) and from our lives forever.
Marco was one of the eleven who disappeared. I liked Marco right away; he was a rotund, jolly gay man who was open and genuine and made me laugh. We’d go to the gay bars on weekends, and his free spirited nature would provide me with some much-needed sanity.
Like many of us, Marco battled drowsiness during our long classes on inane subjects such as how to attractively spoon caviar onto a plate. You know the feeling when your eyelids get so heavy you need toothpicks to hold them open? That was what even the most energetic trainees experienced during training.
The third week into our initiation, Marco confided in me that Jane, the bee of our four Texas queen instructors, had just left an “FYI” in his mailbox. An FYI was a euphemism for “that which scares the shit out of a flight attendant trainee”. It was a short note that read, “Hello. Please come see me in my office.” Receiving an FYI was not good.
When Marco went to Jane’s office, she started out by asking him if he’d gained weight since his interview with our airline. He was speechless. Was this an illegal question? Were we too naïve to know better? She further implied that the weight gain must be causing his lethargy in class. And that not paying attention in class was considered insubordination. Insubordination was considered immediate grounds for termination. “But this is just a warning,” she assured Marco as he was excused from her office.
Our all-knowing instructors also informed us that, as flight attendant trainees, we personified our airline. If we frowned, the public would associate our airline with misery. If we were rude, the whole airline would be considered uncivil. And as trainees, we were to practice a cheerful, can-do attitude at all times. And they would know if, for one moment, we were not embodying this mandate. “The walls have eyes and ears. We know everything,” Jane said with a wry smile. “Flight attendants are nice to everyone, because it’s their smiles and can-do attitude that bring customers back to our airline!”
Shortly after this incident, we underwent a particularly repetitive class on how to delight our passengers by making their every need our priority. Jane ended the class with a dose of her big-hearted Texas wisdom: “If you can’t make at least one person’s day every time you work a trip, well then you’re just in the wrong profession.”
During dinner that evening, Marco imitated Jane’s Texas accent: “If y’all don’t mayyke someone’s day every single time yew come to weeerk, y’all are in the wrong plaaayce.” “What a load of crap, that shit about making someone’s day. Do you think we really have the power to make everyone’s day while they’re on a plane? That’s such total bullshit.”
Everyone at our table was quiet. I shrunk into my seat, whispering, “I don’t think you should talk so loud, Marco.”
“Oh, whatever. Those prima donnas are home with their families, laughing about their idiotic students and the trash they feed them.”
It was difficult to believe we trainees were being watched—all the time—but I was paranoid enough to believe everything they told me. Marco was not.
Maybe there were microphones hidden in the dining room walls, or maybe one of the nice folks who worked in the kitchen had heard Marco, because the next day, during a class break, Jane said, nonchalantly, “Marco, do you mind you staying in the classroom for a sec so I can go over this lesson with you?”
No one gave this any thought. Not even Marco, who left his leather jacket hanging on the chair next to mine.
We came back from our break, and Marco’s leather jacket was still draped over his chair. “He must be in the bathroom,” I thought.
But Marco never came back. Jane shot me a look and said, “Kelley, can you bring me that jacket and notebook?”
I wanted to ask her what the fuck had happened to Marco. But I knew then that they had made him disappear, something these instructors were masters at.
As I was walking to catch the bus back to our hotel, I saw Marco standing outside the learning center smoking a cigarette. I approached him, and he said, “Oh my God. They are in my room getting my things right now. I’m getting sent home and I have no idea why. I quit my job, broke my lease, and have nothing to go back to. I’m so scared.”
I started to answer him with some insincere words about how he’d be okay, but Jane poked her head out the door and said, “Kelley, you need to keep walking.” Her glare ensured I’d never get to properly say goodbye to Marco. I wanted to cry, but smiled through the rest of the evening and following days because I knew if I didn’t, I’d be the next to go.
Maybe this gentle hazing ritual saved a realist like Marco from a career for which he was not suited. I found it difficult to swallow, however. After they sent him home, I often woke up in the middle of the night, sweating and ruminating over why they would fire a kind, funny guy like Marco. And I missed my friend. But that’s what hazing does: it teaches people to succumb to unpleasant circumstances. Isn’t that what being a flight attendant is all about?