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You Get What You Seek

Source: Archived Content

Date: Nov 24, 2000

Today's NewsReal has what I consider to be a very illuminating article about how United Airlines views the nature of our work.  The article is titled, "Lucrative Referral Program Expands Search for Flight Attendants" and discusses how a new program has been implemented to offer an additional $250.00 (on top of $500.00) for any employee that refers a successful Hindi, Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch or Korean-speaking applicant for the F/A position.

Toward the end of the article, United Airlines lists their 'requirements for flight attendant candidates'.  Let me quote them for you:

  • At least 19 years of age with a professional image
  • A high school degree or equivalent
  • Able to reach 82 inches vertically and be no taller than 6 foot 2 inches
  • Legally able to accept employment in the United States
  • Have the ability for multiple entries and exits to all countries United serves
  • Willing to relocate
  • Dependable, team-oriented and customer-focused
  • Must possess a valid passport prior to attending training

There are eight separate abilities listed here that United Airlines requires its potential flight attendants to possess.  Half of these requirements (4 of them) are legal and/or external requirements that have nothing to do with intelligence, personality, or character.  They simply deal with factors like standing a certain height or having the legal ability to work in the United States.

Of the remaining four requirements, the 'willing to relocate' doesn't really count because this requirement deals with a self-imposed desire.  The requirement is given back to the applicant on a silver platter; either you want to relocate or you don't.  The decision is up to the applicant.  Besides, everyone is going to answer 'yes' to that question anyway whether they are willing to relocate or not....for heaven's sake, look at all the commuters!

So now we have three remaining requirements:

  • At least 19 years of age with a professional image
  • A high school degree or equivalent
  • Dependable, team-oriented and customer-focused

You can remove '19 years of age' part of the sentence because again, this says nothing about intelligence, personality, or character.  'High school degree or equivalent' is somewhat of a measure of intelligence and/or character but it also applies to a vast majority of the U.S. population!

Lastly you have 'dependable, team-oriented and customer-focused'.  This one is pretty good, but 'Dependable' is a standard requirement implied in all jobs from politicians to undertakers.

We are left with 'team-oriented and customer-focused.'  That's all Folks!  

To be fair to United, most of the major airlines list these kind of requirements for flight attendant applicants.  This is more a reflection on society's view of our work position than anything else; fallout from the renaming of Steward/Stewardess to 'Flight Attendant' back in the 1970's which was a terrible idea that still carries its damage to the present day.  Look at some of the other jobs that have 'attendant' in the title:

  • Bathroom Attendant
  • Gas Station Attendant
  • Coat Attendant
  • Flight Attendant

Let's move on now and examine at what I consider to be a more professional, realistic, and effective listing of requirements for the flight attendant position:

  • Must be at least 20 years of age.
  • High School diploma or equivalency required.  College course or degree would be an asset. 
  • Mental capacity to read documents, follow instructions, learn and understand emergency and Company procedures, rules and regulations.
  • Must have ability to comprehend and keep abreast of information pertinent to the job such as special promotions and new procedures.
  • Must successfully complete initial and recurrent training programs.
  • Must be aware of hazardous situations and be able to provide a leadership role in emergencies as needed.
  • Works under tight time constraints to assure service on flights of short duration and quick turnaround of flights and on-time departures.
  • Ability to work well with others as part of a team, excellent verbal communications and interpersonal skills.
  • Must have ability to work well with the public on a constant basis under stressful conditions.
  • A well-groomed appearance is required. Weight must be of such proportion to height that a neat appearance is maintained and physical ability to perform all functions is not hindered. The ability to, while facing forward, walk and fit comfortably down the aircraft aisle, fit quickly through the overwing window exit, and to fit into a jumpseat harness without modification, including closure without a seatbelt extension.
  • Must be able to lift of up to 50 pounds from floor to above shoulder level as required. Also requires the ability to lift carryon items from floor to above shoulder level with assistance.
  • Foreign language skills preferred, but not required.
  • Ability to work rotating shift work, and/or overtime and travel on a constant basis. Must be able to comply with Company attendance standards described in labor agreements and/or established guidelines. Will be required to work "Junior Available" and Reserve Flight Attendant" depending on seniority.
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or have authorization to work in the U.S. as defined in the Immigrations Act of 1986.

These are the requirements listed for the flight attendant position by Southwest Airlines.  As you can see from reading this list, that company has the basic requirements of the F/A position nailed down cold and makes it crystal clear to the prospective applicants and/or the general public.  What interesting is that all the Southwest flights are of domestic shuttle-type.  These work descriptions could just as easily cover international flying also.

They even touch upon Emotional Intelligence skills when they list, 'Must have ability to work well with the public on a constant basis under stressful conditions'.  I cannot think of a more honest or effective statement about a requirement of the F/A position.  Leaving that phrase off the requirement list for F/A job candidates  (like United and other major carriers do) is like leaving 'ability to fly a plane' off a requirement list for pilot candidates.

I'm sure that United Airlines does consider many of these requirements (like 'excellent verbal communications skills') when actually meeting with prospective F/A applicants behind the closed doors in Chicago for the 2nd interview.

But the company doesn't make them public in announcements like those on NewsReal, which targets an audience of 100,000 fellow UAL employees.  Or on their corporate website which targets everyone, including the traveling public.  Is this the kind of image United wants to convey about the skills required in order to be a flight attendant?  This recent NewsReal announcement sounds like a credit card application:  Receive $$$$ for getting someone to fill a F/A position!  It's easy!  Apply Today!

Ironically (or perhaps coincidently), Southwest Airlines now ranks #2 on the 'Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For' list.  Number two folks.  That says a lot about a company.  For United to get anywhere near being on that list, the airline is going to have to drastically change its attitudes and perceptions of the skills possessed by 1/4 of its workforce.  And those changes can begin with their NewsReal announcements to fellow employees and colleagues about the nature of our work.

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