Originally published on OpenFile.ca. Halifax, NS.
Terri Hoddinott leans across a table of notes and papers left after a lecture on aircraft fire safety, and divulges her reason for being here at the Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy in Halifax.
“My story is that when I was younger, I told my mom that when I get to be a big girl, I want to either be a Cinderella or a flight attendant. And well, here I am, I guess.”
Her curly brown hair is pulled back tightly and her Newfoundland English gives her away. She grew up in the town of St. Anthony: population 2,500.
And so the dreaming began. Hoddinott took on a job in an airport gift shop. On her breaks, she would go past security to talk to the flight attendants and pilots as they sped by, trailing their luggage behind them—anything for a taste of the glamour.
But, to this day she has only flown once. It was a one-way ticket to Toronto with Porter Airlines. Now, as she works her way through the 12-week training program, she hopes to soon be flying at an international airport, maybe even one in Australia.
It’s just like it says on the brochure: “Paris one weekend, Hawaii the next!!” And all it costs is tuition, $4,196 from day one to diploma.
“Now, I am perfectly content starting out back at home with the local airline there,” she says, but her eyes say differently.
And in her class of 16, she isn’t the only one yearning for a taste of something bigger. One by one, each student lists the airlines they hope to work for.
After a massive dip in the number of applicants in 2001, the numbers have finally begun to pick up, says Cynthia Sullivan, director of the Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy (AFAA) on Beech Street. In fact, the past year or so has seen a surprising number of applicants for the program, which accepts only 90 students a year.
“I think there’s is a bit of a nostalgia for the glamour of flight attending,” she says, “just look atPan Am.”
Even Porter Airlines has picked up on the nostalgia. They redesigned their apparel to include, among other things, an icon of the sky-high fashion of the ’60s—the pillbox hat.
In fact, for the whole class, Porter is by the far the preferred airline, excluding international airlines where, according to Sullivan, most of the class is unlikely to end up. Usually around 90 per cent of graduates end up working in Canada-based airlines.
“It’s so charming!” exclaims Tyler Galliah, another student of AFAA. “They’ve always got that Porter smile and you feel like you’re in the seventies again.”
Sullivan herself worked for seven years as a flight attendant for Air Atlantic. She knows all about the excitement that comes with the job. “But as for the glamour,” she says, “the only thing glamourous about being a flight attendant is that everyone else thinks it is.”
“The great days are when you are over-nighting in Honolulu on a layover for two days and you are wondering why you’re being paid, but then there are days when you are in Goose Bay and the plane breaks down and you cant get paid enough. It really is like any other job; long hours, hard work and you’re always on your feet.”
She says she believes the recent interest in the profession is due to the resurgence of nostalgia for the classic glamour of fight attending.
Back in the classroom, Sullivan recites the difference between flash fires and flashovers.
She prepares a video from the National Transportation Safety Board of an in-flight fire from an Air Canada aircraft in 1983 from Dallas to Toronto.
Before she presses play she asks the class “which flight attendant stays with the fire?”
Apparently it’s been asked before, in unison they recite, “The flight attendant that finds the fire, fights the fire!”
The classroom is enthralled as they watch smoke pour out of the windows on the once-flawless aircraft. Of the 41 passengers, only 23 survived.
It’s a reality check for many of the students.
“That definitely took me back,” says Galliah. “I was like okay, were not just serving coffee and looking pretty.”
Later that week, Sullivan takes the class to Centennial Pool in downtown Halifax for a little lesson in hypothermic huddle groups.
As they don their bright yellow life vests and hop in, the reality of an evacuation into the frigid Atlantic waters seems lost upon them.
“Usually in each class we have at least one student that has never flown before who wants to be a flight attendant,” says Sullivan. “I find that so interesting—What ideas they must have about what we do?”
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