Galley Gossip: Barbie boot camp (recurrent flight attendant training)

“I feel sick,” I said to my mother, also a flight attendant, as we sped down the highway. Each mile brought us closer and closer to the training facility.

“Relax,” said my mother, a woman who does not know how to relax, especially when it comes to flight attendant training. Trust me. You should have heard her three months ago. “You’re going to do just fine.”

I always do just fine. I’ve had thirteen years of just fine. Even so, I still felt sick.

“Think you can slow down!” I exclaimed as I glanced at the speedometer. We were going way too fast! Okay fine, so we were only ten, maybe five, miles over the speed limit, but that’s too fast for a person who doesn’t want to be where they have to be any sooner than they have to be there.

Did I happen to mention I felt sick? It was that bad.

I don’t know what it is about recurrent training that makes me feel this way, but every month of August is spent dreading these two inevitable days. In fact, I don’t know a flight attendant out there who doesn’t get all worked up before entering the big building where it all began. Which makes me wonder, what the heck did they do to us during those initial seven and a half weeks of training thirteen years ago? Seriously.

My mother slowed the car and stopped beside a yellow curb. “‘You’re going to do great.”

I looked out the window at the the big building looming before us. “I don’t know about great,’ I said, and as I said this I could feel my heart beating, and my palms were sweating, as I kissed my sleeping son goodbye, grabbed my flight manual, and slowly walked up the stairs. One. Step. At. A. Time. Class didn’t start for another ten minutes, so there was no rush to get inside now was there?

When I walked through the double glass doors and stood in front of the giant swimming pool containing a bright yellow floating raft, a smiling training instructor greeted me by asking to see my three pound flight manual. She flipped through the pages, checking to see if thing was up to date, scratched my name off a long list, and then told me we’d be meeting in Room # 1.

“Up the stairs and down the hall,” the instructor said, still smiling, as she eyed another flight attendant walking through the glass doors.

I walked into the “Welcome to recurrent training” class and sat near the front of room (it was the only place left unoccupied), next to a very calm looking woman wearing spectacles and reading a paperback Grisham novel. Who can read at a time like this, I remember thinking to myself, as I looked around the room for someone, anyone, I knew, but I did not recognize a face. There were about forty of us in total. That’s when I heard the woman sitting directly behind me mumble, “I feel sick.”

Me, too!” I turned around to take a look at the woman who would become my new best friend for the next two days. There’s nothing like bonding over feelings of anxiety and stress.

“I used to know a girl who’d throw up right before training every year,” she added matter of fact.

The flight attendant reading the novel continued to read the novel (must have been a REALLY good book), as I turned all the way around in my plastic chair and introduced myself to Cynthia. Cynthia, like me, was a college graduate, only her major was in marketing, not psychology. Later on I would find out that Cynthia, like me, is also a writer, only she writes for a well known home and design magazine, not a blog.

Cynthia laughed as she said, “I never even got this worked up in college. Or with the magazine.”

“Tell me about it! My regular non-flying friends totally don’t understand.” Then I went on to tell her about my father, who, the night before, had the nerve to say half jokingly “What’s so stressful about making chocolate chip cookies?”

Chocolate chips cookies. He actually said that. My mother and I just glared at him and didn’t say a word.

“I’m joking!” said my dad, even though I’m not so sure he meant it.

The sad part is I’m pretty sure my father is not alone. I have a feeling a lot of people think all we do at “Barbie boot camp” is make chocolate chip cookies and serve drinks. Man oh man, I only wish it were that easy. Because if it were, I wouldn’t be freaking out now would I!

And so Cynthia and I began our two day “cookie making class” with a refresher course in fighting a fire at the fire pit by donning what looked like astronaut headgear and then we ended the day several exhausting hours later after evacuating passengers out window and door exits on six different aircraft, yelling and screaming our commands, popping open doors and inflating slides. Sorry, but I can’t tell you what, exactly, came in-between those two classes, but I can tell you it was intense, and at times stressful, and all of it highly classified, which involved airline safety and security. I can also tell you that Cynthia and I were more than happy when it finally came to an end. Together we left the training center, after exchanging email addresses, feeling relieved, yet confident and secure in the knowledge we had gained from our two days of training. Trust me when I tell you we, flight attendants, are prepared to handle just about anything. Even chocolate chip cookies.

In thirteen years of flying, I’ve only had a few medical emergencies on-board my flights, and thankfully each situation had a positive outcome. That’s because of the training the airline provided. So the next time you’re on a flight, crammed in the middle seat, take a look at the one working the drink cart in coach, or the one serving you freshly baked cookies and milk in first class, and remember they’re not just there to serve you, they’re actually there to save your life.