Air travelers have had plenty to complain about in recent weeks, with issues ranging from Southwest Airlines melting to an FAA computer failure it led to a nationwide ground shutdown just last week.

Flight attendants are among the industry’s frontline workers when such disruptions occur, and are being trained to handle new challenges.

All future United flight attendants receive thorough training at the airline’s newly opened 56,000-square-foot training center in Houston. It’s six weeks of training, practice and testing as the airline plans to hire 4,000 flight attendants this year.

Mikiel Sego-Johnson, United’s vice president of in-flight services, said a lot of people want the job.

“I mean 69,000 applications for the year, which is less than 6% hiring,” she said.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of flight attendants have quit, been laid off, or have been bought out. Then, when travel resumed, airlines were understaffed. All of them are now being hired.

Carl Gilbert, 57, is currently doing an internship.

“I thought I was getting old, but then I thought it would be a nice career change when I retired,” he said. said.

Kylie Strack is also being trained. She used to work as a firefighter, but she doesn’t expect her new job to be any less stressful.

“You’re going to be a firefighter, you’re going to be a paramedic. You’re going to get to serve customers and travel the world,” she said.

First, trainees must learn tasks such as the mechanics of opening the doors of six different types of aircraft. A mock-up of an airplane fuselage in the new aqua center is engaged in water landings. There are also daily food and beverage responsibilities.

That’s not all. Much of the training focuses on de-escalation techniques – a sign of the times.

With the pandemic trend of unruly passengers, the focus is on how to respond.

Teams consider potential scenarios, such as someone complaining about a flight delay.

“We put them in scenarios where they have to respond in a way that is empathetic and informative,” Sego-Johnson said.

The average salary for flight attendants nationwide is just under $62,000 a year. New employees earn less.

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