Delta Air Lines has always been considered among the more respectable airlines, and for good reason. They’ve built themselves on almost 90 years of high quality air travel, but that passenger comfort largely stems from the flight staff. Though it seems like a simple job — hand out pretzels and drinks and recite that safety procedure at the beginning of every flight — the Delta flight attendant position is anything but that, and is perhaps one of the most competitive jobs that exist.
“I am told it’s harder to get invited to the Delta Flight Attendant training center than to get into Harvard University,” said Danny Elkins, a Delta employee since 1991, and he’s pretty spot on with that assessment. In 2016, only one percent of the 150,000 applicants were invited to partake in the training program. Compare that to Harvard’s 5.9 percent acceptance rate out of 39,000 applicants that same year!
Even people who have had family employed within the company have zero guarantees of being accepted into the training program. One woman who had family connections never even made it to a personal interview. Additionally, many people have full-time careers in the years that it takes to even learn if they’ve been accepted!
Once an applicant is accepted into the program, however, it hardly means they they themselves are guaranteed of becoming employees. That comes after two months of intensive training, after which the graduation rate is even slimmer than Harvard!
All trainees must go through regular strict grooming and dress code checks, in which each person is thoroughly vetted to ensure that they’re following the proper personal image regulations. “Image consultation is very important to us because, as flight attendants for Delta Air Lines, you are, and we are, the brand,” explains one of the trainers. This includes the mandate that all attendants must wear watches.
Trainees are then vaccinated, if they don’t already have proof of vaccination, to ensure that they stay protected from any tropical diseases that they may come into contact with in their global travels.
Then they must commit to thorough medical training, including the ability to administer CPR to an infant if the need were to ever arise. “It’s multiple hats wrapped into one,” says one trainer. “If something were to happen on board an aircraft, you are the doctor, you are the police officer….you are the firefighter if need be. We have to be prepared for anything.” Flight attendants have been called on several occasions to utilize their medical knowledge mid-flight.
One of the most challenging training sessions occurs during the flight emergency simulations. The trainees act as passengers as the lights shut off and the terrifying words “Brace for impact” echo throughout the cabin. From there trainees are encouraged to “Bend over, stay down, stay seated,” which are instructed in unison from those actively participating in the training.
After that, trainees are given 90 seconds to completely evacuate the full-capacity plane, even with half the exits blocked off. Then it’s into the pool to determine if applicants can properly aid others by pulling them into the rafts. Even something as seemingly simple as floating in a pool with life vests isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The rest of the eight-week training process is filled with tests concerning proper safety guidelines and aircraft configuration. Failure to retain these regulations is reflected in the exams, and anything less than a 90 percent means immediate expulsion from the program. “Our students learn by repetition,” reveals one instructor. “In an emergency, you don’t have time to think — you’re going to have to react. And flight attendants who have been in that kind of situation tell us it’s true: They never even thought. They just reacted.”
When the time finally comes for graduation, Harvard yet again has Delta beat. The graduation rate for the prestigious school is around 98 percent, while for the airline that number falls drastically to 60 percent!
While this two-month-long process may seem a tad excessive, the results speak for themselves. Employee satisfaction remains at a record high among major airlines, and the same could be said for customer satisfaction as well.