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The primary and overriding responsibility of flight attendants is passenger safety. However, they are often tasked with the secondary function of seeing to the care and comfort of the passengers, insofar as this does not interfere with their safety responsibilities. They are often perceived by the flying public as waitresses or servants because only this latter function is normally seen outside the extremely rare event of in-flight emergency; and historically this perception has been portrayed by airlines in ads and commercials.
The role of a flight attendant ultimately derives from that of similar positions on passenger ships or passenger trains, but it has more direct involvement with passengers because of the confined quarters and often shorter travel times on aircraft. Additionally, the job of a flight attendant revolves around safety to a much greater extent than those of similar staff on other forms of transportation. Flight attendants on board a flight collectively form a cabin crew, as distinguished from pilots and engineers on the flight deck.
Outside the exceptional case of an in-flight emergency, flight attendants usually provide courtesy services for passengers, such as preparation distribution of in-flight meals and drinks, management of in-flight entertainment systems, sale of duty-free and other merchandise, and the like. As the most visible representatives of their airlines, their importance to customer relations and the image of their airlines is considerable.
Many jurisdictions mandate the presence of flight attendants on commercial aircraft, based on the passenger capacity of the aircraft and other factors. This mandate generally relates only to their function as safety technicians.
Flight attendants are normally trained in the hub or headquarters city of an airline over a period that may run from six weeks to six months, depending on the country. The main focus of training is safety. One flight attendant is required for every 50 passenger seats on board in the United States, but many airlines have chosen to increase that number. One of the most elaborate training facilities was Breech Academy which TWA opened in 1969 in Overland Park, Kansas, United States. Other airlines were to also send their attendants to the school. However, during the fare wars the school's viability declined and it closed around 1990.
Safety training includes, but is not limited to: emergency passenger evacuation management, use of evacuation slides / life rafts, in-flight fire fighting, survival in the jungle / sea / desert / ice, first aid, CPR, defibrillation, ditching / emergency landing procedures, decompression emergencies, crew resource management and security.
Multilingual flight attendants are often in demand to accommodate international travelers. The languages most in demand, other than English, are Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, and Italian.
Height and weight
Some airlines, such as EVA Air, have height requirements for purely aesthetic purposes. Horizon Air and other regional carriers have height restrictions because their aircraft have low ceilings. A typical acceptable range is from 5'2" (1.57 m) to 6'0" (1.83 m).
Flight attendants are also subject to weight requirements as well. Weight must usually be in proportion to height; persons outside the normal range may not be qualified to act as flight attendants.
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