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Flight attendant

Flight attendant

Antony Philip. Picture by John Fotiadis.

Henry Budd

You'd think that after flying halfway around the world, Qantas first-class flight attendant Antony Philip would just want to put his feet up. But instead the 41-year-old jumps straight on another plane.

"I get off the aircraft I work on, get on another one and go to another city and just discover and explore," Philip says. "People say, 'After a 20-hour flight why don't you just go to sleep?' But life is too short."

Each week he flies either to Mumbai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg or Bangkok, with a couple of days rest before flying home, spending more than 1200 hours in the air each year.

The cabin crew sign on for duty an hour before the flight departs. And with more than 7000 flight attendants working for Qantas, Philip says sign-on is sometimes the first time he will meet his colleagues for a trip.

After serving passengers their meals, the flight attendants get a break or even a chance to take a nap during the flight.

"On the 747-400, we have bunks in the tail, so we are entitled in break time to take our rest there," he says.

As the passengers come from around the world, flight attendants have to have an open mind, he says.

"The circle of friends you keep tends to reflect yourself and shared interest," he says.

"Here, you have people who are different and quite diametrically opposed to yourself."

But Philip says he has never encountered a seriously problematic passenger during his 10-year career.

Medical emergencies are fairly frequent, however, with one occurring each month on average.

"That can be really ugly - where someone has had a heart attack, or an epileptic fit or someone has gone into labour," he says.

"All of us have to have a St John's first-aid certificate. We have what we call emergency procedures that we refresh every six months and once a year we go through basic first aid."

How to be a ... Flight Attendant

Qualification: Flight attendants are usually trained by their respective employers. While Qantas and Virgin Blue may be the obvious employers, Emirates also employs over 1000 Australian cabin crew based in Dubai.
Course: New Qantas flight attendants receive up to six weeks initial training and recurrent training in security, medical and emergency procedures. According to the Qantas website, during training flight attendants will be required to perform several safety tasks, including lifting a 28kg aircraft window exit, dealing with emergencies in a smoke-filled simulator, swimming and assisting people in the water, descending an escape slide nine metres above the ground and fighting fires while wearing a full face mask.
Assumed knowledge: Before attending a Qantas recruitment day, flight attendants are required to have a valid passport and a criminal record check.
Cost: There is an initial fee of $104.50. Students are also required to cover the cost of acquiring the first aid and responsible service of alcohol certificates and medical checks.
From the inside: Qantas first-class flight attendant Antony Philip says people come from a range of professions before becoming flight attendants.

"We have policemen, firemen, ballet dancers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, plumbers mechanics and everything else in between," he says.

"It is more of a lifestyle than a job. There is not a day at work that is like anybody else's day at work."

* More information:

The Daily Telegraph, Mar 29, 2008