For graduates of Canada’s only flight attendant college, the sky’s the limit.
Now in it’s 15th year, the Atlantic Flight Attendant Academy Ltd. has graduated about 1,000 students from all over Canada, says its founder, and 25-year veteren of the skies, Cynthia Sullivan.
“Our students are mostly employed in Canada, but we also have graduates working for airlines in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” Sullivan said. “We’ve had classes where they graduate Friday, and are employed Monday.”
Sullivan said airlines contact the college on a regular basis when they are looking to hire prospective personnel.
Sullivan first began her flight attendant career with Air Atlantic. She quickly rose through the ranks into a supervisory position training new flight attendants.
Later in her career, Sullivan worked as a consultant for other airlines writing flight attendant manuals, and was constantly being pressured to open a flight attendant training college.
She opened her college in 1996 on Spring Garden Road, and has since moved it to Beech Street in Halifax. The academy is a registered private career college with the Nova Scotia Department of Education.
The intensive 12-week course includes training in airline policies and regulations, aviation terminology, safety and emergency procedures, firefighting and evacuation procedures, inflight service techniques, customer relations, personal grooming and French immersion.
Flight attendant training is subject to six tests a week, with a pass mark of 85 per cent. Students are allowed only one rewrite if they fall below 85, and there is no rewrite on the final exam.
Sullivan said only about five per cent of students from any given class flunk out altogether.
The first six weeks concentrates on flight attendant training, and the last six weeks is an intensive French immersion course. The pass mark for French is 70 per cent.
Students who are already bilingual and can pass the French test, are only required to attend the six-week flight attendant training.
But Sullivan doesn’t just rely on her own expertise to give students a well-rounded education, pilots and other guest speakers are brought in to talk about their experiences.
To be eligible to apply, students must be 18 years or older and be a high school graduate, have customer service experience, good health supported by a doctor, excellent English communcation skills and the ability to obtain a security pass.
Tuition is $4,196 for the 12 weeks, and can be funded through student loans.
Students from out of town can access off campus accomodations offered by both Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie universities.
Even after 25 years in the business, Sullivan still loves the airline industry.
“Once you get bitten by the industry, you love it and you know right away,” she said.
But, Sullivan warns, it’s not a job for everyone.
“It’s irregular hours, it’s hard work and it’s not as glamourous as everyone else thinks it is,” Sullivan said.
With new airport security measures being introduced all the time that can make air travel inconvenient and time consuming, flight attendants are often faced with a plane full of disgruntled travellers.
“You’re the one in the cabin with them for the next four to five hours with no where to run, so that’s one of the biggest things we look for is the right attitude,” she said.
Sullivan said flight attendants become very worldly, very quickly, as they encounter new situations all the time, and people of many different cultures.
While most entering the field are female, Sullivan said about 10 per cent of each of the three classes she runs a year are male.
One of those males is Terry Pottie of Halifax who is scheduled to graduate March 25.
Pottie, 25, said he travelled by plane for the first time earlier this year, and was instantly smitten.
“It was my first time on a flight, and I absolutely fell in love with the sense of flying,” Pottie said.
Having worked in the customer service industry in the past, Pottie knew he loved working with the public, and thought he could combine those two loves with a career as flight attendant.
“And being able to go to really cool places is a bonus,” he said.
Eighteen-year-old Bianca Poirier of Moncton, who graduated early because she had already completed her French tests, said she’s really excited to pursue her new career.
“I’ve already started applying,” she said.
Poirier is confident her time spent at the academy will serve her well as an flight attendant applicant, and when she’s on the job.
Poirer said she aspired to be a flight attendant since she was a little girl on her first flight.
“I kind of envied the pretty girls who were serving everyone, and it was always something I had in mind,” Poirer said.
The next flight attendant academy class begins March 28.