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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"My son, the doctor" has been the traditional cry of any self-respecting Jewish mother. In an ironic twist of fate, today I - as a Jewish father and a doctor - find myself stating with pride: "my daughter, the flight attendant!"
After returning from her post-army overseas travels, my daughter, Lital, found herself at one of life's many crossroads. What to do next? Study? Work? In passing conversation, a friend of hers just happened to say, "What about working as a flight attendant?"
Lital's eyes immediately lit up. Her recent globe-trotting had definitely planted the travel bug in her and being a flight attendant had an aura of glamour and excitement. "Sounds like fun. When do I begin?" Not so fast, Lital. Get your head out of those "flying around the world" clouds.
After sending off a written application to El Al, Lital received a letter inviting her to join a group of would-be flight attendants for the first round of screening. I am sure she expected to receive her "wings" and her first month's flight schedule in that initial letter, but life isn't that simple. Arriving at the El Al offices at the appointed time, Lital underwent a full day of personal interviews in both Hebrew and English, a battery of psychometric tests and finally a series of simulations - all aimed at assessing the candidates' suitability.
Although it sounds rather straightforward, only six of the original 40 applicants were actually accepted for continued training. ("Now do I get my 'wings?'" asked Lital. Patience, my dear daughter. Patience.) Having passed the first round and being accepted into the two-month course that would be starting in a few weeks, Lital was informed that she would be receiving a "little booklet of information" to study, as there would be an exam on the material at the beginning of the course.
All the candidates were advised that throughout their training program there would be a series of examinations. The participants in the course had to achieve a pass grade of 80 to 90 percent. Anyone who scored lower would be given only one chance to repeat the exam. Two strikes and you were out. So now the pressure was on.
A FEW days after being accepted, Lital received, as promised, the "little booklet of information" - which rivaled a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica in size. It covered everything: airports around the world, El Al flight route maps, preflight services, descriptions of international aviation bodies, agreements between aviation companies, passenger psychology, the basis of kosher catering - all packed into this "little booklet" that my daughter had to learn by rote in just a few short weeks.
My wife and I helped quiz Lital on the incredible amount of data. By the end of her course, we felt that we were experts in all matters related to aviation. What is the name of the international airport in Manchester? The Manchester International Airport, of course. That was an easy one. What is the name of the airport in Mumbai, India? Give up? Well, my wife and I now know that it's called the Chatrapathi Shivaji International Airport. Or can you tell me over what countries one would pass on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Stockholm? No cheating and peeking at an atlas! The answer is: Cyprus, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and then landing in Sweden. Hmmm. This flight-attendant job appears to involve just a little more than knowing to what temperature one needs to warm the passengers' meals.
Divided into blocks of study, the eight-week course provided courses in first aid, aviation emergencies, preflight and in-flight procedures, simulations and then more simulations on how to deal with passengers - the good, the bad and the ugly. Lital passed all her exams with flying colors.
ON THE final day of the course, we and other families of the newly graduated El Al flight attendants looked on proudly as our sons and daughters finally received their wings. Actually, flight attendants only receive a "half-wing," which is fine by me. I have great faith in my daughter's abilities, but I still don't think she's ready to be sitting in the pilot's seat.
Lital has officially started work as a flight attendant. She's flown to Paris, Rome, Milan, Warsaw and Madrid. It should be noted that I stated that she's flown to these cities, but she's never actually visited them. On arrival at a European city after these relatively short trips of less than five hours, the flight attendants remain on the plane while it's being refueled and cleaned. They then swivel around on one leg and head straight back to Ben-Gurion Airport, never having seen the wonders of Paris, Rome, Milan, Warsaw and Madrid.
On the other hand, Lital has had an opportunity to spend a few days in Toronto, Johannesburg and New York, and hopes to taste the delights of Bangkok, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Some people see flight attendants as glorified models who are being paid to traipse around the world, enjoying the good life. Others take the opposite view and believe that a flight attendant is an underpaid cleaning lady and waitress, working long hours to serve unappreciative clients.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. A flight attendant needs to be well-groomed and intelligent - able to confidently cope with medical and aviation emergencies. She needs to have good communication skills and to be able to handle politely and competently requests from passengers who come from all walks of life. Despite the sometimes long working hours and difficult conditions, the payoff for all this is - yes - the flight attendant does get the opportunity to see the world.
So next time you're flying with El Al, be kind to that young lady who is serving you, because she may just be "my daughter, the flight attendant."