The men are taking off

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-6 18:23:01

A boom in male flight attendants sweeps the country

Serving drinks to passengers is just part of the job. Photo: IC

For flight attendants this is their place of work. Photo: IC


As sex equality begins taking a hold in China it seems more and more young men are applying to work as flight attendants - once a job that belonged only to attractive young women of a certain height and personality.

The Youth Daily recently investigated the phenomenon of male flight attendants, explaining how they were selected, how their training and work differed from females and what sort of challenges some of the young male flight attendants with Shanghai's Spring Airlines faced.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sun Li is a head flight attendant with Spring Airlines. Before working there he had served with the PLA (People's Liberation Army) Field Army for several years.

In 2011 Sun left the army and was offered two positions immediately - working with a government taxation department or working with a sea transport department. Both positions promised good salaries and prospects but he turned both the offers down and quietly applied to sit the Spring Airlines' flight attendant recruitment exam.

Smart uniforms

"After I left the army one of my fellow soldiers who was working at an airport as a security guard told me about the work of male flight attendants," Sun said. "I loved the army and I thought that being a flight attendant - wearing smart uniforms and having to stay fit - might make me feel as if I was still in the army."

He joked when he said the big reason for joining Spring Airlines was that the color of the company's logo was the same as his army uniform.

His parents were totally opposed to his career choice and could not understand why he would give up two perfectly good jobs for a job traditionally regarded as a woman's career. "My mother was so angry that for three weeks she stopped having anything to do with me at all," he said. His parents, he explained, believed that the work of a flight attendant was more suited to women than men and certainly the job was not a proper career for a man. "I had to go to the interview in secret and after I had been hired tried to persuade them to see my point of view."

Family pressures also clouded Cao Lexuan's application to become a flight attendant. The 26-year-old grew up in a military family with all of the men of the family having served or serving in the PLA. "Even though my mother thought that joining the army was not a good job for me, she was totally against me becoming a flight attendant," he said.

Cao recalled that, in his third year at high school, when he first decided to apply for a position as a flight attendant, his mother angrily snatched the application form from him. "Luckily, I managed to persuade my father, and eventually realized my dream."

Not easy work

Being accepted by an airline and then winning family approval are just the first two steps for young men wanting to become flight attendants in China.

After a series of interviews and training, Sun became a trainee attendant. To his surprise, the wor

Flight attendants ready to board their plane and start work. Photo: CFP

 k was never as easy and comfortable as he had thought it would be.

His first personal challenge was airsickness. "I never thought I would suffer from airsickness," he said. He had spent a lot of time driving tanks when he was in the army and although the tanks moved violently and shuddered he had never suffered from motion sickness.

It struck him unfortunately when he was on a flight and had been preparing meals for passengers. The plane suddenly lurched and shuddered, throwing him off balance. "One of my colleagues caught me by the arms and steadied me but I felt dizzy and faint suddenly. I rushed for the nearest toilet to be sick."

Airsickness is a common problem for new flight attendants. Zhang Changning, a former taekwondo coach who became a flight attendant in 2008, said he also suffered serious airsickness in his first year of flying. "I was really stressed at that time. I had never been car sick or air sick before but in those early days I was so nervous I always became sick during flights," Zhang said.

To solve the problem Zhang took 15 days off work and rested at home. Back in the air again if he felt the slightest bit queasy he began patrolling the cabins of the aircraft he was working in to distract himself. "It took me a whole year to get rid of my airsickness."

Flight attendants have to be friendly and patient - and male flight attendants don't have the female charms to fall back on.

But there have been occasions when Sun found his army background was useful. On one cold winter's night on a flight scheduled to fly to Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, when the flight had been delayed for eight hours because of snow some of the passengers began grumbling loudly and abusing crew members.

Sun said that all the attendants could do at the time was apologize and explain the reasons for the delay. "It doesn't matter what the passengers call you, you always have to reply with smiles and be soft-spoken."

But the male attendants on that flight were very aware that if any of the passengers tried to storm the cockpit, they would have to physically prevent this.

"Sometimes I was grateful I had served in the army," Sun said. "My past experience enables me to work well under pressure - an important quality for a good flight attendant."

Would-be attendants have to prove their fitness. Photo: CFP

Public approval

The public seems to have approved of the move toward male flight attendants as well. "Elderly passengers like us very much," Cao said. "Many old people are flying for the first time and feel very nervous. They usually prefer male attendants - they think men are more reliable."

During Zhang's six years as a flight attendant, he has saved seven lives, helping passengers with his first-aid skills. "It seems that we can give patients and their families more of a sense of security - they are not as frightened or uneasy as they might be."

In 2010 there were few male attendants in China's airlines but over the following five years the numbers soared and now almost half the flight attendants in the country are men.

At Spring Airlines five years ago there were only about 200 male attendants but today the airline has 527 men compared to 638 women attendants.

"One reason for the big increase is that male attendants also act as security guards during a flight," explained one airline company director. "In the past a security guard and a flight attendant were totally different jobs. But now many male attendants have a dual role - they're attendants and security guards all in one."

And some airlines are using their male attendants in their marketing campaigns, providing "gentlemen's flights" with only male attendants for events on Women's Day or Mother's Day.

In May 2011, China's first-ever national male flight attendant recruitment campaign opened in Beijing.

Candidates stand ready for a grueling series of interviews for flight attendants. Photo: IC

Formal attire

According to a report by the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) News, an industrial newspaper, candidates had to wear formal attire including ties and leather shoes. When they met the panel of judges they had to say "Welcome aboard" as well as having their hands, teeth and smiles assessed. Candidates had just seven minutes each to prove they would be suitable.

That year, the campaign organizer, China Southern Airlines, signed 500 male flight attendants who could also act as security guards. Judges Yang Keliwei and Du Bei told media that they were less concerned about the way the men looked than if they had been recruiting women.

"Female flight attendants have to be graceful and elegant, but males just have to look reliable," they said. Male flight attendants have to be between 1.75 and 1.85 meters tall.

Compiled by Huang Lanlan based on stories in the Youth Daily and the CAAC News

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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