CHHUN Phola is a rather shy 20-year-old woman, at least it seems when she speaks
to the press. Beyond her native Khmer, she speaks Chinese, a little Thai, a little
French and chooses her words carefully, if haltingly, in English when asked questions
about her new career as a flight attendant with Royal Air Cambodge, wringing her
hands tightly and looking a bit worried that she might say the wrong thing.
First impressions aside, Phola has recently been certified that she can scream her
lungs out with the best of them, that she can take charge at an exit door of an airline
in trouble while trying to manage a plane load of panicked passengers, and that she
knows more than the rest of us about what to do when something goes wrong on any
international flight anywhere in the world.
Phola won't be flying around the world. She will be on your next RAC flight to one
of their destinations in the region.
Along with 18 other new RAC flight attendants, Phola just graduated from a three
month training program in Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur where, when it comes to safety,
joking around was not tolerated.
To get certified the "scream test" is one of the most important and takes
place in an airline mock-up where cabin fires, emergency landings and ocean ditchings
are simulated. Trainees have to staff the exits, barking out evacuation instructions
and shepherd a cabin load of "passengers" out onto the emergency inflatable
At the Malaysia Airlines Academy in Kuala Lumpur Nithianandhan Sinnaduria runs the
safety center like a drill sargent at an army commando school. More than 5,000 flight
attendants from around the world come under his watchful eyes every year.
"If they fail the safety test, they are grounded," says Sinnaduria sternly.
"We ground more people than we recruit."
Sinnaduria says all the Cambodians passed the tests. "No problem," he says,
"they did well."
"They told us not to be shy," says Phola, "we screamed very well."
Adds classmate Nget Visoth "if you laughed, you did not pass the course. We
were all very serious."
RAC Chariman Vichit Ith had the look of a proud father when he helped pass out the
training certificates to the new flight attendants on May 29. And with good reason
too. His newly trained air stewards and stewardesses exuded an air of enormous confidence
at the ceremony, sporting their smart uniforms and eager to represent their country
on the national airline.
It was a sight worth seeing.