For the chosen few flight attendants who make it past the interview stage at Delta, an eight-week training school awaits.
Danny Elkins, who's been a flight attendant with Delta since it acquired Pan American World Airways' North Atlantic routes in 1991, would agree.
"I started this career at 22, left my home in North Carolina, and soon found myself living in NYC, flying around the world. Both my home life as well as my professional life became an instant adventure," he told Business Insider.
Of course, getting the job is no walk in the park.
"I am told it's harder to get invited to the Delta Flight Attendant training center than to get into Harvard University," Elkins said.
And he's not wrong. According to Delta, of the 150,000 people that applied to be a Delta Flight Attendant in 2016, only 1% made the cut. By comparison, the acceptance rate for Harvard's class of 2021 was 5.2%.
"Our culture at Delta is important to us, so we have to make sure those we hire can not only serve to keep our customers safe and comfortable on board but also fit well within our organization," Elkins said.
Delta implements an array of techniques, including video interviews, Q&A sessions, and in-person meetings to evaluate candidates to see if they'll be successful as a Delta flight attendant. "It's a rigorous process, but we make sure it's fun and engaging for prospective crew members. And we often have an opportunity to select some amazing flight attendants," Elkins said.
For the chosen few who make it past the interview stage, an eight-week training school awaits.
Delta Air Lines gave outsiders an inside look into the intense training school as part of its "Earning Our Wings" series. Read on for some of the most interesting details:
One flight attendant trainee featured on the series named Jean-Baptiste said he had a career as a network engineer before joining Delta.
Another trainee named Kasey said that, having grown up with parents who worked for Delta, she always knew she wanted to become a Delta flight attendant. But when she first applied six years ago, she didn't make it past the face-to-face interview.
Kasey said that the job was in the back of her mind from then on, so when she heard once again Delta was hiring, she went for it. This time around, she made it to training school.
Other flight attendants joined Delta from other airlines.
Every one of Delta's flights is controlled from one room in the operations and customer center (OCC) at Delta's headquarters in Atlanta.
Much like NASA's mission control center, in Delta's flight control center — otherwise dubbed the "911 of Delta" — employees can monitor all of Delta's flights, weather, and potentially dangerous current events.
During training, flight attendants learn that any Delta flight can call the flight manager at the OCC for help.
In the early days of training, flight attendant trainees go through personal image consultations, where instructors check to see whether trainees are in compliance with Delta's uniform and grooming rules. Flight attendants continue to receive these checks throughout their career as a flight attendant.
"Image consultation is very important to us because, as flight attendants for Delta Air Lines, you are, and we are, the brand," said a Delta instructor named Ed.
During these one-on-one assessments, staff look at how flight attendants are dressed and styled, from head to toe, and make note of any issues. They assess all manner of things including hair, shoes, socks, fingernails, and watches.
"If you're working a flight, you must have a wristwatch," Delta initial training leader Jennifer said. "It's a part of the uniform, and each flight attendant trainee is required to have one every single day."
"The responsibility of what it takes to be a flight attendant starts here," Ed said. "We take it very seriously."
One flight attendant trainee named Daniel, who was not wearing his wristwatch during the assessment, expressed his dismay at not following the rules: "It was a total fail, and I've got to figure out how to bounce back from that." Too many strikes, and you could flunk out of flight attendant training school.
It's very important that flight attendants keep their proof of vaccination with them and updated, since Delta flies to different destinations around the world, some where disease is an issue.
"To protect our people, we encourage vaccinations," Jennifer said.
An instructor named Mallory said that on her very first flight as a flight attendant, she had a medical emergency on board. Luckily, thanks to her medical training, she knew exactly what to do.
"It's multiple hats wrapped into one," Cesar said. "If something were to happen on board an aircraft, you are the doctor, you are the police officer ... you are the firefighter if need be. We have to be prepared for anything."
During medical and first-aid training, flight attendants learn all manner of skills, from using an automated external defibrillator to performing CPR on adults, children, and infants.
"This is the week that I've been looking forward to," said flight attendant trainee Sharyl. "These skills are just great life skills."
"I'll tell you how humbling it is to hold this baby in your hand and think about the possibility of saving a child's life because of the training that we're receiving here at Delta," Daniel said. "I'll tell you, it was very sobering."
After two weeks of training, trainees are introduced to emergency management.
In a flight simulator, trainees begin by playing the part of the passenger, occupying the seats of the mock airplane.
Then the simulation begins.
"All of a sudden, the lights go out, and we're being told to put our head down and stay down and prepare for impact," Daniel said. "It was shocking."
As a voice telling passengers to "brace for landing" comes over the intercom, instructors bellow "Bend over," "Stay down," and "Stay seated" in unison, as flight attendants might in an emergency situation.
"We smoked out the cabin and started yelling our commands," an instructor named Mallory said. "They really get to see what as a flight attendant you do in an emergency."
Finally, they evacuate the plane using the emergency slide.
"It definitely makes your blood pressure escalate," a flight attendant trainee named Cesar said.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires Delta flight attendants to be able to evacuate an aircraft with 50% of the exits blocked within 90 seconds.
Flight attendants must get in the water to be able to pass the pool drill during training.
Luckily trainees have flotation devices, and the three trainees who didn't know how to swim were able to complete the drill.
"On pool day, I thought it would be pretty simple — I mean you float and you have to have a flotation device," Kacey said. "I had no idea how many different things went into something that sounded so simple."
During the pool drill, trainees practiced pulling each other around the pool and into the emergency raft. "I was beat tired by the time that hit," Cesar said.
"I had no idea it would be that hard to climb into a raft," Kasey said.
Safety is the primary concern for flight attendants, and during their eight weeks of training, trainees need to learn all the safety requirements and guidelines set out by the FAA. Each type of airplane has its own door configuration, and flight attendants are required to learn the operation procedures for all of them.
Retaining this information requires diligent studying, long days in the classroom or simulators, and lots of exams, all of which leaves little time for personal recreation.
"Our students learn by repetition," said a Delta instructor named Kaki. "In an emergency, you don't have time to think — you're going to have to react. And flight attendants who have been in that kind of situation tell us it's true: They never even thought. They just reacted."
To keep performing well during training and retain all the information they've learned, a flight attendant trainee named Sharyl said, "you just have to keep working."
A former flight attendant for an airline owned by Delta wrote that he had to take an exam almost every day of training, and to pass he needed to score at least a 90%. He wrote that trainees are allowed to fail and retake an exam once. "If we received another score of less than 90%, we were excused from training and sent home," he wrote.
According to AirlineCareer.com, approximately 40% of flight attendant trainees industry-wide don't make it through training.
With Harvard's graduation rate falling around 98%, it's very likely that it's also much more difficult to graduate from Delta flight attendant training school than it is to graduate from Harvard.
"It's strange to say, but this process was actually harder than college or any other thing that I've done," Sharyl said.