Why are flight attendants required to be able to swim 90 feet?

Dear Matt:

Maybe you can help me ease my curiosity and assuage the paranoia that accompanied my thoughts after reading a job vacancy requirement. Recently Alaska Airlines advertised vacancies for the position of flight attendant. One of the list of requirements for this position was the ability to swim 90 feet. I cannot fathom the reasoning for this except for the obvious crash-into-the-ocean-and-die scenario. Can you please find out the reason for this requirement and help put back my faith in wanting to fly that airline again?

-- Julian, El Cajon

Um, well, shall we say it's the crash-into-the-ocean-and-swim-to-help-save-the-passengers scenario? Virgin, Air New Zealand, many airlines that do considerable flying over water require attendants to be able to swim. (Actually, it's the take-offs and landings over water that are most touchy, not the cruising at 35,000 feet part.) No need for aquatic skills if you're hustling peanuts and drinks for Air Iowa. The flight attendant is your friend. He or she is there to assist you in all your in-flight needs. If one day you find yourself sliding down the chute into the ocean and hear the crew yelling for help, you'd be most perturbed, I imagine. But if you simply can't bear the thought, then how about you imagine a bevy of stews in Alaska Airline corporate bikinis, nose clips, and those old-lady rubber swim caps offering a synchronized swimming routine as diversion for the passengers as they wing (safely!) over the northern Pacific. Available in first class only, of course.

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