When a flight attendant gets hired with an airline (or corporate flight attendant job) they must undergo a tough training courses to learn the ins and outs of Emergency Procedures. From what I understand, most carriers have a 6-week training courses that teach the new-hire about evacuations, medical situations, food preparations, and even learn how the company wants their employee's to treat their customers.
When training for a carrier, the new-hire will learn how to evacuate an aircraft, learn where emergency equipment is, and understand how the different types of aircraft work. After the initial training is completed, then the flight attendants must do the Federal Aviation Administration annual training to keep current on Emergency Procedures.
I've heard that some flight attendants have gone through their entire career without a single incident, while others seem to get the luck of the draw and have every possible situation occur. Some situations could be (but not limited too) heart attacks, choking, fainting, turbulence, decompression, hypoxia, burns, fires, smoke, claustrophobia, fear of flying, child birth, vomiting passengers...just to name a few things.
Either way, every year a flight attendant has to be requalified on the aircraft they work. Some airlines only have one aircraft, while others have several different aircraft types. Having only one aircraft type would be easy, but if you're lucky, you will get qualified on several different aircraft configurations and will get utilized for different trips.
Some flight attendants may never use their skills, but there are some who seem to be tested on their training almost on a daily basis. Throughout the long training, the new-hire flight attendants must learn a manual that is comprised of both Federal Aviation Regulations, and Company Policy. When I was first hired, we had to carry around two of these manuals, one for the FAR/Company policies, the other was strictly to know about the cooking and preparation times of meals. Now, we have consolidated everything into one large manual. Still, this Flight Attendant "Bible" can weigh close to 3lbs. (hopefully someday we'll be able to access the data on an iPad!
Back to the recurrent training, after flight attendants are qualified on the equipment their airline has, they must re-qualify every year to maintain their qualifications. One of the things that consistantly changes are the requirements for CPR. This was always one of the nail biters for all flight attendants because this was a pass or fail test. If you didn't know what to do by heart, then you failed and had to go through more training. What the FAA and companies realized, flight attendants work together in real life situations, so now if you don't remember what to do as a First Responder, you have other flight attendants (and passengers) to help out.
Over the years, the American Red Cross changed their procedures after many studies, and have found that what the general public were doing, wasted valuable time to get the blood flow to vital organs. So instead of checking to ensure the head was tilted properly, and to see if the chest would rise with a couple of full breaths, now they want you to jump right in (if the person is unconscious and not breathing) to pump the chest. This simulates and pushes air to the lungs and brain to hopefully keep the individual from losing oxygen.
Besides learning CPR, flight attendants have to learn how to open the emergency doors, emergency window exits, and 'bark' commands to get the passengers out quickly in the event of an evacuation. Many frequent passengers will request to sit in the emergency window exit, however I know many of them would balk at actually opening the exit when the time comes. Many of them don't realize how heavy the window exit actually is, or know what to do with the door once they open it up. Some of the smaller aircraft require you to throw the window out onto the wing, while others require you to lift the nearly 50lbs and place it onto the seats.
Once the doors and windows are open, then you have to make sure the slides (if there is one) inflate to make sure the passengers can evacuate safely onto the ground. Sometimes the door may not open, so it's jammed and the flight attendant then has to look for their secondary exit and open that one, or redirect the passengers to any other exit.
Flight Attendants in the United States have strict government regulations that they must follow. If they don't, they could be personally fined a considerable amount. Some of these are to ensure that passengers seat belts are buckled, over head bins are closed, nothing placed against the bulkhead wall for taxi, take-off, landing, and the one that is the worse....Electronic devices are turned off during 'critical' phases of the flight. (this is often when flight attendants become those horrible vampires and snarl at the offending passenger)
I could go into the long drawn out saga about electronics...but I wont. Flight attendants have to follow the FCC/FAA rules, and they must follow the rules they themselves must follow, or be subject to fines for not doing it and could end up being suspended, or worse, fired for not following the regulations.
You do get some rogue flight attendants who seem to make their own rules, however when it comes to violating an FAR, flight attendants sometimes will bring out the fangs to ensure a passenger complies. Yes, there are proper ways to ensure passengers comply, however when you have passengers who simply ignore the requests many times, and think the rules don't apply to them, it can really make for a long flight because now the passenger has upset the flight attendant who simply is following procedure.
Anyway, back to training... for those flight attendants who fly international routes (that's flying 50 nautical miles from the mainland) they have to learn 'Ditching' procedures and how to don life vests, and how to inflate rafts that are either located in ceiling compartments, or special locations, then how to get people out of the plane, down the slide/life rafts, and into the rafts. This can sometimes be a challenge, but it is a requirement and believe it or not, your flight attendant must retrain on this every single year to maintain their qualification.
During initial training, there is a day left to learn about appearance. We can joke about how ragged those flight attendants look from the U.S., however at one time, they went through a grooming class to learn how to wear their uniform, put on their make-up, and how to tie a tie.
Most foreign carriers still have strict guidelines, but it seems that the U.S. airlines have really relaxed their policies and some don't seem to care about how they look, or what their self image shows.
I try to tell my crew that looking good often makes you feel better, and will often show the passenger that you care, not only about yourself, but about the airline you work for and you are Proud to wear the uniform. Yet, I am often met with resistance especially when so many airlines keep laying off flight attendants, making more stringent work rules for the crews, maximizing duty days, and give them less than minimal lay-over rest.
Either way, I still try to do my best and show that I care about what I do, especially ensuring my passenger doesn't know what kind of termoils my company is doing to it's employees.
With all the hard work we must endure during training, and annual recurrent, it's gratifying to know that when an emergency situation arises, we can evacuate a plane full of passengers safely and efficiently, help a choking passenger, know what to do in case of a heart attack, comfort someone who fainted, battle a fire, or do our best to sooth someone who is in the middle of a seizure