The Sky’s No Limit for this RCAF Flight Attendant

Magazine Article / March 1, 2020

Sergeant Holly Larabie is the Flight Attendant Lead with 437 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing in Trenton, Ontario. Through the Army Reserve Co-op Program at her high school, she joined the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Primary Reserve (PRes) in February 2005 with the Ontario Regiment (Royal Canadian Armoured Corps) in Oshawa, Ontario as an Armoured Reconnaissance Crewman. She completed a Component Transfer to the Regular Force and an Occupation Transfer (OT) to Mobile Support Equipment Operator (MSE Op) in December 2008, and in July 2017 accepted an opportunity to participate in the Flight Attendant (FA) Employment Program.

For this issue of PERSpectives, we asked her to tell us about this exciting aspect of her career.

I initially heard about this employment opportunity while on my MSE Op Qualification Level 3 course at the Canadian Forces Logistics Training Centre at CFB Borden in 2009. One of the instructors had previously completed a tour at 437 Squadron and thoroughly enjoyed it. While I was interested in the Flight Attendant position right away, I wanted to embrace my new trade as an MSE Op. As I approached a more suitable time in both my career and personal life, I applied for and was accepted into the position in 2017. It’s easy to say that I was initially attracted to the travel opportunities that come with being a Flight Attendant, but it was also the new challenges that come along with a completely new work environment.

The majority of people in my life at that time were supportive of my decision to take a chance on this amazing employment opportunity, but I would say the person who supported me the most was my sister, Jessica. There were some tough decisions to make and at times I doubted if this was a smart career move for me, and [there were] times where I was nervous to step outside of my comfort zone and try something completely different. She always reminded me that life is not only about my career as an MSE Op, and that I still have plenty of years left following my time at 437 (Transport) Squadron [in Trenton, Ontario] to continue my career within my trade. She also reminded me that I should embrace new challenges and the amazing opportunities the CAF has outside of my trade as well.

Prior to course loading on the CC-150 Flight Attendant/Flight Steward course, applicants will be required to complete the Initial Aero Medical Training Course, which is four training days at 17 Wing in Winnipeg. Flight Attendant/Flight Steward training is conducted in three phases: Phases 1 and 2 are completed as part of the CC150 Flight Attendant/Flight Steward course run at 426 Squadron at 8 Wing [at Trenton, Ontario]. Training consists of 14 days of local academic training, four days in Montreal at the Air Transat Flight Simulator, followed by 15 days of in-flight training, achieving at least five missions. Upon completion of the course, when members are posted into 437 Squadron, they will complete Phase 3, which consists of up to 90 days of static and in-flight training prior to their Initial Operational Category Check Ride. Phases 1 and 2 are largely focused on Emergency Procedures and Safety Equipment, Aircraft Ancillary Equipment, and Rules and Regulations/In-Flight duties. Phase 3 focuses on a more in-depth knowledge of the phases of flight and the duties and responsibilities throughout. Applicants will also be required to complete the two-day Sea Survival Course at 19 Wing in Comox [British Columbia].

I found everything to be somewhat surprising during my training and my first posting. At that point in my career I had only been exposed to the Army environment between my time in the Reserve and then at 2 Service Battalion in Petawawa [Ontario]. I had an extremely limited knowledge of the RCAF and Air Mobility operations. The first year really opened my eyes and exposed me to a lot of new situations and experiences. To be honest, when the training first started I had no idea what aircraft I was going to work on, or how they planned to fill a two-month course with how to serve coffee and peanuts. It was a real eye opener to me how much important information I needed to know and that my role on the aircraft was a lot more than just passenger comforts.

What I find most interesting about my work routine is that I do not have a traditional work routine. Flight itineraries vary from trip to trip, and schedules and missions from month to month. Also, when not flying, there are still office days with admin and tasks to be completed, as well as secondary duties.

This job challenges me in a way that is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Although I have been a Section Commander in numerous positions in the past, as the Flight Attendant Lead I am a section commander to a very diverse section. Because this opportunity is open to members from all trades, in ranks from Private to Sergeant, we are comprised of personnel from a wide variety of trades and from all three elements. Bringing personnel from different professional backgrounds together to form one cohesive team can be a challenge on its own, but to have your section all over the world at any given time gives it a whole new spin.

Balancing a flying schedule with your personal life can definitely be a challenge at times, but we do our best to schedule as early as we can and keep changes to a minimum to allow our personnel to make plans outside of work. While there are last-minute flights and itinerary changes that require patience and flexibility from the crew tasked on those missions, it is expected. It is also briefed to applicants many times throughout the application process and initial training, so it’s not a surprise when it happens.

Being posted to 437 Squadron is an amazing opportunity on its own, but being a part of the 8 Wing Trenton sports community is where I spend most of my time when I am not at work. I currently play for the Base Women’s hockey team, the 437 Squadron intersection hockey team, the Noon Hour Hockey League, Intersection Golf, and the Base Women’s Softball Team. I also play in civilian leagues for women’s ball hockey and dodge ball. While I cannot attend every game and practice because I am flying, it is a great way to stay physically fit and meet new people.

I have had some really amazing flight destinations thus far in my flying career. To name a few of my favourites: Cairns, Australia; Singapore; Fiji; Rome, Italy; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Dubai; Morocco; Dublin, Ireland; Lajes, Portugal (in the Azores islands); not to mention all over Eastern Europe, Canada and the United States.

It’s really tough to name a favourite flight, it is not always the destination that makes a flight memorable but the people you are with. I would say my top three most memorable flights are:

the Cold Lake Airshow in July 2018, which was my first ever airshow experience; The Prime Minister’s trip to the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea in 2018; and the repatriation flights of two Albanian soldiers from Task Force Latvia back home to Albania. That last one was a humbling and somber experience, but it was personally rewarding and invaluable experience to be able to assist our Allies in their time of need.

If you have done your homework on the job, believe you can meet all of the prerequisites, have a heart for customer service and want to face new challenges and travel the world, then my advice to you is to stop thinking about it and apply. I have flown almost 1,000 hours in support of VVIP missions, troop transport, domestic and international flights, repatriation and air medevac missions, air-to-air refuelling and training missions, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

The Flight Attendant Employment Program (FAEP) offers qualified CAF NCMs the opportunity to broaden their career experience outside of their occupation to work as a Flight Attendant for a minimum of one posting cycle, after which they return to their home unit/regular duties. FAs receive a specialty qualification and maintain their MOS and environmental uniform, though the actual positions belong to and are managed by the RCAF.

Interested? Talk to your local PSO to get started!

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