In March 2020, flight attendant training at Delta came to a halt. The “G class,” those who were in training when the COVID-19 pandemic set in, headed home with Delta’s promise that they’d be the first to come back when it was time.
Delta brought them back 78 weeks later. On Oct. 1, 99 trainees celebrated their graduation and joined the ranks of Delta flight attendants serving customers.
On that graduation day, Gail Clarke and her classmates received their long-awaited Delta wings. She beamed at the group, who bonded in anticipation of a moment 78 weeks – 523 days – in the making. As a group, they represent Delta’s first graduating class of flight attendants since the pandemic began.
On March 18, 2020, the flight-attendants-to-be were beginning week five of a rigorous, in-depth training that covers safety, service, aircraft types, industry regulation and more. Thirty-five days into the 40-day training, G class's knowledge broadened every day. Graduation day was in sight.
The G class in March 2020, shortly before learning their training would be paused due to COVID-19.
Then Delta leaders entered the room with the news: Classes were paused due to COVID-19.
"We were devastated to have to make that decision. We recognized the sacrifices that are made to come to training, and we knew the news would be difficult on everyone," said Jennifer Anderson, Manager of IFS Initial Training. But she said at the time that the G class would be the first to come back.
Clarke and her classmates thought they would be back in 14 days.
'ALL BECAUSE DELTA RANDOMLY PUT US TOGETHER'
Those 14 days became 28. Then 56. The weeks dragged on until it became 523 days.
"During the pandemic, we retained the knowledge we had from training," Clarke said. "But we were learning other things too. We were learning how to be patient."
For 523 days, Clarke's group text message consistently chimed, a familiar and comforting noise signaling a message from one of her flight attendant classmates.
“When I hear that ping, I think, 'yay, that's my people,'" Clarke said.
"Our group was special," Clarke said. "In that 18 months, we had a baby born, parents pass away, someone found out they had, and then beat, cancer… and we all made it because of the amazing support we had from one another."
"All because Delta randomly put us together."
When COVID hit, Clarke was able to spend some time back at her catering company that she operated pre-pandemic, but nothing quite brought her the joy that her classmates brought her. She was thrilled every time she got to talk to or meet up with a classmate.
Throughout those 523 days, Delta stayed true to their commitment – providing regular updates and continuing to promise they'd be first to come back.
THE LONGEST FLIGHT ATTENDANT TRAINING CLASS IN DELTA'S HISTORY
On Aug. 23, the G class of 2021 returned to restart training. While they weren't able to stay together, they were thrilled Delta kept its promise.
So, the G class began again. This time as the A class. Even though they had to repeat much of their training, they were thrilled just to be back.
Even separated among several classes, the flight attendant hopefuls continued to stay in touch.
"Delta has taught us patience and resilience, and that we can trust that they are true to their word," Clarke said.
"These 23 random classmates are now lifelong friends."
For the 24 classmates-turned-lifelong-friends, Oct. 7 was a special day: On this day, they stepped onto planes for the first time as Delta flight attendants.
These friends are in addition to roughly 1,500 flight attendants who made it through the hiring processes before the pandemic began, along with another 1,500 Delta is currently seeking to hire for its 2021-2022 class. Interested candidates can learn more about open flight attendant positions at delta.com/careers and searching for the job title “flight attendant.”