They love adventure. They love travel. But most of all, they love people.
The group of job applicants sat around a large table in a meeting room at the Holiday Inn of Bethesda on a recent cold afternoon. One by one, they stood up, introduced themselves and explained why they would be an asset to the company, while recruiters smiled, watched and carefully gauged their customer appeal.
The skies were calling.
Presidential Airways, the latest in low-priced airlines, had advertised for customer service representatives and flight attendants to work out of Dulles International Airport, the company's home. Almost 400 people came to compete for 35 full-time jobs.
First, they listened to a rah-rah, get-acquainted speech about the advantages of becoming "a part of the Presidential team." Then they divided into groups of 20 for the tell-us-all-about-yourself sessions.
A small blond woman in a cream-colored suit said she had worked to put her husband through law school. "Now my husband says it's my turn," she said, "and this is what I always wanted to do."
A tall, thin man with dark hair and an admitted case of nerves said his job as a hotel clerk lacks promise, not to mention the romance of being a flight attendant. "I used to go to the airports a lot just to see the planes landing and taking off," he said. "And I really love to serve people."
Most, like the clerk, expressed a longing to become not customer service reps, but flight attendants -- a position that apparently retains its glamour despite threats of terrorism, concerns about air safety, and the drawbacks of a $14,000-a-year starting salary.
"Danger can happen to you walking down the street," Cheryl Budd, a 29-year-old temporary office worker from Capitol Heights, said matter-of-factly. "Some people say flight attendants are just waitresses in the sky, but I don't care. I think it's adventure, and I don't like a 9-to-5 job."
The applicants were mostly dressed up, mostly young, mostly trim. Their applications asked for height and weight; proportion counts in this business. So, too, does the first impression -- and the big bright smile.
"We're building an airlines from the ground up," said Mary Ann Narducci, a recruiter with a soothing manner and a sparkling grin. "We're looking for really good customer service skills . . . . Personal appearance is important. And they must be flexible -- there's no such thing as standard hours in the airlines business."
The applicants' off-the-cuff remarks were in fact part of an immediate weeding-out process, gracefully camouflaged to avoid hurting the pride of those who were not chosen. When the table of applicants completed its round of introductions, Narducci and flight attendant Terry Light briefly left the room, telling everyone to relax while they checked the applications.
When the recruiters returned, they thanked the applicants, told them Presidential might be getting in touch with them soon, and urged them to "please come back and fly with us."
The applicants began gathering up their coats and bags with a rather dejected air. Narducci singled out a tall young woman with a mane of dark blond hair and asked her to stay behind, mentioning something about a question on the woman's application.
As soon as the room emptied, however, the two recruiters offered their congratulations. Patrice Lucido, 21, of Ellicott City, Md., was the only one in her group to make the first cut.
The next day, she would meet with another interviewer at Presidential offices at Dulles, and if that went well (it did), she would participate in a three-week flight attendant training program. If she passed the training program, she could buy a package of red, white and blue uniforms for $600 and begin staffing flights 16 or 17 days a month to such Presidential stops as Boston, Montreal, West Palm Beach and Cleveland.
"I feel honored," said Lucido, smiling broadly.
That smile was apparently Lucido's ticket. "The moment Patrice walked in the room, we knew she'd be good," Narducci said. "She was smiling from ear to ear."
Narducci said her job is often tough, even a little heart-rending. "They all look at you with shining faces as if to say, 'Please. Pick me.' They all want the job. I know how they feel. We've all been there."
A new stream of applicants was pouring in the door. A graduate of Barbizon modeling school. A nurse. A teacher. An unemployed bartender. A residence manager "looking for a career change."
"Key punch work is rather boring," began one young woman, "and being a flight attendant would bring some excitement into my life."