New recruits
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Vying to be flight attendants

Thousands of women — all young, beautiful and practically the same height — have applied for 180 openings for flight attendants at China Southern Airlines. The selection process is much more old-fashioned beauty pageant than equal-opportunity job interview. Prospects must be no older than 24, have nice legs and be taller than average. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
China Southern Airlines puts its annual flight attendant recruitment drives on TV. The show follows a six-month audition through several major Chinese cities. Thousands of women show up for the chance to compete. During a recent taping at a resort on the outskirts of Beijing, the contestants lined up with military precision, each wearing tight shorts and snug T-shirts. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Two young women chat during the auditions, which include a swimsuit competition and a race involving luggage, makeup brushes and drinks trays. Demand for new flight attendants is so great it has spawned a cottage industry of academies to produce cabin crews. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Fu Rao, 18, center, helps a friend with her makeup duing the competition. She believes youth and inexperience can work to her advantage if she’s hired. “There are a lot of passengers who are also flying for the first time — we are in the same boat and therefore better able to put them at ease,” she said. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Fu Rao is overcome with emotion after finding out that she avoided elimination from the auditions. The vast majority of aspiring flight attendants didn’t make the cut. Judges were looking not just at their appearance, but also how they responded to disappointment and unexpected situations and how well they worked in team situations. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Some of the aspiring flight attendants practice before a competition. China Southern officials defend the emphasis on youth and beauty. “A lot of Chinese passengers judge the quality of airlines based on the quality of their flight attendants, meaning are they pretty or not pretty,” said Luo Man, a media director for the airline. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Two young women compete in the drinks tray-carrying contest. They shifted from shorts and T-shirts to the buttoned-down blouse, pencil skirt and black heels of a flight attendant. Back before the cameras as the clock ticked, they threw on rouge and eye shadow and touched up their hair in front of tiny hand-held mirrors, then grabbed trays of drinks to present to the judges. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)