What is a flight attendant?
A flight attendant (also known as a steward/stewardess or air host/air hostess) is typically part of the flight crew aboard a commercial airliner or business jet. However, they may also work on some government aircraft or private jets. These individuals are responsible for making sure passengers are safe and comfortable during a flight.
One typical duty of a flight attendant includes going over safety and emergency procedures with the passengers. Before takeoff, they also ensure all passengers are complying with safety procedures, such as wearing seatbelts and maintaining the seat back in an upright position. They also take care of special needs passengers and small children traveling alone, advise passengers about anticipated turbulence, and make sure the safety equipment on board is in proper working order. They might also help passengers store their carry-on baggage.
Becoming a flight attendant comes with some great benefits. They travel for free as part of the job, and many airlines offer free travel when they aren’t working. These benefits also typically extend to spouses, but can also include parents and children, depending on the airline.
Many flight attendants also work flexible schedules, making for a good work/life balance. Those with seniority can choose which flights they want to work, giving them the schedules that work best for them and allowing them to see places they want for free.
Another perk of being a flight attendant is they are reimbursed for food and lodging, allowing them to stay in nice hotels and explore new restaurants for free.
Qualifications and eligibility
Each airline has its own requirements for becoming a flight attendant. Here is a list of some typical requirements for most airlines in the US:
- Height: For most airlines, flight attendants must be between 4’11″-6’4” tall. Many airlines have more restrictive height requirements.
- Weight: Although there are no specific weight requirements, they are required to have a proportional look. The key here is to be in good enough shape to be on your feet for much of the day, perform physical duties like helping passengers with luggage, and have enough energy to make it through a long work day.
- Health: Must be in excellent overall health.
- Senses: Must have all five – hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste.
- Appearance: Must have a well-groomed, pleasing appearance and adhere to dress codes that vary by airline.
- Vision: Must have good vision or vision that is correctable to 20/40 by contacts or glasses.
- Age: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that flight attendants be at least 18 years old, however, almost all commercial airlines require you to be at least 19-20 or at least 21.
- Citizenship: Must be able to exit and re-enter countries without incident.
- Identification: Must have a valid passport, social security card, and/or government-issued picture ID.
- Background check: Must pass a background check.
- A high school diploma or equivalent.
- Some airlines may prefer applicants who have taken some college courses.
Flight attendants spend much of their time in the cabin of an aircraft, where the space is cramped and they are typically on their feet for long periods. They have to deal with difficult passengers, turbulence, and high noise levels. Working in close proximity to passengers and other attendants, they may be exposed to diseases, infections, contaminants, and radiation.
Most professionals work for large, commercial airlines, but some work for private corporations, for the government, or on small charter flights.
Typical work hours
Flight attendants can work part-time or full-time, and most work fewer than 40 hours a week. They usually work irregular schedules that may include nights, holidays, and weekends as flights run every day of the year. Many work 12 to 14 hours a day and complete up to 4 flights a day. The hours can be even longer for international flights. Depending on the flight route, some may be away from home multiple days at a time each week, sleeping in hotels or shared apartments.
Flight attendants usually spend between 75 and 100 hours in flight each month, and another 50 on the ground preparing for flights and performing other duties. The FAA requires that they receive at least 9 consecutive hours of rest following any duty period before starting their next duty period.
They must be flexible as their schedules can change at any time. Almost all flight attendants start out working on call and must be able to report to work on short notice.
Types of flight attendants
Flight attendants typically work as commercial or corporate flight attendants.
Commercial flight attendants
Most individuals work for commercial airlines. These are broken down into 4 categories: major airlines (large, international airlines that fly all over the world), national airlines, regional airlines, and charter airlines. They conduct safety checks, review emergency procedures with passengers, and provide drinks, food, and comfort that varies per airline.
Corporate flight attendants
These professionals work on private jets, which typically have smaller aircraft with smaller crews. They perform some of the same duties and have similar responsibilities as commercial flight attendants, but their role is also different in many ways. They often plan and prepare food or arrange for catering, mix cocktails, care for animals on board, deal with any number of unusual requests, and manage budgets.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a flight attendant in 2021 was $61,640 per year and ranged from the bottom 10 percent earning less than $37,020 to the top 10 percent earning more than $81,400.
The average annual salary for flight attendants is $80,295. Salary may vary by state, but the highest salaries are in Washington ($86,043), Maryland ($83,911), and Virginia ($82,110). The bottom average salaries are in Georgia ($57,438), Louisiana ($56,299), and North Carolina ($54,446). The estimated total pay is $63,535 per year.
Many flight attendants work part-time. The average weekly pay for a part-time professional is $939 a week, and the range is from $2,346 down to $337. The wide range in part-time salaries is likely due to skill level, location, and years of experience. The 3 cities that pay the best for part-time flight attendants are San Francisco, CA ($28.89 per hour), Fremont, CA ($28.16 an hour), and San Jose, CA ($27.17 per hour).
The average private flight attendant’s salary in 2021 was $47,000 per year. The high earners made about $78,000 per year.
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of flight attendants is projected to grow 30 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
There were approximately 102,500 flight attendants employed in 2020, and that number is expected to increase to 133,600 by 2030, which is an increase of 31,100 jobs.
Much of the projected employment growth early in the 2020s is expected to be a recovery from the COVID-19 recession. Normal patterns of job growth should continue from there to the end of the decade.
The career path for a flight attendant may vary slightly depending on the airline or whether you work as a commercial or corporate flight attendant. The typical progression for most is:
- On-Call Flight Attendant: Generally part-time reserve position. This is where most flight attendants start.
- Full-Time Flight Attendant: Flight length, destination, and layover will determine a full-time flight attendant’s designated schedule each month. Individual flexibility will change as they gain seniority.
- Senior Flight Attendant (Purser): The purser manages the flight reports and pre-flight briefings for the crew, communicates with ground personnel, handles any final decisions on board, and is the primary contact with the cockpit. They ensure all baggage is safely stored and safety procedures are enforced at all times
- Check Flight Attendant: Check flight attendants ensure the flight leg complies with the FAA and company policy by performing regular “line checks.” They monitor the performance of the flight attendants to ensure they have the knowledge, skills, and passion required for the position.
- Flight Attendant Supervisor: The flight attendant supervisor oversees a group of flight attendants, evaluates performance, maintains employee records, and manages them as needed.
- Base Manager: The base manager oversees the flight supervisors and the flight attendants under one or more supervisors. They work out of a “base” location.
- Inflight Manager (Inflight Vice President): The inflight manager is a high-level managerial position and oversees all flight attendant bases within a specified area.
Steps to becoming a flight attendant
1. Meet the standard requirements
The first step to becoming a flight attendant is to review the requirements for each airline you are applying to and make sure you meet all the qualifications. This includes age, height, eligibility to work in the US, vision, and training.
Because these individuals are exposed to illnesses and recycled air in a pressurized cabin environment, they must be physically fit and pass a medical exam. Some airlines require candidates to pass physical tests, such as sitting in a jumpseat and successfully performing a range of relevant tasks, like pushing, pulling, bending, and lifting.
2. Get the right training
You must have a high school diploma or equivalency (GED). Some employers prefer advanced education, such as a requisite number of college classes, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. College degrees that prepare you well for a career as a flight attendant are hospitality, communication, tourism, public relations, and similar majors. Some airlines have their own training and other airlines will require you to graduate from a training program or flight attendant “school.”
Training options include:
- Triad Aviation Academy
- The Travel Academy
- InFlight Institute
- Air Care International
- The Airline Academy
- International Air And Hospitality Academy
3. Complete a background check and drug screening
A background check and a pre-employment drug screening are required for all airlines.
4. Prior work experience
Although this generally isn’t a requirement, many airlines are looking for candidates who have at least 1 to 2 years of experience in a related field. A good place to gain the experience they are looking for is in customer service, such as at a hotel, resort, or restaurant.
5. The interview
You will usually go through a series of interviews that might begin with a phone screening and progress to a one-on-one or group interview (or both). Dress professionally, conservatively, be well-groomed, and enthusiastic. These are essential things you’ll need to sell yourself as a good candidate for this position.
6. On-the-job training
Once hired, individuals go through training, which can range from 3 to 6 weeks. Training covers emergency procedures, administering first aid, flight regulations, company operations, and job duties. Training is required to be certified by the FAA.
7. Language skills
If you are interested in working on international flights, you may be required to be fluent in a foreign language.
8. Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency
After completing training and passing an exam, flight attendants are eligible for certification by the FAA. The certification applies only to specific types of aircraft, and they must take new training for each type of aircraft on which they work. Once a flight attendant has received their certification, they are eligible to work on flights.
Flight attendants who have completed training and received FAA certification are put on probation, usually 6 months, where their performance, aptitudes, and attitudes are closely watched.
10. Ongoing training
Flight attendants are required to complete ongoing training each year to maintain their certification.
Tips for becoming a flight attendant
If you are interested in becoming a flight attendant, there are a few things you should do. It’s a very desirable job and the competition is stiff.
Know the requirements
If you don’t meet one or more of the requirements, such as the height requirement, don’t apply. If you have tattoos, check the requirements for each airline. Make sure your passport is up to date. You’ll have to know what the requirements are for every airline you apply to.
Get customer service experience
Customer service is a top priority at any airline. You can work for a cruise ship, at a restaurant, in a hotel, or in other customer service positions to gain valuable experience that will make you stand out.
Enroll in a flight attendant school
Although not a requirement, a flight attendant school can give you hands-on training, especially if you have no experience, that will teach you the necessary skills and requirements you’ll need to put you ahead of the competition. Here are some of the best schools:
- The Travel Academy: The Travel Academy is unique because they guarantee that you’ll get an interview or you get your tuition back! Because the percentage of prospective flight attendants who get a job is fairly low, The Travel Academy focuses on giving you the training you need. They have a simulated work environment and hands-on skills training. Most students receive job offers before even graduation.
- Inflight Institute: Inflight Institute offers classes of varying time commitments, but many of them are over 40 hours. This education is a must when it comes to knowing everything you need to before getting hired. With tons of positive reviews and a great track record, this is the perfect school for those just starting out their journey.
- Triad Aviation Academy: TAA wants to get you out flying as quickly as possible, which is why they offer their accelerated flight attendant certificate. If you want a reputable academy that will be grueling but quick, this is a great option.
- International Air and Hospitality Academy: International Air and Hospitality Academy will train you to become a travel specialist. This is a 20-week program that will get you set for traveling both nationally and internationally. If you want to be set apart from the crowd, their programs can’t be beat.
A flight attendant can be a physically demanding job, and you must be able to handle it. Go to the gym, work out at home, or wherever you want, but keep yourself in shape. Part of being a flight attendant is looking the part.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get an interview the first, second, or tenth time. Keep trying and don’t give up. Keep a look out for open positions and apply as soon as you see them. Sometimes the application window is only open for a few hours, so you have to maintain an up-to-date resume and be prepared.
Join flight attendant associations
Associations will help you gather colleagues and friends in the business. Some of the top options include the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFA United, and APFA.
Research the airlines
Every airline is unique and operates a little differently from the others. Find out what the company philosophy is for each one. Know what they are looking for and adapt your resume to each one. If you get an interview, you can do the same for the interview questions. Impress them with your knowledge and let each airline know you’re a good fit for the job.
If you have a friend or family member who works for an airline, don’t hesitate to call them and have them put in a good word for you.