Interested in a job that lets you see the world? Becoming a flight attendant might be just the ticket. The hours can be pretty unusual, and such an inconsistent lifestyle isn’t for everyone. But if you can put up with the erratic schedule and below-average pay, plenty of adventure and unique perks await you.
How exactly does one become a flight attendant, and what does this lifestyle really look like in practice? We’ve rounded up the answers below.
What Does a Flight Attendant Do?
"A flight attendant is someone whose primary duty is to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers during an airline flight," according to career site, Sokanu. "They are part of the cabin crew for the plane, a team of personnel who operate a commercial, business or even military aircraft while traveling domestically or internationally."
- Private flight attendants must truly be ready to go at a moment's notice. You’ll also have to wear more hats than you might as a commercial attendant. In private aviation, the expense for new-hire training is more often taken on by the attendant on the frontend; but, again, you are likely to be more highly compensated than a commercial attendant.
- Corporate (or commercial) flight attendants tend to have more control over their schedules. Another thing — new-hire training for corporate flight attendants is usually paid and, upon successful completion, your status as an airline flight attendant is typically guaranteed.
What Are the Perks of Being a Flight Attendant?
Travel, of course, is the primary perk. You can also travel outside of work, as most airlines offer deeply discounted tickets to both flight attendants and their families, plus you’re eligible for some pretty sweet discounts from great travel sites, hotels, car rental services and vacation packages. And for many airlines, these perks continue after you've retired.
Flight attendants also receive an hourly “per diem” while they are away from base to help cover additional travel expenses, like food. It isn’t much; for many airlines, the per diem is capped at $3/hour. Still, for a hefty international flight with a long layover, that’s some decent spending money directly in your pocket! During busy periods (like holidays), you can also earn extra money by working overtime, too.
Lastly, schedule flexibility is a huge perk. This is partly because you’re able to get creative with the way you meet your monthly quota of in-flight hours worked; if you stack these hours right, it’s not uncommon to get a full week off (that’s seven days in a row) every month.
What Are the Downsides of Being a Flight Attendant?
Is this all starting sound a little too good to be true? Your skepticism is warranted — being a flight attendant comes with its drawbacks, too.
"Inconsistent” is an understatement. In an ideal world, you can create your own schedule, but that doesn’t always happen in practice, especially if you’re new to the industry. That’s because a majority of flight attendants start off working as “reserve” when your schedule is at the mercy of the airline. Some flight attendants work for a particular airline for years and years before they begin to actually enjoy “flexibility perks.”
The pay usually isn’t great. Entry-level salaries average out at about $25,000 a year, according to Bloomberg. (For some perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau listed the average salary in the U.S. as $56,516 in 2017). And that’s for major airline carriers — smaller, budget airlines pay even less. Of course, this varies with seniority and promotions. Still, it can take quite some time to actually reach that median annual salary of $40,000 that many airlines quote. Plus, you’re only actually paid for “in air” time — the time spent boarding passengers, for instance, isn’t paid. That can contribute to even further inconsistencies in pay and hours worked.
Where Can You Search for Flight Attendant Jobs?
Check out the “careers” page on the website of the airlines you’re interested in; if you have your heart set on joining a particular airline, it’s a good idea to follow their social media accounts, as some times job openings and hiring initiatives will be announced that way.
Before going any further, you should also make sure you meet the requirements for a flight attendant position in the first place. While these requirements can differ slightly between airlines, federal aviation law mandates that attendants have at least a high school diploma (or GED); though higher education is looked favorably upon, it is not required. Know that there is no “flight attendant school,” per se, but you will undergo a pretty rigorous training program should you be hired. Prior customer service experience is also a plus.
Additionally, there are some physical requirements, such as being tall enough to help passengers put carry-on luggage in overhead bins, but not so tall that their heads hit the plane’s ceiling. Height and weight requirements are airline-specific and can usually be found on that company’s career page.
Upon hire, you would be expected to pass a medical exam, drug screen and background check.
How long it takes to become a flight attendant
There is no required flight attendant school like there is for people who choose to become pilots. Flight attendants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED equivalency. In general, you must undergo 3-8 weeks of training by the airline that hired you. Most airlines will also want you to have some experience in a related field, such as customer service, for a couple of years.
What Will the Interview Process Be Like?
Your first flight attendant interview is likely to be a video or phone interview (check out these phone interview tips). Beyond the typical questions, a hiring manager for a flight attendant position will also assess whether applicants have customer service skills and are able to keep calm in a crisis. Demonstrating that you will be attentive to passengers’ safety is key.
The in-person interview may last several hours. You’ll likely be asked to read an example in-flight announcement and participate in a group activity so airlines can gauge how well you work with others.
Examples of interview questions include:
- How would you handle an emergency situation where the airplane is beginning to descend unexpectedly?
- If you saw a passenger being deliberately rude to one of your fellow flight attendants, how would you respond?
- During the middle of a flight, the pilot asks you to do a task you are not authorized to perform. What do you do?
- You have one seat left on an aircraft, and to fill it you have to choose from: several passengers waiting on standby, a frequent flyer of this airline, a military person, and an airline employee who was hoping to fly on standby. Who gets the empty seat, and why?
- A passenger refuses to put on their seatbelt — what do you do?
- What would you do if you encountered a situation where a passenger had had too much to drink?
- Why do you want to work for this airline company?
Now that you know a bit more about the roles of and how to become a flight attendant, hopefully, you’re feeling a little more confident about pursuing this exciting career path. Best of luck, and bon voyage!