Job duties are learned through formal on-the-job training.
Competition for positions will remain strong because the opportunity
for travel attracts more applicants than there are jobs, with
only the most qualified being hired.
A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement;
however, applicants with a college degree and with experience
in dealing with the public are likely to have the best employment
Nature of the Work
Major airlines are required by law to provide flight attendants
for the safety of the traveling public. Although the primary
job of the flight attendants is to ensure that safety regulations
are followed, attendants also try to make flights comfortable
and enjoyable for passengers.
At least 1 hour before each flight, attendants are briefed
by the captain—the pilot in command—on such things as emergency
evacuation procedures, coordination of the crew, the length
of the flight, expected weather conditions, and special issues
having to do with passengers. Flight attendants make sure
that first-aid kits and other emergency equipment are aboard
and in working order and that the passenger cabin is in order,
with adequate supplies of food, beverages, and any other provided
amenities. As passengers board the plane, flight attendants
greet them, check their tickets, and tell them where to store
Before the plane takes off, flight attendants instruct all
passengers in the use of emergency equipment and check to
see that seatbelts are fastened, seat backs are in upright
positions, and all carry-on items are properly stowed. In
the air, helping passengers in the event of an emergency is
the most important responsibility of a flight attendant. Safety-related
actions may range from reassuring passengers during rough
weather to directing passengers who must evacuate a plane
following an emergency landing. Flight attendants also answer
questions about the flight; distribute reading material, pillows,
and blankets; and help small children, elderly or disabled
persons, and any others needing assistance. They may administer
first aid to passengers who become ill. Flight attendants
generally serve beverages and other refreshments and, on many
flights, heat and distribute precooked meals or snacks. Prior
to landing, flight attendants take inventory of headsets,
alcoholic beverages, and moneys collected. They also report
any medical problems passengers may have had, the condition
of cabin equipment, and lost and found articles.
Lead, or first, flight attendants, sometimes known as pursers,
oversee the work of the other attendants aboard the aircraft,
while performing most of the same duties.
Because airlines operate around the clock and year round,
flight attendants may work nights, holidays, and weekends.
In most cases, agreements between the airline and the employees’
union determine the total daily and monthly working time.
Scheduled on-duty time usually is limited to 12 hours per
day although some contracts provide daily actual maximums
of 14 hours, with somewhat greater maximums for international
flying. Attendants usually fly 65 to 90 hours a month and,
in addition, generally spend about 50 hours a month on the
ground preparing planes for flights, writing reports following
completed flights, and waiting for planes to arrive. They
may be away from their home base at least one-third of the
time. During this period, the airlines provide hotel accommodations
and an allowance for meal expenses.
Flight attendants must be flexible, reliable, and willing
to relocate. However, many flight attendants elect to live
in one place and commute to their assigned home base. Home
bases and routes worked are bid for on a seniority basis.
The longer the flight attendant has been employed, the more
likely he or she is to work on chosen flights. Almost all
flight attendants start out working on reserve status or on
call. On small corporate airlines, flight attendants often
work on an as-needed basis and must adapt to varying environments
The combination of free time and discount airfares provides
flight attendants the opportunity to travel and see new places.
However, the work can be strenuous and trying. Flight attendants
stand during much of the flight and must remain pleasant and
efficient, regardless of how tired they are or how demanding
passengers may be. Occasionally, flight attendants must deal
with disruptive passengers. Also, turbulent flights can add
to possible difficulties regarding service, including potential
injuries to passengers.
Working in a moving aircraft leaves flight attendants susceptible
to injuries. For example, back injuries and mishaps can occur
when opening overhead compartments or while pushing heavy
service carts. In addition, medical problems can arise from
irregular sleeping and eating patterns, dealing with stressful
passengers, working in a pressurized environment, and breathing
Airlines prefer to hire poised, tactful, and resourceful
people who can interact comfortably with strangers and remain
calm under duress. Applicants usually must be at least 18
to 21 years old, although some carriers may have higher minimum-age
requirements. Flight attendants must have excellent health
and the ability to speak clearly. All U.S. airlines require
that applicants be citizens of the United States or registered
aliens with legal rights to obtain employment in the United
Airlines usually have physical and appearance requirements.
There are height requirements for reaching overhead bins,
which often contain emergency equipment, and most airlines
want candidates with weight proportionate to height. Vision
is required to be correctable to 20/30 or better with glasses
or contact lenses (uncorrected no worse than 20/200). Men
must have their hair cut above the collar and be clean shaven.
Airlines prefer applicants with no visible tattoos, body piercing,
or unusual hairstyles or makeup.
A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement.
However, airlines increasingly prefer applicants with a college
degree and with experience in dealing with the public. Applicants
who attend schools and colleges that offer flight attendant
training may have an advantage over other applicants. Highly
desirable areas of concentration include people-oriented disciplines
such as psychology and education. Flight attendants for international
airlines generally must speak a foreign language fluently.
For their international flights, some of the major airlines
prefer candidates who can speak two major foreign languages.
In addition to education and training, airlines conduct a
thorough background check as required by the FAA, which goes
back as many as 10 years. Everything about an applicant is
investigated, including date of birth, employment history,
criminal record, school records, and gaps in employment. Employment
is contingent on a successful background check. An applicant
will not be offered a job or will be immediately dismissed
if his or her background check shows any discrepancies.
Once hired, all candidates must undergo a period of formal
training. The length of training, ranging from 3 to 8 weeks,
depends on the size and type of carrier and takes place at
the airline’s flight training center. Airlines that do not
operate training centers generally send new employees to the
center of another airline. Some airlines may provide transportation
to the training centers and an allowance for room, board,
and school supplies, while other airlines charge individuals
for training. New trainees are not considered employees of
the airline until they successfully complete the training
program. Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating
an airplane, operating emergency systems and equipment, administering
first aid, and surviving in the water. In addition, trainees
are taught how to deal with disruptive passengers and with
hijacking and terrorist situations. New hires learn flight
regulations and duties, gain knowledge of company operations
and policies, and receive instruction on personal grooming
and weight control. Trainees for the international routes
get additional instruction in passport and customs regulations.
Trainees must perform many drills and duties unaided, in front
of the training staff. Throughout training, they also take
tests designed to eliminate unsuccessful trainees. Toward
the end of their training, students go on practice flights.
Upon successful completion of training, flight attendants
receive the FAA’s Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency.
Flight attendants also are required to go through periodic
retraining and pass an FAA safety examination to continue
After completing initial training, flight attendants are
assigned to one of their airline’s bases. New flight attendants
are placed on reserve status and are called either to staff
extra flights or to fill in for crewmembers who are sick,
on vacation, or rerouted. When they are not on duty, reserve
flight attendants must be available to report for flights
on short notice. They usually remain on reserve for at least
1 year, but, in some cities, it may take 5 to 10 years or
longer to advance from reserve status. Flight attendants who
no longer are on reserve bid monthly for regular assignments.
Because assignments are based on seniority, usually only the
most experienced attendants get their choice of assignments.
Advancement takes longer today than in the past because experienced
flight attendants are remaining in this career longer than
they used to.
Some flight attendants become supervisors or take on additional
duties such as recruiting and instructing. Their experience
also may qualify them for numerous airline-related jobs involving
contact with the public, such as reservation ticket agent
or public-relations specialist.
Flight attendants held about 102,000 jobs in 2004. Commercial
airlines employed the vast majority of flight attendants,
most of whom lived in their employer’s home-base city. A small
number of flight attendants worked for large companies that
operated aircraft for business purposes.
In the long run, opportunities for persons seeking flight
attendant jobs should improve as the airline industry continues
to recover from the effects of September 11, 2001, and the
downturn in the economy. Employment of flight attendants is
expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations
through the year 2014. Population growth and an improving
economy are expected to boost the number of airline passengers.
As airlines expand their capacity to meet rising demand by
increasing the number and size of planes in operation, more
flight attendants will be needed. Over the next decade, however,
demand for flight attendants will fluctuate with the demand
for air travel, which is highly sensitive to swings in the
economy. During downturns, as air traffic declines, the hiring
of flight attendants declines, and some experienced attendants
may be laid off until traffic recovers.
Despite the improving outlook, competition is expected to
be keen because this job usually attracts more applicants
than there are jobs, with only the most qualified eventually
being hired. College graduates who have experience dealing
with the public should have the best chance of being hired.
Job opportunities may be better with the faster growing regional
and commuter, low-fare, and charter airlines. There also are
job opportunities for professionally trained flight attendants
to work for companies operating private aircraft for their
The majority of job openings through the year 2014 will arise
from the need to replace flight attendants who leave the labor
force or transfer to other occupations, often for higher earnings
or a more stable lifestyle. With the job now viewed increasingly
as a profession, however, fewer flight attendants leave their
jobs, and job turnover is not as high as in the past. The
average job tenure of attendants is currently more than 7
years and is increasing.
Median annual earnings of flight attendants were $43,440
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,310
and $67,590. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,450,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,850.
According to data from the Association of Flight Attendants,
beginning attendants had median earnings of about $15,552
a year in 2004. Beginning pay scales for flight attendants
vary by carrier, however. New hires usually begin at the same
pay scale regardless of experience, and all flight attendants
receive the same future pay increases based on an established
pay scale. Flight attendants receive extra compensation for
increased hours. Further, some airlines offer incentive pay
for working holidays, night and international flights, or
taking positions that require additional responsibility or
paperwork. Most airlines guarantee a minimum of 65 to 85 flight
hours per month, with the option to work additional hours.
Flight attendants also receive a “per diem” allowance for
meal expenses while on duty away from home. In addition, flight
attendants and their immediate families are entitled to free
or discounted fares on their own airline and reduced fares
on most other airlines. Some airlines require that the flight
attendant be with an airline for 3 to 6 months before taking
advantage of this benefit. Other benefits may include medical,
dental, and life insurance; 401K or other retirement plan;
sick leave; paid holidays; stock options; paid vacations;
and tuition reimbursement.
Flight attendants are required to purchase uniforms and wear
them while on duty. The airlines usually pay for uniform replacement
items, and may provide a small allowance to cover cleaning
and upkeep of the uniforms.
The majority of flight attendants hold union membership,
primarily with the Association of Flight Attendants. Other
unions that represent flight attendants include the Transport
Workers Union of America and the International Brotherhood
Other jobs that involve helping people as a safety professional,
while requiring the ability to be calm even under trying circumstances,
include emergency medical technicians and paramedics and fire
Sources of Additional Information
Information about job opportunities and qualifications required
for work at a particular airline may be obtained by writing
to the airline’s human resources office.
For further information on flight attendants, contact: