Flight attendant jobs are a high profile occupation within the airline industry. If you love to travel, like to work with the public and enjoy ever-changing work schedules, then this may be the job for you.
Prospects for Flight Attendant Jobs
According to the United States Department of Labor, in 2006 there were about 97,000 flight attendants, most of whom were employed by commercial airlines. The demand for flight attendants fluctuates with the demand for airline travel. During economic downturns, when airline travel tends to decrease, attendants may experience reduced work loads or be laid off until air travel increases.
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Flight attendant employment is expected to grow to 107,000 by 2016. New job openings will come from:
- Replacements needed for flight attendants who leave the labor force or transfer to other jobs.
- Fast-growing regional, low-cost and charter airlines.
- Companies that provide flight attendants for private aircraft.
Competition for flight attendant jobs is expected to be intense with each open job attracting many applicants. College graduates with experience dealing with the public will probably have the best chance of being hired. Flight attendants stay on the job an average of fourteen years.
The primary responsibility of a flight attendant is the safety and security of passengers. Their in-air responsibilities also include passenger check-in and orientation, stowing luggage, serving food and beverages, answering passenger questions, administering first aid and coordinating evacuation if necessary.
The work can be stressful and trying. Flight attendants must stand during most of the flight. They must remain pleasant and efficient, regardless of how long or bumpy the flight is or how difficult the passengers might be.
After training new flight attendants are assigned to one of their airline's bases. They are placed on reserve status for at least one year, during which time they fill in for flight attendants who are sick or on vacation. Assignments are based on seniority, with the most experienced flight attendants receiving their first choice of assignments.
Scheduled on-duty time is usually limited to twelve hours a day. Attendants fly from 65 to 90 hours a month with an additional 50 hours a month on the ground preparing and waiting for their flights. They receive extra compensation for additional hours.
Most flight attendants are union members, and usually belong to the Association of Flight Attendants, the Transport Workers Union of America or the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Airlines look for flight attendants who are healthy and comfortable interacting with strangers. Specifically, they are looking for men and women who:
- Are at least 18 to 21 years old
- Meet height and weight requirements
- Have vision that is correctable to 20/30 or better
- Have no visible tattoos, piercings or unusual hairstyles
- Have a successful background check
- Are citizens of the United States, or registered aliens
Education and Training
A high school diploma is required by all airlines, with most companies preferring college graduates with customer service experience. Flight attendants for international airlines also need to speak at least one foreign language fluently.All flight attendants complete an intensive three to eight week flight attendant training school at a flight training center. Training includes information, drills and tests on:
- Flight regulations
- Flight duties
- Company operations and policies
- Personal grooming and weight control
- Emergency procedures
- Administering first aid
- Water survival
- Dealing with difficult passengers
- Dealing with difficult situations such as terrorists and hijacking
- Passports and customs (for international flights)
After completion of the training and practice flights, flight attendants receive a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency from the Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA) for the specific types of aircraft for which they have been trained.
One or two days of retraining is required if a flight attendant switches airlines or starts to fly a different type of aircraft. Periodic retraining is also required of all flight attendants and they must pass an FAA safety exam to keep flying.
Salary and Benefits
Beginning attendants earn about $15,849 a year, with pay scales varying by carrier. The United States Department of Labor reports that the middle fifty percent of flight attendants earned between $33,320 and $77,410 annually. Senior fight attendants earn more and have the first choice of flights. Flight attendants may earn more for night flights or for accepting additional responsibilities, such as performing purser duties.
Flight attendants are required to purchase their uniforms, but the airline usually pays for uniform cleaning and upkeep. They receive hotel accommodations and a per diem allowance for meals while on duty away from home. Other benefits can include medical, dental and life insurance as well as paid holidays and vacations, retirement and investment plans.
After three to six months, flight attendants and their immediate families can receive free or discounted fares on their airline on a space available basis. Some airlines also offer incentive pay for holiday, night and international flights.
Career Next Steps
The career path for a flight attendant can include the following positions:
- Senior or lead flight attendant
- Check flight attendant
- Flight attendant supervisor
- Base Manager
- Manager or Vice President of in-flight operations
Some flight attendants decide to stop traveling, but remain in the airline industry by recruiting or instructing new flight attendants.