Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.

Duties

Flight attendants typically do the following:

  • Participate in preflight briefings with the pilots, to discuss cabin conditions and flight details
  • Conduct preflight inspections of emergency equipment
  • Demonstrate the use of safety equipment and emergency equipment
  • Ensure that passengers have their seatbelts fastened when required and that all other safety requirements are observed
  • Serve and sell beverages, meals, or snacks
  • Take care of passengers’ needs, particularly those with special needs
  • Reassure passengers during the flight, such as when the aircraft hits turbulence
  • Administer and coordinate emergency medical care, as needed
  • Provide direction to passengers, including how to evacuate the aircraft in an emergency

Airlines are required by law to provide flight attendants for the safety and security of passengers. The primary job of flight attendants is to keep passengers safe, ensuring that everyone follows security regulations and that the flight deck is secure. Flight attendants also try to make flights comfortable and stress free for passengers. At times, they may deal with passengers who display disruptive behavior.

About 1 hour before takeoff, the captain (pilot) may conduct a preflight briefing with flight attendants about relevant flight information, including the number of hours the flight will take, the route the plane will travel, and weather conditions. Flight attendants check that emergency equipment is working, the cabin is clean, and there is an adequate supply of food and beverages on board. Flight attendants greet passengers as they board the aircraft, direct them to their seats, and provide assistance as needed.

Flight attendants demonstrate the proper use of safety equipment to all passengers, either in person or through a video recording before the plane takes off. They also check that seatbelts are fastened, seats are locked in the upright position, and all carry-on items are properly stowed in accordance with federal law and company policy.

A flight attendant’s most important responsibility, however, is to help passengers in the event of an emergency. This responsibility ranges from dealing with unruly passengers to performing first aid, fighting fires, protecting the flight deck, and directing evacuations. Flight attendants also answer questions about the flight, attend to passengers with special needs, and generally assist all passengers as needed.

Before the plane lands, flight attendants once again ensure that seatbelts are fastened, seats are locked in the upright position, and all carry-on and galley items are properly stowed.

Before they leave the plane, flight attendants survey the condition of the cabin. They submit reports on any medical, safety, or security issues that may have occurred during the flight.

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Work Environment

Flight attendants held about 119,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of flight attendants were as follows:

Scheduled air transportation 96%
Nonscheduled air transportation 2
Support activities for air transportation                                        1

Flight attendants work primarily in the cabin of passenger aircraft. Dealing directly with passengers and standing for long periods can be stressful and tiring. Occasionally, flights encounter air turbulence, which can make providing service more difficult and causes anxiety in some passengers. Handling emergencies and unruly customers also can be difficult and cause stress.

Flight attendants spend many nights away from home and often sleep in hotels or apartments shared by a group of flight attendants.

Injuries and Illnesses

Flight attendants have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. To avoid injuries, these workers must follow safety procedures. For example, they must ensure that overhead compartments are closed, especially during turbulence, so that carry-on items don’t fall and present a risk to all in the cabin. Attendants also ensure that carts are properly stowed and latched during aircraft emergencies to avoid injuries to passengers and themselves.

Work Schedules

Flight attendants usually have variable schedules. They often work nights, weekends, and holidays because airlines operate every day and have overnight flights. In most cases, a contract between the airline and the flight attendant union determines the total daily and monthly workable hours. A typical on-duty shift is about 12 to 14 hours per day. However, duty time can be increased for international flights. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that flight attendants receive at least 9 consecutive hours of rest following any duty period before starting their next duty period.

Attendants usually fly 75 to 100 hours a month and generally spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for aircraft to arrive. They can spend several nights a week away from home. During this time, employers typically arrange hotel accommodations and a meal allowance. Some flight attendents work part time. 

An attendant’s assignments of home base and route are based on seniority. New flight attendants must be flexible with their schedule and location. Almost all flight attendants start out working on call, also known as reserve status. Flight attendants on reserve usually live near their home airport, because they may have to report to work on short notice.

As they earn more seniority, attendants may have more control over their schedules. For example, some senior flight attendants may choose to live outside their home base and commute to work. Others may choose to work only on regional flights. On small corporate airlines, flight attendants may work on an as-needed basis.

Education and Training

Flight attendants receive training from their employer and must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Flight attendants need a high school diploma or the equivalent and work experience in customer service.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be eligible to work in the United States, have a valid passport, and pass a background check and drug test. They must have vision that is correctable to at least 20/40 and often need to conform to height requirements set by the airline. Flight attendants also may have to pass a medical evaluation.

Flight attendants should present a professional appearance and not have visible tattoos, body piercings, or an unusual hairstyle or makeup.

Education

A high school diploma is typically required to become a flight attendant. Some airlines may prefer to hire applicants who have taken some college courses.

Those who work on international flights may have to be fluent in a foreign language. Some enroll in flight attendant academies.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Flight attendants typically need 1 or 2 years of work experience in a service occupation before getting their first job as a flight attendant. This experience may include customer service positions in restaurants, hotels, or resorts. Experience in sales or in other positions that require close contact with the public and focus on service to customers also may help develop the skills needed to be a successful flight attendant.

Training

Once a flight attendant is hired, airlines provide their initial training, ranging from 3 to 6 weeks. The training usually takes place at the airline’s flight training center and is required for FAA certification.

Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating aircraft, operating emergency equipment, and administering first aid. They also receive specific instruction on flight regulations, company operations, and job duties.

Toward the end of the training, students go on practice flights. They must complete the training to keep a job with the airline. Once they have passed initial training, new flight attendants receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency and continue to receive additional on the job training as required by their employer.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All flight attendants must be certified by the FAA. To become certified, flight attendants must complete their employer’s initial training program and pass an exam. Flight attendants are certified for specific types of aircraft and must take new training for each type of aircraft on which they are to work. In addition, attendants receive recurrent training every year to maintain their certification.

Advancement

Career advancement is based on seniority. On international flights, senior attendants frequently oversee the work of other attendants. Senior attendants may be promoted to management positions in which they are responsible for recruiting, instructing, and scheduling.

Personality and Interests

Flight attendants typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading, and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping, Persuading, or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a flight attendant, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Flight attendants should also possess the following specific qualities:

Attentiveness. Flight attendants must be aware of passengers’ needs to ensure a pleasant travel experience. They must also be aware of any security or safety risks.

Communication skills. Flight attendants should speak clearly, listen attentively, and interact comfortably with passengers and other crew members.

Customer-service skills. Flight attendants should have poise, tact, and resourcefulness to handle stressful situations and meet passengers' needs.

Decision-making skills. Flight attendants must be able to act decisively in emergency situations.

Physical stamina. Flight attendants may need to lift baggage and stand and walk for long periods. They often need to conform to height and weight requirements and have vision that is correctable to at least 20/40. Flight attendants may have to pass a medical evaluation.

Flight attendants should present a professional appearance and not have visible tattoos, body piercings, or an unusual hairstyle or makeup.

Pay

The median annual wage for flight attendants was $56,640 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,940.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for flight attendants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scheduled air transportation $56,830
Nonscheduled air transportation 53,870
Support activities for air transportation                                     45,200

Flight attendants receive an allowance for meals and accommodations while working away from home. Although attendants are required to purchase an initial set of uniforms and luggage, the airlines usually pay for replacements and upkeep. Flight attendants generally are eligible for discounted airfare or free standby seats through their airline.

Attendants typically fly 75 to 100 hours a month and usually spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for planes to arrive. They can spend several nights a week away from home. Most work variable schedules. Some flight attendants work part time.

Job Outlook

Employment of flight attendants is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Many airlines are replacing smaller aircraft with new, larger planes that can accommodate a greater number of passengers. As a result, this change may increase the number of flight attendants needed on some routes.

Job Prospects

Competition for jobs will remain strong because the occupation typically attracts many more applicants than there are job openings. Job prospects should be best for applicants with a college degree.

Many job opportunities will come from the need to replace flight attendants who leave the workforce.

For More Information

For more information about flight attendants, visit the career webpage of any airline company, contact its personnel department, or visit

Association of Flight Attendants—CWA

Association of Professional Flight Attendants

Federal Aviation Administration

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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