A flight attendant's primary responsibility is to make sure safety regulations on airplanes are followed. They also do what they can to make sure passengers are comfortable during their flights.
Flight attendants held about 90,500 jobs in 2010. Most of these jobs were with commercial airlines. Others were with corporations or chartered flight companies. Flight attendants are typically on duty 12 to 14 hours but working on international flights may require more time. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that there is at least a nine hour break between two on-duty periods. Flight attendants often work evenings, weekends and holidays.
Those who are new to this occupation work reserve status, which means they are on call and can be called to work at any time. Fortunately, more regular schedules come with seniority.
While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to become a flight attendant, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have a college degree. All newly hired flight attendants receive three to six weeks of formal training from their employers.
Those who want to work as flight attendants must be at least 18 years old. Airlines prefer to hire job candidates who have experience working with the public. There are also height requirements since flight attendants must be able to reach overhead bins. Vision must be correctable to 20/40 or better. Flight attendants must be certified by the FAA. This requires one to pass a proficiency check after completing his or her employer's initial training program. Certification applies to only the specific type of aircraft on which an individual is trained.
Your formal training will prepare you for your job, but you need specific soft skills—personal characteristics—in order to be successful. You must be attentive to peoples' needs. Excellent communication will allow you to interact well with passengers. Strong customer service skills will help you during stressful situations. You will also need good listening skills to help you understand passengers' needs.
Once they complete formal training, new flight attendants are placed on reserve status where they could remain for at least one year, but as many as five to 10 years. This means they work when called upon to fill in for absent or vacationing employees or on extra flights. After being on reserve status for a while, they can bid for regular assignments. They generally get their choices based on seniority. Because flight attendants remain in their jobs for a longer period than in the past, advancement takes more time.
The job outlook for flight attendants isn't good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this occupation to experience little or no change through 2020. There will be more applicants than there will be job openings so if you want to enter this field, you should expect lots of competition. The retirement of current workers may lead to job openings for new ones, but only if airlines don't decide to cut their workforces.
Median annual earnings of flight attendants were $37,240 in 2012. Starting pay was considerably lower.
Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much flight attendants currently earn in your city.
A Day in a Flight Attendant's Life:
On a typical day a flight attendant will:
- get briefed by the captain on emergency evacuation procedures, coordination of the crew, the length of the flight, expected weather conditions, and special issues having to do with passengers
- make sure that first-aid kits and other emergency equipment are aboard and in working order
- assess the passenger cabin to make sure there are adequate supplies of food, beverages, and blankets
- greet passengers as they enter the plane, check their tickets, and tell them where to store their coats and carry-on bags
- instruct passengers in the use of emergency equipment
- check to see that passengers' seat belts are fastened, seats are in the upright position, and bags are properly stowed prior to takeoff
- help passengers in the event of an emergency
- reassure passengers in the event of turbulence
- direct passengers if they must evacuate the plane if there is an emergency landing
- answer questions about the flight
- distribute blankets, pillows, and reading material
- distribute beverages, snacks, and sometimes heat and serve meals
- help those needing assistance, e.g. small children, or elderly or disabled passengers
- administer first aid to ill patients
- take inventory of headsets, alcoholic beverages, and money collected prior to landing
- report passengers' medical problems, lost and found articles, and condition of cabin equipment
- sometimes, if in a supervisory position, oversee the work of the other attendants aboard the aircraft
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Flight Attendants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Transportation-and-Material-Moving/Flight-attendants.htm (visited July 22, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Flight Attendants, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/53-2031.00 (visited July 22, 2013).