Becoming a Flight Attendant: Job Description and Salary Info

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A flight attendant's median annual salary is around $42,000. Is it worth the training and certification requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a flight attendant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Flight Attendant

Flight attendants are responsible for making sure that airline passengers are comfortable and safe while they travel. If you like the idea of working as a frequent flyer but wonder about the impact so much time in the air will have on your life, the following pros and cons might help you decide if a career as a flight attendant is right for you.

Pros of a Career as a Flight Attendant
Free or discounted airfares and opportunity to travel*
Excellent benefits offered by some employers*
Opportunities to advance or transfer into other types of airline work*
The satisfaction of helping others*

Cons of a Career as a Flight Attendant
Need to be extremely flexible and willing to relocate*
Long hours in a moving aircraft and irregular schedules can lead to injury and illness*
Reserve status can last up to ten years or more*
Some passengers may be demanding and stressful*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Flight attendants typically fly between 65-90 hours a month. Their responsibilities begin before the first passenger ever steps on the plane and continue during the additional 50 hours an attendant is on the ground. While greetings, refreshments and blankets make air travelers feel welcome and comfortable, the most important part of a flight attendant's job is the safety of the passengers, especially during an emergency.

Job Description

Prior to departure, it is the flight attendant's job to make sure that fire extinguishers, first aid kits, oxygen bottles and other emergency equipment are on board and in good working order. Flight attendants prepare air travelers for takeoff by showing them how to fasten their seat belts, where to store their personal items and how to locate and use oxygen masks and life jackets. After they give their instructions, attendants walk the plane to make sure that their directions have been followed and that passengers are in compliance with federal regulations for takeoff and landing.

In the air, flight attendants reassure anxious passengers during inclement weather, administer first aid treatments and provide assistance should the plane need to be evacuated. They also assist any disabled, elderly or young travelers who may have medical or special needs. When not in the air, flight attendants attend preflight briefings with commanding pilots, prepare planes for travel and write reports. Flight attendants can work up to 14 hours a day including holidays, nights and weekends.

Salary Info and Employment

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the pay scale for an entry-level flight attendant varies according to the airline. Using data obtained from the Association of Flight Attendants, the BLS reported that in 2014, the median annual salary for a flight attendant was about $42,000. Employment opportunities for flight attendants are expected to decline by 7% between 2012 and 2022.

Physical and Training Requirements

To apply for a position as a flight attendant you must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and be at least 18-21 years old. Additional requirements include excellent health, good vision (glasses and contacts are permitted), a medical evaluation and a background check. Flight attendant training programs usually last from three to six weeks, depending on the airline. During this time, trainees learn about airline operations and policies, flight regulations, personal grooming and weight control. They are also taught how to operate emergency equipment, administer first aid, evacuate an airplane and survive in the water.

Other important topics include how to deal with disruptive passengers and what to do during a hijacking or a terrorist attack. Students who are training for international flights receive instruction in passport and customs regulations. Tests administered during the course of the program are used to eliminate unsuccessful candidates. Flight attendants who are able to complete an airline's training program will receive an FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. In addition to fulfilling the certificate requirements, flight attendants should also be:

  • Knowledgeable about customer service principles and procedures
  • Active listeners and clear speakers
  • Fluent in a second language (for international routes)
  • Able to perform physical tasks with a steady hand

Real Flight Attendant Positions Posted by Real Employers

Newly certified flight attendants are placed on reserve status and can remain there for as long as ten years (or more) before they can advance. As these job postings from March 2012 indicate, potential employers include commercial airlines and companies that maintain their own private aircraft.

  • A commuter airline in North Carolina is advertising for flight attendant trainees who have flown at least once to enter their program. Ideal candidates will have a conservative and professional appearance, excellent communication skills and be able to reach the airport in no more than an hour and thirty minutes.
  • An international airport in Memphis is looking for flight attendants with a high school diploma or GED and either two years of customer service experience or two years of college. Candidates will also need to be at least 21 years of age and hold a valid passport.
  • An engineering, construction and technical company in Las Vegas has an opportunity for an experienced flight attendant. Candidates must have a high school diploma, two years of customer service experience and one year of experience as a flight attendant.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Acceptance into a flight attendant training program is highly competitive. One way to stand out is by not standing out. Airlines prefer candidates who are conservatively groomed and professional looking. Body piercings, visible tattoos and attention-getting hairstyles should be avoided.

While a high school diploma or a GED is the minimum requirement for acceptance into a training program, more and more airlines are showing a preference for college graduates. Those with a background in communication, education, hospitality, nursing, travel and tourism will be of special interest. Students who have completed a college flight attendant training program may enjoy an advantage over their competitors.

Other Careers to Consider

Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agent or Travel Clerk

Ticket agents and travel clerks make reservations and sell tickets to passengers at ticket counters or travel offices, over the phone or online. Usually, a high school diploma is the only requirement for this position and most of the training is acquired on the job. As many travelers now use online reservations systems and self-serve ticket machines, employment opportunities are expected to grow at a slower than average rate (7%) from 2010 to 2020, as reported by the BLS. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for ticket agents and travel clerks was $33,000, also according to the BLS.

Travel Agent

Travel agents assist travelers with transportation arrangements, hotel reservations, car rentals and sightseeing tours. Most employers in this field give preference to those who have trained as agents at a community college, vocational school, adult education program or online. The BLS reports that employment opportunities for travel agents are expected to increase by 10% from 2010 to 2020. According to the BLS, in May 2011, the median annual salary of a travel agent was $34,000.

Administrative Assistant

Administrative assistants oversee all of the clerical activities necessary to keep an office or organization running smoothly, and this can include making travel and guest arrangements. Although an increasing number of employers prefer to hire college graduates for executive-level positions, a high school diploma in combination with some basic office skills may qualify a beginner for an entry-level position. The BLS projects an increase of 12% for secretaries and administrative assistants from 2010 to 2020. In May 2011, the median annual salary for a secretary or administrative assistant was $46,000, according to the BLS.

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