Flying the friendly skies - and getting paid for it - could well be the dream for any American over the age of 21 who wants to be a flight attendant.
But it's not all shopping in Milan or dining in Paris for flight attendants. There is much, much more than simply serving coffee, tea or pretzels to the flying public.
Today's flight attendant is an airplane's de facto logistics officer, making sure the aircraft's key equipment and supplies are on board before lifting off, pitching in on first aid needs for an ill or injured passenger, and guiding passengers through safety procedures that could save their lives in the event of an airborne emergency.
One warning, though - be prepared to train hard to become a flight attendant. You'll be on your feet for most of the flight and you'll be handling heavy luggage and bulky backpacks on a regular basis.
While you'll work hard as you serve the air-going public, the upside is significant, including good pay and benefits, plenty of travel perks, and plenty of adventure and excitement as you lift off for exotic locations.
How do you become a flight attendant and what does a career at 30,000 feet look like?
Here's the deal.
How to Become a Flight Attendant
Here's a step-by-step guide to becoming a flight attendant.
1. Start Your Search
Start beating the bushes - visit the major and regional airline websites for job openings, and hit up job fairs and recruiters specializing in airline careers. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA website is well worth repeated visits, as it spells out the career issues that impact flight attendants most. Make it a point to regularly follow your favorite airline's career website page, and scan for opportunities and career fairs.
2. Create a Gleaming Resume
Your resume should reflect any customer service skills, and any experience in the travel, leisure, or high-end luxury retail or dining sectors. Stick to one page (human resources staffers may well toss a two-page-or-more resume into the circular file - brevity is key.) The goal is to sell yourself as a great flight attendant and travel ambassador for the airline - in about 500 words or fewer. It's also highly helpful to include two photos along with your resume and/or job application. Make one photo a headshot and one a full body photo. Wear tasteful business attire and, ideally, have the photo shot by a professional.
3. Fill Out an Application
Visit the airline website most favorable to your career needs and fill out an application (better yet, apply at multiple airlines as there is no rule against that.) By and large, you'll need to be at least 21 years old, be a high school graduate, speak English, and be ready to meet minimum height, weight and reach specifications. You need to be tall enough to reach and open and close overhead cabins and bins, svelte enough to maneuver through tight aisles, and you need to be over 21 to serve alcohol to passengers. No special or specific college degree is needed to become a flight attendant. You don't even need to attend flight attendants school to work the friendly skies. It does help, with some airlines, to have at least two years of college when applying for a flight attendant's job.
4. Put Your Best Foot Forward
If you have experience working in the travel and leisure sectors (at a hotel, on a cruise liner, or at a high-end restaurant) that will likely be viewed favorably by airline decision makers. A background in customer service will give you an advantage, as well, as airlines look for professionals able to engage with hundreds of customers a day.
5. Time for the Interview
Once your application is vetted and you're chosen for a first interview, often conducted online via video, you're in the game. Dress modestly but appropriately for that interview, and be ready to recite your background and qualifications for the job chapter and verse. Remember to speak slowly and confidently and look the interviewer in the eye - those are traits you'll need on a busy flight from New York to London when serving the flying public. If you pass the original interview, you'll likely be asked for an on-site interview at the airliner's headquarters or hub destinations (the airline will fly you in for the interview.) If you clear that hurdle, you'll likely receive a conditional job offer that will include flight attendant training with the airline.
6. Flight Attendant Training Camp
In airline training sessions, the emphasis is on honing your customer service skills, as they relate to air travel, and on proper safety and operating procedures. Training usually lasts about six weeks and your best move is to keep your ears open and make sure to ask questions if any particular training session seems confusing in any way. Better to ask questions in training than asking them 30,000 feet over Phoenix.
7. Getting a Job Offer
When your airline offers you a job, you have every right to thoroughly review the offer to make sure it works for you. Salary is likely fixed, so there's little room for negotiation on that front, but you still want to go over the fine print to make sure you know exactly what you're getting into as a flight attendant, especially in terms of job responsibilities and time requirements.
What Are the Job Responsibilities for a Flight Attendant?
Job responsibilities for flight attendants are myriad, and require a unique set of multi-tasking skills.
For starters, be prepared for work in bursts, and expect to work on short notice as schedules shift, flights are rescheduled and canceled, and airports close down temporarily in heavy weather.
Be in good physical shape. Since you'll be up and moving before, during and after flights, expect the flight attendant work experience to exact a physical and mental toll. After all, it's no picnic serving the public in a tube moving at 200 miles per hour thousands of feet in the air - always with a smile on your face, and always ready to respond to emergencies. Again, this takes a unique skill set to accomplish on a regular basis.
More specifically, expect to handle these job responsibilities as a flight attendant:
- Meet with flight staff, including the pilots, to go over the flight blueprint and discuss any service and logistical details (i.e., possible rough weather or flight delays, length of the flight, and travel route.)
- Execute any inspections of equipment regularly used by flight attendants, including galley equipment, seating and overhead bins, and security and safety devices on the aircraft.
- Demonstrate the correct usage of aircraft safety equipment to passengers before taking off, and potentially helping them use those safety devices in an emergency.
- Steer heavy carts loaded with food and drink to sell and service to the flying public.
- Make sure that passengers remain seated when required by the flight crew, and that their seat belts are securely fastened on takeoff, landing and in turbulent flight periods.
- Be prepared to aid special needs and older passengers board and de-board the flight.
- Apply first aid to passengers in need and be prepared to administer emergency medical care, when needed, and to prep an ailing passenger for the transition to EMTs when landing. Flight attendants also need to direct passengers when evacuating the aircraft in an emergency.
A Flight Attendant's Work Schedule
By and large, flight attendant work schedules can vary and may even be chaotic depending on cancellations, delays and airport closings, due to bad weather or terrorist threats.
Would-be flight attendants should know that airlines fly all the time, often overnight, so be prepared to work day or night, or all night, if needed, often without any sleep.
The typical flight attendant shift is longer than in the 9-to-5 world, at 12 to 14 hours. By federal law, all flight crew members must have at least nine consecutive hours of off-duty time before they can take on another shift.
About two-thirds of shift time is spent in the air, serving the flying public, while the remaining time is at the airport or on the tarmac, preparing flight lists, awaiting the arrival of aircraft, and getting ready to help fly a plane with 100 passengers on board.
The more seniority a flight attendant has, the better the shifts and the better the flight destinations. There is a part-time work option for flight attendants, as well - 25% of all industry professionals work on a part-time basis.
Lastly, expect to make your residence near your "home base" airport. Airlines expect flight attendants (especially new ones, who often work on a reserve basis starting out) to be ready to fly at a moment's notice, if needed. Consequently, you'll want to live close to your airport, to make commuting easier and faster.
How Much Do Flight Attendants Earn?
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that flight attendants earned a median salary of $50,000 in 2017, up from $37,840 in 2010. Starting out, flight attendants earn up to $30,000 annually, and seasoned flight attendants, with 10 or more years of flight experience, can earn significantly more than the $50,000 median salary average each year.
Flight attendants also earn a per-diem for meals and hotel stays while on the job. Airlines will also help pay for uniforms and standard attire, and flight attendants do qualify for discounted flights or even free standby seats on the airline that employs them.