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Flight Attendants - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
After completing initial training, flight attendants are assigned to one of their airline's bases. New flight attendants are placed on reserve status and are called either to staff extra flights or to fill in for crewmembers that are sick, on vacation, or rerouted. When they are not on duty, reserve flight attendants must be available to report for flights on short notice. They usually remain on reserve for at least 1 year but, in some cities, it may take 5 to 10 years—or longer—to advance from reserve status. Flight attendants who no longer are on reserve bid monthly for regular assignments. Because assignments are based on seniority, usually only the most experienced attendants get their choice of assignments. Advancement takes longer today than in the past, because experienced flight attendants are remaining in this career longer than in the past.

Some flight attendants become supervisors, moving from senior or lead flight attendant, to check flight attendant, to flight attendant supervisor, then on to base manager, and finally to manager or vice president of in-flight operations. They may take on additional duties, such as recruiting, instructing, or developing in-flight products. Their experience also may qualify them for numerous airline-related jobs involving contact with the public, such as reservation ticket agent or public relations specialist. Flight attendants who do not want to travel often for various reasons may move to a position as an administrative assistant. With additional education, some flight attendants may decide to transfer to other areas of the airline for which they work, such as risk management or human resources.

Employment
Flight attendants held about 98,700 jobs in 2008. Commercial airlines employed the vast majority of flight attendants, and most attendants lived near major metropolitan airports or airports operating as hubs for the major airlines. A small number of flight attendants worked for companies that offered chartered flights.

Job Outlook
Employment of flight attendants is projected to grow about as fast as average. Competition for jobs is expected to remain keen because the opportunity for travel attracts more applicants than there are jobs.

Job Growth
Employment of flight attendants is expected to grow by 8 percent, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations over the 2008–18 period. Population growth and an improving economy are expected to boost the number of airline passengers. As airlines expand their capacity to meet rising demand by increasing the number and size of planes in operation and the number of flights offered, more flight attendants will be needed.

Despite growing demand for flight attendants, competition is expected to be keen because this job usually attracts more applicants than there are jobs, with only the most qualified eventually being hired. College graduates who have experience dealing with the public should have the best chance of being hired. Job opportunities may be better with the faster growing regional and commuter, low-cost, and charter airlines. There also are job opportunities for professionally trained flight attendants to work for companies operating private aircraft for their executives.

The majority of job opportunities through the year 2018 will arise from the need to replace flight attendants who leave the labor force or transfer to other occupations, often for higher earnings or a more stable lifestyle. With the job now viewed increasingly as a profession, however, fewer flight attendants leave their jobs, and job turnover is not as high as in the past. According to the Association of Flight Attendants, the average job tenure of attendants is currently 16 years and is increasing.

In the long run, opportunities for persons seeking flight attendant jobs should improve as the airline industry expands. Over the next decade, however, demand for flight attendants will fluctuate with the demand for air travel, which is highly sensitive to swings in the economy. During downturns, as air traffic declines, the hiring of flight attendants declines, and some experienced attendants may be laid off until traffic recovers.

Earnings
Median annual wages of flight attendants were $35,930 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,420 and $49,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,350.

According to data from the Association of Flight Attendants, beginning attendants had median earnings of $16,191 a year in 2009. Beginning pay scales for flight attendants vary by carrier, however. New hires usually begin at the same pay scale, regardless of experience; all flight attendants receive the same future pay increases based on an established pay scale.

Some airlines offer incentive pay for working holidays, night and international flights, or taking positions that require additional responsibility or paperwork.

Flight attendants and their immediate families are entitled to free or discounted fares on their own airline and reduced fares on most other airlines. Some airlines require that the flight attendant be with an airline for 3 to 6 months before taking advantage of this benefit. Other benefits may include medical, dental, and life insurance; 401K or other retirement plan; sick leave; paid holidays; stock options; paid vacations; and tuition reimbursement. Flight attendants also receive a “per diem” allowance for meal expenses while on duty away from home. Flight attendants are required to purchase uniforms and wear them while on duty. The airlines usually pay for uniform replacement items, and may provide a small allowance to cover cleaning and upkeep of the uniforms.

The majority of flight attendants hold union membership, primarily with the Association of Flight Attendants. Other unions that represent flight attendants include the Transport Workers Union of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

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