Flight Attendant

Career Information

A flight attendant explains safety procedures to passengers
James Lauritz / Getty Images

Although a flight attendant keeps passengers comfortable on airplanes, that is not his or her primary responsibility. Keeping passengers safe and making sure the flight deck, where the pilot and co-pilot are, is secure, are his or her chief concerns.

Formerly called stewardesses and stewards, flight attendants serve beverages, snacks, and sometimes meals. When there is an emergency, they assist passengers and help keep them calm and safe.

 This career beautifully blends security with hospitality, making it an excellent choice for someone who wants to provide safety and service to people while seeing the world.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, median annual earnings were $48,500.
  • Nearly 98,000 people worked in this occupation as of 2014.
  • While airlines employ most flight attendants, some work for corporations or companies that charter flights.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a weak job outlook with employment expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2024.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is it like to be a flight attendant? We turned to those who hire them to answer this question. Here are typical job duties from announcements we found on Indeed.com:

  • "Continuously monitor all safety conditions and emergency equipment of our aircraft while on the ground and in flight"
  • "Explain all safety equipment and verify that passengers are following safety signs and procedures"
  • "When not performing safety related duties, the flight attendant will provide hospitality and customer service to our passengers"
  •  "Greet passengers, monitor carry-on baggage and direct passengers to assigned seats"
  • "Assist passengers in stowing carry-on baggage weighing up to and including 50 pounds"
  • "Attend to individuals needing special assistance (such as unaccompanied minors, individuals with a disability, and the elderly) throughout aircraft operations"
  • "Respond to onboard medical situations"

How to Become a Flight Attendant

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 on-the-job training from their employers.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that flight attendants be at least 18 years old, some employers have higher minimum age requirements. 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. A flight attendant must receive certification from the FAA. You will have to pass a proficiency check after completing your employer's initial training program to get this certification which applies only to the particular type of aircraft on which you have received training. To fly on other types, you will need appropriate certifications.

What Soft Skills Will Help You Succeed in This Career?

Your formal training will prepare you for your job, but you need specific soft skills—personal characteristics—to be successful.

  • Service Orientation: You must be attentive to passenger's needs.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your ability to empathize with, and persuade and coordinate your actions with others, will allow you to interact well with customers, fellow flight attendants, pilots, and other airline staff.
  • Active Listening: You must be able to understand and respond to your customers.
  • Verbal Communication: Since safety is your primary concern, you must be able to clearly convey instructions to your passengers and crew.
  • Critical Thinking: You must be able to use logic to solve problems and make decisions, especially in stressful situations.

How Do Flight Attendants Advance in Their Careers?

Once you complete your formal training, your employer will place you on reserve status where you could remain for at least one year, but as many as five to 10 years.

This means you will only work when called upon to fill in for absent or vacationing employees or on extra flights. 

After being on reserve status for a while, you will eventually be permitted to bid for regular assignments. Whether or not you get your choice will be based on seniority. 

Since many flight attendants remain in their jobs for longer than they did in the past, competition for those new to the field is fierce. Your advancement from reserve status to having the ability to choose assignments will be slow.

The Truth About Being a Flight Attendant

  • When you first start out, and possibly for some time, you won't be able to choose the most desirable routes.
  • Expect to work irregular hours and during weekends, evenings, overnights and holidays.
  • You will have to deal with unruly or rude passengers.
  • You will have to pass a background test and drug test.
  • Most employers require a conservative appearance. If you have tattoos or piercings that are visible when you wear your uniform, they won't hire you.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Must maintain excellent attendance as regular, reliable attendance is an essential requirement of the position"
  • "Must possess excellent communication skills and have a professional and conservative appearance"
  • "Physically fit, well groomed and practice good hygiene and etiquette"
  • " Height between 5’0 and 5’11 (without shoes)"
  • "Two (2) years customer service experience"
  • "Must successfully complete a 10-year background and credit check, FBI fingerprint check, pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing"
  • "Willing and able to relocate according to operational needs"
  • "Tattoos and body piercings may not be visible while in company issued uniform and may not be temporarily covered with bandages or make-up; tattoos on any areas of the hand, fingers, wrists, neck, and head are not allowed"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities

 Description

Median Annual Wage

(2016)

Minimum Required Education/Training
Transportation AttendantAssists train, bus and ship passengers by keeping them safe and comfortable.$26,060HS or Equivalency Diploma
Airline PilotFlies aircraft that transport people$127,8202 Years of College + Training From the Military or an FAA Certified Flight School 
Bus DriverTransports people on a regular or chartered route$39,790HS or Equivalency Diploma
ServerTakes and delivers patron's food orders in a restaurant$19,990

HS or Equivalency Diploma

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited July 19, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited July 19, 2017).