How to Become a Flight Attendant

A Guide to Starting Your Career

For a long time flight attendants, once called stewardesses, were thought of as merely "waitresses in the sky." While it is true that they serve and sell refreshments to passengers on flights, as well as tend to their comfort, there is much more to this career.

A flight attendant's job is mainly concerned with the safety of airline passengers and crew. He or she responds to any emergencies that occur on the aircraft and makes sure everyone follows regulations. Learn about the training and certification flight attendants need. Then take the Flight Attendant Quiz to find out if this career is a good fit for you.

A Summary of What You Have to Do Before You Can Work As a Flight Attendant

Flight attendant serving passengers on airplane
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  1. Get hired by an airline to be a flight attendant
  2. Complete airline-provided formal training program (3 to 6 weeks)
  3. Get a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency

Get Hired By an Airline

How to Become a Flight Attendant
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To work in many occupations, you will need the necessary training before you can get a job. This is not the case for flight attendants. If you choose this career, your training will come after an airline hires you. The company will, over a three to six week period, provide all the preparation you need to work in this occupation.

Airlines require applicants to have the minimum of a high school or equivalency (GED) diploma, but many will only hire job candidates who have a college degree. Most even prefer to hire individuals who have earned associate or bachelor's degrees in hospitality, communication, tourism, or public relations. 

Employers also prefer job candidates who have work experience in a related job. If you want to become a flight attendant, consider getting experience by working in a hotel or resort, or a restaurant.

Flight attendants must meet very specific physical requirements as well. To get accepted into an airline's flight attendant training program, you must be at least 18 years old, in excellent physical health, and tall enough to reach the overhead luggage bins. Your vision must be correctable to at least 20/40. Your weight may also be an issue. While airlines don't say they won't hire someone who is overweight, they specify that one's  height and weight must be in proportion. 

The following are specifications many airlines state in their job announcements:

  • "Able to stand for extended periods with limited rest periods."
  • "Able to pass a ten-year background check, pre-employment drug test, and criminal history records check."
  • "Ability to handle a wide variety of situations while in continuous contact with the public."
  • "Responsible for providing a welcoming environment to airline customers during their flight."
  • "Ability to effectively market and sell onboard products and generate incremental revenue from customers."
  • "Must have two years of experience in the customer service, hospitality, and/or sales/merchandising industry. "
  • "Must present a professional image; may not have visible tattoos, facial, multiple, or upper ear piercing or extreme hair color or style."

Complete Airline-Provided Flight Attendant Training Program

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Once an airline hires you, it will provide formal training at its flight training center. During the three to six weeks you will spend there, you will receive classroom instruction on flight regulations, job duties, and company operations.

Along with the other new hires, you will learn how to handle emergencies, including procedures for evacuating an airplane and operating emergency equipment such as evacuation slides, oxygen masks, and flotation devices. As you near the end of your classroom instruction, you will take practice flights.

Get Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency

Cabin crew at the airport
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After you complete your training, the Director of Operations at the airline that employs you will apply for your Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through a web-based system. Once this United States government agency receives the record that states you have completed training, you will be eligible to work on a flight.​​

You will need to get a separate Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency for each type of aircraft on which you fly. Your employer will again provide training and apply for your certification.

Your First Years As a Flight Attendant

Portrait of the crew of an airplane
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With your training complete and your certificate in hand, you may think you will soon be jetting all over the world and earning a living at the same time. Not so fast. While there will be some opportunities to work, you will not have a regular schedule yet, and it will be a while before you get to fly some of the more desirable routes. 

New flight attendants spend at least one year, and possibly up to seven years, on what is known in the airline industry as "reserve status." What does this mean? Being on "reserve status" is like being on call. You will have to keep your overnight bag packed since you will have to report to work at a moments notice when you are summoned to replace absent crew members or cover extra flights. Eventually, you will be able to bid on monthly assignments, but that comes only with seniority.