A Flight Attendant Salary: Living On Air

Back in the golden days of commercial flying when most passengers were rather affluent and society had a rather chauvinistic and skewed viewpoint of the “place” of women, becoming a stewardess was a dream job for many little girls who longed for the freedom to “fly the friendly skies.” Fast forward to a more politically correct era, and we find that there have been many changes in this occupation and its status as a desirable career for working women. One issue at hand is that of a flight attendant’s salary.


Time is Money

In most jobs that pay an hourly wage, the employee earns his hourly rate for every hour he is under his employer’s domain. Regardless of what type of work is being performed, the employee is paid for all the time he invests in following the instructions of the employer. Not so for a flight attendant.

A flight attendant earns an average of $18 $20 per hour, however, he or she is only paid per actual flight hour. They don’t get paid during boarding or deplaning, and they don’t get paid during flight delays, layovers or cancellations. That can really add up to a lot of unpaid working hours .

There is a per diem system in place to help cover the expenses incurred in the course of traveling for duty, such as eating meals “on the road” per se. Per diem expense pay begins when the flight attendant clocks in at the airport and lasts throughout the flight and until the plane returns to the home airport. However, the average per diem payment is $2 per hour, which although it’s better than nothing…not by much.

Another way that time is money in the world of a flight attendant involves time on the job. Along with seniority comes better pay, and every year that a flight attendant remains on the job, he or she receives an increase in hourly rate. Other improvements also come along with seniority, such as a better pick of preferred flights and better schedules.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average yearly median pay of a flight attendant is approximately $37,740 in US dollars.

Becoming a Flight Attendant

If you’ve been thinking of becoming a flight attendant, and you’ve accepted that although the earnings aren’t great they are sufficient with your needs in balance with your desire to travel and enjoy the flight crew lifestyle, then you may wish to know exactly what is required in order to obtain your desired position.

Education and Prior Training: Until recent years, only a high school diploma or even a GED were needed for becoming a flight attendant. However, the BLS reports that as competition for a decreasing number of positions heats up, airlines are giving preference to job applicants with college degrees in fields such as Tourism, Public Relations, Communications or Hospitality. Also, applicants who have any level of Customer Service experience have a better chance of being hired, and bi-lingual applicants who speak any other language fluently in addition to English are given first preference in hiring attendants for international flights.

Airline Training: Once an attendant is hired, he or she goes through an instructional program with the airline’s flight training center that culminates with a certification examination through the FAA. Trainees who graduate the flight attendant program then spend a certain amount of time on “practice flights” as a probationary attendant, shadowing fully vested flight attendants until receiving approval to become a full-fledged flight attendant themselves.

Flight attendant students are given extensive instruction concerning flight regulations and company policies, and are trained in emergency procedures including evacuation and the administration of first aid. They learn airline food service procedures, supply maintenance and hospitality tasks as well.

Background Check and Medical Evaluation: A potential flight attendant must be able to clear a ten-year criminal background check, possess good credit and undergo a physical evaluation to ensure good health.

Physical Requirements: Another change in policy from the old requirements for stewardesses, flight attendants are no longer under specific height and weight requirements. Height policies vary from airline to airline, but in general an attendant must be tall enough to reach the upper storage compartments and not so tall their head touches the cabin ceiling. Generally, the height for flight attendants ranges from about 5’3” – 6’ 1”. There are no specific weight standards for U.S. airlines. Recruiters can visually assess an applicant and determine if proportions are acceptable for maneuvering in the confines of the cabin. There is a vision requirement, but corrective lenses are accepted.

Interesting Notes for Potential Flight Attendants

The lifestyle of a flight attendant can often be hectic, allowing only a few hours’ sleep at a “crashpad” with other attendants before the next departure. However, the opportunity to travel is there, and you do get chances to explore some of your destinations, which is what makes it so worthwhile to join this occupation.  Here are a few more interesting tidbits regarding the life of a flight attendant:

  • Flight attendants can ride on a return flight for free (but not trainees.)
  • Probationary flight attendants have a “hem length” requirement for their uniforms, but once they become full -fledged attendants they can shorten their skirts.
  • Flight attendants get fired for nitpicky reasons, such as wearing a sweater tied around the waist (being out of uniform.) (Flight Attendants Shocking Secrets)
  • Flight attendants can always tell when a couple is joining the Mile High Club.  The line waiting for the bathroom is usually a clue.
  • Flight attendants face unusual and bizarre circumstances, like people trying to avoid the high cost of shipping a dead body and attempting to bring a deceased loved one onboard in a regular seat.
  • Flight attendants often spot human trafficking, including baby dealers and prostitution.
  • Flight attendants hate Diet Coke. In the time it takes the fizz to settle at 35,000 feet, the attendant can pour three drinks of some other kind of beverage.

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