Flight attendants provide personal services to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.
Flight attendants typically do the following:
- Attend preflight briefings on details of the flight
- Ensure that adequate supplies of refreshments and emergency equipment are on board
- Assist in cleaning the cabin between flights
- Demonstrate the use of safety and emergency equipment
- Ensure all passengers have seatbelts fastened and ensure other safety requirements are met
- Serve, and sometimes sell, beverages, meals, or snacks
- Take care of passengers’ needs, particularly those with special needs
- Reassure passengers during flight, such as when the aircraft hits turbulence
- Administer first aid to passengers or coordinate first aid efforts, when needed
- Direct passengers in case of emergency
Airlines are required by law to provide flight attendants for the safety and security of passengers. The primary job of flight attendants is to keep passengers safe and to ensure that everyone follows security regulations. Flight attendants also try to make flights comfortable and enjoyable for passengers.
About 1 hour before takeoff, the captain (pilot) informs attendants about evacuation procedures, the length of the flight, and weather conditions. Flight attendants must ensure that emergency equipment is working, the cabin is clean, and there is an adequate supply of food and beverages on board. Flight attendants greet passengers as they board the aircraft and direct them to their seats, assisting as needed.
Before the plane takes off, flight attendants instruct all passengers on the use of safety equipment, either by playing a video recording or demonstrating its use in person. They also ensure that seatbelts are fastened, seats are locked in the upright position, and all carry-on items are properly stowed in accordance with federal law and company policy.
A flight attendant’s most important responsibility, however, is to help passengers in the event of an emergency. This responsibility ranges from dealing with unruly passengers to performing first aid, fighting fires, and directing evacuations. Flight attendants also answer questions about the flight, attend to passengers with special needs, help anyone else needing assistance, and generally assist all passengers as needed.
Before the plane lands, flight attendants once again ensure that seatbelts are fastened, seats are locked in the upright position, and all carry-on items are properly stowed.
Before they leave the plane, flight attendants take inventory of headsets, alcoholic beverages, and payments. They also submit reports to the airline company on the condition of the cabin, as well as on any medical problems that may have occurred during the flight.
Flight attendants held about 84,800 jobs in 2012. Although most worked for scheduled airlines, a small number worked for corporations or chartered flight companies.
Flight attendants work primarily in the cabin of passenger aircraft. Dealing directly with the public and standing for long periods can be stressful and tiring. Occasionally, flight attendants must deal with turbulence, which can make providing service more difficult and causes anxiety in some passengers. Although rare, dealing with emergency situations and unruly customers can also be difficult and cause stress.
Flight attendants spend many nights away from home and often sleep in hotels or apartments shared by a group of flight attendants.
Injuries and Illnesses
Injuries may occur when opening overhead compartments, during turbulence, pushing carts, or during aircraft emergencies. In addition, medical problems can arise from irregular sleep patterns, the stress of frequent travel, and exposure to ill passengers. As a result, flight attendants experience some work-related injuries and illnesses.
Most flight attendants work full time, but they usually have variable schedules. Flight attendants often work nights, weekends, and holidays because airlines operate every day and have overnight flights. In most cases, a contract between the airline and the flight attendant union determines the total daily and monthly workable hours. A typical on-duty shift is usually about 12 to 14 hours per day. However, duty time can be increased for international flights. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that flight attendants receive 9 consecutive hours of rest following any duty period before starting their next duty period.
Attendants usually fly 75 to 90 hours a month and generally spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for aircraft to arrive. On average, they spend about two to three nights a week away from home. During this time, employers typically arrange hotel accommodations and a meal allowance.
An attendant’s assignments of home base and route are based on seniority. New flight attendants must be flexible with their schedule and location. Almost all flight attendants start out working on call, also known as reserve status. Flight attendants on reserve usually live near their home airport, because they have to report to work on short notice.
As they earn more seniority, attendants gain more control over their schedules. For example, some senior flight attendants may choose to live outside their home base and commute to work. Others may choose to work only on regional flights. On small corporate airlines, flight attendants often work on an as-needed basis and must be able to adapt to changing schedules. About a quarter of all flight attendants work part time.
Flight attendants receive training from their employer and must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although flight attendants must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent, some airlines prefer to hire applicants who have some college. Prospective flight attendants typically need previous work experience in customer service. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, eligible to work in the United States, have a valid passport, and pass a background check.
A high school diploma is typically the minimum educational requirement for becoming a flight attendant. However, some airlines prefer to hire applicants who have taken some college courses.
Many employers prefer applicants with a degree in hospitality and tourism, public relations, business, social science, or communications. Those who work on international flights may have to be fluent in a foreign language. Some flight attendants attend special flight attendant academies.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Flight attendants typically have 1 or 2 years of work experience in a service occupation before getting their first job as a flight attendant. This experience may include customer service positions in restaurants, hotels, or resorts. Experience in sales or in other positions that require close contact with the public and focus on service to the customers may also help develop the skills needed to be a successful flight attendant.
Once a flight attendant is hired, airlines provide their initial training, ranging from 3 to 6 weeks. The training usually takes place at the airline’s flight training center and is required for FAA certification.
Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating aircraft, operating emergency equipment, and administering first aid. They also receive specific instruction on flight regulations, company operations, and job duties.
Toward the end of the training, students go on practice flights. They must successfully complete the training to keep a job with the airline. Once they have passed initial training, new flight attendants receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. To maintain their certification, flight attendants must take periodic retraining throughout their career.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All flight attendants must be certified by the FAA. To become certified, flight attendants must complete their employer’s initial training program and pass a proficiency check. Flight attendants are certified for specific types of aircraft and must take new training for each type of aircraft on which they are to work, in addition to recurrent training every year if they are to maintain their certification.
After completing initial training, new flight attendants are placed on call, also known as reserve status. While on reserve status, attendants must be able to report to the airport on short notice to staff extra flights or fill in for absent crewmembers.
New attendants usually remain on reserve status for at least 1 year, but in some cities attendants may be on reserve for several years. After a few years in this reserve period, flight attendants gain enough seniority to bid on monthly assignments. Assignments are based on seniority and the most preferred routes go to the most experienced attendants.
Career advancement is based on seniority. Senior flight attendants exercise the most control over route assignments and schedules; therefore, they can often choose how much time to spend away from home. On international flights, senior attendants often oversee the work of other attendants. Senior attendants may be promoted to management positions in which they are responsible for recruiting, instructing, and scheduling.
Attentiveness. Flight attendants must be aware of passengers’ needs to ensure a pleasant travel experience. They must also be aware of any security or safety risks.
Communication skills. Flight attendants should speak clearly, listen attentively, and interact comfortably with passengers and other crew members.
Customer-service skills. Flight attendants should have poise, tact, and resourcefulness to handle stressful situations and meet passengers' needs.
Decision-making skills. Flight attendants must be able to act decisively in emergency situations.
Physical stamina. Flight attendants may need to lift baggage and stand and walk for long periods. They often need to conform to height and weight requirements and have vision that is correctable to at least 20/40. Flight attendants may have to pass a medical evaluation.
Flight attendants should present a professional appearance and not have visible tattoos, body piercings, or an unusual hairstyle or makeup.
The median annual wage for flight attendants was $37,240 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,240, and the top 10 percent earned more than $66,460.
Flight attendants receive an allowance for meals and accommodations while working away from home. Although they are required to purchase an initial set of uniforms and luggage, the airlines usually pay for replacements and upkeep. Flight attendants are usually eligible for discounts on airfare through their airline. Attendants often receive health and retirement benefits and some airlines offer incentive pay for working holidays, nights, and weekends.
Attendants typically fly 75 to 90 hours a month and generally spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for planes to arrive. On average, they spend about two to three nights a week away from home. Most work variable schedules. About a quarter of all flight attendants work part time.
Most flight attendants belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of flight attendants is projected to decline 7 percent from 2012 to 2022. Despite modest growth in air travel, continued economic difficulties and union contracts may prevent airlines from hiring new flight attendants.
Economic difficulties and other issues have caused many flight attendants to be furloughed. Union contracts generally stipulate that furloughed flight attendants must be rehired before new employees are found. Competition for jobs will remain strong because the occupation typically attracts many more applicants than there are job openings. When entry-level positions do become available, job prospects should be best for applicants with a college degree. Job opportunities may be slightly better at regional or low-cost airlines.
Most current job opportunities will come from the need to replace attendants who leave the workforce. Over the next decade, a number of flight attendants are expected to retire. However, if airlines decide to reduce their workforce or rehire furloughed attendants, the number of job openings for entry-level candidates may be reduced.
For more information about flight attendants, visit the career webpage of any airline company, contact its personnel department, or visit
For additional career information about pilots, see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article “Sky-high careers: jobs related to airlines.”