Flight Attendants

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What Flight Attendants Do[About this section] [To Top]

Flight attendants provide routine services and respond to emergencies to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.

Duties of Flight Attendants

Flight attendants typically do the following:

  • Participate in preflight briefings with the pilots, to discuss cabin conditions and flight details
  • Conduct preflight inspections of emergency equipment
  • Demonstrate the use of safety equipment and emergency equipment
  • Ensure that passengers have their seatbelts fastened when required and that all 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 the flight, such as when the aircraft hits turbulence
  • Administer and coordinate emergency medical care, as needed
  • If an emergency arises, provide direction to passengers, including how to evacuate the aircraft

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, ensuring that everyone follows security regulations and that the flight deck is secure. Flight attendants also try to make flights comfortable and stress free for passengers. At times, they may deal with passengers who display disruptive behavior.

About 1 hour before takeoff, the captain (pilot) may conduct a preflight briefing with flight attendants about relevant flight information, including the number of hours the flight will take, the route the plane will travel, 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, direct them to their seats, and provide assistance as needed.

Before the plane takes off, flight attendants demonstrate the proper use of safety equipment to all passengers, either in person or through a video recording. 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, protecting the flight deck, and directing evacuations. Flight attendants also answer questions about the flight, attend to passengers with special needs, 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 and galley items are properly stowed.

Before they leave the plane, flight attendants survey the condition of the cabin. They submit reports on any medical, safety, or security issues that may have occurred during the flight.

Work Environment for Flight Attendants[About this section] [To Top]

Flight attendants hold about 97,900 jobs. Although most work for scheduled airlines, a small number work 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 emergencies and unruly customers also can 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 overhead compartments are opened, during turbulence, when the attendant is 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.

Flight Attendant Work Schedules

Flight attendants usually have variable schedules. They 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 at least 9 consecutive hours of rest following any duty period before starting their next duty period.

Attendants usually fly 75 to 100 hours a month and generally spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for aircraft to arrive. They can spend several 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 1 in 4 flight attendants work part time.

How to Become a Flight Attendant[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Flight Attendants near you!

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 taken some college courses. Prospective flight attendants typically need previous work experience in customer service.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be eligible to work in the United States, have a valid passport, and pass a background check and drug test. They must have vision that is correctable to at least 20/40 and often need to conform to height and weight requirements. Flight attendants also may have to pass a medical evaluation.

Flight Attendant Education

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 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 customers also may help develop the skills needed to be a successful flight attendant.

Flight Attendant Training

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 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.

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 an exam. 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 receiving recurrent training every year if they are to maintain their certification.

Advancement for Flight Attendants

After completing initial training, new flight attendants are typically 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 their stretch of time 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 often can choose how much time to spend away from home. On international flights, senior attendants frequently oversee the work of other attendants. Senior attendants may be promoted to management positions in which they are responsible for recruiting, instructing, and scheduling.

Important Qualities for Flight Attendants

Attentiveness. Flight attendants must be aware of any security or safety risks during the flight. They also must be attentive to passengers’ needs in order to ensure a pleasant travel experience.

Communication skills. Flight attendants should speak clearly, listen attentively, and interact comfortably with passengers and other crewmembers.

Customer-service skills. Flight attendants should have poise, tact, and resourcefulness to handle stressful situations and address passengers’ needs.

Decisionmaking skills. Flight attendants must be able to act decisively in emergencies.

Physical stamina. Flight attendants may need to lift baggage and stand and walk for long periods.

Flight attendants should present a professional appearance and not have visible tattoos, body piercings, or an unusual hairstyle or makeup.

Flight Attendant Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for flight attendants is $44,860. 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 $25,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $72,090.

Flight attendants receive an allowance for meals and accommodations while working away from home. Although attendants are required to purchase an initial set of uniforms and luggage, the airlines usually pay for replacements and upkeep. Flight attendants generally are eligible for discounted airfare or free standby seats 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 100 hours a month and usually spend another 50 hours a month on the ground, preparing flights, writing reports, and waiting for planes to arrive. They can spend several nights a week away from home. Most work variable schedules. About 1 in 4 flight attendants work part time.

Union Membership

Most flight attendants belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Flight Attendants[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of flight attendants is projected to grow 2 percent through 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. In an effort to keep planes full, airlines are expected to slow the expansion of additional flights and new routes.

However, many airlines are replacing smaller regional aircraft with new, larger planes that can accommodate a greater number of passengers. This change may increase the number of flight attendants needed on some routes.

Flight Attendants Job Prospects

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, creating opportunities for new workers.

Employment projections data for Flight Attendants, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Flight attendants 97,900 100,100 2 2,200


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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