So, you’re thinking of becoming a flight attendant?
Allow me to address some questions you may have about this career and give you a few helpful tips before you get started. Obviously, each airline operates differently, for example starting salaries, union agreements/employee rights, or scheduling, but right now I’m going to let you in on some tips based on the similarities that are steady across most airlines.
In order to become a flight attendant have changed a lot over the years. Gone are the days when you had to be a certain height, weight, gender, marital status, etc. (for the most part)! In many countries, it’s now thankfully illegal to discriminate on these conditions, which opens the door for anyone to become a flight attendant. Here is a list of some of the most basic requirements and skills airlines do still require:
-Bilingual or knowledge of a second language.
This is not necessarily true for all airlines, especially smaller domestic ones for countries that have only one official language, but it is definitely a plus. If you’re someone who loves to travel and explore different cultures, then the knowledge of more than one language is really useful. English is a big one no matter where you go in the world, but another popular language can depend on which region you’d like to be based.
-Willingness to relocate is a big one.
Regardless of the airline, they tend to have more than one base for their flight attendants to be stationed, and it’s important to note that you may not get hired for your top choice. At times, you live in one major city, but the airline needs crew members to be based out of another, which means you need to be willing to be flexible when applying. Either you physically move to be closer to that airport or depending on how far you are and what your travel benefits with that company are like, you could commute.
The second option is not as ideal because it can be stressful (especially with less seniority) to fly or drive long distances to get to work, but if you are determined, it’s manageable. If they ask you during the interview process if you’re willing to relocate, you say yes if you want the job and you actually mean it. Don’t go through with the process if you’re not actually prepared to move. With all this being said, relocating can be pretty exciting and you meet all sorts of new people in training who are in the same boat (or plane) as you and might be in search of roommates.
-Customer service experience or being a “people person”.
You don’t necessarily need to love it, but you need to be able to act like you do at the very least. Many flight attendants do get hired directly out of high school with no work experience at all, but these applicants have great people skills and demonstrate the ability to serve passengers as well as master the safety and security procedures. The difficult part of the job is not pouring tomato juice with a smile during turbulence, although it may be the most common difficulty.
Next, I’m going to highlight some important facts that you need to keep in mind before applying for the job. Once again, some of these differ from one airline to the next, but I believe most of the things I mention are general and might help you in deciding if this job is the right move for you.
1. Seniority is everything.
For most airlines for both flight deck crew (pilots) and cabin crew (flight attendants), your seniority number determines a lot about your quality of life in terms of your schedule. Depending on the size of the airline, things might be a little bit tougher to manage than other jobs in the beginning.
As you rise in seniority and the airline hires new flight attendants to fill the ranks beneath you, life gets easier. In the scheduling world of a flight attendant, there exist two types of schedules: block/regular line or reserve. Seniority is basically what decides which schedule you can get.
2. Flight attendants usually start out on reserve.
You’re given a schedule for the month with shifts on call where you need to be available to answer the phone and get sent wherever the company needs. This could be any flight (domestic or international), and you could be back on the same day or in a week depending on the routing.
For people who really like to plan everything out in advance, this lifestyle is a bit harder to manage at first. The good news is that for some airlines or bases, you might only have to tolerate this for a few months, just one or maybe you’ll bypass it altogether. That being said, there are some benefits to being on call, like sometimes you get more senior destinations because someone calls in sick and then those last-minute routings go to reserves.
3. Training is several weeks long regardless of the airline.
It’s longer for larger airlines because the security features of each aircraft in the fleet will take longer to learn and review. Other smaller budget airlines may have unpaid training and only offer accommodations and per diem (daily allowance) for food. For those airlines, it’s best if you have the liberty to go one month without an actual paycheck, so this is ideal for students who may still live at home or someone with less responsibilities to get started.
Larger airlines may offer something close to minimum wage because the training portion of the job is an investment for the company, but you still have to pass the training yourself. The salary for training is therefore nothing to brag about, but the starting salary beyond that is often significantly higher than minimum wage.
Applying for this job is very simple.
You can apply directly on the airlines’ websites and it’s usually as simple as uploading your CV and perhaps a cover letter. Next, the interview process begins with a phone interview that lasts about 15 minutes. From there, if it is required, you might be scheduled for language testing either by telephone or during an in-person interview. The in-person interviews can vary greatly between airlines, but there is often a combination of group and individual interviews which takes a couple of hours.
Upon passing the interviews, you will be scheduled for a medical exam that tests your overall health including eyesight and hearing exams, for which you don’t need a perfect score to pass. If everything checks out, you should be good to be invited for training. The training could begin the following week or in a couple of months depending on the airline’s needs.
Lastly, I’d like to address some of the major pros and cons associated with this career choice. I will say that most of these things can go either way on the positive or negative spectrum depending on your individual preferences, so I’ll just explain both sides of the coin for each.
1. Being away from home.
When you’re dying to travel a lot, it can be a definite pro that this job takes you away from home and to new cities to explore. The downside is that it can be quite tiring at times. Since it’s not an actual vacation because you are often working long hours round trip, some rotations can leave you exhausted and craving your own home and your own bed.
2. Staying in hotels.
Similarly to the previous point, staying in hotels can feel fancy and luxurious, but it can also be unhealthy and expensive if you’re not careful. Obviously, it’s wonderful not having to stress about cleaning or paying for the hotel cost itself. You may even have access to a pool or beach while you’re there, which is fantastic! The downside is not having access to a kitchen and in some cases even a microwave. This means that you’re stuck eating in a restaurant, buying food at a grocery store and cramming it in a mini fridge, and eating mostly cold foods or things that can be made with boiled water from the kettle.
This can clearly have negative effects on your health and wallet at times. For salad loving people who eat a lot of cold and raw food already, this lifestyle is not much of an issue. Moreover, when you have specific dietary restrictions, it can become more challenging. It’s still manageable, it’s just an added challenge that other careers don’t have when you have access to your own home kitchen.
3. Time spent alone.
As an introvert and being raised as an only child, I usually love this aspect of the job, but even at that, it still can get really challenging at times. I know a lot of extroverted, social flight attendants who find that this job can be too lonely and they really don’t enjoy layovers where they don’t know anyone on the crew. If you absolutely can’t go to a restaurant alone and really need to be with someone at all times, this job might be difficult for you.
4. Free time outside of work.
You may just have access to a ton of free time depending on the airline and your schedule. Given the physically demanding nature of the job (being on your feet, working at higher altitudes for long periods of time), you can’t exactly log 40 hours a week like most other full-time jobs. This often leads to having plenty of downtime. Either time spent at home waiting for the phone to ring, or time spent in a hotel room on layover/at home while in between flights.
Many flight attendants use this free time to work a second job and boost their income, but the second possibility is trying to cram all your working hours together so you can take extra trips on your days off. If you’re able to put most of your days off in a row, you can take a mini trip for about 4-6 days any month without affecting your vacation days. With some airlines, you can even take advantage of flying for free or for a super reduced price (only the taxes).
Which brings me to my final point.....
5. Travel Benefits!
This is strictly a pro, because if you don’t like or want to travel, maybe this job isn’t for you. This job is amazing for people who love to travel but can’t quite master balancing home responsibilities with taking off for long periods of time. That was me. I had a strong desire to travel, but responsibilities at home that meant I couldn’t quite take off whenever I wanted and disappear for any length of time I wanted.
So, I became a flight attendant.
This job allowed me to travel to Europe for the first time in my life, and it gave me the freedom to visit my family in the Caribbean for the first time in 6 years using company benefits. I am eternally grateful for my new career path, and if you’re someone in a similar situation, I feel you could really appreciate the benefits and freedom that this job allows.
In conclusion, if you long to travel but also consider yourself part homebody, this job might just be perfect for you! It has all the benefits of traveling and seeing the world, while also being part of a stable industry that allows job security, health benefits and steady income (especially the major airlines) of office jobs that probably don’t allow you to travel.
You can still have a family, you can still live a conventional life outside of this job, but you also have access to opportunities many people could only dream of.
Overall, I’ve only been doing this job for a year and I already can’t wait to be 10 years in, just so I can see what else I’ll get to see and do while working this job. I highly recommend it and if there’s anything I didn’t cover, I’d be happy to answer additional questions about this job!