Airline Flight Attendant

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Airline Flight Attendant

Education and Training High school plus training

Salary Median—$43,440 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Flight attendants are responsible for the safety and personal comfort of airline passengers. While some duties vary by airline and type of aircraft, many of their procedures are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Before flights they are briefed by the captain on emergency evacuation procedures, crew coordination activities, flying time, and weather. They check the passenger safety equipment and make sure the cabins are stocked with adequate supplies.

Flight attendants greet passengers as they board, check their tickets, direct them to their seats, and help them with their coats and small luggage. Before takeoff attendants demonstrate safety procedures. While airborne attendants check that safety belts are fastened when necessary; serve drinks, snacks, or precooked meals; distribute reading materials; and answer passengers' general questions.

Their most important duty is to provide assistance during emergencies, from reassuring passengers to opening doors and inflating emergency slides for evacuation. They are also trained to provide first aid.

Most flights have between one and ten attendants, depending on the size of planes and the proportion of economy to first-class passengers. Large aircraft such as the Boeing 747 may have as many as sixteen flight attendants.

Education and Training Requirements

Flight attendants must be high school graduates. Applicants with college backgrounds or experience dealing with the public are preferred. They must be at least nineteen years old and in excellent health. Good vision and hearing and clear speaking voices are required. Many international airlines require that their flight attendants be proficient in appropriate foreign languages. By FAA regulation, applicants must undergo thorough background checks.

Applicants must be tall enough to reach overhead bins, which contain emergency equipment, and their weight must be proportional to height. Applicants must also be clean shaven and have no visible tattoos, body piercings, or unusual hairstyles.

Most of the major airlines have established training schools for their new employees. Those that do not operate such schools generally send new employees to the schools of other airlines.

Most airline training programs last between four and eight weeks. Training covers flight regulations and duties, aircraft terminology, company policies, first-aid techniques, emergency procedures, and personal grooming. The courses include practice flights to accustom attendants to flight conditions.

Once trainees successfully pass their training programs, they receive the FAA's Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. They are then assigned to one of their airline's bases and are eligible to fly on reserve status, which means they can be called in to work for crew members who are sick, on vacation, or rerouted. Reserve status can last from one to ten years. Attendants graduate from reserve status by showing reliability and proficiency on the job.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to personnel departments of airline companies. Names and addresses of airlines are available from the Web site of the Air Transport Association of America. Occasionally job openings for attendants are listed in newspaper classified ads or on Internet job sites.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced flight attendants can become lead attendants, flight pursers, supervisory flight attendants, training inspectors, or recruitment representatives. Attendants who no longer want to fly sometimes transfer to other airline departments, such as public relations or sales.

Employment of flight attendants is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. The FAA requires that there be at least one attendant for every fifty seats, so the increasing number of aircraft and the new, larger planes should drive demand for attendants. However, the economics of air travel can affect the number of flights, limiting the number of jobs. Openings usually occur when experienced workers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Flight attendants usually have about sixty-five to ninety hours of scheduled flying time and up to fifty hours of ground duty per month. Hours may be irregular, requiring attendants to work at night, on weekends, or during holidays. Flight attendants have fifteen or more days off each month, sometimes away from their home bases. Attendants with the most seniority get the most desirable home bases and flight assignments.

Attendants' work involves exposure to many types of people, places, and cultures. However, the work can be strenuous. They are on their feet almost constantly, must complete many tasks quickly, and must deal with disruptive passengers or turbulent flights. Still, they must remain professional and pleasant in all situations.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on the airline, experience, and rank. In 2004 the median salary of experienced flight attendants was $43,440 per year, while senior flight attendants earned as much as $95,850 per year. Beginning attendants made $15,522 per year. Extra compensation was available for individuals willing to work additional hours or for working holidays and nights or on international flights. Living allowances are paid to flight attendants during their training and when they must stay away from their home bases. Most airlines require attendants to buy their own uniforms.

Where to Go for More Information

Air Transport Association of America
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004-1707
(202) 626-4000

Association of Flight Attendants
501 Third St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 434-1300

Benefits usually include paid sick leave, two to four weeks of paid vacation, tuition reimbursement, and reduced airfare for flight attendants and their immediate families. Hospitalization insurance and retirement plans are sometimes provided.