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Everything You Need to Know Before Becoming a Flight Attendant

It’s now been over a year since I began my journey as a flight attendant. When I first accepted my job offer a few months before I graduated from college I told myself I would only do this job for a year or two… which is what almost everyone says before they know what they’re getting themselves into. Now, here I am going into my second year of flying and I honestly can’t tell you when or if I’ll ever decide to leave this job.

I love my job. While it hasn’t all been glamorous, becoming a flight attendant and traveling for work was the best decision I could’ve made straight out of college. I knew I wanted to spend some time traveling before I began working, but unfortunately I didn’t really have the money to just go travel the world for a year, so I thought to myself: this is the next best thing. I’ll be traveling all over but still receive a consistent income.

Before applying to this job I really didn’t have any clue what I was getting myself into… and like most people I’ve met, I had very little knowledge of what a flight attendant’s job really consisted of other than serving beverages. In this blog post I’m going to cover topics including: the job description, application process, training, job duties, schedules, pay, benefits and more.

First things first. What exactly does being a flight attendant entail? 

What most people don’t know, is that the main reason airplanes even have flight attendants to begin with isn’t just to serve you a diet coke and some pretzels. We are there for your safety. In flight attendant training you will learn about every single aircraft you are qualified on. From how many flight attendants are onboard, to where every piece of emergency equipment is located, to where the exit rows are on every plane etc. And you will need to memorize all of this and much much more for the exams you will have to pass while at training to graduate.

You will become CPR certified for infants, children and adults, learn to preform the Heimlich maneuver, learn about communicable diseases and how to spot them, become a professional on how to evacuate an airplane and learn what to do if God forbid someone has to give birth on an airplane… just to name a few things.

In summary, the majority of training is focused on “worst case scenario” drills and evacuations that will hopefully never happen to you and your passengers. That being said they drill these into you to the point where I feel extremely confident if something bad where to ever happen. So don’t worry, we got your back!

Having small medical emergencies inflight, however, will happen. And it may happen more often than you think. Like I said before though, I feel fully prepared and equipped to handle almost any situation thrown my way after training.

 

Your schedule

The first thing people ask me when I tell them that I’m a flight attendant is if I fly both international and domestic , or the infamous “So what is your usual route?” Well, many flight attendants at large carriers don’t necessarily have “routes” so to speak.

You are able to pick and chose your schedule for the most part, and as you stay with the company longer and grow your seniority you will eventually have more and more control over what you fly. The flight attendants who have been working the longest get their top pick of the schedules (usually choosing to fly the long haul international flights such as Europe or Asia).

As a new hire you will most likely be on “reserve” for the first few years of your career. Being on reserve is like being on call. Some companies have you on call 24/7 every other month like the airline I am with, while others have a different system where they may only be liable to be on call for 12 hours a day, certain days of the month on every month etc.

With my company, we serve every other month being on reserve, where we get anywhere from 10-12 days off that are called “duty free periods”( we request which days we want off but don’t always get them). These are 24 hour periods where I am completely off, and not on call.  The rest of the month however, I must have my phone on me at all times and be able to return a phone call within 15 minutes if I don’t want to risk getting a missed assignment.

On the months that I am not on reserve, I will bid for my schedule based on the days I want to work, layovers I want, times the trips leave and return, etc. It really depends what your priority is. On the days that I would bid for specific days off (if I had a wedding or special event to attend that I can’t miss) I would usually get them, but I wouldn’t get a very good schedule with the trips I wanted. On other months when I didn’t care what days I had off I’ve gotten better schedules because my layovers were really all I was bidding towards.

Just warning you, like most customer service/ safety related jobs you will most likely be working a lot of weekends at first, and holidays. You really do have a lot of flexibility with your schedule, but it comes with time. In the last year I’ve learned so much about building my schedule, trading trips, and bidding for my lines that I wouldn’t have known in my first month working. It’s all been a learning process, but it gets better as you go.

 

How much do you work on average? 

One of the coolest things about this job is that it’s very flexible in terms of how much you want to work. I usually work the schedule I’m given which is roughly 75-85 flying hours. That may not seem like a lot, since a normal work week is 40 hours, but you have to realize that flying hours only includes the actual hours you are up in the air “wheels up to wheels down”. It doesn’t include the hour we have to be there prior to the flight, the hours between flights, layovers, or the 30 minutes or so you need to be there after we land for the customers to deplane and for us to debrief etc.

With my average schedule I will have anywhere from 10-15 days off (24 hr periods). Some of my trips may be 1 day long (flying Miami to Orlando and back to Miami) or they may be anywhere up to 5 days long. You might not have to show up until 5 pm for work one day, but you may not end your trip until midnight on the 3rd day. Other times you may show up at 8 am on the first day but be done by 10 am on the last day. You get the idea- even though I may have 10-15 days off it really ends up feeling like more depending on what time your flights get in or leave at. Many of my friends work 100+ hours and still end up having 10+ days off

 

How much do flight attendants make? $$$

The way flight attendants are paid is by flight hours, but theres a lot more that goes into our paycheck on top of that. Per diem is calculated, and extra pay based on international vs domestic flights, flight attendant positions, if you are a speaker of another language etc. Overall for my first year working it was estimated I would make roughly $25,000 if I worked only the minimum hours they gave me (75 hrs per month). On average I would say most new hires I’ve talked to made between $25,000-$35,000 their first year. It only goes up from here. Your first year is going to be rough because of the pay and your schedule may not be perfect, but it really is what you make it. You can easily work an extra trip or two a month to make a lot more money, and trade trips to get what you want. Flight attendants at my company max out after 13 years and many of them can make 6 figures just flying back and forth to Europe 5-6 times a month… talk about living the dream!

 

What is the application/training process like?

I can’t speak for everyone, however my application process took a few months. And our training is 6 and a half weeks long in Dallas, Tx. Many big airlines only open the application process for a few days twice a year: once in the summertime and again in the winter, so when they open up you need to apply immediately! They get hundreds of thousands of applications per year and once they get too many they close the apps.

I applied in June even though I wasn’t graduating until December, because a friend let me know that it isn’t an ongoing open application. I knew I wanted to start the job right away, and by applying in June I was going to be accepting an offer that started in mid January.

The application process usually consists of a long online form to fill out, followed by a video interview, a phone interview and then an in person group interview. I flew out to Dallas in September for my face to face interview and accepted the position two weeks later officially. In December I graduated college, and by mid January I was off to training.

I graduated training March 1 so all in all it was a 9 month process to begin working for this airline in particular. I think you may be able to start sooner than I did, but because I was still in school until December I knew I wouldn’t be able to start until January regardless.

Training was 6 and a half weeks of classes, studying and a lot of evacuation drills. The class hours were not normal, attempting to imitate the schedule of a flight attendant. Some days were normal work hours, other days we started in the afternoon and went until late, while some days we started as early as 4 in the morning.

We had class 5-6 days a week, spending two of our weekends doing our trainee flights where we actually flew somewhere and back in the same day while shadowing the flight attendants at work, in order to get a better feel for the job. Most of the rest of our time off we spent studying for exams and drill evaluations, because if you didn’t receive a 90% or above on exams you failed. We were only allowed to retake 4 exams before you were sent home, no exceptions.

The material wasn’t hard as long as you studied, it was just a lot of memorization for exams and repetition for the drills. Still, knowing I could be at training for 6 weeks and then be sent home without a job was a frustrating thought to me so I over-studied everything just in case.

As mentioned previously, most of the material we cover in our classes and drills have to do with safety and precautions for emergencies. Apart from that however we did have specific training on customer service and what to expect for certain routes, including elevated services (especially for first and business class).

Looking back, training may have felt like it would never end while I was there, but you’re so busy it really did go by fast. I also made some of my best friends along the way that I’ve been able to work trips with and travel on vacations with.

 

Benefits

Let’s be honest, the main reason anyone applies for this job is because they’re interested in the job benefits. Apart from having great health insurance, the flight benefits are what motivated many to begin this career.

How it works is fairly simple. As a flight attendant you will be able to fly free as a standby passenger domestically on your airline carrier along with many other airlines we have a contract with. You also fly free internationally, however when exiting a foreign country you pay taxes. Sometimes it’s as little as $20 or it can be upwards of $250.

Flying standby has its perks- it’s either completely free or close to it, and you can hop on a flight last minute without worrying about outrageous airline prices. However flying standby also means you do not have a confirmed seat, so unless you check the flight load and see a ton of seats open you can’t be sure whether or not you’ll make it on the flight.

Luckily as an employee we have ways of checking the flight loads so you are able to get a pretty good idea of which flight routes and times you’ll have your best shot at making it on. The flexibility of being able to fly free on standby is amazing. If I decided I wanted to go visit a friend in another state for the day it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to just hop on a flight!

Also, as a flight attendant we are able to sit in the extra “jumpseats” on the airplane, which is where we sit while at work. So even if a flight is completely full I’m still able to sit on a jumpseat (though less comfortable than a normal seat) and make it on an oversold flight.

On top of the flight benefits for yourself, you also get

⁃ A companion

⁃ 2 parents/guardians

⁃ 16 one way buddy passes

You can list anyone as your companion (I have my boyfriend listed) and they are able to fly with the same benefits as you are minus jumpseating. You also can list up to 2 parents or guardians. Your parents are going to fly standby as well but at a lower priority unless flying with you. They also have to pay a little bit more in taxes for international flights, as well as some taxes domestically.

Lastly, we get 16 one way buddy passes a year. These are the lowest priority so unfortunately it can be difficult to get your friends on flights sometimes. They also have higher taxes, to the point where sometimes they’ll be able to just buy cheaper tickets. For this reason I haven’t used many of my buddy passes.

Most the time when I’m posting photos of my travels it’s not from work trips, but from trips I take on my days off. While I’ve had a lot of amazing layovers long enough to explore a new country or city, unfortunately many of the trips I fly for work don’t give me enough time to see too much. I try to make the most of it but almost all my real traveling happens on my days off. Thanks to my job I’ve been able to visit hundreds of cities in the last year and several states and countries I hadn’t yet been to.

 

Conclusion

I love this job and can’t tell you enough how fun it’s been. I’ve met so many amazing people and been able to experience tons of different cultures, foods, traditions, activities and more. If you have the travel bug in you and can’t seem to stop thinking about where you want to travel to next I highly recommend applying! And if you have any questions leave them in the comment section and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

 

2 Comments

  1. Aspen
    May 12, 2018 / 5:47 pm

    This is so perfect and helpful!!

    • cskahn
      Author
      June 6, 2018 / 4:26 pm

      Thank you! Can’t wait to fly together soon hopefully!! xoxo

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