So You Want to Be a Flight Attendant?

10.24.2012

This job really piques the interest of those with wanderlust and the like.

I know, because I wanted to do it for years before the opportunity ever presented itself. I wanted to travel, and see the world - and it's pretty rare to find a profession in which one would be paid to do so.

A lot of commercial airlines lately seem in constant need of flight attendants that speak a foreign language (which, always eliminated me). Sometimes the timing is just right, and they need regular English-speaking girls from Kentucky. I'm quickly approaching my two year mark, and it's gone by so quickly.

This past week, American Airlines announced they were hiring 1500 new flight attendants to begin training in January.

Since I've had so many friends and acquaintances ask what it's really like, and how to go about becoming a flight attendant - I thought it might be helpful to write out the benefits and setbacks of this profession.

To many that know me well, I probably sound like a broken record. The best way to describe it is that every job has pros and cons. The airline industry's tend to be more extreme. The good things can't be beat. The bad things are hard to ever get used to.

This is a long post. Hold on to your butts.

It's a great job for people who: like spontaneity, don't like a 9-5 desk job, are friendly, have big hair, love people, have strong immune systems, don't mind touching trash, don't mind being yelled at, love to  travel, like to spend inordinate amounts of time in airports, and are not cave-dwelling trolls.

Not a good idea for people who: are shy, like a reliable schedule, are stressed out by turbulence (or afraid to fly), don't thrive in customer service, act like dragons around people, afraid to evacuate a plane.



The PROs!

+ The obvious: fly anywhere for free. Sometimes you'll pay a small tax depending on the country you visit if it's for pleasure. If you're working the flight, though - you're paid to see places and your lodging it taken care of.

Examples: Fly to Seattle for the day, Spend the day in Barcelona or Venice. Take your sister to Ireland for her spring break.

+ See the world, visit friends.
Examples: Have dinner with a dear friend in Minneapolis and visit the Mall of America, Meet a new friend for coffee in Charleston.

+ It's one of the most culturally diverse jobs, basically ever. Meet and befriend other flight attendants of every nationality. I've learned so much about other countries and cultures because I get to spend time with some really interesting people. I've had some really fascinating and delightful passengers. They are the type of people you want to know better, and it's a little sad when they leave the plane.

+ A (relatively) flexible schedule. Your schedule varies each month. If you're used to working every Monday through Friday, 9-5 you can count on about 8 days off each month. Not the case with flight attendants. You can work as much as you need to fit in your schedule. You can have 15 days off a month if you need it.

+ It's never boring. The airline industry is constantly evolving and changing and growing. You're never flying with the same people, you're going to different places, there's never a typical day. Sometimes the tasks can become monotonous, but your passengers are never the same.

+ You'll meet celebrities. Maybe a lot of people don't care about that, but I think it keeps things fun. I also loved watching the Academy Awards as a five year old, so there's that. Meet Alec Baldwin, Sean Hayes, Harry Connick, Jr, Andy Samberg and many more.





Doesn't all of that sound awesome?

A lot of it is - but to be fair, I cannot only present it with rose-colored glasses. It can be really, really hard. It's important to know both sides of the coin. Don't bite off more than you can chew.



The CONs!

- Say goodbye to holidays (for a while at least). Most positions in the airline industry are based on seniority. Starting out, you're as low on the totem pole as possible. I knew going in to it that I would be gone a lot, but spending Christmas in a hotel by yourself is never going to be easy. Last year I was in Oregon for Thanksgiving, California for Christmas, and Florida for New Year's. Eventually as you gain more seniority that might change, but some people might not have holidays at home until they've been with the company for twenty years.

- With some airlines, you'll have to live where you are based. You might have to move. I can't speak for all of them, but starting out a lot of flight attendants are on reserve most of the time. I never had to - I commute to New York before and after my trips. And on that note...

- You might have to commute. Some people (my friends, actually) are dedicated enough to this job that they live in Anchorage and fly to Atlanta for work. Some commute from San Francisco to New York. I've even met some that live in Japan, or Australia and work two weeks on and two weeks off. That's a lot of time in your life spent.

- Your plans will always change. Consider every factor that goes into traveling. Your day and schedule will change with the weather. You might think you're going to spend a long layover in Boston, only to get re-routed and spent a short night in Milwaukee. You may think you're going to make it home for dinner, but your plane might have a mechanical issue and you'll get stuck in New York. I still hear horror stories from a couple of winters ago when people were stranded in New York for days because of the snow storms. With as flexible as I like to think I am, sometimes reliability sounds like the greatest luxury that my job can't always afford.

- You'll miss a lot of what happens at home. I've missed so many birthdays, so many parties. I've missed visits from out of town family and friends because I've had to work. There's something about flying out of town when you know you're about to miss something great that just hurts a person's heart. I've missed church more times than I can count, and I came pretty close to not having the time off that I needed for my own wedding.

- You'll spend a lot of time by yourself. I love hotels, and I love hanging out with new friends, but some days are so long and you're so exhausted that you can only pass out on your bed. With the personality that this job requires, it can be very isolating being by yourself in different parts of the country. It's easy to feel very disconnected. Even when you're home for a few days it can still feel like you're living out of a suitcase.

- You'll rarely fly with the same people. There are some crazy flight attendants that I'd rather not work with again, but there are some that I could fly with every time. The good ones make the job that much better. I've made some great friends from training and from flying. If you're a person that thrives on establishing community and building relationships, that might be something you'd struggle with. There's a lack of consistency that can be tiring, but it's doable.

- You'll fly standby. This isn't a deal breaker for me. You're still flying for free, but there's an added element of stress because sometimes you'll try to be getting somewhere and you'll sit in the airport watching flight after flight fill up without a seat for you. Sometimes you'll get first class, and that's bomb. But sometimes you'll break out in hives because you're going to be late for work or completely miss a trip.

- People can be mean. (And everyone says, "Well DUH) but hear me out. Traveling isn't what it used to be. Maybe you watched Pan Am (weren't you SO bored, though?) and thought it was your dream job. It's not like that anymore. People that aren't used to the routine of travel can get really stressed out. By the time they figure out parking, get through security, navigate their way through the busy airport, they can step on the plane and just completely unload on you. As flight attendants, we're sometimes the only face of the airline people get to interact with. This can be great, but it can also be brutal. I've had passengers yell at me, throw their bags down in a tantrum, cuss about injustice, and make people cry.

- It can be hard on relationships. I consider it a huge blessing that Bryan and I started dating just a couple months after I started flying. My job is the only thing we know. With me being gone so much, it forced us very early on to work on our communication with each other and never be passive. Had I started once we were already together, I don't think that would be the case. I know plenty of people that have no problem making it work, but in a lot of instances people just don't understand the job. A lot of people that came into training in a relationship didn't weather the transition. It requires a lot of trust, a lot of patience, a lot of understanding. I personally think it's easier to start out single with this job. If you're married or in a committed relationship, make sure you discuss every facet of how you will handle the constant separation.


Of course, this is barely scratching the surface - but I hope it gives you a better idea of what it's like. I think it always sounds like a fun and glamorous job, and it is often rewarding - but it can be equally challenging. Talk to people you know, make sure you think it through and figure out what you're committing yourself to.

Enjoy the world, but don't forget about your home.

Have you ever wanted to be a flight attendant? Let's talk in the comments. Annnnd go!

24 comments:

  1. I actually think it'd be pretty cool. I'm better at superficial relationships (i.e., customer service) than I am at true, deep friendships (not that I don't have them, I just tend to stick to my long-existing ones). I've never had a problem flying, and, while I've never been in a TRUE emergency, I did fly Newark-Atlanta in the tailwinds of a tornado in April 2011 that caused us to be in the air an extra 1.5 hours, and pretty much everyone on the plane was holding hands.
    But... my husband's gone a lot for work, and with our furry children, having two sporadic schedules just wouldn't cut it. So I have to be the boring stick-close-to-home person...
    that's why I love flying vicariously through your blog :)

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  2. I really want to apply to do this, but based on my career at Starbucks, you and I both know that I'm too sassy to deal with the public.

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  3. Replies
    1. Hey Kristi - a couple comments below gives you a better idea. It will vary with each airline, but for the most part you only get paid once the door of the plane is closed. The first four or five years will be tough.

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  4. The money is not that great starting out. I know with my airline, the pay doesnt really start making a difference till the 3rd to the 5th year. The travel is fun, meeting all people from all walks of life is memoreable, but you do have to weather the being gone on all holidays and being alone alot. Especially summers but it all levels out after that. Its a awesome job but it does take a commitment that most cant commit to.

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    1. Exactly what I've heard, too. Not until year five or six that it starts making a difference. And couldn't have said the rest better myself.

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  5. The pay sucks for at least 5 years. To live "modestly", you have to live in a plane for at least that long.

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    1. That seems to be what I keep hearing from co-workers. People keep saying to stick it out because it's worthwhile once you hit the five or six year mark. Only have a decade. No big ;)

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  6. In some ways it sounds like a cool job, but I don't think I would ever want to do it.

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  7. I WANNA BE A FLIGHT ATTENDANT. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

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    1. I am not really sure what... you are asking?

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  8. Even though you lost me at "if you're afraid to fly or are scared of turbulence" I still read every word and made mental notes as if someday, I may have to tell someone why or why not to be a flight attendant - so well-written, Fran!!!

    Also, why do you have so many anonymous commenters!?! Who are these people trolling flight attendant bloggers?

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    1. My little sister was the anonymous troller. Keep an eye out for her in other post comments. It's actually kind of hilarious now that I know it is her.

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  9. What a wonderful post! I worked as a ramp agent for three years, loving the travel benefits but hating how I smelled like fuel all the time. I applied and got into flight attendant school at the same time that I got into graduate school. I chose to go to grad school and always wondered about the path my life could have taken if I had made a different choice - so I appreciate this window into your (exciting, funny, insightful) world! Love love lurve reading your blog :)

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    1. Emily. Never regret choosing grad school! :) You probably get to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and THAT IS WHAT MATTERS! I would love to just experience another job within the operations, though. I don't want to smell like fuel, but I bet it was still exciting!

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  10. I have always thought it would be so much fun to be a flight attendant, but then every time I fly, I'm reminded of how horrible I would be at the job. Don't get me wrong, I love people and traveling, but I think I need a little more consistency than I could find in flying.
    Oh, if you ever find yourself in Boise, we are definitely getting a meal/coffee. It's already been decided.

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  11. I am seriously considering this!!! I really appreciated the honesty in the pros/cons and after having met a few flight attendants recently and speaking with them, it sounds like an amazing opportunity! How does the application process work and what about applying for international airlines?

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    1. Hi Emily! Feel free to email me if you have more questions :)

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  12. I'm interested to be a flight attendant in some airlines and it was my dream as well. What are the possible questions that the interviewer will be asks to you?

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  13. I flew as flight crew for a few years.The auther was right about the pros and cons.The free travel is nice but half the time you only spend a night somewhere after you have used up your crew day.I can remember being so worn out just passing out on the bed.People think you are out partying but a lot of times you stay at hotel near the airport you are not near a lot of things to do.Somedays you might report to work and there is a delay becuase of weather or your stuck flying one the older jets that is grounded becuase a maintence issue.Like most people I was attracted by the lure of travel and I did have an interest in aviation.I met some great people and some others was glad that I didn't have to fly with them all time.makes you wonder how people with no people skills ending up working with or manageing people lol.

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  14. Hello Fran, I have been doing research on flight attendants for a little while now and I was wondering if you could tell me about landing the job. I read some places that whether you have a college degree or not they will judge you regardless of that point. I also read other places that if person a. has a degree and person b. doesn't, person a. will most likely get a job. I am young and still looking at possibilities for my future. I believe I can handle the people skills and the danger components with this job but what I want to know is whether it's worth it or not. College is expensive these days and my grades are as great as they could be or as well as I want them and I have been working hard to fix them. This job sounds very demanding and yet I still think I could handle it. Thank you for this page it has been wonderful to read! :)

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  15. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about this job. It sounds like a very demanding job but I believe that I could handle it. I do well under pressure. The problem is what I've learned from reading about it. Is it true that you're more likely to land the job with a college degree? I've read from many places that a college degree is completely irrelevant and yet other places say otherwise and that it helps with weeding out the good ones. College is expensive these days and I wanted to know if this job is truly worth pressing pause on college.

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  16. Hi i know this comment is coming late since you posted this in 2012 and it is now 2014 I would like to know how your experience has been these last 2 years? I'm interested in becoming a flight attendant but i honestly dont know where to start? Any advice?

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