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Flight Attendants

Flight attendants are aboard almost all passenger planes to look after the passengers' flight safety and comfort.

At least 1 hour before each flight, attendants are briefed by the captain on expected weather conditions, special passenger problems, and other matters. They see that the passenger cabin is in order, that supplies of food, beverages, blankets, and reading material are adequate, and that first aid kits and other emergency equipment are aboard and in working order. As passengers come aboard, attendants greet them, check their tickets, and assist them in storing coats and carry-on luggage.

Before the plane takes off, attendants instruct passengers in the use of emergency equipment and check to see that all passengers have their seat belts fastened and seat backs forward. In the air, they answer questions about the flight, distribute magazines and pillows, and help care for small children and elderly and handicapped persons. They may administer first aid to passengers who become ill. Attendants also serve cocktails and other refreshments and, on many flights, heat and distribute precooked meals. After the plane has landed, the flight attendant assist passengers as they leave the plane. They then prepare reports on medications given to passengers, lost and found articles, and cabin equipment conditions. Some flight attendants straighten up the plane's cabin.

Assisting passengers in the rare event of an emergency is one of the most important functions of attendants. This may range from reassuring passengers during occasional encounters with strong turbulence to opening emergency exits and inflating evacuation chutes following an emergency landing.

Senior flight attendants are working supervisors aboard planes--directing the work of junior attendants while performing some of the same duties.

Working Conditions

Since airlines operate around the clock year round, attendants may work at night and on holidays and weekends. They usually fly 75 to 85 hours a month. In addition, they generally spend about 75 to 80 hours a month on the ground preparing planes for flight, debriefing following completed flights, and waiting for planes that arrive late. Because of variations in scheduling and limitations on flying time, many attendants have 11 or 12 days or more off each month. Attendants may be away from their home bases at least one-third of the time. During this period, the airlines provide hotel accommodations and an allowance for meal expenses.

Flight attendants have the opportunity to meet interesting people and see new places. The combination of free time and discount air fares provides substantial opportunity for travel. However, the work can be strenuous and trying. Short flights require speedy service if meals are served. A rough flight can make serving drinks and meals difficult. Attendants stand during much of the flight and must remain pleasant and efficient regardless of how tired they are or how demanding passengers may be.


Flight attendants held 91,000 in 1990. Commercial airlines employed the vast majority of all flight attendants, most of whom were stationed in major cities at the airlines' home bases. A small number of flight attendants worked for large companies that operate their own aircraft for career purposes.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

The airlines like to hire poised, tactful, and resourceful people who can deal comfortable with strangers. Applicants usually must be at least 19-21 years old, but some airlines have higher minimum age requirements. Flight attendants must have excellent health, good vision, and the ability to speak clearly.

Applicants must be high school graduates. Those having several years of college or experience in dealing with the public are preferred. Flight attendants for international airlines generally must speak an appropriate foreign language fluently.

Most large airlines require that newly hired flight attendants complete 4 to 6 weeks of intensive training in their own schools. The airlines that do not operate schools generally send new employees to the school of another airline. Transportation to the training centers and an allowance for board, room, and school supplies may be provided. Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating an airplane, operating an oxygen system, and giving first aid. Attendants also are taught flight regulations and duties, and company operations and policies. Trainees receive instruction on personal grooming and weight control. Trainees for the international routes get additional courses in passport and customs regulations. Towards the end of their training, students go on practice flights. Attendants must receive 12 hours of training in emergency procedures and passenger relations annually.

After completing initial training, flight attendants are assigned to one of their airline's bases. New attendants are placed in "reserve status" and either are called on to staff extra flights or fill in for attendants who are sick or on vacation. Reserve attendants on duty must be available on short notice. Attendants usually remain on reserve for at least 1 year; at some cities, it may take as long as 5 years to advance from reserve status. Advancement takes longer today than in the past because experienced attendants are remaining in this career for more years than they used to. Attendants who no longer are on reserve bid for regular assignments. Because these assignments are based on seniority, usually only the most experienced attendants get their choice of base and flights.

Some attendants advance to flight service instructor, customer service director, recruiting representative, or various other administrative positions.

Job Outlook

Competition for jobs as flight attendants is expected to remain very keen through the year 2000 because the number of applicants is expected to greatly exceed the number of job openings. The glamour of the airline industry and opportunity to travel attract many applicants. Those with at least 2 years of college and experience in dealing with the public have the best change of being hired.

Employment of flight attendants is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Growth in population and income is expected to increase the number of airline passengers. Airlines usually enlarge their capacity by increasing the number and size of planes in operations. Since Federal Aviation Administration safety rules require one attendant for every 50 seats, more flight attendants will be needed. As more career-minded people enter this occupation, job turnover will decline. Nevertheless, most job openings are expected from the need to replace attendants who stop working or transfer to other occupations.

Employment of flight attendants is sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, when the demand for air travel declines, many flight attendants, are put on part-time status or are laid off. Until demand increases, few new attendants are hired.


Beginning flight attendants averaged about $13,350 a year in 1990, according to data from the Association of Flight Attendants. Flight attendants with 6 years of flying experience has median annual earnings of about $22,800, while some senior flight attendants earned as much as $40,275 a year. Flight attendants receive extra compensation for overtime and for night and international flights. In addition, flight attendants and their immediate families are entitled to reduced fares on their own and most other airlines.

Many flight attendants belong to the Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO. Others are members of the Transport Workers Union of America or several other unions.

Flight attendants are required to buy uniforms and wear them while on duty. Uniform replacement items are usually paid for by the company. The uniform is made to measure and is designed to look like a coordinated wardrobe. The airlines generally provide a small allowance to cover cleaning and upkeep of the uniforms.

Related Occupations

Other jobs that involve helping people and require the ability to be pleasant even under trying circumstances include tour guide, gate agent, host or hostess, waiter or waitress, and camp counselor.

Sources of Additional Information

For further information, request Flight Attendants, publication GA-300-127 (enclose a self-addressed mailing label), from:

U.S. Government Printing Office, Library and Statutory Distribution Service, 5208 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria, Va. 22304. Information about job opportunities may be obtained from:

Future Aviation Professionals of America, 4291 J. Memorial Dr., Decatur, Ga. 30032. (This organization may be called toll free at 800-JET-JOBS.)

Information about job opportunities in a particular airline and the qualifications required may be obtained by writing to the personnel manager of the company. Addresses of companies are available from:

Air Transport Association of America, 1709 New York Ave., NW., Washington, D.C. 20006.


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