Do you enjoy providing excellent customer service? Do you want to travel for a living? Do you feel like you belong in the sky? Then becoming a cabin crew member sounds like something you should do!
If you’re serious about following this exciting career path, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find all the information you need to start, develop and advance your career as an air steward or stewardess!
1. Research the profession
The first step you need to take to become a cabin crew member is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of what exactly the role entails. Here’s an overview of the profession, including what to expect on the job and how much money you could make.
Cabin crew members, or flight attendants, are tasked with looking after airline passengers and ensuring they have a safe, comfortable and pleasant flight.
As a flight attendant, your tasks will vary depending on whether it’s a short or long-haul flight, as well as the size of the team you’re working in, though typical day-to-day duties include:
- Attending a pre-flight briefing about the flight and its schedule (you’ll also be informed about things like passengers with any special requirements, for example: diabetic passengers)
- Carrying out pre-flight duties, including ensuring there are enough supplies on the plane and that emergency equipment is working properly
- Greeting and welcoming passengers on board and directing them to their seats
- Carrying out safety demonstrations
- Ensuring all hand luggage is securely stored away
- Checking all seat belts and galleys are secure before take-off
- Making sure passengers are comfortable during the flight
- Serving meals and refreshments
- Selling duty-free goods to passengers and advising them on any allowance restrictions
- Making announcements on behalf of the pilot
- Answering passengers’ questions
- Reassuring passengers in the event of an emergency, and ensuring they follow safety procedures correctly
- Giving first aid, where necessary
- Making sure passengers disembark the aircraft safely
- Checking there is no luggage, stowaways or suspicious items left on board
- Writing a flight report, noting any unusual incidents
Essential skills and qualities
To succeed in this career, you’ll need to demonstrate a wide variety of skills:
- Have excellent communication skills
- Have exceptional customer service skills
- Be discrete when dealing with VIPs or royalty
- Have team working skills (you may have to work on different teams each day)
- Have numeracy skills (for handling cash, including foreign currency)
- Be flexible in working unsocial and irregular hours
- Be confident in dealing with a range of people
- Have commercial awareness and good sales skills
- Be able to work quickly and efficiently
- Be tactful and diplomatic, and assertive when necessary
- Be able to work in a confined space
- Be able to diffuse situations calmly and quickly
Working hours and conditions
If you’re considering becoming a cabin crew member, it’s important that you understand that the job involves working irregular and unsocial hours on any day of the year, including weekends, nights and public holidays like Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Working hours can be particularly bad on long-haul flights; for example, some flights can take more than eight hours – that could potentially mean eight (or more) hours of crying babies and annoying and rude passengers. As a result, you’ll end up spending long periods of time (sometimes days) away from home (personal relationships could suffer because of this).
The work can be physically demanding as you’ll spend time working in small spaces, including the kitchen galley.
You should also consider the health effects of the job, which include jet lag, fertility problems, increased cancer rates, unhealthy eating, digestive problems, radiation exposure, repetitive motion injuries, depression and alcohol abuse.
The airline will provide you with a uniform to wear while working. You may also be required to follow strict appearance guidelines (for example, have no visible tattoos – in 2014, Larissa Westcott had her dream of becoming a stewardess with British Airways shattered when it was revealed she had a tattoo on her foot; BA have since changed their tattoo policy).
Pay typically depends on the airline you work for, but you can expect a starting salary of between £12,000 and £14,000 a year. You may be able to add an hourly pay rate while flying, as well as bonuses for performance and commissions for in-flight sales.
As a result, you could rake in as much as £25,000. Cabin crew with experience can expect to earn a base rate of £15,000 to £18,000 a year, and highly experienced crew members can earn around £20,000 a year.
You could also receive additional allowances for any additional languages spoken, as well as overnight payments for nights spent away from home.
Beyond salary, you could enjoy various benefits (depending on the airline), including:
- Free travel on domestic flights
- Free or heavily discounted travel on international flights
- Discounted travel for immediate family and spouses
- International medical insurance
- Free accommodation and transportation or allowances to cover the costs
- Discounts on duty-free products
2. Get the qualifications
There are no formal education requirements to pursue this career path, though you will typically need to:
- Be at least 18 years of age (21 for some airlines)
- Have GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent in English and maths
- Have a good level of physical fitness
- Be a good swimmer
- Have colour-normal vision
- Have a valid passport with no restrictions for the destinations the airline travels to
- Pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check
Each airline has its own structured training programme which you’ll need to undergo to become a cabin crew member. This programmes can vary in length from one airline to the next, and typically takes anywhere between three to eight weeks to complete.
Training includes a combination of theoretical and practical components and covers things like:
- Safety and emergency procedures
- Safety equipment
- Fire fighting
- First aid
- Galley management
- Food preparation and service
- Product knowledge
- Cultural awareness
- Passengers care and customer relations
- Aircraft knowledge
- Customs and immigration regulations
- Crew resource management
Some airlines require cabin crew members to take professional qualification courses such as the NVQ in Aviation Operations in the Air or the Certificate or Diploma in Cabin Crew, which are offered by City & Guilds and the Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE).
You may also be able to enter the profession through an apprenticeship, which offers you the opportunity to earn while you learn.
3. Land your first job
With dozens of airlines operating within the UK – and internationally – you'll be spoilt for choice; especially handy if you don't like the uniform! Some of the biggest airlines in the UK include:
- British Airways
- Thomas Cook Airlines
- Thomson Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
Other, International, airlines operating from/to the UK include:
- Cathay Pacific
- Etihad Airways
- Qatar Airways
- United Airlines
Check their websites for vacancies and also search major job boards like Monster and Reed to explore suitable opportunities. Make sure you accompany your application with a well-written CV and cover letter, and prepare thoroughly for the assessment day and the interview.
You should also consider checking specialist sites for more information about following this specific career path, as well as job opportunities. They include:
You’ll find that speaking a second language and having experience in customer service can help boost your chances of landing a job.
4. Develop your career
You’ll find that there are many options available to you for career development.
For example, you could progress to a senior air cabin crew position or pursue private jet work. Alternatively, you may decide to work in a ground-based role like cabin crew training, recruitment, passenger services, marketing or sales – the possibilities and truly endless!
You could also decide to pursue further training, which can be organised through in-house specialist courses such as crew resource management.
Moreover, if you’re used to working on short-haul flights and have obtained a position working on long-haul flights, then you’ll have to undergo relevant training.
Are you thinking about becoming a cabin crew member? How useful has this guide been to you? Perhaps you’ve already entered the profession and would like to impart your wisdom with those who are considering following in your footsteps? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
If you’re not quite sold on the idea of working as a flight attendant, but know you’d like a career in aviation, check out our in-depth guides on how to become an airline pilot, an aircraft broker or an in-flight chef!
The salary information contained in this article is based on data compiled and published by various sources, including the National Careers Service. Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 5 September 2017.
This article was originally published in May 2014.