Often perceived as one of the most exciting jobs in the world, the role of a flight attendant is surprisingly complex and offers a wide variety of responsibilities. In return, flight attendants get to travel the world and visit the destinations their airline flies to. Undoubtedly, this role is a critical part of the aviation industry.
As more people have resumed travelling following the COVID-19 pandemic, flight attendants have been in high demand, and it is reasonably easy to get into this role or action a career change to become one. This article will take you through all there is to know about becoming a flight attendant, including what the role is like, what skills are required, and the steps to becoming one.
Whether they work for commercial airliners or private jets, flight attendants are responsible for the comfort and safety of all passengers. The role is a mix of statutory and safety responsibilities, as well as hospitality and guest service duties. Flight attendants also have important tasks to fulfil before and after take-off.
Here is a list of the main responsibilities of a flight attendant:
- Reviewing passenger lists before the flight, paying particular attention to special requests or passengers in need of special assistance.
- Performing safety checks before the flight.
- Performing cabin checks before, during and after the flight, reporting observations as needed to the flight crew.
- Demonstrating safety equipment and procedures to the passengers.
- Providing hospitality to passengers during the flight, such as serving meals, drinks and providing other assistance as needed.
- Reassuring or comforting passengers during the flight, such as during turbulence.
- Professionally handling guest complaints.
- Assisting passengers in an emergency in terms of communication and guidance, as well as assisting with emergency devices such as life jackets or inflatable ramps.
- Performing first aid on passengers and crew during emergencies.
- Liaising with the flight deck regarding messages and directions from the captain and first officer.
Few jobs have such a strong reputation as that of a flight attendant. Often, when people think about flight attendants, they think of seasoned travelers, glamorously circumnavigating the world and gracefully looking after passengers. While this may be true, the role is also demanding, and requires long periods away from home, intense training (and re-training), and long shifts. This section dives into these aspects in more detail, helping you to make up your own mind about whether the role of flight attendant is the one for you.
It goes without saying that flight attendants spend a lot of their working time 36,000 feet in the air, but there’s a fair amount to do on the ground, too. Training is an important part of the role, and flight attendants will often spend a lot of time in academies and training buildings.
In-flight, flight attendants are usually on call for the entire journey, but on longer flights, they might work in shifts so they can get some sleep along the way. Flight attendants have to respond to all manner of passenger requests and given how stressful travelling can be, this can mean dealing with some very irate or unreasonable people. In all interactions, flight attendants must remain calm, friendly, but also assertive when needed, which is easier said than done, especially when contending with the limited space available on airplanes.
Flight attendants must also know how to handle an emergency, remaining calm under pressure and leading evacuation or emergency procedures down to the letter. This said, there is a minimum requirement for the numbers of flight attendants that should onboard an aircraft (starting at three for smaller planes) so there is rarely the risk of being overworked or handling too many passengers at once.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, being a flight attendant has one of the highest risks of injuries and illnesses across all occupations, but this can be mitigated by following safety procedures at all times.
Flight attendants will often spend 75-100 hours in the air per month, plus ground time preparing airplanes. Shifts are a complete mixed bag, with overnight work, weekend work, and holiday work all being part of it.
Given the demand for flights rising during peak times such as summer and other festive periods, flight attendants will have to manage their leave very carefully and this often must be set months in advance. At some airlines, flight attendants manage their roster through ‘bidding’, where priority for the better or more attractive schedules is geared towards the more senior employees.
When in the air, flight attendants are ‘on call’ and remain so until the airplane has landed. Sometimes, flight attendants will also need to be at the airport on a reserve shift, in case of sickness or absence. When travelling, there is sometimes (but not always) ample rest time between flights that allows flight attendants to explore the destination they are staying at.
This career might be demanding and require working long hours but for flight attendants the tradeoff is the chance to travel the world. In fact, flight attendants love their job so much that in 2022 (and since 2017), US carrier Delta was named one of Glassdoor’s best places to work. The role is also regarded as one of the best jobs that doesn’t require a university degree.
Overall, the role offers flexibility but prospects for career progression can be limited.
Flight attendants are some of the most in-demand workers out there. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of flight attendant job opportunities to grow by 30% from now until 2030, largely due to airlines laying off large numbers of flight attendants during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now seeking to re-hire to cope with the surging demand for travel. In numbers, there are currently around 100,000 flight attendants employed, and by 2030 this is set to amount to over 130,000.
Demand for flight attendants is outstripping supply and airlines are trying as much as they can to attract candidates to the role by streamlining training and raising salaries. This means that if you are interested in becoming a flight attendant, it really is a ‘buyers’ market for applicants.
Percentile wage estimates for flight attendants are as follows:
- 10th percentile: $37,020
- 25th percentile: $48,780
- 50th percentile (median): $61,640
- 75th percentile: $76,920
- 90th percentile: $81,400
The five US states offering the highest physical therapist salaries are:
- Connecticut: $111,500
- Hawaii: $104,110
- New York: $69,250
- Massachusetts: $67,010
- Oregon: $65,550
As discussed previously, flight attendants have a wide range of responsibilities and the role is as complex as many others in the aviation industry. This means that they also need to possess an equally diverse range of skills and attributes, which go far beyond a head for heights and being a people person.
Here is a list of the top skills and attributes required to become a successful flight attendant:
- Excellent verbal communication
- Customer service skills and hospitality awareness
- Empathy and emotional intelligence
- Assertiveness and confidence to deal with difficult people and situations
- Ability to remain calm in stressful situations
- Understanding of aviation safety and security
- Computer literacy
- Food and beverage service skills
- Cultural awareness
- Dependability and reliability
So, if you have read this far and still think that becoming a flight attendant is a perfect fit, then here is what you need to focus on. There are plenty of steps to becoming a flight attendant, but the preparation and recruitment process are designed to help you break through the industry.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you
One of the most important aspects to becoming a flight attendant is considering if the role truly fits who you are. Your values, attitudes and personality are all important elements to consider. As a rule of thumb, those who are outgoing, love working with people, and enjoy travelling, will fit the role of flight attendant very well.
If you are still not sure, then consider taking a personality and career assessment to understand which careers fit you best. Our own test, CareerHunter, consists of six assessments and, after completing all of them, you will receive a complete report with careers tailored for you as well as course recommendations to help you get started.
Step 2: Complete your education
A high school diploma is regarded as the minimum education needed to become a flight attendant. Most airlines do not require a college degree, but it could be favorable, especially if it relates to the role. For example, a bachelor’s in public relations or tourism and hospitality. You may also need to be proficient in certain foreign languages, so it’s best to research what each company needs before you apply.
Step 3: Gain relevant experience
Experience in a related field, such as hospitality, food and beverage service or catering, is usually seen as a good prerequisite to becoming a flight attendant, but any customer-facing or guest service experience will be viewed favorably. Some five-star-rated airlines might require previous experience as a flight attendant so you will have to work your way up to be eligible for those roles.
Step 4: Meet the physical requirements
Flight attendants need to be physically fit as there is a lot of physical activity involved within the role. You will need to pass a medical exam, have good vision (but corrective lenses are fine), and be at least 18 years old to be eligible. Some airlines also have a minimum height requirement but, in most cases, this is quite generous.
Step 5: Prepare your résumé
Most airlines use applicant tracking systems so it’s crucial to craft a résumé that matches the requirements of the company for the role. Reference word for word the skills in the job advert, and ensure your résumé highlights any customer service work experience first and foremost. Don’t forget to showcase your passion for your role in your career objective or summary at the top of the document, too.
Step 6: Attend interviews
The interview process for flight attendants can be very long. Typically, this includes a behavioral interview, where you will be expected to demonstrate your skills through past experiences in your career to date. You will likely also be invited to attend assessment centers, where you will be guided through simulated exercises of situations on board an aircraft. If you are successful, then you will be admitted to a flight attendant training program with the airline.
Step 7: Complete a training program
Once you are offered a role, you will need to go through thorough background checks. Then, you will be enrolled in a training program that typically lasts around four to eight weeks, at the airline’s flight training centers or a flight attendant school. This training is mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and if you don’t pass it, you will be unable to work as a flight attendant.
The training covers customer service operations, as well as mandated health and safety procedures needed to effectively manage the aircraft in an emergency. After a few weeks, trainees will embark on supervised flights where they are trained in a real-world environment.
Step 8: Get certified
The FAA’s Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency is largely managed by airlines, so you won’t need to worry about applying for this yourself. Attaining the certificate is largely contingent on you passing your airline’s approved training pathways, but there are some other prerequisites, all of which would have been covered during your recruitment and training processes. These include:
- Being 18 years old or older
- High school diploma
- Eligibility to work in the United States
- Clean background check
- Clean drug test
- 20/40 vision (or vision correctable to 20/40)
Becoming a flight attendant will be an exciting journey (no pun intended). You will get to meet many interesting people, travel the world, and enjoy a renowned and in-demand career.
While being a flight attendant doesn’t necessarily require you to have a higher education, you do have to thoroughly understand the demands of the role and what to expect, as well as prepare yourself for a long and thorough application process. Aligning yourself to the skills needed for the role will be essential to enjoy this career to the full. So, take time to research the career, prepare your application, and the sky will be the limit!