Everything You Wanna Know About Being A Flight Attendant
So you're thinking about becoming a flight attendant, huh? Or just genuinely curious about what the job entails? Well there's a lot more to it than jet-setting around the world. Here's the lowdown on everything between applying and flying.
Being a flight attendant is an exciting and fast-paced career for those who love traveling, but it entails more than just staying in fancy hotels and visiting exotic locations. If you know some flight attendants personally or just follow a few on Instagram, you might be curious about the ins and outs of the job itself. Or maybe you've applied and are anxious about the next steps. The first thing I can tell you is that there's a lot we put up with in exchange for those drool-worthy pics you see. I'm gonna try to break down everything you'd possibly want to know about being a flight attendant, but there's a few things you should know before reading on:
I work for Delta Air Lines
I’m based in NYC, answering to 3 airports: JFK, LGA, & EWR
At the time of writing this I’ve been flying for almost 3 years
Every single airline is different. The routes are different, the bases are different, the pay is different, the schedules are different, and so on and so forth. I can only tell you about my life as a Delta flight attendant who’s based & living in New York. So although everyone’s job is relatively the same, not everyone’s experience is the same, so keep that in mind! Also, the views expressed below are my opinion alone.
THE HIRING PROCESS
I was working as a nail tech at a spa in Orlando at the time I applied to work for Delta. I told myself I’d only do it for a year, but it had already been a year and a half. I was doing the same sh*t every day and didn’t feel like I was growing in any way. I always always always said my dream job was to travel and get paid for it, I just didn’t know in what capacity. So when my friend that just got hired at Delta hounded me to apply, I did. She referred me, and at the time they were giving out bonuses to whoever’s referrals got hired. Not only do they not do this anymore, but a referral doesn’t guarantee an interview! So don’t think you need that in order to apply. I know a ton of people who got hired by applying at the airline's website.
I completed my application in September and then almost exactly a month later was contacted for a video interview. In the video interview they asked 4-5 questions that you are supposed to answer in the STAR method format.
I started studying and practicing interview questions using this format before doing my interview. Just Google "flight attendant interview questions", and draw your answers from past experiences. When it was time, I dressed up like I was going to a real interview and picked a room where there was a lot of natural light. You aren’t interviewed by an actual person, but instead presented with a series of questions which you record your answers to and submit. Oh, and you’re being timed! No do-overs. This is why preparing and memorizing your answers to interview questions is necessary. The whole thing takes maybe about 10 minutes from start to finish.
Another month later, I got a call by a Delta representative. She asked me if I had a valid US passport, if I’d be willing to work weekends and holidays, if I’d relocate for the job, etc. Then a few days later I got the email I had grown desperate to see: an invitation for a face to face interview. All I did since that phone call was research the company and practice more interview questions before the big day. Delta then flew me out to headquarters in Atlanta and I waited in the lobby with 64 other applicants that dressed exactly like me. It’s super important to dress the part and wear something similar to the uniform of the airline you’re applying to. I wore a skirt suit (with pantyhose!), white button down shirt, heels, red lips, pearls, the whole shabang. It’s definitely a survival of the fittest, because out of the dozens of people in that room, only a handful will be selected. Everyone looks the same, so make sure your personality stands out.
The hiring team was made up of both HR people and flight attendants, and there were as many of them as there were us. Probably more. The room was packkkked. And please believe, they are watching you. They wanna see how you work the room, so smile, talk to people, and have fun. Don’t be so nervous that you’re rigid and unapproachable. Ask questions and be genuine.
The interview was broken into four sections, and we were all put in rotating groups. There’s the “Fireside Chat”, where you get to know about the job a little bit more and get to ask questions. Next, you get in line and take turns reaching into the overhead bin with no shoes on, to make sure you are tall enough to reach it. Then, you introduce yourself and talk a little about where you’re from in front of your group. Finally, a face to face with two people, a member of the hiring team and a flight attendant, who will ask you 4 questions that you must answer using the STAR method. My interviewers mainly jotted down notes while looking stone cold. I mean, these people had a mean poker face. Regardless, be warm and friendly. You're there to sell yourself. They’re looking for positive, responsible, personable people. If you’re not a very extroverted person, then at least fake it 'til you make it, (but keep it professional!). Like I know I have RBF, but my cheeks hurt from forcing myself to smile. Tailor your responses to highlight the attributes you possess that would make you an excellent flight attendant .
At the end, they gathered everyone and thanked us for coming and wanting to be a part of the company. Then, they said the names of those they wanted to stay back. I heard they don’t this anymore. So they might call or email you after the interview. Eleven out of 64 of us were chosen. We were then taken to another room to fill out paperwork. We had 48 hours to take and submit a drug test. Once that’s received and they’ve completed your background check, then you will get an email with training dates. I applied in September and started training in January. That’s a span of 5 months. For some people in my class, the whole process took 2 weeks! Everyone’s journey is different, so don’t get nervous if it’s taking a while back to hear from the company. Good luck, and keep in mind your hiring is conditional- you will have to pass training first in order to become a flight attendant!
My training lasted 7 1/2 weeks...almost two months of soaking up everything there is to know about safety procedures, emergency evacuations, and aircrafts in our fleet. No, they don’t really teach you customer service skills, how to deal with irate passengers, or where things are in the galley. These are things you kinda have to just learn as you go on the line. You will spend allllll of that time studying the ins and outs of everything safety-related. After all, that’s why flight attendants exist- to ensure the safety of everyone on board the aircraft. Everything else is secondary.
We had class Monday-Saturday, using our only day off on Sunday to study for upcoming tests. We were tested about 3x a week, were in class for about 8-12 hours a day, and spent all night studying. Talk about sleep deprived. I HATE coffee/energy drinks but I was downing that stuff to stay awake. Sometimes we’d get up and stand in the back of the room just to prevent ourselves from falling asleep at the desk. It was college on crack. You have to maintain a 90% average and pass all tests to graduate training. They’re not playing around, I repeat, they are not playing around. I know people that flunked out because they couldn’t memorize city codes. I know people that failed literally on the very last day because they couldn’t remember emergency commands. Not only do you have to maintain a high average, you have to maintain your appearance as well. Otherwise you’d get written up and your 6 month probation gets extended.
A new training class started every week so the hallways were always packed. While class was held at the training center at headquarters, we all stayed in hotels (paid for by the company) down the street. Everyone had a roommate. Love connections were made (or was it lust?). Cliques were formed. Drama went down. I told you, it felt like college all over again. You are with these people 24/7. They sort of become the family you never asked for, which is cool because you don't go into it expecting to make long-lasting friendships. No one else in the world will understand what you went through to get this job. Training becomes your life. No joke. If you can get through those two months, then the job will be a piece of cake!
LIVING AT BASE VS. COMMUTING
Right when training started, we were told we’d have to choose which city we’d like to be based out of and were given a grand total of 24 hours to think this over. Woah. Mind you, I thought I’d be able to live and fly out of Orlando. My class, being the second class of the year, was given all five major Delta bases to choose from: Atlanta, New York, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Boston. Some classes later in the year only had 1-2 bases to choose from. Can you make a major life decision in a day? Are you willing to relocate like you said in your phone interview? If not, are you wiling to commute to work? Meaning, fly back and forth from wherever you live to whatever base you’re assigned to report for work? With this job comes a major life change.
After training finished, we had 5 days off in between graduation and base orientation. At orientation we met a few managers and got tours of the airports we’d soon be flying out of. We had one free day before we were all out on the line. One day to look at apartments. Did I mention that we only had one day? We didn’t know what the hell we were doing!!!!! I used to visit NYC with school and to see my cousin who lived there from time to time, but I didn’t know anything about the different boroughs, let alone how to take the subway. Some people stayed in hotels or with people they knew, others at the airport. I stayed at a friend’s crashpad until a few of us girls found an apartment a couple weeks later.
You might be wondering what a crashpad is. Crashpads are what commuting flight attendants use in between flights and going home. They are usually apartments, sometimes houses, that have several bunks and beds in each room. Each person pays anywhere between $250-400 each month to have a place to stay when they fly in for work/land late and can’t catch a flight home. A cold bed is all yours and nobody can touch it. A hot bed is cheaper and is basically first come first serve. The crashpad I was at had two rooms with 8 bunks each. It was co-ed, with a mix of pilots and flight attendants from different airlines. The kitchen, bathroom, and living room were shared space and you had one drawer in a dresser that was yours. Luggage was not allowed in the rooms because people are always sleeping at random hours. There are all male and all female crashpads, and crashpads that cater to specific airlines. You just have to look and see what works for you. You find crashpads basically by word of mouth or Facebook, but it's best to ask people working at the training center before you're out on the line.
If you do choose to commute, be aware that it’s akin to having a part-time job. You’re gonna spend so much time planning and figuring out what flights to take to and from work. You have to keep the weather in mind, delays and cancellations in mind, and full flights in mind. There’s going to be a lot of jumpseating involved. Jumpseating is when you have to sit on a flight attendant seat as opposed to a regular seat. You are considered working crew when you sit there, so you can’t sleep, drink alcohol, etc and there is a dress code. It’s a headache. I’m not speaking from experience, but I’m getting stressed just by writing this out. That’s how I knew I needed to move. I’m way too lazy for that and just need my own space. Plus I wanted to move anyway. Everyone I know who commutes hates it. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. But it’s a sacrifice you have to make in order to live where you want to. You will also have a chance later on to transfer to a base that’s closer to home, but it could be a while.
As I stated previously, your schedule will depend on your airline, your base, and also your seniority. I get my schedule a month in advance. At the top of every month, we bid for the schedule we want. We can ask for specific days off, specific layovers and trips, what time in the day we’d like to work, etc. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be awarded everything you asked for, especially if you’re new or really junior. You will basically start off flying the worst trips and work weekends. Sorry! Just the way it goes when you're at the bottom of the barrel.
In the middle of the month, our schedules for the following month are released. Whenever anything gets put on our line, we have the option to swap, drop, and pick up trips with the computer or with other flight attendants. We can trade trips even on the day of, if we wanted to. There are turns, two day, 3 day, and occasionally 4 day trips. We could have up to 4 flights, or “legs”, per day and our layovers last anywhere between 9-30 hours. As far as days off go, you can't just call out. You must swap around or rearrange your schedule. There aren't really any "sick days" and we can't just take off whenever we want to.
This job is SUPER flexible. There’s something for everybody, and that’s why I love it. You make the job work for you. For instance, I love seeing the world. I’ll pick up and swap into a lot of international trips. I also have friends and family spread across the US, so I’ll choose layovers that allow me to see them. Other than that, I just bid for the days off I want. For others, it’s important to be home. Maybe they have a baby or small child. They can ask for or swap into turns that allow them to leave in the morning and still be home in the afternoon. For those that don’t live at base, “commutable trips” are important. They need a late sign in and early release, so they can fly in the morning of their trip and fly back home when they’re finished. Others like flying low because they have seconds jobs. Yes, being a flight attendant is so flexible and chill that you can do something else on the side!
I’m on reserve for 6 days a month. I don’t like pushing them together, so it’s really two sets of 3 days of me being on call, from midnight to midnight. I won’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing until the day before or day of. Like bidding for schedules, we can bid for trips when on call. If I see a trip on the computer that I like that’s in need of a flight attendant, I’ll preference it. If no one else senior to me asks for it, I could get it. It’s cool when it works out like that, but most of the time I’m at home on edge with my cell phone ringer turned up all the way. In New York they give us a 3 hour notice before we have to be at the airport, but I know for most bases it’s 2 hours. So you have to be ready to go asap. This involves a lot of mornings with a surprise call at 3:00am. I know at other airlines, junior flight attendants are on “full reserve”, meaning they don’t get trips on their line and are on call, all the time. I honestly don’t know what that’s like, or if I even explained that right, so you’ll have to ask them.
Oh and, you can kiss holidays buh-bye. Unlike the rest of the world that gets those days off, we have to work. Someone’s gotta take all those people to and fro. It sucks, but this is actually something you really need to take into consideration, because holidays are nearly impossible to get off. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying you need to be mentally prepared to work on those days. Like, for years to come. We do get holiday pay, so that kinda cushions the blow a little. Holidays are also considered “black out dates”, so you can’t even swap with the computer (unless it’s for the same days), just with flight attendants that magically want to work on those dates in exchange for one of their trips on a different day. If you call out you need a doctor’s note, but even then it still goes on your record. Everything goes on your record. They keep files of every time you’re late or sick, every complaint or compliment, every time you’ve been written up for not being in uniform compliance, etc. ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE NEW.
Ahhhh the pay. This is really what you came here for, right? I kid. It’s a valid interest/concern. Like I said, I can’t speak for other airlines and I was also paid pennies at the spa so…. I don’t have much to compare it to. We don’t have salaries and yes we are paid by the hour, more if you’re flight leader, more if it’s international, and more on holidays. There's levels to this. We get paid from when the boarding door closes to when it opens. We also get paid per diem for every hour that we’re away from base. Honestly, you've got to be strategic about how you build your schedule, because at the end of the day, your paycheck will be a reflection of that.
Not gonna lie, its ROUGH when you’re first put on the line, but only for a few months. So expect that. It gets better though, I promise! A lot of people ask me how many hours I work a week, but we go months, and it varies. Every month will be different because my trips are different, but I try to fly high, i.e. 90-120 hours a month. That’s a lot for some people. Some will stay between 70-90. Others go ham at 150+ hours. It all depends on you, your trips, and of course, where you are based. A hundred hours a month doesn't sound like much, but like I said we also get per diem pay. And flying high is exhausting. Think about it. With a normal 9 to 5, you're home every evening and off on the weekends. As a flight attendant, you'll be gone for days at a time, flying in and out of different time zones, working from morning to night with little time to get a good night's sleep. We need 9 hours between working another flight and can work 7 days in a row as long as we have a 24hr rest period in between flights (long layovers count). One time I forgot to bid over the holiday season and I had to work 12 days in a row. Not fun.
The longer you fly with the same company, the more you will get paid as the years go by. With seniority, you get paid more for doing less work, not to mention having your pick of the more glamorous trips. But there are a few things you can do to make a little more cash as a junior FA. As stated before, if you fly lead or do international trips you get a paid a little more hourly. You also get paid more if you get hired as an LOD (Language of Destination) flight attendant, a speaker position. You may also apply to fly Purser. A purser is the flight leader on international flights. Purser pay is also a little bit higher hourly, but you will have to wait a few years until you can apply to the program. There are also special assignments and charter flights you can apply for!
If you enjoy working alone and having personal space...hate to tell ya, this job isn’t for you bud. From busy airports, to multiple flights a day, you will come in contact with hundreds of new faces every single day. For me, it’s exciting. I get my energy from being around other people. It also makes me appreciate solitude that much more. And you can have that, of course, on your layovers. That’s your time do to whatever you want. But you will be bombarded with different personalities constantly from the moment you sign in until you go home.
I don’t meet the people I’m going to work with until I sign in for work. Whether its a turn or 3 day trip, you will be with those same people the entire time. You will have to work with them, sit by them, listen to them ramble incessantly, etc. It’s super cool when you get to work with someone you really vibe with, and on the flip it’s super annoying working with someone who you don’t. There aren't many places to go on plane to get away from someone. But the beauty of it is that you never have to willingly work with them again if you don’t want to. On each rotation (schedule for each trip) we can see who else is working those flights. Ask any FA and they will tell you they have a “no fly list”, a little list of names of people they never wanna work with again. As for the pilots, we pretty much get new ones each flight, save for internationals.
We don't have a boss or someone to report to. There are flight leaders on each flight, but literally every flight attendant is qualified to be a flight leader. And there aren't "first class flight attendants" and "coach flight attendants". You are either flight leader or a regular position, and you bid where you would like to work in the cabin during briefing before the flight, and it goes in order of seniority. We all do have managers, but we don't really interact with them unless purposely seeking them out.
As far as passengers go...you will come across some that really test your patience, and others that make your day. I try not to take it to heart when someone’s rude, angry, or bratty. It’s frustrating yes, but you can’t let it get to you. You will come across a ton of entitled individuals, but as a flight attendant, you represent the company. On the aircraft, they don’t see the gate agent who gave their family separate seats. They don’t see the reservations agent who was rude to them on the phone after they waited an hour on hold to change their flight. They don’t see the TSA guy who threw away their expensive face wash or whatever. They see YOU. Most of the time, the situation is beyond your control, but we do have the ability to make a difference, however small it may be. IT'S SO EXHAUSTING!!!! But most people just want to be heard/comforted. Plus it's comical seeing a grown ass adult act like a child. That being said, crews usually have each other’s backs and won’t tolerate disrespect from passengers. It’s pretty cool to have such strong comradery with people you just met 20 mins ago.
Yes, I fly for free. Although it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to, it’s not something I could EVER take for granted. Free flights are definitely the best and most beautiful part of this job. Not only do I get paid to travel, but when I’m off I have the option go anywhere in the world. While domestic flights are free, we do pay taxes on international flights, which is usually just a very small fee in comparison to how much those flights regularly cost. Also, each carrier has an agreement with a ton of other airlines, so we never really need to pay full price when flying, ever. It’s really hard to talk about the perks of the job without sounding snooty, but this is my reality. Not trying to brag here. Trust me, I’m in awe every day that this is my life.
My parents get the same flying privileges as I do. I also get to choose a companion to share my flight benefits with, though they can't fly on other airlines like I can (unless it’s a spouse, who’s trying to put a ring on it???). We may change who our companion is, but only once a year. When I have children, they’ll get to fly too! It’s so amazing getting to share what I love to do with the people I love.
Although the flights are free, our seats are not guaranteed. Everyone flies standby, and open seats on a flight go to people in order of seniority and priority. Flight attendants and other active employees of the airline and their spouses go first in line. Then companions. Then come parents and retirees. Then, buddy passes. Contrary to popular belief, buddy passes aren’t free, and it’s actually pretty hard to get on a flight with a buddy pass since it has the lowest priority. Literally everyone in the industry jokes around about giving buddy passes to people that we lowkey hate, because flying on one is sure to make their life miserable.
Also, I get a lot of inquiries about buddy passes from people in my DMs, which is pretty outrageous to me. Most of them are from individuals that either don’t keep in contact with me or that I’m not even friends with, some I don’t even know! I get 8 per year. You don’t think I’d want to give them to close friends and family? That’s a neck.
THE FLY LIFE
This is definitely a fast-paced lifestyle, but I love it oh-so-much! I really enjoy the "newness" of it all. The people, the places, the experiences. I could fly the same trip every week and it would be different each time. *insert heart eyes emoji*
I'm always and forever on the go. I live for days that I'm off at home, vegging out and recuperating. When I visit my family, it's usually only for 24 hours at a time. My vacations last 2-3 days. Anything more than 3 days in the same place drives me crazy! Those who know me hear me complain a lot about being constantly exhausted, but honestly for all the ways this job enriches my life, it’s a great trade off if you ask me.
I love my job and love my airline. Hopefully you’ve learned a lot about the flight attendant experience, mainly because this took me a long time to write :) If you can think of any other questions, drop me a line in the comment section!