Flight attendants are employed by airlines to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members. International safety regulations require the presence of flight attendants. Attendants are required on all commercial flights with over 19 passengers and on select business and military flights.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of flight attendant jobs will increase by 8% through 2018. Competition for jobs is expected to be fierce. Because there are no higher education requirements to become a flight attendant, the industry generally has more applicants than there are jobs. Applicants with a college degree have the best chance of being hired. The most opportunities in the industry are expected to come from regional and low-cost carriers.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The primary responsibility of a flight attendant is to ensure that all safety regulations are followed. Approximately one hour before takeoff, flight attendants are briefed by the pilot on the details of the flight. The briefing includes expected flight time, any unusual weather or flying conditions and any special passengers onboard. Prior to boarding, flight attendants work with other airline personnel to ensure that the plane is in working order. Attendants check that the in-cabin emergency and first aid equipment is working properly and that the plane is stocked with amenities such as beverages and snacks.
As passengers board the plane, flight attendants ensure that all passengers are properly seated. Attendants help passengers properly store luggage in overhead bins and under seats. Once all passengers are properly seated and luggage is stored, flight attendants read a federally regulated safety brief, which provides emergency information in the case of an evacuation or loss of power. Attendants demonstrate the proper use of seat belts, oxygen masks and flotation devices.
Once in the air, the number one priority for flight attendants is attending to passengers’ safety. In the case of turbulence or an evacuation, attendants assist and reassure passengers. If any passenger becomes ill or needs first aid during the flight, attendants help tend to the person in need. Flight attendants perform cabin checks every 20-30 minutes to check for any safety issues.
Flight attendants also perform duties to make the flying experience more comfortable for passengers. They serve drinks and snacks, hand out headsets, answer questions and help clean the cabin.
On large flights, a lead flight attendant helps oversee the work and duties of other flight attendants. The lead flight attendant is sometimes known as a purser.
Training and Education Requirements
Although a high school diploma is the only degree necessary to become a flight attendant, employers are increasingly seeking candidates with college degrees. Candidates who major in fields related to tourism, communication or customer service are especially desirable.
All airlines provide formal training programs for newly hired flight attendants. These programs are generally about one month long and teach new hires how to handle emergency situations, how to provide first aid and how to perform basic in-cabin duties. Employment is contingent upon successfully completing the training program. After completion of the program, attendants receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency.
Once newly hired attendants have completed the training program, they are assigned to a carrier’s base and placed on reserve to fill in when an aircraft needs extra crew members. While on reserve, attendants must be very flexible and ready to fly on a moment’s notice. After serving one year or more on reserve status, attendants receive regular assignments. New employees have the last pick of routes and flying times. Only the most experienced flight attendants can pick their base and flying routes.
Salary and Wages
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for flight attendants is approximately $35,000. The middle fifty percent of attendants earn between $28,000 and $50,000 annually. Pay varies by carrier. All new hires generally start at the same pay rate and receive increases on a fixed schedule.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Beyond salary, flight attendants enjoy free travel benefits. Usually, attendants and their immediate family are entitled to free or greatly discounted fare on any flight that has empty seats available.
All flight attendants must receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency prior to their first flight. This certificate demonstrates that the flight attendant has been properly trained in emergency evacuation, cabin duties and security procedures. For experienced flight attendants, the FAA requires ongoing retraining and safety certifications.
FAA certifications are relevant for a specific type of aircraft. Flight attendants who switch airlines are usually required to undergo a one-to-two day refresher course prior to beginning work. If an airline introduces a new type of aircraft, the crew must be re-certified by the FAA.
Most flight attendants belong to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which is the primary union for the industry. Over 50,000 attendants on 22 airlines are members of the AFA. The union works to ensure fair wages, hours and working conditions for all union members.
The Transport Workers Union of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are two other unions that represent flight attendants.
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