flight attendant instructs passengers on how to use a life jacket

The position of flight attendant has evolved into one of the most sought-after and flexible professions in the United States. With good pay, loads of travel benefits, and variable work schedules,  men and women of all ages are deciding to dedicate themselves to this service-oriented lifestyle. 

Currently, over 118,00 flight attendants are working for various airlines throughout the United States. This number shows a small, but a still-significant increase from the 2016 figure of 116,000, indicating that this is a growing field that continues to attract new applicants. It is projected that the need for Flight Attendants will increase in the coming years. 

In general, most employers require a high school diploma or equivalent educational background to work as a Flight Attendant. Furthermore, given the nature of the work, less than five years of experience is often required as on-the-job training would be necessary in nearly every case of first-time employment. 

Determining a flight attendant salary can vary quite a bit depending on many factors, including which airline an individual works for and their number of years experience in the field. For simplicity's sake, it's fair to say that the median Flight Attendant salary in 2018 was $56,000 a year, with roughly 50 percent of people in the field earning around that amount annually. 

The History of Flight Attendants

Though the aircraft industry is still relatively new, the notion of in-flight attendants goes back to 1930, when Ellen Church, an experienced nurse, was hired by Boeing Air Transport to help ensure the safety of passengers aboard her flights. She was instrumental in defining the role of Flight Attendants for years, which focused mainly on calming the public's “fear of flying.” 

Leading up until World War II, all flight attendants were also required to be Registered Nurses and to be well-trained in life-saving techniques. This restriction disappeared as commercial flight became more frequent and fear of air travel more scarce, but other industry standards lasted for decades more. 

For instance, throughout the 50s and 60s, all flight attendants, or “stewardesses” as they were called at the time, were required to be young, unmarried women of a certain height and weight. If these women did get married, they were often fired from their position. Similarly, women who were single but had children were ruled ineligible to serve as a stewardess.

Today, thanks to significant overhauls in hiring standards and workers' rights, men and women from a broad range of backgrounds and situations are enjoying fulfilling careers and Flight Attendants. With the industry boasting a faster-than-average growth rate and air travel becoming less expensive than ever, this is a trend that is looking to continue.  

Working as a Flight Attendant

flight attendant serving drinks

Source: Freepik.com

In order to understand one's eligibility for a flight attendant position, it's best to know what requirements are associated with the job. After all, being a Flight Attendant requires some special considerations considering the nature of the work can often lead to being frequently away from home or even, at times, outside of the country. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the standard educational requirements of the job?

While it can vary from airline to airline, most employers will expect a high school diploma or equivalent before hiring someone to work as a flight attendant. 

This expectation comes from the fact that the primary role of a flight attendant–contrary to what many may think–is to keep passengers safe. Such a responsibility requires an understanding of safety procedures and the ability to follow directions to the letter. 

There seems to be little to no correlation between educational background and Flight Attendant salary. As most of the skills required for the job come from on-the-job training,  both college-educated and non-college educated workers in this field seem to have an equal opportunity for performance-based advancement. 

2. What sort of training can new flight attendants expect?

Though it is quite common for people outside the industry to assume that being a flight attendant requires only basic training, this is not always the case. Flight Attendants, after all, are tasked with keeping their passengers safe in all situations. In order to do this, they require fundamental knowledge of safety equipment and safety procedures in case of an emergency. 

Most airlines have a “flight school” or similar training program for all of their new hires, including those who already have experience in the field. As airlines are subject to rigorous government standards, many have put into place a range of different policies to meet those standards, and they'll expect their Flight Attendants to know them backwards and forwards. 

3. What types of experience are most relevant to the profession?

Contrary to many people's opinions, serving food and beverages to passengers account for only a small part of what Flight Attendants are expected to do. As previously mentioned, Flight Attendants are on board to assure the safety of their passengers, and will be expected to perform  many of the following functions:

  • Participate in pre-flight briefings with the Captain and cabin crew. 
  • Understand and react to changing flight and cabin conditions. 
  • Ensure passengers know and follow all safety requirement throughout the flight.
  • Assist passengers with special needs or conditions. 
  • Communicate safety procedures and requirements to passengers before, during, and after each flight. 
  • Administer emergency medical care if required. 
  • Direct passengers to safety in the case of an emergency.
  • Understand how to use emergency equipment on board and implement emergency procedures. 

Deal with any problems or issues that arise throughout the flight, including unruly passengers, turbulence, or breaking of laws and safety regulations. 

While many people may assume that being a Flight Attendant is little more than being a “waitress in the sky,” this list of job requirements makes it clear that there is much more to it. However, many airlines will consider hospitality experience to be a significant benefit when hiring staff, as many of the same customer-centric principles apply. 

airplane passenger seats

Source: Freepik.com

Other satisfactory backgrounds for those considering a career as a Flight Attendant include jobs focused on tourism, communication, and public relations. In a similar vein, employers often seek individual qualities in their recruits, such as reliability under stress, excellent communication skills, self-confidence, and self-motivation. 

4. How much time away from home is expected of flight attendants? 

Flight attendant positions do not lend themselves to standard nine-to-five shifts. More often than not, Flight Attendants will find themselves schedules in trip “blocks” or assigned to specific flights or routes. Some airlines allow their staff to “bid” for assignments, with those in senior positions getting the first pick. 

Trip blocks can range from two-day to four-day or more, with special considerations given to those who work internationally. The amount of variables in flight attendant shifts makes it quite hard to estimate exactly how much time you should expect to send away from home. What is known, however, is that flight attendants usually work between nine and 20 days a month. 

5. What are some important things to know about being a flight attendant?

There are still height and weight restrictions in place for many flight attendants, related mainly to weight limits on the aircraft. There is a small risk that being found in violation of these restrictions could result in loss of job security, though this is quite rare. Your general health, however, can be reviewed by your employer to ensure you are fit to fly. 

In some cases, flight attendants who sign on with a larger airline will not be able to choose their home base or base of operations. 

Having to move to a new city can cause additional stress on someone with a family, pets, or other close relations. It is also possible to be relocated to an area with a much higher cost of living than your current city, negating some of the positive financial benefits of the job. 

Flight Attendant Salary Factors 

As with any profession, there is no quick and easy answer to the “salary question.”  Though we've stated that the median income for a Flight Attendant is $56,000 a year, many factors can make this number either higher or lower.  These include factors under the control of the applicant or the airline, as well as those influenced by outside factors. 

Seniority and Experience 


Shifts Worked 

Other Factors to Keep in Mind

More Information on Flight Attendant Salary

Sometimes it's best to let the figures speak for themselves. These numbers are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and include information about flight attendant employment in the United States for the year 2018. 

flight attendant with suitcase

Source: Freepik.com

Salary By The Numbers (2018)

Total Employed: 118,770

Annual Salary 10 percentile:  $28,950

Annual Salary 25 percentile: $42,320

Annual Salary 50 percentile: $56,000

Annual Salary 75 percentile: $68,850

Annual Salary 90 percentile: $80,870

Salary By State

Oregon remains the state providing the best pay for Flight Attendants, followed closely by Washington, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Florida. It is also important to note that the cost of living in the leading two states is significantly higher than the remaining three. 

Oregon: $80,410

Washington: $77,450

Pennsylvania: $68,410

Arizona: $65,680

Florida: $62,610

Top Employment by State

With a larger-than-average number of airports and easy access to destinations outside of the country, California and Texas are the states that employ the most Flight Attendants. Though Illinois, New York, and Florida are next in line, they still have a lot of catching up to do. 

California: 15,920

Texas: 15,390

Illinois: 10,630

New York: 10,480

Florida: 8,650

Salary Compared to Related Fields

As Flight Attendants perform highly specialized tasks related to their industry, it can be challenging to identify comparable professions. Most comparisons draw from hospitality, retail, and food and beverage jobs, which tends to overlook the specialized training and responsibilities associated with being a Flight Attendant. 

Related Fields (Median Pay):

  • Bartenders: $22,550
  • Customer Service Rep: $33,750
  • EMT / Paramedic: $34,320
  • Retail Sales: $24,340

Regardless of the accuracy of the comparison, it is still fair to say that flight attendants have a significantly higher median pay rate than those in related fields. 

Conclusion: Flight Attendant Professional Outlook  

Though the airline industries are growing as of most recent reports, competition for Flight Attendant jobs remains high. Researchers predict the projected growth of Flight Attendant positions to be roughly 10 percent between the years 2016 and 2026. Flight Attendants are also a low-turnover profession, and a larger number of people are entering the field than are leaving it.  

All things considered, it's clear that being a flight attendant is a comparatively desirable profession, with the following factors accounting for the growth in popularity. 

  • Travel expenses often paid by employers and “per diem” payments are given for time away from home.
  • Large union participation to ensure benefits and fair treatment. 
  • Extremely high pay rate compared to hours worked in similar professions. 
  • Lots of schedule flexibility and the ability to earn extra income through shift swapping and trading.
  • Excellent opportunities for advancement and reliable increases in salary and benefits. 

In conclusion, the need for flight attendants will likely increase in the near future, but so will those willing to perform the job. As of now, the pay rate remains high, and the benefits remain quite tempting regardless of an individual’s background and experience. This makes becoming a flight attendant an excellent consideration for anyone looking to change their career in the future.

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About Diane Turner

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