Flight Attendant Careers

Job Description

A flight attendant explains safety procedures to passengers
••• James Lauritz / Getty Images

Although a flight attendant makes passengers comfortable on airplanes, that is not his or her primary responsibility. Passengers' safety and the flight deck's security are his or her chief concerns.

Flight attendants were formerly called stewardesses and stewards. They assist passengers in emergencies, keeping them calm and safe. They also serve beverages, snacks, and sometimes meals. This career beautifully blends security with hospitality, making it an excellent choice for someone who wants to provide safety and service to people while seeing the world.

Quick Facts

  • Flight attendants earn a median annual salary of $50,500 (2017).
  • 116,600 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • While airlines employ most flight attendants, some work for corporations or companies that charter flights.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a very good job outlook with employment expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is it like to be a flight attendant? Employers can best answer this question. Here are typical duties from job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Continuously monitor all safety conditions and emergency equipment of our aircraft while on the ground and in flight"
  • "Explain all safety equipment and verify that passengers are following safety signs and procedures"
  • "When not performing safety-related duties, the flight attendant will provide hospitality and customer service to our passengers"
  •  "Greet passengers, monitor carry-on baggage and direct passengers to assigned seats"
  • "Assist passengers in stowing carry-on baggage weighing up to and including 50 pounds"
  • "Attend to individuals needing special assistance (such as unaccompanied minors, individuals with a disability, and the elderly) throughout aircraft operations"
  • "Respond to onboard medical situations"

How to Become a Flight Attendant

While a high school diploma is a minimum requirement for anyone who wants to become a flight attendant, many employers prefer to hire job candidates who have a college degree. All newly hired flight attendants receive three to six weeks of formal on-the-job training from their employers.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates that flight attendants be at least 18 years old, some employers have higher minimum age requirements. Many airlines prefer to hire job candidates who have experience working with the public.

Employers will require you to meet certain height requirements in order to reach overhead storage bins. Your vision must be correctable 20/40 or better. After completing your employer's initial training program, you will have to get certification from the FAA. Flying on other types of aircraft requires additional training and certification.

What Soft Skills Will Help You Succeed in This Career?

Your formal training will prepare you to perform your job duties, but specific soft skills—personal characteristics that you were born with or acquired through life experiences—are also needed.

  • Service Orientation: Flight attendants must be attentive to passengers' needs.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your ability to empathize with, and persuade and coordinate your actions with others, will allow you to interact well with customers, fellow flight attendants, pilots, and other airline staff.
  • Active Listening: Your ability to understand and respond to your customers will allow you to perform your job well.
  • Verbal Communication: Since safety is your primary concern, you must be able to clearly convey instructions to your passengers and crew.
  • Critical Thinking: The ability to use logic to solve problems and make decisions, especially in stressful situations, is essential.

How Flight Attendants Advance in Their Careers

Once you have completed formal training, your employer will place you on reserve status. This means you will only work when called upon to fill in for absent or vacationing employees or on extra flights.

 Expect to remain on reserve status for at least one year or longer. Depending on staffing, it could take up to seven years. Eventually you will be permitted to bid on monthly assignments.

Since many flight attendants remain in their jobs for longer than they did in the past, competition for those new to the field is fierce. Your advancement from reserve status to having the ability to choose assignments will be slow.

The Truth About Being a Flight Attendant

  • When you first start out, and possibly for some time, you won't be able to choose the most desirable routes.
  • Expect to work irregular hours and during weekends, evenings, overnights and holidays.
  • Some passengers may be unruly or rude.
  • You will have to pass a background test and drug test.
  • Most employers require a conservative appearance. For example, some airlines forbid flight attendants from having visible tattoos or piercings. Your uniform must cover them.

What Employers Will Expect From You

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Must maintain excellent attendance as regular, reliable attendance is an essential requirement of the position"
  • "Must possess excellent communication skills and have a professional and conservative appearance"
  • "Physically fit, well groomed and practice good hygiene and etiquette"
  • " Height between 5’0 and 5’11 (without shoes)"
  • "Two (2) years customer service experience"
  • "Must successfully complete a 10-year background and credit check, FBI fingerprint check, pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing"
  • "Willing and able to relocate according to operational needs"
  • "Tattoos and body piercings may not be visible while in company issued uniform and may not be temporarily covered with bandages or make-up; tattoos on any areas of the hand, fingers, wrists, neck, and head are not allowed"

How to Determine If This Occupation Is a Good Fit for You

The likelihood of an individual's satisfaction with his or her career increases when it is compatible with his or her interestspersonality type, and work-related values. Consider becoming a flight attendant if you have the following traits which you can learn about by doing a self assessment:

Take This Quiz: Do You Want to Work As a Flight Attendant?

Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities



Median Annual Wage​ (2017)

Minimum Required Education/Training

Transportation AttendantAssists train, bus and ship passengers by keeping them safe and comfortable.$27,830H.S. or Equivalency Diploma
Airline PilotFlies aircraft that transport people$137,3302 Years of College + Training From the Military or an FAA Certified Flight School 
Bus DriverTransports people on a regular or chartered route$40,780H.S. or Equivalency Diploma
Waiter or WaitressTakes and delivers patron's food orders in a restaurant$20,820

H.S. or Equivalency Diploma

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited December 24, 2018).