How to Become a Flight Attendant

A Guide to Starting Your Career

Image shows two female flight attendants rolling small suitcases and wearing similar uniforms. Text reads:

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

For a long time the public thought of flight attendants, once called stewardesses, as mere "waitresses in the sky." While it is true they serve and sell refreshments to passengers on flights, as well as tend to their comfort, there is much more to this career.

A flight attendant's primary job is keeping airline passengers and crew safe. He or she responds to any emergencies that occur on the aircraft and makes sure everyone follows Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. 

Learn about the training and certification flight attendants are required to get. Then take the Flight Attendant Quiz to find out if this career is a good fit for you.

01
A Summary of What You Have to Do Before You Can Work As a Flight Attendant

Flight attendant serving passengers on airplane
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  1. Get hired by an airline to be a flight attendant
  2. Complete airline-provided formal training program (3 to 6 weeks)
  3. Get the FAA's Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency

02
Get Hired By an Airline

How to Become a Flight Attendant
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In many occupations, the required training comes before you can get a job, but not for flight attendants. If you want to become a flight attendant, your training will come after an airline hires you. The company will, over a three to six week period, provide all the preparation you need to do your job.

Airlines require job applicants to have at least a high school or equivalency (GED) diploma. Many, however, will only hire candidates who have graduated from college, often with associate or bachelor's degrees in hospitality, communication, tourism, and public relations. 

Employers also prefer job candidates who have work experience in a related job. If you want to become a flight attendant, consider getting experience by working in a hotel or resort, or a restaurant.

Flight attendants must meet very specific physical requirements as well. To get accepted into an airline's flight attendant training program, you must be at least 18 years old, in excellent physical health, and tall enough to reach the overhead luggage bins. Your vision must be correctable to at least 20/40. Your weight may also be an issue. While airlines don't say they won't hire someone who is overweight, they specify that one's height and weight must be in proportion. 

The following are specifications from job announcements for flight attendants (Indeed.com):

  • "Able to stand for extended periods with limited rest periods"
  • "Able to pass a ten-year background check, pre-employment drug test, and criminal history records check"
  • "Ability to handle a wide variety of situations while in continuous contact with the public"
  • "Responsible for providing a welcoming environment to airline customers during their flight"
  • "Ability to effectively market and sell onboard products and generate incremental revenue from customers"
  • "Must have two years of experience in the customer service, hospitality, and/or sales/merchandising industry"
  • "Must present a professional image; may not have visible tattoos, facial, multiple, or upper ear piercing, or extreme hair color or style"

03
Complete Airline-Provided Flight Attendant Training Program

Training class for flight attendants
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Once an airline hires you, the company will provide formal training at its flight training center. During the three to six weeks you will spend there, expect to receive classroom instruction on flight regulations, job duties, and company operations.

Along with the other new hires, you will learn how to handle emergencies, including procedures for evacuating an airplane and operating emergency equipment such as evacuation slides, oxygen masks, and flotation devices. As you near the end of your classroom instruction, you will take practice flights.

04
Get Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency

Cabin crew at the airport
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After you finish the employer-sponsored training, the Director of Operations at the airline will apply for your Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Once the agency confirms your record, you will be eligible to work on a flight.

A separate Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency is required for each type of aircraft.  In addition, flight attendants must receive annual training to keep their certification up-to-date.

05
Your First Years As a Flight Attendant

Portrait of the crew of an airplane
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With your training complete and your certificate in hand, you may think you will soon be jetting all over the world and earning a living at the same time. Not so fast. While there will be some opportunities to work, you will not have a regular schedule yet, and it will be a while before you get to fly some of the more desirable routes. 

New flight attendants spend at least one year, and possibly up to seven years, on what is known in the airline industry as "reserve status." What does this mean? Being on "reserve status" is like being on call. You will have to keep your overnight bag packed since you will have to report to work at a moment's notice when you are summoned to replace absent crew members or cover extra flights. Eventually, you will be able to bid on monthly assignments, but that comes only with seniority.