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: "requirements for becoming a flight attendant: a high school diploma or GED (at least), excellent physical healths and good vision, flight attendant training, certificate from the FAA"

The Balance / Ashley Nicole DeLeon

Being a flight attendant (formerly known as a steward or stewardess) involves more than just serving drinks. While it's true that flight attendants tend to the comfort of their passengers, there's much more to this career.

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

Curious about this high-flying career? Let's take a closer look at how to become a flight attendant and the training and certifications flight attendants are required to get.

Get Hired by an Airline

The first step in becoming a flight attendant is applying for a position with an airline. You'll need to meet the airline's requirements for education and experience. Airlines require job applicants to have at least a high school or equivalency (GED) diploma. Many, however, will only hire candidates who have taken college classes or who have an associate or bachelor's degree. Degrees that will prepare you especially well include 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 in customer service by working in a hotel, resort, or restaurant.

Flight attendants must also meet specific physical requirements. Airlines typically have minimum and maximum heights. They also require attendants to be able to sit in a jumpseat and complete a range of physical tasks, like pushing, pulling, bending, and lifting with reasonable accommodation.

You will also need to pass a background check and a pre-employment drug screening. Visible tattoos are typically not allowed unless they can be concealed with makeup.

Be prepared to complete multiple interviews. For example, the airline may start with a phone screening or group interview before proceeding to a one-on-one interview. Dress professionally and be prepared to discuss why you would be an excellent choice to represent the airline.

Complete the Airline-Provided Flight Attendant Training Program

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. Airlines will typically arrange for lodging and transportation to the training center, but you may be responsible for meals. Training may be paid or unpaid depending on the airline.

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 and you'll be evaluated on your skills.

Get a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency

After you finish the employer-sponsored training, the Director of Operations at the airline will apply for your Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency from the FAA. Once the agency confirms your record, you will be eligible to work on a flight. Flight attendants must receive annual training to keep their certification up-to-date.

Start Your Career as a Flight Attendant

With your training complete and your certificate in hand, you may think you'll 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 won't have a regular schedule yet, and it will be a while before you get to fly some of the more desirable routes. How long depends on the airline you're working for and which hub you're working out of, but it could be anywhere from a few months to a few years.

New flight attendants typically spend at least one year on reserve status. Reserve status is essentially being on call. You'll have to keep your overnight bag packed since you will have to report to work at a moment's notice to replace absent crew members or cover extra flights. You're paid for the time that you're on reserve, and the airline typically assigns you specific days to be on call. You won't be on call every minute.

Eventually, you will be able to bid on monthly assignments, but that comes with seniority.

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Flight Attendant?

What you learn during your training will prepare you for the technical aspects of your job as a flight attendant, but your soft skills are just as important. You will need excellent communication skills because you will spend a lot of time interacting with passengers and other members of your flight crew. Stressful situations call for strong customer service and problem-solving skills. Good listening skills will allow you to understand and meet customers' needs.

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "How to Become a Flight Attendant." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  2. SkyWest Airlines. "Flight Attendant Career Guide." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  3. American Airlines. "Flight Attendants at American." Accessed May 17, 2020.

  4. FAA. "Flight Attendant Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency," Page 3. Accessed May 17, 2020.

  5. Simple Flying. "How Many Days Does a Flight Attendant Work in a Month?" Accessed May 17, 2020.

  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Work Environment." Accessed May 17, 2020.