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 to keep 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 that flight attendants are required to get.
Become a Good Hiring Candidate for Airlines
The first step in becoming a flight attendant is to apply 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. However, many 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 often prefer job candidates who have work experience in a related field. If you want to become a flight attendant, consider gaining relevant 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.
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.
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 will 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.
This is part of the process for flight attendants as defined by the Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, which went into effect in December 2004. However, this certificate is only issued to those flight attendants who meet the Act's definition:
The Act defines a flight attendant as an individual who works in the cabin of an aircraft that has 20 or more seats and is used by a part 121 or part 135 air carrier to provide air transportation.
All regional and major airlines in the U.S. are part 121 air carriers, so the majority of flight attendants will fit this definition.
After applying for the certificate, the FAA will confirm your record. Then, you will be eligible to work on a flight.
Flight attendants must receive annual training to keep their certifications 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, though certain airlines or cities may require flight attendants to spend up to five years on reserve status, or "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.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does a Flight Attendant Make?
The median salary for a flight attendant in 2020 was $59,050 per year. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $30,930, and the highest 10% of earners made more than $84,790.
How Old Do You Need to Be to Become a Flight Attendant?
The FAA requires flight attendants to be at least 18 years old. However, some airlines have higher minimum age requirements. More experienced candidates may have an upper hand when it comes to being hired as flight attendants due to the variety of skills required.
What Classes Do You Need to Become a Flight Attendant?
A high-school diploma or GED is the minimum education level required to become a flight attendant. However, some airlines may prefer candidates who have taken college courses or have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Classes in hospitality, communication, tourism, and public relations could be especially useful.