How Much Do Flight Attendants Really Make? (2020 Update)

flight attendants salaries
The million-dollar question! (Photo by Philadelphia International Airport / CC BY)

Updated April 1, 2020

Have you ever wondered how much do flight attendants make?

Whenever I talk to people about what I do for a living, their eyes light up because they think that I have a glamorous life just traveling the world. And they also assume that the money I get paid while doing it is pretty good too. But this isn’t always the case.

Today I’m going to show you the real salaries of some cabin crew, salaries which vary and depend on many factors: the type of airline, their seniority, how many hours they work, etc. I think you’ll be surprised by much of what you are going to learn.

What are the factors that determine how much a flight attendant earns?

  • The airline you’re working for: All airlines have different pay scales and they change from country to country, depending on the type of operation: charter airlines (an airline that operates flights that are not part of a regular airline routing), private jets, whether it’s a major or a low budget airline. Obviously, the major airlines tend to pay more than the regional or low-cost ones, but you should do your own research before applying to the airline of your choice.
  • The experience level/seniority: Even inside the same company, there are different salary bands that depend on your seniority or your level of experience. So a junior Iberia flight attendant could be earning 1700€ monthly while a senior one could be earning around 3500€
    Because this is a seniority-based pay scale, more experience provides flight attendants with higher base salaries and flying payments. Which means that the base salary could be significantly lower for those who joined later, which makes a lot of difference to their take home pay.
  • There are also some other factors or bonuses that can increase the size of your paycheck: 
    • Working night shifts (night pay): these are called red-eye flights because working overnight can lead to having a not very flattering ‘red eye’ look about you.
    • Speaking other languages (LOD): you’ll earn a bonus for each foreign language that you speak if you are working on flights that require a Language of Destination flight attendant (LOD)
    • Layover allowances (per diem): This is paid whenever flight attendants have to overnight at a destination. This allowance is to cover meals because the hotel room is provided by the company.
    • Position/type of aircraft: If you get promoted to Business class, First class or Cabin Manager you’ll get a higher base salary and flying pay.
    • Transportation allowance: You get a transportation allowance monthly, in my company, for example, it is 100€.
  • Your contract and salary conditions also change, even in the same airline, depending on the country you are based: So, for example,  the salary of a flight attendant on Norwegian Airlines based in Norway is higher than that of the flight attendant that is based in Spain or Italy, because they pay staff according to the cost of living in that region.
  • But the most important factor that determines how big your next paycheck will be is the flying pay: You’ll normally get paid a basic salary plus “pay per flight hour”.
    Pay per flight hour simply means that when we are on the ground we don’t get paid. It’s important to realize that this includes all the time we spend in the terminal prior to the flight, the briefing, boarding, in between flights and even if the flight is delayed.
    Our money clock starts ticking when the doors are closed and the plane starts rolling until we land and chocks on (an old fashioned term that comes from a wedge that was put under a plane’s wheels to prevent it moving). So pay per flight hour is from the time the plane starts moving for take off until it comes to a halt after landing.
  • Hiring through third parties is becoming more common in many industries, and it also happens in the aviation industry. There’s nothing wrong in this, but normally the third party contractor offers lower wages and conditions or benefits. So you could be earning less than your colleagues until you are hired directly by the company.
  • Commissions: Airlines also have commission schemes which can increase your salary. It could be 10 or 20% on all duty-free and catering sales (not all companies offer this), and the amount you can get can vary from an extra 40€ to 900€ per month. In my company, it’s 10% of all onboard sales and that is divided up by the operating crew so that everyone gets a commission. In other airlines, this commission is only for those crew members that sell duty-free.
    In the USA, American, Delta, Spirit or Frontier Airlines have flight attendants making in-cabin pitches for credit cards tied to each airline’s frequent-flier program. They pay commissions at different rates for success, generally around $50 or more for an approved application.

Other benefits/perks

As a flight attendant you will also get generous travel benefits the most prominent being the: free flights or discounted airfares you are able to have. These are offered by pretty much all airlines and sometimes it includes your friends and family as well, which is no bad thing.

But just a heads up here. Getting this perk is also called flying standby, meaning that you only get on the plane if there are empty seats. There are no guarantees. Which means that it can be very stressful because you can get stranded at an airport until a flight with empty seats becomes available. That’s why I always come back from holidays a few days early to give me a safety margin if flights are full and I can’t fly standby.

There are other extras that contribute in some way to a flight attendant’s earnings: health benefits: medical, dental care or discounts, crew discounts in many hotels, car rentals, airport shops, and excursions, fitness & beauty centers, etc, these all go toward adding to the financial returns for being a flight attendant.

But how much does a flight attendant earn?

Okay, the bad news is that there’s no straightforward answer to this question, there are just so many variables. But stay with me, and I’ll talk you through them.

A flight attendant can earn an average of €20,000 to €45,000 annually ($22,000 to $49,000). 

There will be those that earn more – I know girls in executive jet aviation that are earning €64,000 annually – and there will be those who are earning less than €10,000.  Those working for low-cost Hungarian airlines, for example.

But even when you have started working for an airline, you’ll only know how much you are earning each month because it depends on the flights you do. Oh, and a few other things.

So let’s look at how it all works on a few different airlines.

Case #1: Flight Attendant Salaries at British Airways Mixed Fleet

british airways flight attendant
British Airways flight attendants – Photo by Mike McBey / CC BY

British Airways has four different cabin crew fleets: Worldwide, Euro Fleet and Mixed Fleet (in London Heathrow) and London Gatwick Fleet.

Mixed fleet is a new fleet that British Airways set up at the end of 2010. Before that, BA used to have a “Worldwide Crew” for the long haul flights and a “European Fleet” for the short-haul flights.

Now, with the creation of “Mixed fleet”, they have rostered a mixture of short and long haul flying, but the pay is significantly lower and the conditions are also not as good.

They have shorter turnarounds, which means that the short-haul flights will consist of there and backs but there will still be 2-3 tours within Europe. And the long haul flights, that normally include a 24-72 hour layover.

They have shorter stopovers, which means that the short-haul flights consist of there and backs: You go to a destination and immediately come back. For example, you fly: Paris-London-Paris and you don’t spend any time at destination. And the long haul layovers are reduced to the minimum rest time too.

The career levels are these:

  1. Cabin crew in Economy or Business
  2. Qualified cabin crew
  3. World Class cabin crew
  4. Customer Service Manager(Senior cabin crew)
  5. Cabin crew Manager

There has been a lot of controversy over the salary within the mixed fleet, because many cabin crews claim that they are not earning what BA promised when they joined. These new flight attendants have an annual base salary of £14,262 which is roughly £1,200-£1,600 per month.

They get £3.14 flying pay per hour( from the moment you check in to the moment you arrive at your base) which comes in at an average of £500-£900 per month. Now if you add your basic pay of £1,200 to £900 that bumps it up quite a lot, but it depends on how much you fly.

It can really boost your paycheck if you do a lot of flying, but if you are sick or you have your annual leave or you are rostered on a lot of standbys, you’ll get a shitty (sorry, but that’s the best word to describe it) pay that month.

Now add in Commission: 20% on all duty-free and other onboard sales, split between all the cabin crew onboard.

Bonus: £350 quarterly bonus based on your performance never being late and never having sick days, basically.

To sum up all of the above, BA estimates that the new entry cabin crew should earn from £23000 to £28000. But the unions representing cabin crews have said,  according to their survey, is that many cabin crew make just £17000-£18000, and are taking second jobs to survive.

After a few years, if you are promoted to World Class Cabin Crew, you would be earning a bit more, £25,000 to £29,000 annually with a £17,614 base salary. If you have previous experience of at least 2 years flying as cabin crew and you are in possession of the EASA attestation you can enter this category straight away. 

Further down the road, you could be promoted to Customer Service Manager and your base salary would be around £27,500 with earnings an average of £35,000 per annum.

The bottom line is that not all flight attendants are paid the same in British Airways. New hire cabin crew would typically earn much less than the ones hired before 2010, that earn a higher sector pay, higher base salary and higher allowance pay.

It seems that there’s a lot of negotiations happening at the moment between BA and the unions, so everything can change, still a bit up in the air, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Anyway, as I said before: What you earn depends mainly on the flights you have, they are what top up your base salary. If you get a lot of training days, standbys or “short trips,” unfortunately you’ll get a poor salary.

It is possible to swap your flights with other crew and there’s a bidding system where you can request the flights that you’re interested in, but there is no guarantee of getting these and it’s never easy to swap or give away a trip that nobody wants.

Keep in mind that if you are interested in a particular trip, perhaps because it’s a great destination or it has higher overnight travel allowance,  there will probably be a thousand other flight attendants who are also interested. So it’s not that easy to get what you want. Plus the most senior crews get their bids accepted first and newer crew have less chance to get what they bid for.

The wait for your next roster can be nerve-wracking. The up side is that you’ll know what you’re going to be doing for the month – how many days off you’ll have, how many hours you’ll be working, if you have many early sign-ons or red-eye flights, etc. which  can be very satisfying. Or it can be a total budgetary and social life disappointment

Will you be able to get to your friend’s wedding? Will you be able to spend Christmas at home this year? It isn’t easy and these sorts of things are what make cabin crew life both crappy and fabulous at the same time,

Oh, and to be fair to BA, these sort of variations in pay rates and rosters are common amongst all the airlines.

Case #2: Flight Attendant Salaries at Ryanair

ryanair flight attendants
Ryanair flight attendants

Let’s look at Europe’s biggest low-cost company, with 450 aircraft and over 9000 cabin crew.

In Ryanair, there are even larger differences between contracts, remuneration, and conditions within cabin crews, so it’s difficult to explain exactly how much they actually earn.

I‘ve spoken to many colleagues at  Ryanair and they all have different salaries and conditions. You have people with permanent contracts, temporary contracts or even self-employed, some of them earning 2,500€ and others 600€ a month.

Let me explain about self-employed cabin crew.

“Self-employed” means that crew members must open a single person limited company and all taxes, social insurance, responsibility for damages, sick leave or maternity leave will become the sole responsibility/liability of the worker. Personally, I think that this is outrageous!

Temporary contracts are the most common type of contract with Ryanair. You sign with an external agency: such as Crewlink or  Workforce/Dalmac. Staff on temporary contracts make up a total of 80% of the cabin crew numbers with the airline.

As a junior temporary cabin crew, you’ll get a one-year probationary contract, and after a few years, if everything goes well and they like you, you can be promoted to Purser or Number 1, and they may offer you a direct contract with them, depending on the base you are working from and the airline’s needs.

Obviously, the salaries are better when you get a full Ryanair contract.

But sadly, only 20% percent of cabin crew do have permanent contracts in Ryanair. But, thanks to the demands of the unions and changing laws, this number is rising in some countries. In May 2019 in Belgium, Ryanair had to offer a direct contract to 50% of the cabin crew working in that country. Good.

So yes, salaries and contracts also depend mainly on the country you are based in. And that is normally decided by the airline once you finish the training course.

True, you can fill in a form to pick your base of preference, but the hard reality is that your airline will just send you to wherever they need. You can ask for a transfer later, but the wait can take very long, sometimes years, and they don’t really care much, which is a real problem.

But, as I said,  things are changing.

Since 2018, the 6-week training course is free, which is a big improvement. Before 2018 there was a 500€ registration, fee plus 2,999€ course fee. You could pay it all upfront or choose the salary deduction method which was a 300€ deduction per month until you finished paying your full course cost.

Now, the only expense that you’ll have to pay during your training is for accommodation and food. And to help with that, there is a 28€ allowance. But the location of the course can be random, it can be in Germany, Italy or Ireland. So that allowance may well not be enough for the living costs in the country where the course is being held.

After signing your contract, you will probably work an average of 90 hours a month. The roster is normally 5 days flying and 3 days off then 5 days flying and 2 days off. So at least you get to know your days off in advance so you can make plans.

For new joiners, there is a 750€ allowance in the first paycheck, that will be deducted from your final paycheck if you leave before 1 year. In that first paycheck, there will be a deduction of around 50-80€ for your airport ID. They give a little, they take a little.

So a basic salary breakdown for Ryanair could look something like this:

The basic pay, which is around 650€, the pay per flight hour (variable depending on seniority and the standby rate of 25€

But, once again there are many variables in the payment system. In Poland, for example, they are all self-employed so they don’t have a basic salary. Neither do they have pensions, or sick and holiday pay. They are only paid flying hours and the 10% commission from on-board sales. So if they don’t have many flying hours, they can be earning a salary as low as 600€

In other bases, senior cabin crews with contracts don’t have a base salary, but they can get 17€ per flight hour and new hires get 600€ base salary but only 5€ approx per flight hour.

 

Most senior cabin crew New cabin crew
No Base Salary Base salary: 450€ to 650€
Pay per flight hour: 17€ (more or less, depends on the country) Pay per flight hour: 5€ (more or less, depends on the country)

 

Examples of wages in Ryanair depending on the Country:

In Dublin, you’ll get an average salary of 1,700 to 1,900€ if you are subcontracted. In Spain, you would be getting 1,200 – 1,400€ for example. If you are hired directly,  from 2,000 – 2,500€.

The bottom line is that once you are hired by Ryanair, you can earn between 25,000 – 40,000€ annually ($28,000 – $45,000).

Case #3: Flight Attendant Salaries at Emirates Airlines

emirates flight attendants
Emirates Airlines flight attendants

I know many of you are curious about Emirates. You’ve heard many positive things about the airline and you want to know if the cabin crew salaries and benefits are as good as people make out.

But before we talk about the salary, let’s first take a look at Emirates working conditions. 

As you probably know, your operating base would be in Dubai, which is a no-go for many candidates. So the first thing you should think about if you are interested in joining Emirates, is if you want to relocate there.

Apart from this, working for the famous Emirates airlines is a dream for many reasons:

  • Free accommodation in a shared apartment with other flight attendants, usually two or three people
  • Transport to work and from work included
  • Opportunity to travel the world.

It sounds amazing, right? But that’s not all:

  • Tax-free salary
  • Free training
  • Travel allowances
  • Housing bills include- water, electricity, TV, internet
  • Even dry cleaning for your uniform is included

But let’s not get too excited.

There are  also downsides about working for Emirates:

  • The most difficult part is that you’ll be far away from home and your family and friends. And I mean, far away.
  • You’ll need to adapt to the country and to be prepared to work in a multicultural environment and learn about cultural differences. And this is not only dealing with passengers from different nationalities, but it’s also between your colleagues. As there can be 15 nationality cabin crews on the same flight. This is not always easy.
  • You’ll work hard. Some flights are long and arduous.  You can get a 7-hour flight to LHR (London Heathrow) with two services and work the whole trip like a dog. Or you can have a 5-hour flight to Nairobi and back with only a 1 or 2-hour turnaround, which is essentially  12 hours nonstop. You can have a 24 hours layover after 14 hours flight, but that will actually be only 19 hours after clearing immigration and traveling and all the other bits and pieces that you need to do after landing. That just isn’t long enough to completely recover after such a long haul.
  • There are no unions to protect you or to fight for your rights.
  • They don’t offer pension schemes, just an “end of service gratuity”, which means that you could work your entire life in Emirates and you won’t have any pension in the UAE or in your home country. This is something to seriously consider.
  • There is no privacy. Every visitor must log in their name, time in and time out of the apartment for security reasons. All visitors are allowed to stay until 1:00 am If you’d like to have a guest visiting you in Dubai and sleeping in, you will also have to fill in forms to request Emirates authorization.

And, something that is not usual with western airlines, you are not allowed to bring a man to your apartment if you are not married to him. But you can always say it’s your cousin visiting, so no worries there. We’ve all got cousins who come to visit us, haven’t we? Two family members can stay at the same time, twice a year, for a maximum of 30 days.

  • Some of the apartments are located in the middle of nowhere, or actually in the desert, so if you don’t have a car, it really is a downer. They are mostly very nice, high-quality apartments, but some of them are older and do need refurbishment. But you can always ask to change apartments after your 6 months probationary period if you’re not happy.
  • It can feel like you never leave your work environment. This too is something to be aware of.

Note: You can also choose to live out and receive an accommodation allowance of $13,612 per year to cover your flat, apartment expenses, transportation, and bills.

Okay, having said all that, let’s look at the money side of things. 

Firstly we’ll look at the Emirates career path and then we’ll match the various job titles with payments.

But this is probably what you have heard the most often about the pay you get from Emirates: it’s all tax-free! Which means that staff can save a lot of money if they are prepared to put the hours in.

You normally get a 3-year contract that can be extended after it expires. And your salary consists of a basic salary plus the hourly pay per flight.

And, as is normal, you’ll earn a different base salary and per flight pay, depending on your category

Let’s chart the Emirates career path and explain it. Obviously the needs of the airline and changing circumstances mean that this is only a general guide, but it usually goes something like this:

Okay, it may seem a little complex, so let’s break it down.

  •  You start as a Cabin crew grade II (ECONOMY), regardless of what you were doing before
  • After a minimum of 1 to 3 years, you will be upgraded to Cabin crew grade I (BUSINESS),
  • After another 1 to 3 years you can get promoted to Cabin crew grade I (First class),
  • The next step is Cabin crew senior Supervisor (CSV), where you will be in charge of either the Economy crew/cabin or Business crew/cabin. You usually stay in this position for a minimum of 2 years and finally, you can get promoted to Purser.
  • Pursers are the ones in charge of the entire passenger cabin and they are the ones who maintain communication with the pilots. Very important position.

So let’s take that structure and look at the pay associated with each grade:

Cabin crew grade II (Economy class): Updated 2020

Basic pay: fixed amount that you will get every month, it changes when you progress to the next grade. AED 4,260 ($1,160)

Per flight hour AED 61.25 ($16.68)

After a minimum of 1-3 years

Cabin crew grade I (Business class):

Basic pay AED 4,360 ($1,185)

Per flying hour AED 67 ($18)

After a minimum of 1-3 years

Cabin crew grade I (First class):

Base Salary AED 4,360 ($1,185)

Per flight hour AED 72.5 ($20)

After a minimum of 1-3 years

Cabin crew Senior Supervisor (CSV):

Base Salary AED 4,825 ($1,310)

Per flight hour AED 84 ($22)

After a minimum of 1-3 years

Purser (Cabin Manager): 

Base Salary AED 5,515 ($1,500)

Per flight hour AED 90 ($24)

Each year your base salary increases by 200-300 AED.

And you also have trip allowances for your food at each destination, plus the hotel and transport included. That layover allowance changes depending on the destination. The higher the cost of living in that particular location, the higher it will be the layover allowance.

E.g.: meal allowance for 24 hours in Paris is 88€

Johannesburg 33.11€

New York 120€

Amsterdam 76€

Paris 88€

You will receive these allowances in the national currencies.

You’ll have only a AED334 ($90) deduction each month during the first 3 years of your contract for any expenses incurred if you leave before 3 years. But you’ll get that money back once you finish your contract with them. Also you’ll also get approximately AED 340 ($82) deducted per month for medical insurance for the first 12 months. You will receive this money back once you have completed the first 3-year contract.

So, putting this all together, you could be earning roughly AED 9,465 ($2,577 monthly) as cabin crew grade II and AED 9,972 ($2,715) per month as cabin crew grade. This is based on if you fly 85 hours without adding your layover allowances, which could amount to $460 depending on how many layovers you have.

On average you’ll fly 80 to 100 hours a month, but that can be 115 one month or 60 the next one. So there is plenty of work available with this company, work that is moderated by you getting a minimum of 9 days off a month and 30 days annual leave per year.

So, after talking to friends that have been working for Emirates for 5 years and more, I can tell you that this airline is a great choice if you are dreaming of traveling the world and getting paid for it. But you do need to be open-minded and ready for the changes in location and culture.

Case #5: Flight Attendant Salaries at American Airlines

american airlines salaries
Photo credits: tash_vera

Flight attendants with American Airlines start out at $30,000 – $56,000.

This money includes payment for their flight hours, layover payments (per diem) and any other bonuses.

But as they become more experienced that rate goes up quite considerably.

Highly experienced flight attendants with AA can make up to $80,000  per annum or more.

FYI, I did a detailed research on salaries that Flight Attendants are getting at American Airlines if you wish to know more about it.

Wrap up

I know all this seems a bit much to take in,  but I hope that I have given you an overview of the variations that exist in a flight attendant’s pay and condition. And that is the important thing, there are many variables. So do your research, don’t be frightened to ask questions and get a very clear understanding of what your career path will be and the pay rates attached to each step.

I’m quite happy to answer any questions and to provide more information about any airline that you may have a query about.

Happy flying!

4 thoughts on “How Much Do Flight Attendants Really Make? (2020 Update)”

  1. Thanks a lot u helped me
    For answering my questions because i tend to join emirates i was interested by the salary and.now due to yr explanation i see that is more interesting but i d like to know if i can do it working hours and hours in a flight it doesn t seem exhausting for you ?because i m scared that i ll get tired of it ?? And the second prblm is that we don t have pensions at the end

    1. Thank you for your comment Ghzala!
      Like every job, there are pros and cons of being a flight attendant and it all depends on your personality, preferences, and dislikes. But in my opinion, there is nothing like being a Flight Attendant, it’s a good job. If you enjoy meeting people and traveling, go for it! Even if it’s just for a short period of your life, try it.
      Good luck!

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