All The Answers to the Questions You Always Had About Flight Attendants

Google has a very fancy feature where it auto completes your query based on what other users have submitted. I thought I’d try typing in some simple phrases and seeing what people are asking about FAs. I took some screen shots and will now answer those questions. Yay!

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1) What do flight attendants do?

This could be a whole post of its own. A Flight Attendant’s primary role is that of safety. At the start of the day (at my airline at least) each FA must complete a pre-flight briefing that includes an oral quiz on various safety, emergency, and first aid aspects. Before passengers board the aircraft, the FAs inspect all of the equipment on board (Fire Extinguishers, various oxygen systems, medical supplies, etc) for correct type, amount, and serviceability as required for the aircraft’s specifications. Once pax begin boarding the FAs work to secure the cabin. This mostly involves helping passengers to their seats and getting baggage put away, ensuring the aisles are clear, briefing special attention pax and people seated at exit rows, and making sure everyone onboard is suitable to fly. In flight they are monitoring for any immediate or potential hazards. FAs are trained extensively to provide immediate medical attention to pax, fight fires using limited equipment, to deal with hostile passengers (including those with the intent to take over an aircraft), to deal with hazardous materials, to evacuate the aircraft, and to lead a group in a range of survival scenarios. Also, they can serve you a coke with or without ice. Extra snacks? No problem.

2) What do flight attendants get paid?

This one comes up a number of times. I’ll answer it later.

3) What do flight attendants earn?

See that I mean? Again, I’ll answer it later.

4) What do flight attendants pack?

This all depends on the pairing. On a turn around (Lets say YVR – CUN – YVR) I’ll have all my required legal documentation: Flight Attendant Manual, First Aid Manual, Competency Card, Restricted Area ID Card, Wrist Watch, Schedule. I’ll also take my float for the bar. I personally choose to bring a spare set of clothes and toiletries as well in case we go mechanical somewhere and I need to stay over night. On a longer pairing I’d bring a spare uniform, more clothes, and my laptop in addition to everything else listed here.

 

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5) When do flight attendants get paid?

At most airlines, FAs are paid from the time the aircraft pushes back from the gate, to the time the seatbelt sign is turned off on arrival plus 15 minutes. If we arrive earlier than scheduled, we are still paid for the time we were scheduled to fly. If we take longer than scheduled, we are paid for the extra time in the air. We are not paid for any time before the aircraft pushes back, including the boarding process. Also, we are not generally paid to deadhead (although we get per diem when flying on other airlines), and when positioning an empty aircraft we are only paid half our regular rate.

6) When do flight attendants get the drud test?

At my airline, we are required to be tested for drugs prior to our first day of training. My airline reserves the right to request another test from any or all employee(s) at any time.

7) When do flight attendants sleep?

When they can. On an average pairing I might be sleeping 8pm – 4am one day and 6am – 2pm a day later. That is if I have enough time to sleep a full 8 hours.

8) When do flight attendants work?

This depends entirely on the FAs seniority, bidding habits, and work preferences. The way I bid my schedule I tend to average 12 hour days for 7 days in a row, then have 7 days off. Although for December I have 2 weeks off entirely mid month and am working almost none stop for the rest of the month.

 

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9) Where do flight attendants sleep?

On layover we sleep in hotels that the airline has contracts with. The company pays for the rooms, and each FA gets their own room. Airlines with large aircraft and very long flights will have two crews and often have a crew room on board with beds. One crew sleeps while the other works.

10) Where do flight attendants stay?

Again, we stay at the hotels chosen by the Airline. Some airlines keep their pilots in separate hotels from the FAs, this is not the case at my company.

11) Where do flight attendants stay?

At their homes? Most flight attendants live in or near their base cities. Although its not unusual for FAs to “commute” to work by flying on a pass with their airline from their home city to their base city.

12) Where do flight attendants hang out?

Okay, now you’re just trying to pick up a FA.

 

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13) Why do flight attendants wear scarves?

Because it’s stylish, recognizable, and more importantly part of the uniform. My airline finally just introduced uniform scarfs for the ladies. I myself wear a tie.

14) Why do flight attendants have to be tall?

From my understanding, in Canada they don’t have to be tall. I believe there is a discrimination law against that. Airlines in other countries do have this requirement though. It’s to ensure you can reach emergency equipment that might be stowed in high places onboard the aircraft.

15) Why do flight attendants and pilots wear a uniform?

Aside from the obvious fact that it’s stylish and professional, airline uniforms are easily recognizable. For everyday use they convey authority as well as make it easy for pax to spot us should they need assistance. In an emergency the uniform is also flame retardant and again easily recognizable for passengers and emergency responders.

16) Why do flight attendants say cross check?

“Flight Attendants please arm doors and crosscheck.” To arm your door means to engage the slide so that it will deploy automatically when the door is opened. To cross check means to inspect the other FAs door to ensure it has been armed properly. This is a requirement for every departure around the world.

 

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17) Do flight attendants make good money?

This depends greatly on the type of flight attendant. Private and corporate FAs often make lots of money, where as an entry level flight attendant for a regional carrier may only make $18,000 in their first year.

18) Do flight attendants get drug tested?

Yes.

19) Do flight attendants get paid well?

See how often that comes up? FAs fly because they love it, that’s pretty much it.

20) Do flight attendants get to travel?

Yes; Many airlines offer some sort of pass for employees to use at their leisure. Even if they don’t, most FAs will get the chance to visit places they fly to on layover.

 

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21) Are flight attendants in demand?

It depends where you are. In many parts of Canada if you can speak perfectly fluent French and English then you are very much in demand. (This is not including Quebec)

22) Are flight attendants easy?

Many are, yes. As are many Doctors, Criminologists, and Garbage Men. I myself am not so easy. Winking smile

23) Are flight attendants ever home?

I just finished two back to back pairings that had me out of the province for about 2 weeks. Now I’m home for 2 weeks.

24) Are flight attendants paid well?

Sigh.

 

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25) How do flight attendants get paid?

I covered this, but I left a few details out.

At my airline; we all receive a minimum monthly guarantee of 80 credit hours. As long as we are available for the whole month (not on a leave of absence, for example) we will get 80 hours of our paid hourly rate no matter how few hours we actually get scheduled for.

Credit time is paid time, but not all time is paid. A 14 hour duty day at my airline will have 11 – 12 credit hours. I duty day is the total time on duty. A credit hour is an hour of paid time in the duty day. We are usually only paid for time when the aircraft is moving. We are paid from the time when the plane pushes back from the gate until 15 minutes after it lands. We are not paid during our pre-flight breifings, during the boarding process, on ground delays, etc.

During our slow season, FAs can expect to work about 80 credit hours.

In the busy season that number can get a lot higher. Last month I worked just shy of 100 credit hours. At my airline if we work 80 – 90 credit hours in a month we receive those hours at our normal rate of pay. Any hours worked after 90 are credited at time and a half. So last month I was paid 90 hours of my standard rate, and 10 hours of overtime.

If the company asked me to work on a guaranteed day off, I’d receive that entire days worth of credit hours at 2x my normal rate of pay.

On top of our standard rates of pay, we can earn bonuses based on working long days or days that go unexpectedly long. If we’re scheduled to fly a 14 hour duty day, the company is required to put an extra pilot onboard for safety reasons. When those conditions are met, each FA earns $100 bonus because we don’t get an extra cabin crew member on long days. If that same duty day runs unexpectedly long and exceeds 15 hours, we get another $100, totalling $200. That number increases significantly for each additional hour up to 17 hours. After that we can no longer legally work until we’ve had a minimum amount of rest.

I could go on and on about different pay scenarios. But I’ll stop here, as I’ve covered the basics. It just gets way too confusing from this point.
Keep in mind this pay structure applies to my airline alone. Each airline varies, however I believe this covers the general idea.

26) How do flight attendants work?

Our asses off.

This career is very stressful. Naturally we are handling a lot of passenger requests at any given time. Especially at my airline, which specializes in Vacation Charter Flights. We also routinely check and verify aircraft equipment, get spot checked and evaluated by not only our own company but by Transport Canada as well. Off the plane (and on our own time) we also have to memorize multiple binders worth of safety and service information and stay up to date with it. Every year we have to complete a number of exams, evacuation drills, and other forms of knowledge verification. Less frequently (every couple years) we have to complete live firefighting courses (my favourite!), and first aid recertification.

27) How do flight attendants live?

Once you get a few years under your belt; not so bad.

When you start as a Flight Attendant, you are working for peanuts. The money never gets to what anyone would call “great” but after a few years of annual raises it becomes enough to live comfortably. At least with my airline anyway. Some of the starting wages I’ve seen with the American carriers are horrendous.

As far as scheduling goes; you couldn’t ask for better… once you’ve got some seniority, that is.
Each month we log into our system and pick out the pairings we want to work or the days off we want for the following month. Depending on seniority a FA might want to choose their schedule up to 7 different times, and the final awarded schedules are assigned based on seniority. FA #1 will get her first choices, (she’ll probably only build one schedule) FA#30 will get his second or third choices for pairings. First choices for days off. (that was me before my upgrade) and our first season FAs (me now, as a CM) will want to bid all 7 options. They probably wont get many of the pairings they want (if any at all), but they’ll probably get their days off as long as they don’t fall on a holiday. Or if you’re really bottom of the barrel like me, you’ll get a reserve block. It least my seniority holds out well enough to pick the reserve block I want most…

But in general, FAs get to pick their own schedules and they usually get a decent amount of time off, unless they want lots of hours. It’s very flexible that way.

28) How do flight attendants pack?

For everything. Even if I’m just doing a turn around and am supposed to be home the same day, I always have a change of clothes JUST in case I get stuck somewhere. It happens often enough that it’s worth it.
Other than that I’m usually packed for both warm and cold climates. I keep my tablet with me for any pairings longer than a turn. I pack toiletries on all flights (I like to brush my teeth halfway through each work day), and I keep my service items in my bag (tongs, oven gloves, etc) along with my Flight Attendant Manual, First Aid Book, and Passport. Also I keep a cigar cutter in my bag… you know. In case I’m in Cuba.

Sometimes I like to pack treats to share with the crew too.
Oh! And Pens! I have sooooooo many pens. I HOARD THEM. …because hotels give them out for free and passengers often don’t return them.

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