A Day in the Life of a Southwest Flight Attendant

A Day in the Life of a Southwest Flight Attendant

When most people say, ‘good morning’, they usually mean that in reference to the hours of about 5am and 11am.

But for a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, that could really be any time of the day. As someone who has a continuously changing schedule, the morning is pretty much whenever I wake up aka the beginning of MY day.

Let’s start there!

Morning Routine and Pre-Flight Preparations

Scenario: I have committed myself to an AM schedule this month and it’s my on-call month. While our schedules are pretty flexible here at Southwest, we do still get scheduled on call every other month.

This month for me is what we refer to as our “reserve” month. Flight attendants who are not in the top 30% of the seniority list in their base are scheduled to sit reserve every other month.

The reserve system is pretty complicated (you might fall asleep by the end of this article if I go into it all), but for this scenario, I am on Ready Reserve, the most junior type of on-call, for 72 hours straight.

As a 6-year flight attendant at Southwest, I’m lucky enough to have the seniority built up to avoid this, but let’s reminisce back to when I was a bright and shiny new face, ready to jump out of bed at 3am and get the day rolling.

Did you say 3am??

Oh, yeah. A morning or ready reserve flight attendant at Southwest is on call starting at 3am.

As a die hard night owl, I’m still recovering from the mental trauma of having to wake up before the sun, in the dark, cold of winter.

So when I said “jump out of bed”, I really meant, cry in the shower for 20 minutes and then begrudgingly get ready to head over to the airport by 5am. (I think it’s safe to say that waking up early makes me a teeeensy bit dramatic. 👸🏽)

I love to be micromanaged! – said no one ever.

One of my favorite things about this job is how self-managed the flight attendants are. When I get to the airport, I check in on my crew app to let scheduling know that I’ve arrived.

I find my gate after stopping for time-allotted coffee or breakfast and then head over to my gate while silently judging and weaving around the people who stand on the moving walkways at the airport.

Passenger Boarding

Okay, so I am fed, I am caffeinated, and I am ready to meet the people!

We have different working positions on the plane, but I prefer to work up front.

Saying hello to 175 people on a full flight can get a little taxing, so I try to keep it as interesting as possible by making conversation, complimenting random clothing articles, and high-fiving all the toddlers (bonus points if I can get a smile out of the little chubby-cheeked babies.) 🍼👶

Passenger boarding is probably the most stressful part for the flight attendants because we’re greeting the door, helping disabled passengers, assisting with bags, getting pilots anything they need from the galley, and all while coordinating with the gate agent.

During the flight

This gets a little easier once everyone is settled into their seat and we are on the move.

At cruise altitude is when we can start our inflight service! Inflight service is not something that is practiced during training, so as a new flight attendant, it was a learn-on-the-job situation.

Thankfully, at Southwest, we have it pretty easy peasy since we don’t have a first-class or food service.

We also don’t have traditional carts, so you’ll see us precariously balancing about 12 drinks per tray as we run back and forth to get everyone their beverage and snack pack.

Snoozing on the flight? You might get skipped as I never interrupt anyone’s beauty rest. 🤴🏼👸🏽

While emergency situations are rare, they absolutely can and have happened. Initial inflight training plus yearly recurrent training keeps the flight attendants up to date on emergency procedures.

During training, we learn how to respond in emergency medical situations, mechanical issues during flight, fight fires, and even subdue unruly passengers.

We practice our self-defense moves on Bob, the dummy. He’s a great sport about it though and never complains, even after 45 hammer-fist punches!

As far as breaks though, we don’t have official break times. However, once service is over, we pretty much can relax for the rest of the flight.

Southwest is a mostly domestic airline, we don’t have too many long flights so there are no sleeping quarters and sleeping is actually not allowed at all. And since we don’t fly overseas, thankfully jet lag is also not much of an issue.

Just lots of reading and what we like to call “jumpseat confessionals” from other flight attendants. (Drama is always more fun when it’s not your own. 💁🏽‍♀️)

Arrival and Farewell

It’s time to part ways!

As the passengers deplane, we say our goodbyes.

At Southwest, the flight attendants are the cleanup crew, so we do pick up any trash that the passengers leave behind, and cross all the seat belts.

You may ask, why cross-seat belts? It just looks prettier. ☺️


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➡️ How many hours do Southwest flight attendants work a day?

Southwest flight attendants work anywhere between 2-12.5 scheduled. Irregular operations can lead to extended duty days for which we are compensated accordingly. 💰

➡️ How often are you home as a Southwest flight attendant?

More than you would think! Southwest flight attendants are typically home for approximately 22 days a month.

This is because, if they follow their assigned schedule without making modifications, they are only away from home for 8 nights each month. Southwest’s shorter domestic flight routes and 3-day trips make it easier for flight attendants to maintain a good work/life balance.

➡️ How are flight attendants assigned to specific flights and destinations?

Flight attendants have the opportunity to “bid” for their schedule every month. We are awarded our schedules partly based on what we asked for but also mainly on seniority (so sometimes not exactly what we wanted.)

Chances are that a Dallas-based flight attendant who has been with the company for 37 years is going to get that long Punta Cana layover and a new flight attendant will be lucky if they can score a Saturday off.

➡️ How many days off do flight attendants at Southwest typically have between flights?

Southwest flight attendants typically enjoy 4 scheduled days off between their trips, as per their contract requirements.

These contractual stipulations ensure that there is a minimum of 48 hours of scheduled time between assigned trips.

➡️ Do flight attendants get time for breaks during long flights?

Unless the flight is very short, we have plenty of time! I realize there are varying perspectives out there but personally, I wonder how I lucked out with such a relaxing job!

➡️ What happens if a Southwest flight attendant arrives late to a flight?

Being late for a flight at Southwest or any other airline is a huuuuuuge no-no. In the context of flight attendant training, trainees may be dismissed from training if they are consistently late.

In operational situations, being late can not only make 175 passengers on a flight late, but can also cause a domino effect of delays throughout the day.

➡️ Have you ever had any emergencies?

I’ve had numerous medical emergencies with Southwest, and I have had a slow decompression (masks falling) when I worked for a previous airline.

It doesn’t matter which airline – emergencies can and do happen everywhere.

I know, I know, the safety demo isn’t exactly as interesting as watching the new season of Love Is Blind, but it really is essential to follow flight attendant instructions and listen to the safety demo.

➡️ What is the most rewarding part of being a Southwest flight attendant?

The most rewarding part of being a Southwest flight attendant is the opportunity to connect with passengers.

Since most passengers have significant reasons for their flights, whether it’s for vacation or visiting loved ones, it’s fulfilling to engage with them, discover the joyful occasions in their lives, and make their travel experiences as smooth as possible.

➡️ What’s the most challenging aspect of being a Southwest flight attendant?

The most challenging aspect of being a Southwest flight attendant is dealing with factors like delays, medical emergencies, adverse weather conditions, and aircraft maintenance issues.

Pretty much all the same challenges the passenger face, which shows that we’re really all in it together.

➡️ Do Southwest flight attendants always fly with the same crew and to the same destinations?

Southwest flight attendants do not always fly with the same crew to the same destinations.

Schedules vary, and crew compositions change frequently.

But sometimes we do!

We switch it up quite a bit. Sometimes you’re with the same crew, and sometimes we split up.

There’s a very complicated computer system involved that decides all this. I just go with the flow. 😎

➡️ How do flight attendants balance their work schedules with personal time and responsibilities?

Everyone is different, so I can only speak for myself.

In a career where there isn’t really any schedule routine, I try to keep my own personal routine.

For example, no matter what, I always have Wednesday and Sunday off every week – this helps me keep some scheduling consistency in my personal life.

Also no matter where I am, I always have the same wake-up routine, like bringing my breakfast tea with me on my layovers and incorporating a short stretching/yoga routine every morning.

It’s the little things that help keep an organized mind and good work-life balance through the constant travel and inconsistent hours.

Of course, now that I’ve explained all that, lots of things are subject to change, and probably soon with our contract currently in negotiation.

For example, ready reserve – that 72 hour, 3am on call I mentioned – may not even be around anymore in a year (oh noooo, don’t gooooo. 😅)

Overall, a day in the life of a Southwest flight attendant might be different than a typical 9-5 career or even from working for other airlines, but it is very possible to find balance between work and personal life.

The rewarding part comes in when I know I helped make someone’s day that much easier, and I will say that the downtime in pretty layover cities doesn’t hurt either! 🌴

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