Southwest vs. American: Comparing Airlines for Flight Attendants

Flight Attendant: Southwest vs. American Airlines

Traveling for a living might sound like a dream career, and making the decision to become a flight attendant may feel like an easy one! However, with how many airlines there are out there, choosing which company to apply to is a little trickier.

Spoiler Alert 🚨: There is no one correct answer when choosing. An aspiring flight attendant should ask themselves what aspects of an airline career they are prioritizing so they can figure out which one fits them the best.

In this article, I’ll go over the major differences between two popular and highly sought-after airlines by aspiring flight attendants: American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Note: I have been a flight attendant at Southwest for 6 years and have many friends working for American Airlines, so I’m in a good position to compare them.

💡 Key Takeways

  • Southwest has more U.S. base options (12) compared to American (9).
  • American has higher starting pay at $30.35/hr vs Southwest’s $25.14/hr.
  • Both airlines use a rotating reserve system – one month on call, one month off.
  • American has international destinations, Southwest is primarily domestic U.S.
  • American flight attendants get free domestic travel and discounted international. Southwest gets free domestic travel for themselves and companions.

Which Airline is Better for a Flight Attendant: American or Southwest?

Base Options

Disclaimer before we dive in: NEITHER airlines can guarantee that a new hire flight attendant will be based where they want when they start out! This is subject to seniority and availability within the base. *Ahem* With that being said…

Being able to work within a base is a great incentive when choosing an airline! As fortunate as we are to have the option to commute to work, no one, and I mean no one, thinks that commuting is fun or preferable to living in-base.

Flying is already exhausting enough without having to add 2 more unpaid legs of flying (flying to and from a base) and sometimes an extra unpaid layover (at their own expense) since a flight attendant has to consider that sometimes a trip will end too late or start too early to commute to/from their city.

Here is a list of bases for each airline, in no particular order (and also a good refresher on those airport codes we have to memorize. 🙃)

American Airlines Bases:

  • Charlotte (CLT)
  • New York (JFK, LGA, EWR)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Washington DC (DCA, BWI, IAD)
  • Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
  • Miami (MIA)
  • Philadelphia (PHL)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Phoenix (PHX)

Southwest Airlines Bases:

  • Chicago (MDW)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • Nashville (BNA)
  • Denver (DEN)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Oakland (OAK)
  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL)
  • Houston Hobby (HOU)
  • Phoenix (PHX)

Another factor to consider is – if one decides to commute – the commuter policy that the company offers.

We are pretty fortunate at Southwest that we have a commuter policy. What does that mean? Well, in the event that a flight attendant can’t make their commuting flight from their home to their base (for example, if there is no seat availability) there are no repercussions!

As long as we are commuting within a certain timeframe and following the commuter policy guidelines, we can commute from anywhere, and no one can get in trouble for not making their commuting flight. It REALLY takes the edge off commuting.

American Airlines also has very similar commuter protections. The only big difference is that flight attendants must be registered as commuters in the system and listed from an airport that is served by American Airlines or one of their wholly owned companies.


Money is great, especially when it increases every year!

At Southwest, the first year pay is $25.14 per flight hour. 

At American, the starting pay is $30.35 per flight hour.

Both airlines increase in pay every year until the flight attendant is “topped out”.

Top out pay for Southwest is currently $63.30 and for American, $68.25. These rates are subject to change (and they will) as both companies go through Union negotiations and overall raises to the pay scale are given.

Picking an airline based on pay might seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of other factors that went into choice for me.

➡️ Read more about Southwest flight attendant salary and American Airlines flight attendant salary to find out about the details of how the salaries are made. There’s much more to it than just an hourly pay.


Ah, yes. Quality of life.

Because what’s the point of working our tails off if we can’t reap the fruits of our hard work? 🍉 🍎 🍌

So, what does “quality of life” entail for both airlines? It really comes down to personal lifestyle preferences.

As far as reserve (being on call), both airlines have about the same system. Both have rotating reserve – one month on call, one month with a “regular” schedule,  rinse, repeat.

If this sounds confusing, the best way to explain this is, one month I have absolutely no idea where I’m going all month (sometimes I’ll pack my winter coat and also a swimsuit ☃️👙) , and the next month I do!

➡️ Find out more about American Airlines reserve system and Southwest flight attendant schedule. Like I said, it’s not easy to understand so all the details are explained in each individual article.

“That sounds like a lot of traveling. Am I going to be able to have a life outside of work?!”

You can! Or, maybe don’t. 🤷🏽‍♀️ Your choice!

Work/life balance as a flight attendant is what we make of it for both airlines. A flight attendant can decide if they want to work their assigned schedule (about 60-90 hours for American Airlines schedules and 76-100 for Southwest Airlines schedules) or a flight attendant can choose to max out and work as many hours as possible by picking up extra trips from other flight attendants.


There is one glaringly obvious difference between the two companies.

While Southwest does have a few international destinations, American has international overseas destinations and Southwest does not. 🌎

Therefore, we can safely say than American Airlines is best for fun and exotic layovers on the other side of the globe. Don’t forget, the company is paying for the hotel!

This directly affects the next factors.

Jet Lag

Or lack thereof. At Southwest, we only fly over a span of three time zones, so for me, my beauty rest doesn’t really suffer, except when I’m forced to wake up one hour earlier in the morning on the east coast. 👸🏽

It’s a little harder for someone who isn’t based in the Midwest, but it’s not too drastic in either direction. Note that this statement doesn’t include our Hawaii layovers, which are only offered to specific bases.

American Airlines flies internationally as well as domestically, which means that the flight attendants will have the opportunity to work both short and long hauls. On the flip side of dealing with jet lag, the opportunity for more adventurous layovers is much higher.

Travel Benefits

I get excited just talking about these, so let me start off by saying that just having travel benefits is an absolutely amazing perk to bring a flight attendant for any airline, so trying to pick which company has the best ones is really splitting hairs.

Let’s compare the two!

Both sets of travel benefits are standby (seat available) only. ✈️

As a Southwest flight attendant, I can fly for free on any domestic airline. If I want to fly internationally, I have to pay taxes both ways (called a ZED fare or Zonal Employee Discount.). At Southwest, a spouse/committed partner, parents and eligible children would have the exact same benefits as the flight attendant. If I don’t have a spouse/committed partner, I can choose anyone once per year to be my (Southwest only) travel companion, and they can fly unlimited on domestic Southwest flights for free.

At American Airlines travel benefits are a bit different. The flight attendants, themselves, fly for free on all domestic flights, and one way on American Airlines international flights while paying ZED fares for their return flights. Employees  receive four different types of passes per year, and the passes can be used by their designated travel companions, eligible dependents, parents, and friends, depending on which pass is used and how many of each are available to them per year.

➡️ There are other benefits that I’m not mentioning here, you can read about them here: Southwest flight attendant benefits and American flight attendant benefits.

Company Culture

Company values definitely play a factor in deciding between airlines.

💬 American Airlines values: Caring, collaboration, development, results, and future.

💬 Southwest Airlines values: Pride, integrity, humility, “we” (how we treat each other), honesty, service with LUV, efficiency, discipline, and excellence. 

Holy buzzwords, Batman!

That probably made it a little more rather than less confusing to choose between the two based on company values. Basically, they’re both going to promise to treat their employees well, but the best source of information is going to come from current employees of the company.

There are plenty of forums and sources of info out there such as Facebook flight attendant  groups, Reddit, and even word of mouth (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “my second cousin’s brother’s dog’s neighbor is a flight attendant for so and so!”)

There are even books an aspiring flight attendant can read that further delve into each company’s history and how their culture was developed. For Southwest, I would recommend Lead with LUV or Nuts, and for American Airlines, you can try Eagle: The Story of American Airlines (It also never hurts to name drop a book one has read about the company during a flight attendant interview. *wink wink* 😜)


Both companies are unionized. Both unions require a monthly fee. So, what exactly does that fee cover?

For those who have never worked for a union, unions are there to protect the employees from wrong, unfair, or illegal actions potentially taken by the company.

They also negotiate pay and a work contract on the members’ behalf and are a resource for useful and necessary information when needed.

Conclusion: Southwest vs. American: The Final Verdict

There’s no one way to measure which airline is best. An aspiring flight attendant can only decide which airline is best for THEM. Some factors to weigh might include work-life balance, company culture, and alignment with personal values.

Personally, I chose Southwest because as much as I like money, I value a flexible work/life balance over everything. Overall, I felt that my individual personality fit best with the Southwest culture, and also that the company values were strongly reflected in my personal values. What can I say, I really ‘LUV’ love! ❤️💛💙

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