Working as a Flight Attendant: Southwest vs. Delta Airlines

Flight Attendant Southwest vs Delta Airlines

When I was deciding whether or not I wanted to seek out a career as a flight attendant, a role I now fulfill at Southwest Airlines, I was offered some advice from someone who spent the entirety of their long career working the friendly skies.

She said, being a flight attendant is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

I quickly found out her advice was spot on! But with all the options for different airlines out there, what kind of career lifestyle did I want? It’s a typical question for every aspiring crew member to ask themselves.

As the vast majority of crew members are with an airline all the way into their retirement, choosing one is a BIG decision, not to be taken lightly.

Hopefully, this article can serve as a pros and cons list for any aspiring flight attendants out there who might be deciding between these two major airlines: Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines. ✈️

💡 Key Takeaways:

  • Southwest has 12 U.S. bases, Delta has 14 including some international. Getting your preferred base isn’t guaranteed for new hires.
  • Delta’s pay starts at $30.96/hr and tops out at $69.59/hr after 12 years. Southwest starts around $25/hr and tops at $63.30/hr after 14 years.
  • Both airlines have reserve systems – Southwest is one month on, one month off. Delta has some reserve days plus scheduled trips.
  • Benefits are robust at both – free travel, health insurance, 401k, profit sharing.
  • Delta is non-union. Southwest is unionized which requires dues but provides protections.
  • Delta flies international long hauls. Southwest is domestic U.S. only.

Base Options

Bases are company designated cities where crew members start and end our trips. 

Just like “normal people” might have to drive an hour or so to get to work, airline workers sometimes have to fly to work in the same respect if they live in a city that is not a company base.

New hire flight attendants can bid for base preferences but it’s not guaranteed (or even very likely) they will receive their desired base until space opens up and they can transfer (it sometimes can be months or.. dare I say, years. 🙀)

Here are a list of each company’s bases, along with corresponding codes for some airport code memorization practice 😋:

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)

Delta Airlines Bases

  • Atlanta (ATL)
  • Boston (BOS)
  • Cincinnati (CVG)
  • Detroit (DTW)
  • Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • Honolulu (HNL)
  • New York (LGA, EWR, JFK)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Orlando (MCO)
  • Minneapolis (MSP)
  • Portland (PDX)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC)

All flight attendants would agree, living in base is so key! 🔑

BUT if you can’t, both Delta and Southwest have handy dandy commuter policies which allows for no punishment in situations where commuters can’t make their commuting flight because of reasons such as flight cancellations or lack of seat availability (remember, our free domestic flights are standby only!)

These commuter policies really take the edge off, because who wants to stress before they even make it to work? 😪


Money makes the world go round and also makes flight attendants much more pleasant at work.

We love our yearly raises! At Southwest, the starting pay is around $25/hour for probationary flight attendants. After a year, it jumps to $27.91. This increases every year (to account for inflation) until the flight attendant is topped out at $63.30 around 14 years of service.

Remember those contract negotiations I mentioned? Well, this is subject to change because Southwest is currently negotiating (once again, soooo slowly) a new contract with the union. These numbers are expected to jump somewhere around 20-25% within the next year.

Delta’s pay starts out at $30.96 and their topped out pay, at 12 years of service, is $69.59. While Delta’s pay is currently higher overall, Southwest is right on their tail with an impending raise once contract negotiations ends, hopefully🤞🏼within the next 6 months.

Both airlines offer other forms of pay as well, such as extra pay for flight attendants who can work routes that require a foreign language speaker, per diem pay (getting paid to snooze in your hotel or basically any other time on a trip but not on the plane with the boarding door closed), and holiday pay.

Read more about Southwest flight attendant salary and Delta 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.


Ahhhh, the dreaded “reserve” (dun dun DUN! ☠️). For our non-crew members, being on reserve just means being on call.

All flight attendants will have to work reserve at some point in their career, usually a large chunk of it, and some longer than others.

At Delta, the flight attendants have days during the month that are called “ADAYS” (yet another term for being on call), but also have some trips scheduled in advance.

At Southwest, we have rotating reserve – one month on and one month off.

With both airlines, after enough seniority is built and “Senior Mama/Daddy” status is achieved, then it’s adios reserve forever!

Read the following article to find out more about the complex Southwest flight attendant schedule.


Everytime I talk about travel benefits, I get really excited, like REALLY excited (I can almost smell the Caribbean ocean breeze now. 🏝️ )

Being able to travel internationally for extremely discounted fares is my absolute favorite part of being a flight attendant. (Reading books on the plane and taking naps with my eyes open are a close second and third. 😜)

Both airlines offer unlimited free domestic flying, extremely discounted international fares, as well as buddy passes.

As far as other benefits, both airlines offer an extremely competitive benefits package, including multiple health plan options, dental/vision, disability, life insurance, 401k, and profit sharing. I promise no matter the airline, the benefits package is going to be a win. 🏅

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


There are a few airlines that are not unionized, and Delta happens to be one of them. 

There are a few benefits to not having a union. One example being not having to pay monthly dues. Another example would be that raises come faster because Union negotiations with the company can take a (I can’t stress this enough) looooooooooong time.

It sometimes takes years before negotiations are complete and even then, the union members (us) have to vote to agree on a proposed work contract.

Everytime the tentative contract is voted on and not approved, negotiations resume, and the process is even further extended.

However, the main benefit to unions is that they are there to protect the members from unfair or unethical business practices. In order for Delta (or any airline) to remain without a union, they have to aim to treat and pay their employees up to and beyond industry standards.


One major difference (and the deciding factor for me for choosing an airline) is that Delta flies a lot more international destinations than Southwest does.

Southwest does not fly overseas. There are a few points to consider when deciding whether flying overseas is something an aspiring flight attendant wants to do.

For example jet lag. While a few hours can feel like a minor distraction in our beauty sleep schedule, we don’t experience true jet lag at Southwest.

Another factor is the length of time spent on a single flight. Our flights are between 30 minutes and 4 hours, and rarely are longer than that.

Some people do like the long flights and prefer not to take off and land so many times in one day – it’s really a preference thing. You feel busier with lots of legl, so the day might “fly” by (sorry, I couldn’t resist 😅), but on long hauls, there’s a lot more chill down time.

The last factor to consider is the airplane itself. Smaller routes = smaller jets. Delta has jumbo jets for these international destinations. They have a lot more types of aircraft to learn about, which is all covered in their initial new hire training. It’s more to learn overall and a higher volume of people and crew to consider, but these international flights can add more of a sense of adventure that flying domestically all the time might slightly lack. Once again, totally a preference thing!

Company Culture

Since Southwest has been in business, they have been known as the LUV airline! One of the company values is that Golden Rule all of us learned in pre-school, “Treat Others the Way You Want to be Treated” along with a few other core values such as Warrior Spirit and Fun-LUVing attitude.

Delta also has a whole barrel of cute buzzwords, such as honesty, integrity, inclusion, etc. and promising commitment to the “communities where we live, work, and serve.”

Of course, all airlines are going to promise to treat their employees, passengers, and shareholders well, but the best source of information is always going to be from employees who work within the company.

Check out online forums, Facebook groups, and even word of mouth – everyone knows someone who knows someone that knows a flight attendant – for a little extra tea 🫖 about specific companies.

Which Is Best To Work For: Southwest or Delta Airlines?

It just depends on the individual and their priorities.

What actually makes an airline the best airline to work for? Is it money, benefits, work/life balance, union support, ability to live in base, cooler layovers, international flying, or which uniforms look snazzier? (Hey, no judgement, we have to wear them 6-12 hours a day!)

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. I took the time to do some research and ask around (also check out company websites, blogs, and forums) to figure out what served me the best, and Southwest’s culture of ‘LUV’ plus great work/life balance was it for me. So jot down that pros and cons list, get to applying, and maybe one day I’ll catch ya out on the line! ❤️💙💛

Similar Posts :

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top