The Wild Ups and Downs in the Lives of Flight Attendants
Flight attendants have seemed glamorous for decades, starting with the romance of the Pan Am stewardesses back when commercial flight first became doable. Since then, countless people who love to travel have dreamed of working in the airline industry.
And it’s easy, right? Just push around a cart and buckle seat belts. Wrong. Being a flight attendant is one of the most difficult jobs out there, from the entry requirements to the day-to-day work, and it comes with some wild drawbacks — and advantages — you’d never imagine.
It’s Challenging Just to Get the Job
The position of flight attendant is a coveted role, which means that there are plenty of applicants but not enough positions to go around. Because of that, airlines use strict rules and requirements as a way to narrow down the list.
There's a Bootcamp With Daily Tests and Self-Defense Lessons
If you actually manage to land the job, you now have to undergo six to eight weeks of (usually) unpaid intensive training for every single worst-case scenario that might arise in the skies. You’re put through crash simulations in planes that shake and fill with smoke.
Housing Can Be a Challenge
There are several reasons why housing can be a real challenge as a flight attendant. The first is that the salaries aren’t great, so having money for rent isn’t as easy. More challenging still is that you aren't always based out of your own city.
You Get to See New Places Often
If that all seems terrible, remember that one of the biggest perks of being a flight attendant is all the places you get to see. You’re likely to be based out of the largest city on your route, so if urban life is for you, it could be a good time.
The Schedule Is Insane
The downside of all that travel is the insane schedule. Flights attendants are often on call, meaning they have to be ready to fly and near enough to the airport that they can get there and go in less than two hours.
Jetlag Still Happens
Jetlag is still a thing for flight attendants. While they’re certainly more experienced in coping with it, human biology can adapt so far to constantly shifting daylight hours and windows for sleep.
Relationships Can Be Hard to Maintain
With the crazy schedule, weird hours, constant coming and going, and of course, difficulty sleeping, it can be hard to maintain healthy relationships as a flight attendant. You may have to miss family events, which can breed resentment.
Pay Only Kicks in Once the Flight Doors Close
When you think about the number of hours that a flight attendant spends at work, you’d probably assume that they make a decent amount of money if only because of how long they work. The reality, however, is that they aren’t paid for all the time they work — instead, they’re paid only for flight hours.
The Pay Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
And speaking of pay, the paycheck as a new flight attendant isn’t as great as you’d think. In reality, they often only bring in about $17 per flight hour, which works out to only around $25,000 a year.
Taking a Vacation Is Cheaper as a Flight Attendant
Another upside for flight attendants is that when they do get to take a real vacation, they generally pay less. Airline workers get discounted or even free flight tickets as well as discounts from select hotels, resorts and even tourist attractions as a perk of being cabin crew.
The Threat Of Terrorism Is Very Real
One of the many issues flight attendants can potentially face is terrorism. While this is obviously a rare occurrence, it remains a possibility that they must remain aware of every day on the job.
You Get New Experiences Every Day
One of the best things about being a flight attendant — assuming you like trying new things — is that pretty much every day, you experience something new. Every flight is different from every other flight. You work with different cabin crew on many flights and meet new people a few times a day.
You’ll Get Hit on a Lot
Of course, one of the downsides of meeting new people all the time is that said new people sometimes think you’re looking for someone to flirt with. Many flight attendants have been propositioned by passengers, regardless of their or the passenger’s gender.
You Can Be Fired for Gaining Weight
Flight attendants are required by airlines to have a weight that is "proportionate to your height." They usually require your body-mass index (BMI) be between 19 to 24.9, with anything higher being unacceptable. That’s harsher than what most doctors recommend.
Some Airlines Won’t Allow Married Folks to Apply
Some airlines, such as Jet Airways and Qatar Airways, do not accept applications from married people unless the person in question is an experienced flight attendant. Some airlines have fired cabin crew who married or became pregnant within the first five years of employment.
Passengers Often Unload on You Like You're the Barkeep
When you become a flight attendant, you often find that passengers think you’re the barkeeper on the airplane. Flight attendants serve drinks on the plane, but they also get unloaded on by emotionally vulnerable people.
Layover Mini Vacations Aren’t a Daily Occurrence
While it’s true that flight attendants can use layovers as miniature vacations in exotic locations, they often don’t get to fully exploit those opportunities. Most of the time, layovers are between 10 and 18 hours, which sometimes only gives them enough time to grab some food and pass out on the hotel bed.
Every Flight Has the Potential for Intense Drama
Potential threat of terrorism aside, there’s also the possibility of more mundane yet potentiall far stranger drama in the air. Weird accidents happen, such as one man who set his hair on fire while smoking crack in a lavatory, and even the most law-abiding citizens may act out due to exhaustion or boredom.
You Don’t Get Bored With the Varied Schedule
If you happen to be someone who gets bored easily, then being a flight attendant could be just the thing for you. The schedule for work is extremely varied and usually comes in monthly increments. While the inability to plan can be too much of a hindrance for some, or others, it’s an opportunity to live a fast-paced and exciting life.
You Work With Some Really Interesting Co-Workers
Speaking of co-workers, your fellow flight attendants, pilots and other people in the airline industry are usually interesting people. They’ve often traveled the world, experienced new cultures and come from diverse backgrounds.
You Have Friends All Over the World
As you travel the world as a flight attendant, you’ll meet people at airports, hotels, bars, restaurants and more. You’ll literally have friends all over the routes you fly, and depending on the airline, that could mean much of the world.
You Get Treated Like a Servant
Despite needing to memorize the technical details of aircraft and emergency landing evacuation procedures, flight attendants are often treated little better than servants by the passengers they serve.
Not Every Route Is Glamorous
While every would-be flight attendant dreams of getting to fly to exotic locations, not all of them get to do it. While international flights are a big part of the airline industry’s business, many flights are domestic, and some aren’t even that far.
You Have Amazing Office Views
One of the biggest advantages of this line of work is that not only are you never stuck in an office cubicle, but you get views that no office window could hope to rival. When the cruising altitude of your job is between 31,000 and 38,000 feet, you get to see endlessly beautiful views.
The Work Day Is Long
While airline Instagram pictures from work may look glamorous, the long hours required of a flight attendant are anything but. In addition to unpaid travel time to the airport, pre-flight briefings, security checks, boarding and the ever-real possibility of delays, the flights themselves can sometimes last up to 16 hours. That’s a long shift for anyone.
The Irregular Schedule Can Mess With Your Health
As noted before, flight attendants often don’t get the sleep they need. However, that’s just the start of their health problems. Lack of sleep can cause their metabolic rates to decrease, which leads to weight gain even while they need to mind their BMI. Pre-made food and unhealthy snacks only exacerbate the problem.
Watch Out for the Bedding
If you’ve ever been on a long international flight, you’ve probably been tempted to take a nap to speed the trip along and hold off exhaustion. And since plane cabins are often on the colder side, you’ve probably been tempted to use one of the blankets provided on the plane. What’s the harm?According to many flight attendants, the blankets, pillows and other bedding provided on planes often aren’t washed between flights. Just because someone took the time to fold your blanket back up doesn’t mean it was cleaned, so it might be better just to bear the chill.
You Will Most Likely Age Prematurely
A downside to working as a flight attendant that no one seems to talk about is how the job can cause premature aging. The recycled air and lack of humidity often result in dry skin, which over time can lead to wrinkles.
Flight Attendants Have Unique Career Benefits
While flight attendants may not have the most competitive pay compared to other occupations, they’re not completely without financial benefits. Beyond the other benefits mentioned above, many airlines offer retirement plans, including paid life insurance and long-term disability insurance.
You Can Be Fired for Working While Sick
With how little flight attendants make, it’s probably sometimes tempting to keep working even when they’re feeling under the weather. However, doing so can lead to them being fired.