The aviation industry is successfully dusting itself off after the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic, and one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there has never been a better time to be a flight attendant.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates flight attendant employment will grow by over 20% from 2021 to 2031, which it classes as “much faster than average” when compared to other occupations. Part of this growth will undoubtably be a result of the industry’s bounce back from the pandemic – although even before Covid there was a steady annual increase in the number of attendants to around 250,000 in 2020. This is very good news for anyone thinking about a job as a flight attendant. This highly sought-after career, while still being undeniably competitive, will be open to more hopeful attendants than ever before: according to the Bureau, there will be on average 18,100 openings annually for the next eight years.
Delta flight attendants. Photo: Delta
It is a career that has a huge amount to offer, both in terms of salary and additional perks. Flight attendants starting out at American Airlines can expect to be making $27 an hour, while at United Airlines the starting salary is $28. Additionally, there’s a lot of flexibility to the work, meaning it’s very easy to pick up extra shifts in order to increase monthly salary. In 2021, the median salary of an attendant was $61,640 per annum.
This shift flexibility is a huge bonus to many attendants. Danny Elkins, a flight attendant at Delta for more than 35 years, told Business Insider he has the option to fly as few as 45 hours per month, or alternatively can work for as many hours as he wants. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires attendants to achieve a required rest period on a monthly basis, but other than that there is a huge amount of potential variability in the schedule. For Elkins, that flexibility is “part of why [he] love[s] this career.”
Unlike many jobs, including others in the aviation industry, airlines don’t require flight attendants to have a college degree. Many do, and the sector is comprised of individuals from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. However, a degree is not a barrier to success for attendants. Training is obviously required though: United Airlines, for example, demands seven weeks of training before a flight attendant can get their wings. These programs – much of which is focused on health and safety - equip attendants with first aid skills useful in (and out of) an aircraft, such as CPR, defibrillator usage, and the Heimlich maneuver.
A huge number of perks accompany a career in the sky. The most notable – and enviable – are the flying benefits. Flight attendants are almost always guaranteed heavily reduced flights: usually the cost of the ticket is free leaving the employee paying only flight taxes and fees, which comes to about 10% of normal ticket prices. Elkins said his job at Delta enables him to take friends and family with him on vacations “at little or no charge to places that would not be available” had he not been a flight attendant. Southwest Airlines employees have free, unlimited travel privileges as well. They are also able to offer their eligible dependents (spouses or partners, dependent children, and parents) similar travel discounts.
Photo: Getty Images
For many attendants, having the opportunity to fly around the globe is the biggest perk of all. This is particularly the case for attendants working long-haul and international flights, where (often fully expensed) layovers are necessary. Global airlines, like Delta and United, are attuned to the potentially damaging effects flying between time zones can have on their flight attendants. Long layovers at some destinations are therefore required to mitigate any potential toll this may have on attendants and pilots. Layover length varies depending on destination, airline, and scheduling, but can be anything from ten to 72 hours.
Rita, a Los Angeles-based flight attendant, told Cosmopolitan, “Recently, I had a long layover in Oklahoma City, and I had such a great time there. I wandered around by myself and strolled around the riverwalk. I would’ve never visited Oklahoma City otherwise, but I’m so glad my job took me there.” Similarly, Delta flight attendant Elkins said the best of part of his job is “being able to have dinner in San Francisco one week and go to the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in winter, the next – all while getting paid.”
As the aviation industry rebuilds its strength after the blow of the pandemic, and the world is opening its doors to travelers once again, the careers of flight attendants look more exciting, and promising, than ever.