What's it like to be a flight attendant in present-day?
October 31, 2011 10:51 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to be a flight attendant? (Present day.)

Watching Pan Am (new show about flying in the '60s) has me curious about what it's like to be a flight attendent today. I know there are a lot of sites out there detailing this, but I always appreciate the Hive Mind perspective. Are you a flight attendant? Do you know a flight attendant? Here's what I'm curious about:

a) What's the training like?

b) Did you have any flying fear before or even during your tenure as a flight attendant?

c) What's an average week like?

d) If you're female, what kind of sexism or stereotypes do you find yourself facing? (Same question could be applied to males, actually.)

posted by Laura Macbeth to Work & Money (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Someone I know is a flight attendant. An Orthodox Jew once asked her if she was on the rag --- they are not supposed to take food served by women on their period. (She told him to go take a hike.)
posted by goethean at 11:00 AM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

I knew a male flight attendant who flew on international flights. He worked weeekends, so he would fly out (Japan, Sweden, you know), stay overnight (or day -basically time to sleep) in a hotel, usually have a few hours to tour, and then be back on a return flight to the U.S.
He also collected coke cans and bottles from every country he went to.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:04 AM on October 31, 2011

A flight attendant once explained to me that it's a bit like working on a submarine, where you work for a certain amount of time (I don't remember if it was weeks or months) on, and then an equal amount of time off. I don't know if that holds universally, but he said that was one of the big perks for him.
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on October 31, 2011

I hear you only get paid from "wheels up" to "wheels down." So all that time you spend in airports and on overnight layovers you don't get paid for.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:11 AM on October 31, 2011

Yeah my B-I-L is a flight attendant who flies transatlantic only. Its pretty unglamorous unless your idea of glamour is the airport hotel.

His training was actually more extensive than I would have thought. A few weeks at a training facility living in. As was the pre-flight medical examination.

As others have said its very big bursts of activity followed by days off. He's doing a charter flight this week that runs through the 14th, and then he'll be off the rest of the month. During those two weeks he'll also have a few days off.

Stereotypes - for dudes, pretty clearly the stereotype is that you are gay. No idea how true that is.
posted by JPD at 11:11 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Canada at least it sounds like a shitty job. Flight attendants aren't paid unless they're in the air, so if a flight is cancelled, they don't get paid, regardless of whether or not they made it out to the airport for their shift. The typical annual entry-level salary for a flight attendant is something like $25,000 a year, which sounds pretty ridiculous. I have no idea why some people pursue this occupation as a career. It's a young person's job, nothing more.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:19 AM on October 31, 2011

2nding that it can be really shitty.

Long and weird hours on your feet. Uncomfortable clothes.
posted by k8t at 11:25 AM on October 31, 2011

I have a couple of relatives who are flight attendants, and the job has definitely gotten harder over time - not just because they're getting older and it's pretty physical, but also because of lean times. They made it clear that the long haul flights (international, especially), are the better gigs with better pay and better time off because you get more time in the air. They've appreciated the benefit of being able to fly cheaply, but are very much looking forward to retirement.

They also had some great "people are craaaaaazy" stories of the sort you get in customer service, only trapped in the sky.
posted by ldthomps at 11:27 AM on October 31, 2011

your starting salary may not be high, but it will get high in time especially since your raises are mandated and not based on merit. Also even the starting salary can be more than a job with similar duties on the ground. You also have great benefits.

And while you may have to put up with some crazy jerks - you do have the benefit knowing that their actions may become a federal crime unlike a customer service employee on the ground. How many waiters, retail clerks, etc would giggle to see the customer who treated them like trash being hauled off in cuffs for being an ass :)
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

this industry forum probably has more, illustrative anecdata:
posted by runincircles at 11:37 AM on October 31, 2011

I'd add simply that a lot depends on the airlines and whether its private or nationally run. Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and such like are able to do things and run things entirely differently than say Ryan Air or some such.
posted by infini at 12:47 PM on October 31, 2011

My old roommate was a flight attendant a few years back for one of the medium-sized US-based airlines. She absolutely hated it and only lasted a year. She had to go to the airport frequently to sit in a room for several hours and wait to see if she was needed, and I don't believe she got paid for these "on call" shifts. I'm not sure how much sexual harassment was going on but I know she frequently got grief from pilots for various things, and it seemed like it was a very hierarchical business to be in. And customers treated her like a waitress. It sounded horrible to me.
posted by jabes at 1:05 PM on October 31, 2011

I have a (female) friend who is a flight attendant for Delta. I can't comment on the training. I did, however, ask her about all the sleazy pilot stereotypes, and she confirmed that yes, people cheat on their spouses a lot, the male flight attendants and pilots are outnumbered and sleep around (as do the female flight attendants, obviously, I am not blaming the sleaziness on the guys only), and there is a lot of sex and parties and drinking on overnight layovers.

They find out their schedule for the month a few weeks in advance, and can usually switch it around if there are major conflicts. She is in school and is able to schedule work around classes. Flying a lot is hard, when she worked more full-time, she would get nose-bleeds and would constantly have swollen ankles and feet, so she cut back her hours a lot. She does get free stand-by flights to anywhere that Delta flies, and the same for other airlines, she was just lower down on the priority list for other airlines. She gets ~10? buddy passes per year, so any friend or family can use them to get free stand-by flights also. She got to travel a LOT everywhere, and cheaply, because of the free flights, which is awesome. But the job is stressful, people treat flight attendants as lower-class servants, and it takes a lot of patience and inner-peace to not flip out on some customers. She says it's definitely something she is doing just for now, while she is young and in school and deciding where to live permanently.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 1:55 PM on October 31, 2011

Dude, I joined AskMe JUST to answer your question. Seriously, I've been a religious reader for over a year and finally had to break out my $5. ANYWAY my boyfriend of nearly 5 years is a flight attendant, so I can tell you pretty much all there is to know! He works for a regional carrier, so he doesn't fly internationally (well, except Canada and Mexico, sometimes) and the scheduling and perks would be different from the mother airline (not a technical term). He generally is out of town 3 nights a week and then home for the same amount, but there are longer and shorter trips. He has been with the company 6 years so he has a bit of seniority which means a bit more control over his schedule. He gets 6 buddy passes per year to give to friends, but don't be fooled--they're not free. We're not entirely sure what the amount is based on, but for me to fly between Atlanta and Portland, OR is about $300 round trip. I am his domestic partner (we are a straight couple if it matters--he does get some shit about being a dude stewardess, but he loves his job and is not bothered by such things) so I don't count against his passes, but I still don't fly free. His parents DO fly free, though.

So for the nights he's gone, he stays in a hotel that is paid for by the airline. It's generally a decent hotel. In Cedar Rapids, IA he gets a Renaissance Inn but he sees his fair share of Holiday Inns and Hamptons and whatnot, too. His company is union, so if there are a bunch of complaints about a hotel, the company will have to switch to a better one. They are only paid their hourly wage while the door of the airplane is closed, but they do get a per diem to cover meals on the road. He gets automatic raises based on his length of employment.

For the most part he really likes his job, but I have met multiple coworkers of his who HATE it. But they seem like the type of people who'd hate whatever job they had, you know? There does seem to be a lot of uh, promiscuity, but again I think that depends on the person more than the job. I was super paranoid about dating a flight attendant when we met, but he is a very trustworthy dude and I don't worry when he's gone.

ALL THAT to notice I have barely answered your questions. Sorry.

We weren't dating when he was in training, but it is pretty intense. He does have to have recurrent training every year, in which they practice their commands ("Heads down! Stay down! You at the window exit, jump out feet first!", etc.). Just reading his manual can make me kinda nervous.

He is not and never has been scared of flying. He LOVES when it's turbulent because it's exciting. Meanwhile I'm white-knuckling it.

I kinda covered the average week thing, I suppose.

There isn't too much sexism for dudes, from what I've seen. The pilots don't make fun of him for being a male stewardess, or anything.

If you have any other questions, let me know. Sorry to go all hog-wild on my first answer, but I couldn't help it!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Er sorry for not being clear--friends give him shit about being a flight attendant, but other people in the company do not.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:36 PM on October 31, 2011

And customers treated her like a waitress

I do wonder then, if Flight Attendant staff would stereotype different countries, based on their behaviour with respect to the flight staff. Or is it more general, that you will get jerks from any country.
posted by lundman at 6:04 PM on October 31, 2011


My stepmom worked as a flight attendant for the longest time.

She was in a pretty good position at the end of her career. Good money. High seniority. But she told me on more than one occasion that the working conditions and wages for people who had recently entered the industry were appalling and that she would not recommend it as a career for anyone.

Make of that what you will.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:20 PM on October 31, 2011

This recent blog post by an academic (and former flight attendant!) who's working on a book about the history of flight attendant unionization is a pretty interesting historical perspective on the Pan Am period and what came next.
posted by kickingthecrap at 7:17 PM on October 31, 2011

Thank you for these answers! Just what I was looking for.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 8:48 PM on October 31, 2011

Oh, and welcome to Metafilter, masques!
posted by Laura Macbeth at 8:48 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

This only gets at a tiny part of your question (the sexism part), but you might find it interesting: the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote The Managed Heart in 1983. It's a classic sociological text and introduced the concept of "emotional labor"--basically the idea that people in some service occupations are asked to provide emotional connection (or the simulation of it) to customers as part of their jobs. She uses flight attendants as one of her main examples, and talks a lot about the sexism of the profession. The book is pretty outdated now, but an updated edition was published in 2003 with a new preface. You can read the flight-attendant focused chapter here.
posted by aka burlap at 9:25 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Glad to be here, thank you! :)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2011

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