Being a Flight Attendant...... tell me about it!
August 3, 2016 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious to know what it's like being a Flight Attendant. It can be true that delays in airports and delays to flights means that you get lumbered with a flight full of grumpy passengers. What are the best bits and worst bits about being a Flight Attendant? Is it a job you would recommend?
posted by JenThePro to Work & Money (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One thing to be aware of is that until the flight is in the air, you are not getting paid. I remember spending 6 hours on the tarmac on a plane with mechanical problems, watching flight crews trundle drinks and ice water up and down the aisle of a baking plane filled with very angry passengers, only to go back to the gate when the flight was cancelled, and knowing none of them got paid for that time.

Also, be aware that the money is rubbish to start and caps out fairly low for recent hires, since the days of strong unions and good contracts are basically over.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 AM on August 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Reddit is full of "Ask me Anything" interviews with flight attendants. If you can filter through the rubbish there might be some good nuggets in there. Try starting here.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:32 AM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

DarlingBri, I don't think that's quite true. I think flight attendants (and pilots) are paid from the moment the parking brake on the plane is released (yes, planes have parking brakes!) to the moment it's reengaged on the other end. In fact, I think most airlines use digital records of these events as timekeepers.

That being said, you are not paid for boarding the plane, or cleaning up the plane, or getting to your next connection, or sleeping in the hotel in a remote city.
posted by scolbath at 10:42 AM on August 3, 2016

How is it possible that people don't get paid for cleaning up the plane? I thought that US labor laws required that (non-exempt) employees be paid for any time that they are required to be at work.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:08 AM on August 3, 2016

needs more cowbell -- this is a little confusing but it seems like the reason is that the overall compensation is still more than minimum wage for all hours worked. But, my understanding is that these policies are a little different with every airline, so my best advice for JenThePro would be to check this out really carefully during the application process.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2016

Correction: Flight attendants are paid a very small hourly fee from when they arrive at the airport to the end of their flight sequence: $1.50.
posted by scolbath at 11:28 AM on August 3, 2016

A friend was a flight attendant in her early 20s. She loved it at the time. Lots of free travel, she already enjoyed dressing up and looking nice, and she didn't have a lot of family ties or obligations, so it fit her personality and lifestyle at the time.
posted by jillithd at 12:22 PM on August 3, 2016

There are a number of books about this but I can recommend Cruising Altitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Drama etc etc by Heather Poole. It was very informative re what an actual working day involved.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:38 PM on August 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

scolbath, I consider the $1.50 an hour to be so irrelevant to the concept of being fairly paid that I didn't mention it.

It is literally all about the unions. On domestic flights, it is not uncommon for the people loading your baggage to be paid more than the people flying your plane. Not that load balancing of luggage isn't a critical job, but we have domestic pilots living in airport parking lots now. It is all a bit fucked.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think when a flight attendant starts getting paid would depend on the country. At the regional airline I worked for in Australia they were paid from when they clocked on to when they clocked off. There were allowances for missed meals, early/ late starts and overtime. It would be unheard of and very much illegal (I assume) to only pay them from when the flight leaves.

The company paid a little more than minimum wage. But in Australia that is $17.70 per hour. There was lots of staff turn over due to this.
posted by poxandplague at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2016

My husband is a flight attendant and has been for 11 years. He only gets paid his contract wage while the doors of the plane are closed. He also gets a per diem of under $2/hour from the time he clocks in til the time he clocks out.

Best bits: Different crews so if you hate someone you don't have to see them a lot. No boss on hand. Free booze, but that is not actually a legit perk, though it is a common one folks take advantage of. Multiple days off in a row.

Worst bits: Angry people. Not going home at night. Not going home when you're scheduled to, sometimes. Starting out takes forever--you start on reserve, basically on call, so you don't have regular promised hours and need to be available at short notice. Flight bennies seem like they'd be great but they're terrible and we never actually get on the flight we book, often leaving many hours or days later than planned. Performance and seniority don't count for much other than wage increases--even after 11 years, if he calls in sick too many times or is late too many times (more than 6x per year total, sick or late), he can be fired.

He loved it when he started out, but he's ready for a change. You definitely won't get rich doing it, and may not even reach middle class considering how wages are stagnating.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also read Cruising Altitude and found it a wonderfully written book. She did a good job including how the job affected her life as well as the day-to-day of what actually happens on a plane. Since she started working in the mid 1990s, though, the details of what initiate training and conditions are like now may be slightly different.
posted by amicamentis at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2016

I'm a flight attendant for a major US airline. There's tons I could say about the job, and please feel free to MeMail me about specific questions.
Major pros: flexibility of schedule, travel benefits, getting to work with lots of different people (and therefore, not having to work with bad coworkers day and day out), getting paid for layovers in awesome places, not working in an office
Cons: So much bureaucracy, dealing with frustrated, inconvenienced passengers and not being able to provide a solution, not getting paid during long delays or long sit times, your schedule being messed up by weather/maintenance/other craziness
Overall, I would recommend the job. I love it, and have no plans to leave anytime soon, but it's certainly not the glamorous gig it used to be. Heather Poole's book is an excellent reference. I read it when I was applying and interviewing, and I do think it's an accurate description of the job. Feel free to contact me with more questions!
posted by jaksemas at 9:43 PM on August 6, 2016

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