What is a Flight Attendant?

Flight attendants are cabin crew members who make sure your flight is both safe and comfortable.

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Everyone who has ever flown has come in contact with flight attendants, the hard-working people who make sure your flight is both safe and comfortable. They’re the ones to call if you need help playing luggage Tetris in the overhead bin, you need to find a way for your family to sit together, or you need a drink to deal with the kid kicking the back of your seat.

Beyond that, most of us don’t really think about how flight attendants got there or what they can and can’t do for passengers. Here’s everything you need to know about flight attendants.

How do you become a flight attendant?

While it may seem glamorous to get paid to jet around the world, there’s a pretty rigorous process to becoming an FA.

Airlines require applicants to have at least a high school diploma or GED, but people with a degree in hospitality, communication, tourism, or public relations have a leg up in the process. Depending on the airline, applicants might need to be multilingual. There are also physical requirements, such as being able to reach the overhead bins and have 20/40 eyesight (with contacts or glasses). Other requirements include things like passing a background check and being able to stand for long periods of time.

Once hired by an airline, new FAs go through a 3-6 week training program that includes everything from flight regulations and job duties to emergency procedures and practice flights. After completing training, flight attendants must get a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Then they can start working on flights.

Do flight attendants make good money?

Pay for flight attendants ranges from $23,000 to $80,000 (depending on experience and airline) for 75-100 hours/month in the air and another 50 hours preparing for flights. In 2024, the average pay was $66,000-85,000. They are usually paid for meals and accommodations on layovers and when they are traveling away from their home city.

While they fly with their airline for free, they fly standby, so they aren’t guaranteed to get on a flight.

How many flight attendants are required on a flight?

In the United States, regulations require two FAs on airplanes with “a seating capacity of more than 50 but less than 101 passengers” and two FAs plus one additional FA for every 50 seats on airplanes with a total capacity of more than 100 passengers.

Flight attendants are they are highly trained to deal with emergencies and passengers are legally required to do what they ask you to do.

Are flight attendants able to upgrade passengers?

Technically yes, they can, but upgrades are more and more difficult to come by these days. Among the flight attendant team, the head flight attendant is called the “purser” and that’s the one who can authorize upgrades.

Your best way to get an upgrade is to be famous (internet or otherwise) or have a ton of airline miles with that particular airline. If all else fails, just be nice. It probably won’t work, but it can’t hurt to try. (And if people do need to be shuffled around, the flight attendant will certainly remember the passenger who went out of their way to be nice.)

Even if you don’t get the upgrade, definitely mention if it’s a special occasion; you might get a few free drinks or extra snacks.

On the flip side, flight attendants definitely remember passengers who are annoying, so doing things like incessantly ringing the call bell for drinks instead of walking back to the galley is a surefire way to guarantee you won’t be getting any extras.

What can’t a flight attendant do?

For starters, they can’t give you any medication of any kind, so make sure you grab an Advil or Dramamine before you get on the plane. Once on board, they can help move your bag around once it’s in the bin and sometimes they may assist you in getting your bag up, but they aren’t supposed to lift your bag for you; you may be better off asking your fellow passengers if you need help.

No matter how obnoxious or smelly the person next to you might be, there’s little to no chance that the FA can “force” someone to move from their ticketed seat. They will do their best to deescalate the situation and talk to them, but many times planes are full and there’s just no where for that person to go anyway.  

They also can’t kick out a service animal. If you’re allergic, you’ll have to get on another flight.

FAs can’t call ahead to have your connecting flight held and they can’t leave the plane until the very last passenger leaves, so if you need help finding your gate, you’ll have to ask someone in the terminal.

Can a flight attendant accept gifts?

FAs are the angels of the airline business—they deal with all kinds of people every day, and usually with a smile on their face. It’s natural to want to show a little appreciation, but there are rules. They can’t take cash or drink with you on the plane, but they can accept small gifts.

Things like chocolates—individually wrapped candies are always a better choice than something homemade or bagged in bulk—or a Starbucks gift card are always appreciated. (Don’t forget to add a note with your seat number so they don’t forget who the generous passenger was!)

Last but not least, if you’re a nervous flyer, a friendly FA is your number one ally. Let one of them know and they may offer some reassurance throughout the flight. Tip: If you do experience turbulence, keep an eye on the FAs. If they aren’t nervous, you shouldn’t be, either.

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Last updated Jan 11, 2024