Galley Gossip: A question about becoming a flight attendant and job security

Hello Heather,

I love your site! I actually got signed on with an airline and waiting for my training date. My first concern is the job security and wondered what you think about the future in the airline industry as a flight attendant. I have waited for my son to grow up and now he has, my husband was laid off last year and still hasn’t found work.

I’m in retail and have a pretty decent job, but I just want to fly. I’m so burned out on retail. I finally have a chance and I wondered also how to handle all of the “unknowns”. Where will I be based and how do I even relocate? Do you stay with other flight attendants and room together? How much $$ can I get by with?

As far as the training, I’m really nervous about what’s involved, like memorizing the airport and city codes. I don’t want to miss this opportunity! I have to pass, because if I don’t, I’ll loose everything, my dream, my home, etc. My training’s supposed to be around the end of April. I had to pass up the training that was offered to me in January. This is my last chance. Any advice would be so much appreciated!



Dear Lorelei,

Whenever anyone shows interest in becoming a flight attendant I always tell them to do it. It’s a great job, especially if you have a tendency to get bored with the 9 to 5 thing, love to be on the move, and enjoy meet interesting people. However, if you’re not flexible, the job is not for you. The airline can reassign you at moments notice, flying you into a day off, and you’ll probably get stuck working holidays for quite a few years. And then of course there’s reserve, which is not easy on anyone, including the families of flight attendants. That said, I’m a firm believer in going for your dreams, experiencing new things, and not being afraid of failure. The fact that you got hired by an airline, especially in this economy, is an amazing feat. Thousands of people apply with the airlines each year and only a select few get chosen. That says a lot about you.

I must admit that when I first read your email I had to sit down and think about what I wanted to write, and I never have to think about what to write! I just write. I almost advised you not to do it, even though you are burned out in your retail job, because a job is a job and you’ve got one that pays the bills. I even called my mother who is also a flight attendant to get her thoughts on your situation. I’m sorry to report that she doesn’t think it’s a great idea, not with what’s happening to airlines and flight attendants these days. Keep in mind my mother is the kind of person who has a tendency to play it safe, the kind of person who almost didn’t go for her dream – to become a flight attendant later in life. Believe it or not, I’ve got more seniority than her.

No one can tell you what to do, Lorelei. Only you know what’s best for you and your family. What I can tell you is that if it were me, I’d go to flight attendant training, but my husband still has a job and I’m a bit of a gambler. Gambling, as you know, is not always a great idea. Anyone will tell you that. You can’t count on job security at an airline, not when many airlines aren’t doing well and quite a few of them are currently cutting routes and furloughing flight attendants as I type. Yet every time a flight attendant gets furloughed, the majority of them always come back when given the opportunity to return, even though there’s that chance they’ll get furloughed again. There’s just something about flying that gets into the blood.

Because I do not know which airline hired you, I have no idea what your base options may be, but I have met very few flight attendants who have been based out of training in their home states. That means you and your husband might have to move. Or you could do what I do and commute to work. But that can only happen if your airline (or an airline that has commuting privileges with your airline) flies from your home to your base city. Don’t forget if the flights are full there’s a chance you might not make it to work. There’s always the option of taking the jumpseat, but I’m sure there will be many other flight attendants waiting for that same jumpseat.

Commuting is not easy. After two flights to New York had canceled, I recently found myself number 99 on the standby list with seven flight attendants ahead of me for the jumpseat. There were only four more flights to Los Angeles left that day, so I shouldn’t have gotten out, but I stayed at the airport anyway and not only did I get on a flight, I got on the very next one. Just goes to show you never know! I’ve even made it onto flights after gate agents had begged volunteers to give up their seats because of a weight restriction when that weight restriction was removed seconds before departure.

While commuting can be stressful, flight attendants do it all the time. We get creative and find ways to make it work. During holidays, before 9/11, I used to commute from New York to Dallas through Toronto. The flights were open and I always made it home. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I commute to New York. If for whatever reason I couldn’t make it from Los Angeles to New York (hasn’t happened yet), I’d probably try to connect through Dallas or Chicago, and I might even be forced to fly all the way to San Francisco or Boston just to get back to base. Hey, it happens. Which is why the job is always an adventure.

Flight attendants who commute usually stay at a crash pad. A crash pad is an apartment that several flight attendants share together. A crash pad costs about $100-$200 a month. For that price you’ll get a bed in a room that you’ll share with several other flight attendants who are all female, all male, or a mix of both. There were six of us new hires in a room at my first crash pad located in Kew Gardens, Queens. The room was in a house that had five other bedrooms, each of those bedrooms also housing several flight attendants, bunk beds lining the walls. Each day we’d sign up for showers on a sheet of paper that had been tacked to the bathroom door. Talk about being in college all over again. There are even cheaper crash pads that have “hot beds.” This means you have to take your sheets off the bed whenever you’re not sleeping so other flight attendants can use the same bed. Here’s an article about a crash pad for pilots featured in The New York Times.

No one in their right mind becomes a flight attendant to make money. While a good number of flight attendants do make a good salary, those flight attendants have been flying for many years and work for a major carrier. My first year of flying I only made 17K. That’s it. And that was before we took at 30% pay cut after 9/11. After 14 years of flying my colleagues with the same seniority aren’t doing so bad, but many of them still pick up trips to make extra cash in order to survive. Some even have second jobs. While my friend Grace just flies her schedule (80 hours a month) and teaches yoga on her days off, my friend John is a Spanish speaker who flies over 100 hours a month in the lead position on international routes. He gets paid extra money for 1. working high time. 2. being a speaker. 3. working international routes. 4. flying the lead position. While there are several ways to make extra cash, only you know how much you’ll be able to get by on.

As far as flight attendant training goes, you can do it, Lorelei. I know you can do it because you want to do it. Yes, training is hard, but that’s only because it’s exhausting. The information you learn isn’t difficult, but a lot is coming at you at once in a short amount of time. My training lasted seven and a half weeks. Even though I went to college and graduated with a degree in psychology, flight attendant training was much more stressful and by far the longest seven and a half weeks of my life. If you’re worried about airport codes and airline lingo, you can study that online before you leave for training (click here for the website.) to get a head start.

The best advice I have for you right now is if you do decide to go through with flight attendant training, do not, I repeat, do not turn down another training class. Everything at an airline is based on seniority and seniority is determined by your training date. I’m not just talking about holding the best schedules and getting holidays off, I’m talking about base options and whether or not you’ll be furloughed in the future. Here are a few other Galley Gossip posts that might help you decide what you should do…

If you do decide to go through with training, GOOD LUCK! It’s an amazing experience, one you’ll never forget. Just make sure to write back and let me know when those wings are going to get pinned to your lapel.

Happy travels,

Heather Poole


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Photos courtesy of (Lufthansa crew) Nicholas Macgowan, (red flight attendant) JasonDgreat, (yellow flight attendant) Solomonic, (slide) JFithian-