Galley Gossip: A question about “flight attendant training schools”

Dear Heather,

Could you please tell me which course of action I should take to become a flight attendant. Should I take a college training program that offers a diploma, or should I go to a airline and go through their training program? I have read a lot concerning flight attendants today and I don’t know what to believe when it comes to the training procedures. Thank you for your time and hope to meet you one day,

Maggie from Kamloops bc

Dear Maggie,

I do not know one flight attendant who has gone to a school offering a certificate or diploma to become a flight attendant that has actually become a flight attendant. I believe those schools are a waste of time and money and do not recommend them at all. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve shied away from advertising offers on my personal blog is because I do not want those kinds of ads, flight attendant training school ads, associated with my name. I refuse to endorse something I do not believe in.

If you want to become a flight attendant, apply to the airlines directly. Each airline has their own training program that can range from two to seven weeks long. The first airline I ever worked for, Sun Jet International Airlines, was a charter airline with only three (leased) aircrafts, all MD80′s once owned by Hawaiian Air. Sun Jet flew from Dallas to Newark, Ft. Lauderdale, and Long Beach for just $69 a flight – twice a day. Even that teeny tiny airline had their own training program that lasted two weeks.

I only worked three months for Sun Jet before I applied to a major airline and actually got hired. Even with all the hands on experience I received working for a small airline, I still wasn’t completely prepared for the intensive training I went through with the major airline. Every airline owns different types of aircraft and many of those airplanes have been reconfigured making them different from the same airplane flown at another airline. Also, our medical and emergency procedures differ from other airlines, which is why getting a diploma at a “flight attendant school” not connected with a specific airline doesn’t make sense.

After I read your letter, I searched FLIGHT ATTENDANT SCHOOLS just to see what they had to say. The Travel Academy states the following

Airlines in the US currently employ approximately 86,000 flight attendants and hire almost 8,000 more each year. The minimum hiring requirements for becoming a flight attendant are High School Diploma or GED and at least 18 years of age. However, to get hired you need poise, a strong presentation, and the ability to connect with people.

Even in this day and age of travel, people still dream of becoming a flight attendant, which means your competition is fierce. Granted, you can become a flight attendant with just a high school diploma and a GED, but because there are so many applicants to choose from, airlines have the option of picking future candidates who have a lot more to offer than just the basics. Not only do I have a college degree, but I’ve held many jobs in the past that required good customer service. Customer service experience is a must. .

As for poise, a strong presentation, and the ability to connect with people, these traits are important. So is being flexible. That said, you do NOT need to pay money and go through weeks of training at a so-called “flight attendant training school” to acquire these traits.

In our weak economy today, airlines are struggling to stay afloat and very few are hiring. In fact, most airlines are laying off. That’s why getting a college degree is important. You want to have something to fall back on if you do become a flight attendant and find yourself grounded. My advice to you is to get a college degree, or some sort of technical training, before you apply with an airline. Learning to speak a foreign language is also a plus.

The flight attendant I worked with last night, Shirley, not only has a college degree, but speaks three languages and worked for several airlines before ending up at my airline. Shirley is now in the process of getting a certificate in court reporting, a two year training program. Why? Because after ten years of flying for a major carrier Shirley is about to be furloughed. That pretty much means she’s being “layed off”, only the airlines have to call her back to work before they can hire someone else.

The Travel Academy also states…

Ninety-six percent of people that apply to become a flight attendant without our training don’t get a second interview.

I’m fairly certain that ninety-six percent of people that apply to become a flight attendant with OR WITHOUT training from The Travel Academy don’t get a second interview. But don’t let that deter you. I applied to a major airline, got an interview, and did not get hired. Shirley, the flight attendant I mentioned above, had an amazing career working six years for a prestigious charter airline. She actually wore white gloves and flew around the world twice. She also applied to a specific major airline 18 times – 18 TIMES! And never got hired. After sending an application to my airline, she was hired a few months later. Not only is she an amazing flight attendant, hardworking, always smiling, and lots of fun, she’s one of my favorite flight attendants to work with. The airline that didn’t hire her really lost out.

As for the money you’ll spend on one of these training schools, Flight Attendant Express, another company offering flight attendant training, states…

The reason these schools charge a lot of money and keep you for WEEKS and/or MONTHS at a time is because it takes a long time to learn Sabre, the computer system they teach, which is used for booking airline reservations. Keep in mind that the financial aid they offer is NOT free – it is a loan that must be paid back and it will eat into your paycheck for years! Our program is only $899 and includes your hotel room.

Their program is ONLY $899! That’s a lot of money to spend on a program that can’t guarantee a job with a company that is going to train you once you are hired. And yet you’ll still have to spend even more money once you are hired by an airline. My airline paid for our training, food, and lodging, but not our uniforms. Who knew blue polyester could cost $2,000? (It was pay roll deducted out our checks over the years) Your expenses don’t stop there. The very day my wings were pinned to my blue lapel, the airline flew me to my crew base where I was expected to find a place to live with only four days to do so before I had to fly my first trip. Nine times out of ten you will not be based in your hometown, which means you’ll need enough money to rent an apartment in whichever city you are based in.

Not to mention, flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In 1995 I made only 18K – and I work for a major airline! After 9/11 flight attendants, at my airline, took a 30% pay cut, so new hires today aren’t even making what I made when I first started.

As for learning Sabre, unless you’re going to become a ticket, gate, or travel agent, you will not need weeks worth of training on the computer. Though it’s all a blur now, I’m pretty sure my Sabre class only lasted a day or two. That’s it. So save your money, apply to the airlines directly, and let them train you on their dollar, not yours.

For more information on how to become a flight attendant, read my Galley Gossip post, A question about Southwest Airlines, AirTran Airways, and other airlines who may be hiring flight attendants, and make sure to check out Cabincrewjobs.com for even more information.

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Photos courtesy of (flight attendant) Limeydog, (slide) Fly For Fun, (flight attendants) Nicholas McGowan