Galley Gossip: A question about why flight attendants are paid twice as much as teachers

Dear Heather,

Any time I go back to the rear of the plane and find flight attendants reading magazines, I am finding people off the job. You people are being paid roughly TWICE per hour what they pay the teachers who teach your children to read…How would you like to go into a classroom and find the teacher reading “Vogue”?


Dear Anonymous,

I take it you had a bad flight. Perhaps you wanted something to drink or eat and got ignored by a flight attendant reading Vogue? If so, I’m sorry for that and I do hope it never happens to you again. As with every job there are always a few bad apples in the bunch, but you don’t really mean to stereotype all crew members based on one lazy Vogue reading flight attendant, do you? I hope not.

For the record, I seriously doubt that flight attendants get paid twice as much as teachers. While I do not know how much the average teacher makes, the average flight attendant is not making as much as it may seem. Oh sure on paper it looks like we have a cush job when we’re not shocking people back to life or landing in the Hudson River. And of course there are those of us who do have it nice, like flight attendants who are employed by a major carrier who have enough seniority to fly the best trips, working to amazing destinations like Japan, Rio, and Paris. But in reality the majority of us don’t have it that good. A lot of us don’t even get a layover anymore, and if we do, they’re so short we call them lean-overs, not layovers. Seriously, most of us do struggle to make ends meet and therefore have to pick up extra trips or work a second job on our days off just to get by.


Don’t forget that flight attendants are only paid for flight time – not ground time. That means we are not making a dime until all passengers are seated, overhead bins have been closed, the aircraft door is shut and the airplane has backed away from the gate. Just last week I worked a trip from New York to Dallas and back to New York again, all in the same day, that, because of a mechanical in New York and a weather delay out of Dallas, I only got paid 6 hours and 15 minutes (flight time) for a 14 hour and 33 minute duty day. Do teachers go to work and only get paid half the time? I don’t think so. And when they are at work, are they constantly getting yelled at for situations that are beyond their control? And are they stuck in a flying tube at 35,000 feet for hours on end without a means to escape whatever could go wrong if something did go wrong? You tell me.

Now that I’ve been flying for 14 years, I make $30-something an hour, which is pretty darn good – except that due to FAA regulations I can only work so many hours in a day and so many days in a row. Not to mention when you add in the delays on the ground, the sit time between connecting flights, and the layover time at the airport hotels (per diem is less than $2), our hourly rate drastically drops. As for all those amazing layovers, they no longer exist. Mine average ten hours a night and all I usually have time to do is two of the following – eat, sleep, or shower. Keep in mind that this is unpaid time away from home, time that teachers are able to spend in the comforts of their own home with family or friends, actually getting important things done like a load of laundry, running to the grocery store, kissing their kids goodnight, those kinds of things.

Now I’m not saying that my job is more important, not at all, I’m just saying that it’s different and should not be compared to a job on the ground. Anyway, this is about flight flight attendant pay, not who has the worst job. I love my job and I’m sure teachers do, too.

And before I forget, Anonymous Writer, I do not read Vogue. Not that there’s anything wrong with Vogue, it’s just way too heavy to drag from city to city and gate to gate in my tote-bag to my layover hotel where I’d only have a few minutes to look at it before going to bed. However, what you may find me reading on the airplane is Vanity Fair. That’s because it’s the perfect magazine for a long haul flight due to the fact that it takes an entire six hours to get through, which is why I only read it when I’m commuting to work, not while I am at work – working. While I have been known to flip through a passenger’s discarded newspaper or celebrity gossip magazine while standing in the galley, I am quick to put it down if someone needs something from me.

Just because you’ve spotted a flight attendant glancing at reading material in flight does not mean you’ve found an employee “off the job.” Believe it or not, once the service is over there actually comes a time in flight where there may not be anymore more trash to pick up and passengers are settled into their seats and do not need anything else to eat or drink and have actually had all their connecting gate information sorted out. If there is a passenger who needs something that has not been provided, like a pillow or blanket (not that we always have them on board) the passenger will either stop us while we’re walking down the aisle and ask, come to the back of the aircraft and ask, or ring their call light which signals the flight attendants to put down their magazine or newspaper or lunch or liquor money they were adding up, and answer the call. Nine times out of ten that call is answered immediately.

Happy travels,

Heather Poole

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Photos courtesy of (stewardess barbie) Heather Poole, (Vanity Fair) JacquieK