Galley Gossip: How do flight attendants survive on such a small salary?

I’ve been offered a position as a flight attendant. Training hasn’t started yet, but I’m freaking out a little. Should I back out? It seems like a fun and exciting job, but the pay is $20/hour with only a 79-hour guarantee of work per month. The first year I would have to be on reserve and would need to live within 20 minutes of the airport. A one bedroom/studio within 30 minutes of the airport averages $1400-$1800 per month! We were told that during our six weeks of training we will be paid $1400, which will be prorated. Huh? How do flight attendants afford to pay for rent and living expenses? I am trying to calculate it and there is no way to make ends meet…even with a roommate! What do you suggest to those of us who have not started? Should we turn around and run for the hills? – Cold Feet

Dear Cold Feet,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one becomes a flight attendant for the money! This is why the majority of new flight attendants are either right out of college or looking to make a career change after the kids are grown and out of the house. While $20 an hour may look good on paper, the reality is it doesn’t add up to much, not when we’re only paid for flight hours. That’s strictly time spent in the air. And with so many FAA regulations limiting us to the number of hours and days in a row we can work, most of us average between 80-90 hours a month. Keep in mind flight time does not include boarding, deplaning, delays, scheduled sit time between flights and layovers away from home, even though we’re on company time. However we are paid a per diem from sign-in to the time we arrive back to base. It’s less than two-dollars an hour.

You’ve been offered $20 an hour with a 79 hour guarantee. That’s roughly $18,000 a year. It’s more than most first year flight attendants get paid. The average flight attendant makes between $14,000-$18,000 the first year on the job. Each year we’re offered a standard raise. Flight attendants who work international routes, speak a second language, work high time (over 100 hours) and have seniority with a major carrier have the potential to earn up to $80,000 a year, if not more, but this is rare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median annual wages of flight attendants were $35,930 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,420 and $49,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,350.”

So how do we do it? Enter the crash pad.

A crash pad is where flight attendants literally crash between trips. My first crash pad was a house with five bedrooms that may have had 60 flight attendants living in it for all I know. There were so many people coming and going it was impossible to keep up. Six of us shared a room that had bunk beds lining the walls. Most crash pad dwellers are commuters. Because we were on probation and travel benefits at my airline wouldn’t kick in for six months, we were all new-hires living full time in a crash pad meant for commuters. It wasn’t pretty. It’s no wonder we were all so eager to work – er, fly away! Because at the end of a long work day there was always a layover hotel with a room that had a bed with no one else sleeping near it. And a tub that was clean that didn’t require one to sign up to use it. This might explain how I managed to actually save $2,000 my first year on the job, even after the airline deducted $800 to cover the cost of the uniform from my paycheck.

There’s a reason why so many flight attendants quit within the first few months of flying – and why the rest of us last a lifetime! It’s that extreme. Being a flight attendant is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. My advice to you, Cold Feet, is to go for it. You can always quit if you don’t like it. Just remember it won’t be easy in the beginning, but stick with it and make sure to give it at least six months before throwing in the towel. When your travel benefits kick in, you’ll be glad you did. You might also want to consider praying your airline continues hiring flight attendants because a life off reserve makes a world of difference.

Photo courtesy of byronv2

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant training – from graduation to the first flight

After graduating from flight attendant training, how much time will I get to go back home and take care of things before moving to my crew base? – Lorelei

Two hours after my silver wings were pinned to my blue lapel on stage in front of classmates, family and friends, I hugged and kissed my loved ones goodbye, stepped onto a bus, and headed to the airport with thirty of my classmates. Most of us boarded a flight departing to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, my new crew base. It was late at night when we landed and I only had three days to find a place to live before reporting to work for the first time.

Flight attendants hired by major carriers usually have three to four days off before their first trip, but one of those days is spent touring the airport. Therefore it’s very important to get all your business taken care of before you go into training because once it begins things will move swiftly.

When I started flying in the mid-nineties, flight attendants at my airline had to serve six months probation before obtaining flight privileges. In other words, our travel passes. This meant that unless I purchased a ticket like a regular person, or another flight attendant was kind enough to donate one their buddy passes, the only time I spent on an airplane was when I walked on board to work a flight. I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy being far away from home and working a job that’s unlike any other, but I struggled through the difficult time and six months later, armed with my passes, life changed for the better.

Before flight attendant training starts, the airline will send you a packet containing information regarding everything you’ll need to know from what to pack for training to how much money you’ll need to bring with you to your new base. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting on the closet floor looking up at my clothes trying to figure out how I could get everything I needed for seven and a half weeks of training inside two suitcases that could not weigh more eighty pounds, two suitcases that would then go directly to my new crew base. Good luck!

Photo courtesy of JFithian

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant training – which airline to pick?

Next week I’m to start flight attendant training for American Eagle. But today I got a call from Delta and they want me to go for a face to face interview two days after I’m to start training! If I go to the Delta interview, I’ll forfeit American Eagle completely and won’t ever be able to reapply, as this is my second chance to go to training with them. I’m giving up my good paying but burned out retail management job and changing my life to do my long lived dream job as a flight attendant. I’ve been waiting to get a call back for over a year due to training cancellations last year. American Eagle training is three weeks long, but doesn’t pay, while Delta pays for six weeks of training. I’m afraid to give up American Eagle to go to a Delta interview and possibly not make it and then I’m out both! What should I do? – Laura

Dear Laura,

Have you tried to delay your training class with Eagle? If not, give the airline a call and see if you can push it back a few days, meaning you’d like to start in the next available training class. I’m sure they have a couple of them lined up. This way you can go to the Delta interview without forfeiting a shot at Eagle. Most airlines hire on the spot, so you’ll know the day of the interview if Delta is interested or not. If they send you to “medical”, congratulations, you made it! If they say they’ll contact you soon, that’s code for thanks but no thanks. Move on. And

If Eagle won’t let you change your class date, I suggest sticking with Eagle. Initially I had planned on telling you to hold out for Delta, which is also what most of my coworkers suggested after I ran the scenario by them, but after weighing the pros and cons I think it would be foolish to put all your eggs in one basket. The simple fact is a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush . Before I was hired by a major US carrier, I was passed over by one of its biggest competitors. I tell you this for two reasons; you never know what’s going to happen and you should never give up on your dreams. I’d also hate to see you lose a wonderful opportunity because you chose to go to an interview instead of training.

Working for a regional carrier is a great place to start. You’ll gain seniority quickly and get travel benefits, as well as experience on the job. A little experience is always better than none, especially if you don’t speak a second language and you’re interested in interviewing for a major carrier like Delta. Who knows, you might love working for Eagle. I know a lot of flight attendants who do. But if you don’t, simply quit and apply to another airline offering better pay and international layovers. That’s exactly what I did three months after Sun Jet, a low cost carrier, hired me fifteen years ago.

FYI: I’ve heard through the grapevine that you can try to transfer to American after a year on the job with Eagle. I’ve also heard American will be hiring soon.

Ultimately the decision is yours, Laura, because only you know what’s best for you. Good luck! Make sure to write back and let us know what happened.


UPDATE 1/27: I’m excited to report that Laura held out for Delta and got hired yesterday! Only 8 out of 125 people made it through. FYI: Laura is NOT a speaker. I’m so excited for her!!! Now why did she decide to hold out for Delta? It migh have something to do with another question she asked right after this post went live. Stay tuned for another upcoming Galley Gossip post inspired by Laura


Photo courtesy of DavityDave

Galley Gossip: Can a mother of two young kids become a flight attendant?

My name is Stephanie and I am thinking of becoming a flight attendant. My only concern is my two boys ages 5 and almost 2. How can I have time to be a mom and work? I love to travel and I hear benefits are good. Can I work flights after bedtime? But when will I come back?

The most difficult thing for a flight attendant, Stephanie, is being flexible in terms of scheduling. Making long term plans is next to impossible when you never know what you’ll be working month to month – or even day to day if you’re on reserve! Even if you are able to hold a schedule, that schedule can always change at the last minute and the only thing you can do about it is continue on with the trip or quit! Keep in mind if you do quit mid-sequence, you’ll have to figure out how to get home as you’ll no longer have travel benefits.

Two years ago I had a trip that was scheduled to land on Christmas Eve. With thirteen years as a flight attendant, I was finally able to hold Christmas off! I couldn’t believe my luck. But on Christmas Eve the final leg of our trip canceled. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the entire crew got reassigned, which meant none of us would make it back in time to celebrate the holiday! I wound up in Toronto at an airport hotel when I should have been at home with my family eating turkey and dressing like everyone else.

Unless you have an amazing support system twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the kids, this may not be the job for you – at least not right now! It’s why so many flight attendants start working at an early age or later on in life after the kids are grown. Trust me it ain’t easy juggling the job with family, especially when you’re brand spankin new with little to no seniority.

SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline. It determines what trips a flight attendant can “hold” and whether or not a flight attendant will serve reserve. Basically it determines whether you’ll be working days, nights, weekends, and holidays, as well as where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. So there’s no telling when – or if – you’ll make it back home.

Here are a few more things to consider…

THE PAY: No one becomes a flight attendant for the money. While the benefits are good, the pay is not. Most flight attendants that work for major U.S. carriers make less than $20,000 annually their first year. Smaller airlines pay even less than that! I know a flight attendant that works for a regional carrier and she makes $14,000 a year! AND she works holidays without incentive pay.

The majority of airlines provide their own training. (This is why it doesn’t make sense to go to one of those “flight attendant schools.”) My airline required seven and a half weeks of unpaid training at a facility near the airlines corporate headquarters. Years ago I worked for a low cost carrier called Sun Jet International Airlines that only required two weeks of unpaid training. It was conducted at a hotel in Houston. Can you handle being away from your children for weeks at a time in order to earn your wings.

CREW BASES: Most airlines have crew bases in a handful of cities. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work out of the city of your choice. In order to be based in a certain city, there must first be an opening at the base. Crew bases are awarded by seniority. At my airline New York is the most junior base in the system, so it was no surprise that the majority of my classmates in training wound up there – myself included. New York is where I’m still based, even though I live in California. That makes me a commuter.

RESERVE: Flight attendants on reserve have no life. At my airline we bid for a schedule of days off only. We get twelve of them. The rest of themonth we’re on call. This means we must be ready to go to the airport at anytime – day or night. We’re given at least two hours from the time crew schedule calls us with a trip to the time we have to sign in at the airport. One night I ordered Chinese delivery and was out the door and on my way to the airport to work a flight to London before the food even arrived!

NOTE: How the reserve system works varies at different airlines, but most flight attendants serve straight reserve. This means they’re on reserve until they have enough seniority to hold off. If the airline is in a hiring frenzy, you may not have to be on reserve for very long as newer flight attendants will bump you off. But if you’re hired at the end of a massive hiring streak, you could get stuck on reserve for a very long time. I’ve been working at my airline now for fifteen years, I’m based at the most junior base in the system, and even I am still on reserve!

Photo courtesy of Santheo and Tawheed Manzoor

Six disastrous consequences of fighting flight attendants

The Association of Flight Attendants has been leaning on Congress to amp up counter-terrorism measures in the cabin. After all, the security teams in the airports haven’t exactly impressed over the past few years. So, what happens to the passengers and crew when some scumbag finds a way to tote a gun, knife or oversized bottle of shampoo on board? The flight attendants’ union believes it has the answer: hand-to-hand combat. Whether it’s a killer choke hold or a beverage cart to the ‘nads, they’re ready to take charge.

Well, the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents more than 55,000 employees at 20 airlines, actually has a four-point plan to increase cabin safety, but most of it is pretty boring. The group proposes communications devices to help them speak directly to the pilots when an emergency breaks out, standardized carry-on luggage size (to make it easier to spot the suspicious people with oversized bags) and the terminating of in-flight wifi during periods of peak terror risk.

And, the grappling, kicking and boxing.

Someday, this will probably be remembered as one of those “What the hell were they thinking?” moments – if it’s remembered at all. But, for now, it’s something that the flight attendants’ group has plopped on the table, and it strikes me as unlikely to make a difference. Why?

Here are six reasons to get you started:1. It hasn’t made a difference so far
According to Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the association, combat training is currently optional for flight attendants, and those who pursue it have to do so on their own time. If this train is so important, I’d think that making it mandatory would be unnecessary, as such skills would already be common. If I thought there were a substantial threat to my safety every day at work, I’d commit to staying safe. Also, I haven’t seen any reports lately of a flight attendant, trained in the ways of the warrior, rescuing passengers from evil clutches. I applaud those who pursue it on their own but don’t see a whole lot of reasons for passengers (or taxpayers) to pick up the tab on this one.

2. It isn’t as simple as it sounds
Basic hand-to-hand combat may not equip a flight attendant to take on a wizened warrior who’s spent time in a terrorist training camp or battled the Soviets for a decade. It may work; it may not. But, this is hardly a silver bullet. Further, an overzealous flight attendant combatant could make a bad situation worse (e.g., a hostage situation that is not destined to end in a mix of suicide and homicide). If I have a chance of getting out alive, I’m not sure I’d welcome some sort of flying drop kick from the FA.

3. Why not go straight to guns?
If the point is to neutralize or eliminate a threat, why screw around with fisticuffs? Let’s bring some heat to bear on the situation. Flight attendants could board strapped and ready to rumble. If this sounds absurd, it’s a matter of degree. Mandatory and-to-hand combat training entails equipping flight attendants to use force to solve a problem. Any weapon, from fists to firearms, brings with it a certain set of risks (e.g., being overpowered, misuse of training). So, if we don’t trust flight attendants to don shoulder holsters, we should probably think about other forms of violence, however justified.

4. Terrorists have been stopped without this training
We saw this only a few months ago, with the Christmas bomber’s unsuccessful attempt. Also, the “shoe bomber” didn’t get far. Both incidents do raise the issue of whether better screening, observation and identification measures are needed on board (ummm, yeah), but these are the scenarios in which fists would fly, and ninja flight attendants weren’t necessary.

5. There’s a role for judgment
This one worries the hell out of me. Thinking back to the orange juice debacle on American Airlines, I’m not sure I’d issue rules of engagement that involve ass-kicking. What ultimately led to an FAA warning for the passenger (and PR disaster for American) could have been a bloody mess. Well, that’s assuming the other FAs didn’t come to the passenger’s aid, triggering a fight to the death in the first class cabin. “Hold my Blackberry and pass me the nunchucks.”

6. Who makes the call?
Violence for the sake of safety, I believe, is best left to trained killer. I choose that expression carefully, referring to people who know how to apply force and in what amounts to remove a threat. Military personnel, police officers, Blackwater consultants – these folks don’t just learn how to execute a hold or squeeze the trigger. They learn about situations and conditions in which it’s appropriate. As early as basic training (now a long time ago for me), I remember having rules of engagement drilled into me. Ultimately, a lot of people would have had to make a lot of decisions in order for me to send a round down range. On a plane, would it be any flight attendant’s decision? The most senior? Or, would it have to come from the cockpit? If we can’t trust a soldier to inflict violence without a hefty amount of forethought, I’m not crazy about an FA having that sort of power.

What’s truly disconcerting about the scheme is a remark by Caldwell: “We are not taking on more responsibility.” Really? She continues, “We just want more tools to make the plane safer,” but it seems like that isn’t possible without taking on – you guessed it – more responsibility. If you’re going to clock a passenger in the jaw, you need to be ready to own the decision. If it’s truly justified, there’s nothing to worry about.