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.

Galley Gossip: Advice for flight attendants in training


I have been just recently hired as a flight attendant for a commuter airlines called Colgan Air. I am just emailing you to ask for some advice on starting out, tips of the trade! I hope to hear from you soon!




Even in this day and age of travel when being a flight attendant isn’t quite as glamorous as it once was, airlines receive thousands of applications each month from people who are interested in the job. This means competition is fierce. Airlines choose only the best candidates. That, Leilah, says a lot about you. Congratulations!

When it comes to flight attendant training, as well as those first few months on the job, my advice to you is simply this, do not quit! Trust me, at some point you will want to. I’ve been there. We all have. Just remember that no matter how frustrated or tired you become, do not give up. Training will only last a few weeks and when it’s over you’ll have a lifetime of adventure ahead of you. No matter how much you miss your friends, family, and loved ones, do not throw in the towel. Stay focused. Think about all the great places you can take your family and friends once you get your travel benefits. No matter how much someone misses you and begs you to come home, don’t quit. Just think about all those days off (at least twelve of them) that you can spend with them when you’re not working a nine to five job – Every. Single. Day. No matter which crew base you’re assigned, do not make any rash decisions. The job is flexible and in time you will figure out how to manipulate your flight schedule so that you can be exactly where you want to be whenever you want to be there. Remember, the job is unlike any other job, so it only makes sense that it will take some getting used to. Eventually you will figure out how to make the job work for you.

While I know the job is not for everyone, I just want to make sure you give it enough time before making any drastic decisions. Because it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, a very unusual one. I say this because years ago I had a crash pad roommate who, after eight months on the job, decided to quit. She wanted to become a hairdresser. Two years later she wanted her old job back. So she reapplied, scored a few interviews with different airlines, and, as far as I know, never did get hired again.

As for flight attendant training, it can be overwhelming at times. In fact, I found the seven and a half week course at my airline to be tougher than four years of college. Not because it was hard, per se, but because there is a lot of information to absorb in a short amount of time. On top of this, there will be late nights and early mornings with very little sleep in between. You will, at some point, feel exhausted. You might also find yourself having trouble thinking clearly, or even thinking at all! Then when classmates begin to suddenly disappear, you may become paranoid. I know I did. At one point I truly believed that the salt and pepper shakers in the cafeteria might be bugged. I mean why else were classmates going POOF! during a five minute bathroom break, never to be seen or heard from again?

Now mix it all together; all that new information coming in at once, the exhaustion, the paranoia, not to mention feelings of homesickness, and you’ve got a trainee reacting in ways they might not normally behave. Perhaps by pushing trainees to their breaking point the airlines believe they will observe how future flight attendants might react in less than desirable situations at 30,000 feet. Maybe this is just a way an airline can filter out the weak since a big part of the job is remaining calm under pressure.

A few other tips…

1. Don’t be late. The airplane doesn’t wait for anyone, so why would your instructor? Unless a flight is understaffed, an airline will not delay a departure in order to wait on a flight attendant who is running late. If you’re late to class be prepared to leave your flight manual by the locked door and return to wherever you came from.

2. Get lots of rest. Nodding off in class is another way to obtain your walking papers. Flight attendants must stay awake during a flight unless it’s a long haul flight overseas with scheduled crew breaks. We are to remain alert at all times in order to handle in flight emergencies quickly and swiftly. Caffeine is your friend.

3. Beware of flight instructors. Do not get confused and think you’re friends with a flight instructor. Oh sure they might be nice, at first, but it’s their job to make sure that only the best flight attendants graduate. Trust me, they’re just looking for a reason to get rid of you, so don’t make it easy by letting your guard down.

Hope that helps, Leilah, and good luck to you!

Heather Poole

** ATTENTION FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Share your flight attendant training stories below – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Photos courtesy of Jfithian and Jfithian

British Airways offering a crash course to retrain pilots as flight attendants

Faced with another threat of a flight attendant strike, British Airways is preparing for the worst. The airline asked everyone within the company to voluntarily sign up for a 21 day training program to turn them into temporary flight attendants.

As of right now, only 216 volunteers signed up for the initiative, which falls quite a bit short of the 13,500 flight crew members that will walk out when a strike takes place. Five of the nine retraining courses are designed for pilots – which would turn them into the best paid cabin crew members in the world. The average BA pilot earns a just under $200,000 per year.

Of course, the union behind the flight attendants is not impressed, and they are quick to point out that the 21 day course is much shorter than the normal 3 month training a flight attendant receives, and could be a serious safety issue.

It makes sense for them to say this – as the public perception of the union and this strike is very negative. The same union almost shut down British Airways over the Christmas period last year, but a British court blocked their efforts at the last minute.

A union spokesperson said “Not only does this show contempt for the crew, what message does it send to passengers who have paid to be cared for by a premier airline?”. Personally, I’d rather have a cabin crew with just three weeks of training than be stuck at the airport for a week because a union was unable to reach an agreement on new pay cuts.

The British aviation authority, CAA, has approved the measures and will be monitoring the safety aspects of the training, to ensure that passengers are never at any kind of risk when they fly on a plane with the new temporary crew members.



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 for even more information.


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