Galley Gossip: How Do New Flight Attendants On Probation Commute To Work? (And Who Pays For It?)

I would love to become a flight attendant. I live close to Fort Lauderdale airport, only about 30 miles from Miami International Airport and 80 miles from West Palm Beach Airport. I also have two teenagers (13 and 16) so that’s where my question begins. If I live in Florida but my base is in New York, will I have to agree to relocate? How does that work if I live in Florida and have kids and a husband? Would the airline pay me to fly out to my base station every time I need to report to work or do I have to pay for that? Or would I just have to move there? This is what I don’t really understand. – Gladys

On the flight attendant job application you’ll probably find the question, “Are you willing to relocate?” Check the box “no” instead of “yes” and it’s safe to assume you probably won’t get called in for an interview. It’s common knowledge that flight attendants must be willing to cut their hair and go anywhere.

After you’ve successfully completed training, you’ll probably be put on probation. At my airline, probation lasts six months and new hires on probation do not receive travel benefits during this time. New flight attendants who choose to live in another city are on their own when it comes to covering the expense of getting to and from work during the first six months. Once off probation, commuters at my airline fly for free by standing by for an open seat. This is called non-reving because you are now a non-revenue passenger. Keep in mind there are very few open seats available on flights today, especially around holidays, during weekends and all through the summer. I’ve actually seen flight attendants come to blows over the jump seat on the last flight out. Which is why you’re lucky you live so close to three airports. You have options when flights are full or when delays and cancellations affect air travel.Something else to keep in mind is that new hires start out on reserve. What this means is you’ll be on call on the days you’re not scheduled to work. Once the company contacts you to cover a trip, you’ll have two hours to get to the airport. If you live in Florida and get based in New York (and you don’t want to move), you’re going to need to find a crash pad for the days you’re on reserve. A crash pad is literally a place to crash in between trips. These are usually apartments shared by many flight attendants who also commute to work. Bunk beds are used to cram as many people as possible into a single room in an effort to keep the cost down. They average between $100-$350 a month. The airline doesn’t cover the expense, as it’s your choice to commute. Keep in mind that some airlines require flight attendants to serve reserve only a few days each month, while others schedule flight attendants to be on reserve the entire month – until they’re senior enough to hold off. This is called straight reserve. There’s a reason why the words “line” and “life” are so similar. When you can hold a line (a month of scheduled trips), you have a life. It’s also why “seniority” is so important in the aviation industry, and why it’s in your best interest to accept the first training class offered.

You might also want to read:

Galley Gossip: Can A Mother Of Two Young Kids Become A Flight Attendant?”

“Galley Gossip: How To Prepare For A Flight Attendant Interview

Galley Gossip: How Do Flight Attendants Survive On Such A Low Salary?

Galley Gossip: Queuing Up On Reserve

Galley Gossip: Flight attendant interview – The pros and cons of speaking a second language and how it affects reserve

Dear Heather, I am hoping to become a flight attendant soon (have a face to face interview next week!) and have a question about reserve status. I speak Japanese fluently and was wondering how different things are for flight attendants who speak a different language. Are they on reserve for the same amount of time? Is anything different? – Natasha

For the first time in history being a flight attendant is considered a profession, not just a job. Fewer flight attendants are quitting, turnover is not as high as it once was, and competition to become a flight attendant has gotten fierce. Ninety-six percent of people who apply to become a flight attendant do not get a call back. In December of 2010 Delta Airlines received more than 100,000 applications after announcing they had an opening for 1,000 flight attendants. Even though it is not a requirement to have a college degree, only the most qualified applicants are hired. Being able to speak a second language will greatly improve your chance!

The only thing that affects reserve status is company seniority (class hire date). Seniority is assigned by date of birth within each training class. This means the oldest classmate will become the most senior flight attendant in your class. Seniority is everything at an airline, and I mean everything! It determines whether you’ll work holidays, weekends and when, if ever, you’ll be off reserve. So it’s important to accept the earliest training date offered.

While speaking another language doesn’t affect how long you’ll serve reserve, it will have an impact on your flying career.


1. MORE MONEY. “Speakers” earn more per hour than non-speakers. Unfortunately it’s only a few dollars on top of what a regular flight attendant is paid. Remember most flight attendants make between fourteen to eighteen thousand a year the first year on the job, so every dollar counts.2. GOOD TRIPS. Speakers on reserve are assigned trips to foreign countries where people speak their language. No offense to cities like Phoenix, Pittsburgh or Portland, but a layover in Paris is just a tad bit more desirable. Not just because it’s a foreign city with exciting things to do and see, but because international routes pay more per hour (on top of speaker pay).

3. DAYS OFF. An international flight usually ranges between eight to fourteen hours, while domestic flights rarely go over six hours. Because flight attendants are paid for flight hours only – all that time we spend on the ground is not considered flying time, which means the flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not being paid – it takes domestic flight attendants a lot longer to get in their hours each month. Flight attendants who work international routes work what is considered “high-time” trips and high-time trips equate to more days off.


4. BAD TRIPS. Speakers get what is called “bid denied”. What this means is they get stuck working the same trip until they have enough seniority to hold something else. I know a number of speakers who became so tired of working the same route week after week, month after month, year after year, they chose to drop their language qualification altogether. In the beginning of ones flying career, a thirty-six hour layover in Paris might sound great, but even Paris gets old after awhile.

5. LESS FLEXIBILITY: The best thing about being a flight attendant is the flexible lifestyle. Because we’re paid only for the hours we work, we’re free to manipulate our schedules however we like. We can work high-time one month and not at all the next month. We can also “back up” our trips. Most flight attendants are scheduled a few days off between each trip. By trading trips we’re able to adjust our schedules so that we can fly several trips in a row in order to get a big chunk of days off to go on vacation or just hang out at home. Speakers have a harder time doing this because they can only trade, drop, and swap with another speaker that has the same qualifications.

6. PROBLEM FLIGHTS: On domestic routes problem passengers have no trouble letting us know what’s wrong. At my airline international routes are only required to be staffed with one speaker per cabin. If we don’t speak the language, we have no idea there’s a problem or if we do know there’s a problem, we have no idea what the problem is, and the flight goes on as peacefully as it had been. Unfortunately those who do speak the language get stuck handling all the problems.

Photo courtesy of Dmytrock’s

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

Galley Gossip: Swine flu on the airplane (a few things you can do)

Today I’m flying from Los Angeles to New York to start my reserve rotation for May. I’m bringing my son along with me. He’s two. Because my husband travels on business often and I’ll be on-call, my son will be spending eight days with grandma and grandpa. Oh sure I’ll take the train out to see him in-between trips. That’s not the problem. The problem is with all this talk about swine flu, I can’t help but be a little nervous, not for me, but for him!

We’ll be traveling by plane and in New York where 75 people in Queens were recently diagnosed with the disease. Did I happen to mention my crashpad is in Queens? I’ll have zero control over where I’m going and how long I’ll be there. When I voiced my concerns, here’s what a few of my friends had to say…

  • “Heather, I think there’s a Mexico City layover with your name all over it! Hee, hee!”
  • “Don’t think you have to go to Mexico, Mexico will come to you. Start a new trend, nothing is hotter than a flight attendant with a Michael Jackson mask on! If you rock the body condom from the movie Naked Gun, I want to be there!”
  • “Every time I wake up in the MEX layover hotel I breathe a sigh of relief that I wasn’t crushed in an earthquake overnight. Now if I can just not breathe while down there . . .
  • “The only other thing you need besides a diagnosis is a company that’s not completely irrational and predatory about sick leave use. The company has denied me sick time, garnished pay for the days missed, and said to the union, “grieve it,” which is a years-long process.”
So what am I, the flight attendant, required to do if I see a passenger who may be exhibiting swine flu like symptoms?

  1. Isolate the person as much as possible.
  2. Contact the airline physician on-call. What I would actually do is call the cockpit who would then contact the ground who would then pass along important information.
  3. The airline I work for is providing extra gloves and thermometers for flight crews to use, as well as masks for passengers who may be infected.

Please note: As of April 26 there have only been mild cases of swine flu reported in the United States and most people have made a full recovery.

As of today, Argentina and Japan are the only two countries I’m aware of that are taking action. If you are flying into Argentina, all passengers and crew will be required to fill out a form that ground personnel will be distributing in order to enter the country. If you are traveling into Japan, all passengers and crew will be quarantined. That means passengers and crew will be required to remain on board the aircraft until Japanese health officials come on board and clear the flight.

Remember that post I wrote not too long ago about the sick passenger who didn’t ask for much (just my next unborn child), well if I had her on board a flight today I’d definitely wonder if she had the flu – as well as whether or not she was crazy. Honestly, I have no problem helping sick passengers, but at the same time I really don’t want to get sick and bring whatever it is they may have (or may not have) home to my son. Remember, he’s two! So what am I going to do (that you can do, too) in order to make sure this doesn’t happen?
  1. Wash hands often with soap and water (I’ll be packing travel size antibacterial hand lotion)
  2. Cover mouth when coughing or sneezing (use the inside of your elbow, not your hand)
  3. Report anyone who may appear sick. Passengers can report to a flight attendant who will then pass along the information to the correct authorities.

Peter Greenberg, the travel detective, doesn’t seem to be all that concerned. Yesterday he wrote on

Remember SARS? I traveled at that time to Hong Kong — when hotel occupancies were around 3%. Had one of the best travel experiences ever. And how about the avian flu? About the only people infected (and there were incredibly few) were those who actually worked on chicken farms.”

I have to admit that Peter actually made me feel a little better about flying. Even so, I did what every flight attendant has probably already done, I went online and plugged the words SWINE FLU and FLIGHT ATTENDANT into the search engine. Just to see if anyone had it. So far so good. No one has it. Thank god! Here’s some other interesting information I found online concerning flight attendants, passengers, and the swine flu…

USA TODAY wrote… the USA’s largest flight attendant union, says it is directing members to keep an eye out for flu-like symptoms, especially on trips to Mexico. “We’re also pushing airlines to supply gloves and masks.” If a flight attendant observes a passenger with flu-like symptoms, the procedure is to isolate that person as much as possible, Caldwell says. So far, the travel industry is trying to accommodate travelers’ fears. Nearly every U.S. airline with routes to Mexico is waiving cancellation fees or rebooking flights. wrote..The union STAVLA, a union that fights for the rights of flight attendants has condemned the airline for not allowing attendants to wear gloves to protect themselves against possible Swine flu infection. A source within the union said it had reiterated a request first made in 2003 for flight attendants to wear gloves when handling biological waste that is generated aboard, this request was put to the Health and Safety Committee and denied.

STAVLA, which has announced that it may take legal action against Iberia, has stated that each flight attendant assigned to the overseas fleet is in contact with about 33,000 passengers a year and has stressed that flights go “several times a day to Mexico.” The union said that after a circular sent to employees yesterday Iberia said ” it only allows the use of gloves by the flight attendant serving a passenger who, in his opinion, is affected by the infection.”

The union representatives of flight attendants recalled that the Regional Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at Work (IRSST) in Madrid has admitted that biowaste requires protective gloves, but “Iberia the practice remains prohibited for reasons of image” .


Q: What can flight attendants and gate agents do?

A: At the airport, gate agents can notify CDC officials at the airport to check waiting passengers who exhibit flulike symptoms. On board, flight attendants are authorized to isolate a sick traveler from the rest of the passengers if possible. Flight attendants also are authorized to dispense face masks to passengers who exhibit flu symptoms.

Have you booked a trip to Mexico and can’t decide what what to do – whether you should stay or go? And if you do decide to stay home, how do you get a refund? Click here for answers

Photos courtesy of (passenger) Wendy Tanner, (flight attendant) Aaron Escobar, (hands) Cafemama –

Galley Gossip: 10 things a flight attendant does on reserve

1. Complain about being on reserve to any flight attendant who will listen. There’s nothing worse for a flight attendant than being on reserve. Don’t believe me? Ask a flight attendant on reserve. Go ahead, ask, I dare you. Just don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

2. Sit in PJ’s half the day waiting for crew schedule to call. Some days it’s half a day and other days it’s all day. When my number is low, meaning there’s a good chance crew schedule is going to call me out to cover a trip, I’ve been known to change out of my PJ’s and into a fresh pair of PJ’s at the end of the day.

3. Calls in sick. While I don’t call in sick on reserve, however tempting it may be (I’m too scared), I can’t say the same for most other flight attendants. A few flight attendants I know actually save medical and dental procedures during reserve months.

4. Sock and underwear drawer get a complete makeover. This month I actually did clean out my sock and underwear drawer, as well as the closet. I found clothing I never even knew I had, clothing I wondered why, exactly, I had, like an animal print sundress I bought on the streets of Costa Rica nine years ago. And to think I actually wore it.

5. Work trips I would never fly in a million years. Flight attendants have a tendency to work the same trips over and over. That’s what seniority is all about. You better believe I like working in coach from New York to whichever west coast city layover I can hold on the 767. But on reserve you’ll most likely find me on the Super80 working a turn in first from New York – Chicago. Nothing against Chicago, but an eight hour day ain’t worth five hours pay.

6. Spend time explaining to everyone that I’m not off, that I really am working, I’m just on call. Which is why I’m still in my PJ’s and not leaving the house. Just because I’m not actually on the airplane doesn’t mean I can have a life.

7. Watch the Weather Channel. When there’s bad weather, crews go illegal, and when crews go illegal, reserve flight attendants get called out to cover their trips. I watch the Weather Channel in order to figure out what crew schedule is going to do, so I know whether or not I’ll get a good night sleep and whether or not I dare get dressed and leave the apartment in the morning.

8. Sit on the sofa with the laptop and drinking coffee while bouncing between Gadling, Facebook and the flight service website to check open time and relative position for hours on end. What else am I going to do? I’m stuck.

9. Gets a trip and then goes into flight operations and asks every flight attendant how many hours they have on reserve. The last time I checked Grace had 40 hours. My mom had 42. Flo had 45. I had 47. I won – er, lost!

10. Look forward to days off. Thank goodness they’re finally here and reserve is officially over! It’s back to the 767 for me.

Photos courtesy of (pj’s) Jamelch, (weather channel) Dave Malkoff –