How to Become a Flight Attendant
Flight attendants spend a good deal of time away from home.
Flight attendants receive training from their employer and must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Although flight attendants must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent, some airlines prefer to hire applicants who have some college. Prospective flight attendants typically need previous work experience in customer service. Applicants must be at least 18 years old, eligible to work in the United States, have a valid passport, and pass a background check.
A high school diploma is typically the minimum educational requirement for becoming a flight attendant. However, some airlines prefer to hire applicants who have taken some college courses.
Many employers prefer applicants with a degree in hospitality and tourism, public relations, business, social science, or communications. Those who work on international flights may have to be fluent in a foreign language. Some flight attendants attend special flight attendant academies.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Flight attendants typically have 1 or 2 years of work experience in a service occupation before getting their first job as a flight attendant. This experience may include customer service positions in restaurants, hotels, or resorts. Experience in sales or in other positions that require close contact with the public and focus on service to the customers may also help develop the skills needed to be a successful flight attendant.
Once a flight attendant is hired, airlines provide their initial training, ranging from 3 to 6 weeks. The training usually takes place at the airline’s flight training center and is required for FAA certification.
Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating aircraft, operating emergency equipment, and administering first aid. They also receive specific instruction on flight regulations, company operations, and job duties.
Toward the end of the training, students go on practice flights. They must successfully complete the training to keep a job with the airline. Once they have passed initial training, new flight attendants receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. To maintain their certification, flight attendants must take periodic retraining throughout their career.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All flight attendants must be certified by the FAA. To become certified, flight attendants must complete their employer’s initial training program and pass a proficiency check. Flight attendants are certified for specific types of aircraft and must take new training for each type of aircraft on which they are to work, in addition to recurrent training every year if they are to maintain their certification.
After completing initial training, new flight attendants are placed on call, also known as reserve status. While on reserve status, attendants must be able to report to the airport on short notice to staff extra flights or fill in for absent crewmembers.
New attendants usually remain on reserve status for at least 1 year, but in some cities attendants may be on reserve for several years. After a few years in this reserve period, flight attendants gain enough seniority to bid on monthly assignments. Assignments are based on seniority and the most preferred routes go to the most experienced attendants.
Career advancement is based on seniority. Senior flight attendants exercise the most control over route assignments and schedules; therefore, they can often choose how much time to spend away from home. On international flights, senior attendants often oversee the work of other attendants. Senior attendants may be promoted to management positions in which they are responsible for recruiting, instructing, and scheduling.
Attentiveness. Flight attendants must be aware of passengers’ needs to ensure a pleasant travel experience. They must also be aware of any security or safety risks.
Communication skills. Flight attendants should speak clearly, listen attentively, and interact comfortably with passengers and other crew members.
Customer-service skills. Flight attendants should have poise, tact, and resourcefulness to handle stressful situations and meet passengers' needs.
Decision-making skills. Flight attendants must be able to act decisively in emergency situations.
Physical stamina. Flight attendants may need to lift baggage and stand and walk for long periods. They often need to conform to height and weight requirements and have vision that is correctable to at least 20/40. Flight attendants may have to pass a medical evaluation.
Flight attendants should present a professional appearance and not have visible tattoos, body piercings, or an unusual hairstyle or makeup.