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What does a flight attendant do?
A flight attendant is sometimes also known as an air steward, air stewardess or air cabin crew. It is a customer-facing role that involves looking after airline passengers’ health, safety and well-being while on board the flight.
Flight attendants will predominately work on an aircraft during their shifts, but they may also work in offices and airports, and overnight stays in hotels are common. They will carry out many tasks, including pre- and post-flight checks, greeting passengers, checking documents, securing luggage, serving food and drinks, selling duty-free items, carrying out safety demonstrations, etc. The role may also require ad hoc administrative work, such as writing flight reports and recording items sold.
A flight attendant’s main aim is to provide high-quality customer care and ensure that passengers are comfortable and have a pleasant and safe flight. They also have an important role in dealing with any problems, passenger requests and emergencies. Overall, it is about ensuring that every passenger on the flight has a positive experience and gets to their destination safely.
Flight attendants will work with many people, including colleagues, e.g. pilots, in-flight managers, in-flight leads, other members of the air cabin crew and support staff. They will also liaise with passengers, airport staff, ground crew, hotel staff and possibly emergency services.
Flight attendants mainly work for commercial airlines but may also work for private airlines and the Royal Air Force (RAF). They can work on short-, medium- or long-haul flights in all cabins on various aircraft.
A flight attendant will have many different responsibilities such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Attending pre-flight briefings about the route, schedule, working positions and passengers with special requirements.
- Checking supplies and stock before the flight.
- Ensuring the plane is clean and tidy.
- Ensuring emergency equipment is present and functional.
- Greeting passengers as they enter the plane and ensuring they leave safely on exit.
- Helping passengers find their seats.
- Checking passengers’ documents, such as boarding passes.
- Demonstrating safety procedures and how to use emergency equipment.
- Ensuring passengers are comfortable.
- Making announcements.
- Responding to passenger requests and answering any questions they may have.
- Administering first aid where required.
- Ensuring luggage is stored securely in the overhead lockers/under seats.
- Checking passengers have their seat belts fastened when required, e.g. taking off, landing and turbulence.
- Dealing with any disruptive passengers in a polite but firm manner.
- Checking the galleys are clear at all times and free of trip hazards.
- Serving food and drinks.
- Handing out travel declaration forms where required and helping passengers with any queries.
- Selling duty-free items and gifts and advising passengers of any restrictions at their destination.
- Ensuring passengers follow the correct safety procedures in an emergency and reassuring them.
- Handling any passenger complaints professionally and calmly.
- Checking post-flight that there is no left luggage, suspicious items or stowaways, and following the correct procedures if there are any issues.
- Writing flight reports, including incidents when they have occurred.
- Recording food and drink orders and duty-free sales.
A flight attendant can expect to work 30–40 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the airline, the length of the flights they work on, e.g. short, medium or long haul and whether any problems arise. There are typically more regular hours on short-haul flights.
Being a flight attendant is not a 9–5 job. Flights operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours, e.g. early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. It may also require individuals to work on special occasions and religious festivals.
Flight attendants will need to travel to the airport to start their working day and will work on the flight until they reach the intended destination. Once there, overnight stays nationally or internationally may be necessary, or they may need to wait for a flight to make their return journey. In some cases, flights may be delayed or cancelled, which can mean working on days off and longer working days. Flight attendants usually receive compensation if there are delays or cancellations.
Some employers may offer part-time, job-share or flexible jobs. However, unsociable hours are still usually required.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a flight attendant, especially if an individual loves to travel and has a passion for customer service. Meeting people from all different countries and cultures and ensuring they have the best possible experience while on board can be exciting. Also, ensuring passengers are safe during the flight and seeing them happy and embark safely can be extremely rewarding. Flight attendants can go home at the end of their working day knowing they have made a positive difference to passengers.
Cabin crews tend to be close-knit, and there is plenty of training and support. There is also a sense of pride in being a flight attendant and part of the team, which is evident when the cabin crew are in the airport walking to their flight.
Boredom will never be a problem for flight attendants, as no two days will be the same. They will meet different people and travel to various destinations. There may be opportunities to visit new places and experience diverse cultures. Their day-to-day tasks can also vary, depending on the type of flight, people and destination.
Even though being a flight attendant is rewarding, and there are many positives, individuals should consider the cons and challenges, for example:
- Entry requirements and competition – it is not easy becoming a flight attendant. The application process can be lengthy, the entry requirements are strict, and the training is intense. There is also a lot of competition for permanent roles. Individuals will need to work hard to be successful.
- Physical demands – being a flight attendant is a physically demanding role. They will spend most of the flight on their feet, which can be for hours on a long-haul flight. The aircraft is a cramped working environment, and flight attendants will need to push/pull a laden trolley up and down the aisle. Helping passengers with luggage and putting it in the overhead lockers means the role also involves manual handling.
- Mental demands – being a flight attendant can also be mentally demanding. The different time zones and physical aspects can result in tiredness, jet lag and fatigue. Dealing with challenging passengers can be stressful and upsetting. Cancelled and delayed flights can also be frustrating, as it can mean longer stays from home, and flight attendants may have to work at short notice, disrupting plans.
- Flying – individuals must be comfortable with flying to be a flight attendant and not have fears or doubts. It includes not panicking if there is turbulence.
- Disruptive passengers – unfortunately, working with the public is not always a pleasant experience. Flight attendants have to sometimes deal with disruptive, aggressive, mentally impaired or drunk passengers. In serious cases, passengers can threaten lives. Although infrequent, there have been incidents of terrorism and passengers trying to exit the aircraft mid-flight. Individuals should be aware that there are risks, as with any job.
- Uniform and appearance – flight attendants have to wear a uniform. They must be smart and well-groomed at all times.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective flight attendants must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable career. It is physically and mentally demanding, passengers can be difficult, and the working conditions on the flight can be challenging. However, there are many positives too, and those who become flight attendants really love what they do and have a sense of pride in being involved in such a unique career.
When considering whether to be a flight attendant, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a flight attendant
Some of the personal qualities that a flight attendant requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for travel, working with people and customer service.
- Confident and assertive.
- Courteous, friendly, attentive and approachable.
- Sensitive, compassionate and understanding.
- Smart and well-groomed.
- Professional and punctual.
- Knowledge of public safety and security.
- Knowledge of health and safety.
- Knowledge of first aid and emergency procedures.
- Having a commercial awareness.
- Exceptional customer service skills.
- Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Numeracy skills, e.g. handling money, including foreign currencies.
- Sales skills.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to work under pressure, be patient and remain calm in stressful situations, especially in an emergency.
- The ability to be firm but polite when dealing with difficult passengers.
- The ability to diffuse situations and conflicts speedily and calmly.
- The ability to work well in a team and cooperate with colleagues.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change, especially when working at short notice and unsociable hours.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to use IT and software packages.
- The ability to be comfortable with flying and working in cramped conditions.
A degree is not necessary to become a flight attendant. However, if an individual decides to go to university, they should choose relevant subjects, e.g. travel, leisure and tourism, and languages. The entry requirements will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.
Alternatively, individuals could get into the flight attendant role by going to college or a private training provider, doing an apprenticeship or applying directly to airlines. On-the-job training and volunteering can also maximise an individual’s chances of success.
Undertaking a college course can help individuals get into the role, for example:
- Level 2 Certificate or Diploma in Air Cabin Crew.
- Level 2 Cabin Crew and Airport Operations.
Private training providers also offer cabin crew and flight attendant courses.
Individuals usually need two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent for a Level 2 course. Even if individuals decide not to go to college, they will still need a decent secondary education, including GCSE maths and English. Having qualifications in foreign languages will also be beneficial.
Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge when applying for roles.
There is an apprenticeship route to becoming a flight attendant, e.g. cabin crew advanced apprenticeship. To be successful, individuals will usually need four or five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships and Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.
Individuals can apply directly to airlines to become flight attendants. There are many different airlines to choose from, and they will all have their own application processes and entry requirements, which are detailed on their career pages.
Some airlines have interactive quizzes that help individuals understand the role and decide whether it is for them before applying. There are also short one- or two-day introductory courses that give individuals an opportunity to see what it is like working as part of a cabin crew.
On the job training and volunteering
Having the right personal qualities and skills to be a flight attendant is essential. Employers will look at these during the application and selection process. Work experience in a relevant industry, e.g. travel, tourism and leisure, sales and hospitality, can help individuals stand out from the crowd. Even doing community courses can help, e.g. customer service and languages.
There is no substitute for practical experience. Volunteering can also help individuals build their knowledge and skills. Individuals could volunteer for charities and community schemes in customer service and sales roles to develop skills. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of relevant courses that may be useful for flight attendants include:
- Customer service.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Health and safety, e.g. workplace stress and violence and manual handling.
- Fire safety.
- Equality, diversity and inclusion.
- First aid.
- Complaints handling.
- Conflict management.
- Maths and numeracy.
- Time management.
- Other languages.
There are also specific cabin crew and flight attending courses.
If starting out, it may be worth enrolling on lower-cost online courses to see if a career in flight attending is of interest. That way, if it is not, it will save an individual a lot of time, money and trouble. There are cabin crew training academies that can help build knowledge and skills.
Professional bodies, unions and associations, such as the Cabin Crew Union (CCU), the Professional Cabin Crew Council (PCCC) and the Association of Flight Attendants (LHR), can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become flight attendants and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the flight attending in which an individual wants to work. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for specific roles and specialisms. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Cabin Crew International, Cabin Crew Wings Job Board, All Flying Jobs, Aviation Jobsearch, Airlines Careers, RAF Recruitment and airline career websites. Recruitment agencies may also offer flight attendant jobs.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training will also be required, as it keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date and is a requirement for regulatory purposes.
As mentioned, each airline will have its own entry requirements.
However, individuals will usually need to meet the following criteria:
- 18 years old, as a minimum, and some airlines require individuals to be 21.
- Pass a medical check.
- Pass enhanced background (criminal record) checks..
- A good fitness level.
- Able to swim 25 metres without assistance.
- A valid passport with no restrictions.
- A good level of spoken and written English.
- Living within a particular distance/time from their base, usually 90 minutes.
- A smart, well-groomed appearance.
- No visible tattoos or body piercings that cannot be covered.
- A certain height (for reaching overhead lockers), i.e. usually between 5ft 2in (157cm) and 6ft 2in (188cm). An individual’s weight should be proportionate to their height.
- Good eyesight (glasses/contact lenses are permitted) and hearing.
Always check the entry requirements before applying.
Cabin Crew Attestation (CCA)
If an individual wants to be a flight attendant on UK and European registered aircraft, they must hold a valid Cabin Crew Attestation (CCA). It is a certificate of professional competency given to individuals on the successful completion of the initial training course and the associated examination.
Most flight attendants will need to drive to their chosen base unless they can access reliable public transport. Therefore, they should have a full driving licence, preferably with no points.
Where do flight attendants work?
A flight attendant’s main workplace will be in the aircraft. They will be working before take-off, during the flight and after landing. They may also briefly work in offices, airports and maybe outside if there is an emergency.
Some flight attendants can work in first/business class, serving a small number of high-end passengers. Others can work in economy class and look after many passengers.
Flight attendants can be employed and work for companies across the UK and internationally, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- British and international commercial airlines, from low-budget to high-end.
- Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance (ACMI) services operators.
- Shipping and logistics companies, i.e. cargo airlines.
- Private businesses and corporations.
- The Royal Air Force (RAF).
- Governments and Royals.
They can also work for recruitment agencies, which are typically seasonal opportunities.
Overnight stays are usually associated with long-haul flights and less with short-haul flights. The reason is that flight attendants will help get the aircraft ready for the next flight, and the turnaround times are tight.
How much do flight attendants earn?
What a flight attendant earns will depend on the airline and their experience, location and seniority.
Some examples of average salaries include (these figures are a guide only):
- Entry level (less than 1 year of experience) – £17,720 a year.
- Early career (1–4 years of experience) – £18,654 a year.
- Mid-career (5–9 years of experience) – £20,129 a year.
- Experienced (10–19 years of experience) – £24,391 a year.
- Late career (20 years and higher) – £29,243 a year.
On average, in the UK, flight attendants earn around £22,084 annually (Check-a-Salary).
On top of their base salary, flight attendants get an hourly flight rate and allowances. They can also earn commission and bonuses for selling in-flight goods, e.g. duty-free. Some also receive good benefits, e.g. discounted flights and travel for themselves and their family. Therefore, there are opportunities to boost earnings.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of fight attending to specialise in
There are not that many areas in which to specialise, but flight attendants may be able to choose the type of flights they work on, e.g:
- Long-haul flights – are usually more than seven hours, and destinations may include the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Australasia. The aircraft tends to be big to accommodate more passengers. Due to the duration, refreshments are served multiple times throughout the flight. There are more opportunities for flight attendants to spend time at the destination.
- Medium-haul flights – are usually between three and seven hours, e.g. to North Africa and the Middle East. The aircraft is likely to be larger than those used for short-haul flights.
- Short-haul flights – are usually less than three hours and typically include domestic flights and travel to Europe. The aircraft are smaller, which means fewer passengers. There are quick turnarounds for these flights meaning that flight attendants may not have time to spend at the destination.
There may also be opportunities for flight attendants to specialise in classes, for example:
- First class – these tickets are the most expensive, so an extremely high standard is expected, including more interaction with passengers. There will be fewer passengers to look after in first class, and higher-quality meals and drinks will be served. Flight attendants may be required to carry out additional tasks, e.g. turndown service on overnight flights, setting tables and plating up food.
- Business class – targets business passengers and is more expensive than economy class and less than first. There are usually fewer passengers to look after, but more than first class. Flight attendants need to be more attentive to passengers, but not on the scale of first class. The food and refreshments are high quality, and there are usually multiple courses.
- Economy class – flight attendants will look after more passengers in economy class, and space tends to be more restricted than first/business class, especially on long-haul flights. The meals and refreshments served are basic.
The facilities and additional tasks will depend on the aircraft size and the flight length. For example, long-haul first-class flights will have more facilities than short-haul flights. Therefore, flight attendants may need to carry out more duties.
There may also be opportunities to choose to work on larger aircraft and those with additional facilities for high-end customers. However, flight attendants on commercial flights may have to work in all classes and on all flight types and aircraft on a rota basis.
Various flight attending roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. All flight attendants will need exceptional customer service skills and a passion for travelling. They will also need to ensure passengers are safe, comfortable and happy. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for and the specialist areas a flight attendant wants to work in. Further qualifications and training may be necessary, especially when working in first and business classes.
If flight attendants do not carry out their roles correctly, it could result in customer complaints, loss of customers, refunds, and safety procedures not being understood or followed. In worse cases, they could cause harm to themselves, their colleagues and passengers. Therefore, they must be competent and should only carry out duties within their remit and the scope of their role.
Procedures, standards, equipment, technology and laws are regularly changing. Therefore, flight attendants must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to comply with the law and ensure they carry out their roles effectively, safely and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives flight attendants the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, union and association can help prospective and current flight attendants enhance their skills and overall career. The Cabin Crew Union (CCU), the Professional Cabin Crew Council (PCCC) and the Association of Flight Attendants (LHR) offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is an opportunity for career progression for flight attendants. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a senior flight attendant (an in-flight supervisor) and be in charge of the cabin crew. They may also become involved in training and help train others to become flight attendants. Alternatively, they could work on private aircraft for businesses and become a corporate/executive flight attendant tending to very important private clients.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a flight attendant can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into ground operations, e.g. recruitment, passenger services, marketing, sales and safety training.
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