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Want to travel the country for free? Get paid to fly to exotic destinations?
If so, it’s time to get a job as a flight attendant!
I interviewed Kelly, who has been working for American Airlines for four years, and she had a lot of info to share. Keep reading to learn about the finances, lifestyle, and all the insider tips and tricks you need to know to get a job as a flight attendant!
Average Income: Kelly makes about $3,000 to $4,000 a month depending on how much she chooses to work. Yearly before taxes in 2017 she made $53,000
Free Housing/Utilities: No
Tax Free: No
Vacation Days: You gain a certain amount of vacation days every year. Starting out you’ll get four days a year. After working for four years, Kelly is up to seven days a year, and soon she’ll jump to ten.
Certifications needed: You don’t need a college degree to become a flight attendant, but it does help. Around 30,000 people apply for the job every year and they only hire 500, so you want to stand out!
How to Get a Job as a Flight Attendant
If the stats look good to you, it’s time to start your job hunt.
Kelly says the best way to get a job as a flight attendant is to start by checking the websites of all the major airlines because they usually have specific hiring periods. From there, you can send in an application on their website.
If you’re looking for more, join the Facebook group “Flight Attendant Career Connections” where there are job postings and plenty of people who are happy to help you out and answer any questions you may have.
The Application and Interview Process
Once you choose the airlines you want to work for, the application process if fairly unique. Kelly applied online, and a few days later had a video interview from home. Afterwards, they called to tell her they were interested, and flew her to Charlotte for an in-person interview.
What she didn’t know that was that there would be 90 other people interviewing at the training center with her… and only ten would get the job. Kelly said she doesn’t think she ever stopped smiling, because she was told they liked positivity and charisma. Clearly, it worked. Many other interviewees at the center said they had applied 4 – 6 times already and were never chosen.
The group was slowly weeded down. Kelly explains:
Some instructors came into the room and said they needed additional information from a few candidates (about 20 of us) and told the rest that the interview was over and that they’d be in touch. We went into another room and were told we made it to the second round of the interview.
We had a few more activities and then the face-to-face interviews. After that, only ten of us got the job. After being chosen, you do A LOT of paperwork, give them info for a background check etc. Finally, they told me they’d be in touch with my training date, which was only two weeks later!
If you want to stand out in the interview, definitely remember to smile a lot, and check out the book called The Essential Guide to Becoming a Flight Attendant, which Kelly says was gold for tips on what they are looking for.
Finally, don’t get discouraged! The acceptance rate is even less than an Ivy League school, so keep trying.
Once you get a job as a flight attendant, the final step is to make your location change. After the training, flight attendants are assigned a base (Kelly was given Philadelphia) and have five days to move to it. From here you have several options for housing.
Most stay in what’s called a “crash pad” where they pay $200 to $300 a month for a bed when they aren’t flying. Kelly chose not to go that route, because 12 people in one house just didn’t seem too fun to her (and I gotta say I agree).
Others will choose three or four friends from training, get a one bedroom apartment somewhere, and put four twin beds in to save money! You can also do what Kelly does and just rent an apartment on your own. It all depends on how much money you want to save, and how much you value your personal space…
Finally, some flight attendants choose to “commute” to their base, but it adds a strain onto the already stressful transition period. Kelly recommends, at least initially, to move to the base you are given and get used to the job before you consider commuting.
As stated in the stats, Kelly makes about $3,000 to $4,000 a month. But, income really depends on three things: your airline, your seniority, and how many hours you want to work.
If you get a job as a flight attendant at American Airlines, the starting pay rate is about $25 an hour. If you choose to work for a regional airline, you’ll start closer to $16 or $17 an hour. You’ll also get a raise every year that you work, up until you reach the maximum pay rate in year thirteen.
Just remember, airlines count hours a little weird. Flight attendants are only paid when the plane door is closed, so they aren’t getting paid when the flight is delayed or for any time they spend at the airport before one. However, they do get an extra $2.20 an hour for every hour they are away from their base city, to help cover costs of food and transportation on long trips.
When it comes to choosing your hours, you can manage if you want to work a lot or a little. Kelly is called a “high time flyer” in flight attendant slang. That means she goes “aggressive” to fly, and will get trips before others who don’t go aggressive or want as many hours. Because of this, she chooses to work from 85 up to 115 hours a month depending on the season.
Just like most jobs, the start can be difficult and income fluctuates. Kelly says it took her three years to have a steady and comfortable income.
The Benefits Of Working as a Flight Attendant
So, why stick with it? For the benefits of course! Flight attendants get paid vacation, but also so much more.
One major perk of the job is free domestic flights, and international flights from $40 to $200 roundtrip! Costs depend on the country you are going to, because they only pay the taxes that those airports require.
For example, right now AA flight attendants can get round trip flights to Rome for only $50! The most expensive option she has at the moment is London at $225 round trip.
These benefits aren’t just for the flight attendants, but also for their families and friends. Kelly explains:
My mom and dad can travel for really amazing prices, I’d say even less than a fourth of what a normal ticket costs. I also get 16 buddy passes a year, which are not free, but are discounted, and prices on those can vary depending on location and taxes. They can be complicated to redeem, but I do give them out to people who understand the process.
I can also have one registered guest who flies for the same prices as I do (free domestically and for a fee internationally). However we get some money taken out of our paychecks when they fly, which can also be confusing at times. Overall, we have great travel benefits.
When you get a job as a flight attendant, you will also get healthcare, vision coverage, dental insurance, a 401k that’s matched by the company, and the opportunity to peddle credit card apps, which Kelly makes an extra $500 to $1000 from every month.
So, can you save money with this position? Kelly says it can be difficult, but it’s definitely doable.
The lifestyle of a flight attendant is definitely different from a normal nine-to-five, but in a good way if you love to travel. Kelly gets 12 days off a month. She bids for her schedule two weeks in advance and always knows what it looks like by the 21st of the month prior.
As a reserve flight attendant she also sometimes gets called in to replace the senior attendants. When that’s the case, she often has to drop everything to be at the airport in only two hours.
Taking vacation is always easy, and flight attendants are constantly using their benefits to travel around the world. Any time flight attendants aren’t working, they can take an unlimited amount of free domestic flights or cheap international ones.
Kelly travels as often as she can, and it turns out that’s A LOT. In a week she’s off on a solo adventure to Buenos Aires and Uruguay, and next month she has plans to spend a week in Amsterdam. Since she started working for AA, she’s been to Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Germany, Mexico, Israel, and many more countries.
However, one common misconception (at least, that I had) was that flight attendants could extend layovers when they fly to international destinations, and explore them a bit longer. Actually, that’s not the case. You can’t extend layovers, and can only stay as long as you are assigned. Usually for international trips, that means 22 to 50 hours before your flight out again.
Kelly’s Experience as a Flight Attendant
What makes someone decide to get a job as a flight attendant? For Kelly, it just always sounded interesting.
She had just moved back to the US from Rome and was missing the travel and lifestyle she had in a foreign country. A teacher she worked with had gone on to get a job as a flight attendant and Kelly decided to apply as well. “Initially I thought I could never live that type of lifestyle, because I knew I’d be away a lot. I made the decision because of the travel benefits, but I genuinely love this job.”
She also says that the culture is really fun and everyone usually has a great personality. Even better? You never have a supervisor while up in the air, so you make all the the decisions which takes a lot of stress out of the job.
Kelly loves working as a flight attendant, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The schedule and hours vary wildly, and they travel a lot. “Many people end up quitting because they hate the lifestyle. It truly is a love or hate type of job.”
Day to Day Work
First, Kelly packs, gets ready, and leaves her apartment for the the Philadelphia airport.
Then she checks in to the crew room, walks to the gate, and flies on anywhere from one to five flights in a day.
Finally, she arrives at her final destination for the night. When it’s not her base city, a shuttle waits to pick them and take them to their (all expenses paid) hotel. The next day, she gets up and starts all over again.
Pros and Cons
Of course, every job has pros and cons. For Kelly, the cons are being exhausted at times, and how hard the job is on your body. It’s hard to eat well when you’re always on the go. You can’t buy a lot of fresh food, because you’ll never be home enough to eat it before it goes bad. When you’re always eating in airports, you just have to find other ways to be healthy.
The pros, like the travel and medical benefits, the fun lifestyle, making a lot of new friends and the long layovers in new cities and countries definitely outweigh the cons of the position.
By the way, if you’re trying to get over your fear of flying, take it from Kelly. She’s flown thousands of hours in the past four years, but when I asked for horror stories she said there haven’t been any issues except a few bouts of turbulence. That’s always reassuring to hear!
Get a Job as a Flight Attendant
If you want to travel the world and get paid to do it, it’s time to get a job as a flight attendant. Apply to airlines, take the leap, and expect the unexpected in this position.
For Kelly, working as a flight attendant has been a blast. “Every discovery I’ve made throughout the process was always cool with me. This journey is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
PS still exploring your options? Check out the rest of the Working Abroad Series to learn more ways to make money while traveling like working as a freelance writer, landing a job as an au pair, teaching ESL online classes, landing a position on a yacht and so much more!