In an era where job seekers change jobs every 4.4 years, the longevity of the average flight attendants career defies the employment odds. Veteran flight attendants we spoke with gave their reasons for remaining in their positions long after most people have moved on in their careers:
- “I decided to work as a flight attendant for one summer between my third and fourth year of college. Twenty five years later – and I’m still with the airline… even my marriage hasn’t lasted this long.”
- “My friend and I thought it would be fun and glamorous to work for an airline before heading off to college. I’m now in my 15th year with the company and I haven’t looked back.”
- “After eight years as a flight attendant I know this job is right for me. No two days are alike and there are no office politics to deal with.”
- “The perks are fantastic. I use my flight passes to commute to the Bahamas. I don’t know of any other job that would enable me to live on a Caribbean island on my days off.”
- “Flying is my life. I have made some very close friends on the job. It’s very different from other types of work because you shop together, eat together and share unique experiences with your colleagues. The camaraderie and team spirit is one reason I’m still here even though I have a college degree and could be working elsewhere.”
Job Satisfaction or Economic Reality?
According to a 2009 study published by the Population Reference Bureau, “…between 1980 and 2007, the median age of flight attendants rose by 14 years (from 30 to 44).”
In their study entitled “The Changing Demography of U.S. Flight Attendants,” the authors cite current economic conditions for the postponement of retirement as one of the key reasons why the median age of flight attendants has risen since 1980.
Although this may be true, current economic realities do not fully address the tendency of flight attendants to remain in their careers long past the 10, 20 or even 40+ year mark. What is it about the flight attendant lifestyle that attracts so many candidates and why is there such a high retention level?
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Flight Attendant
Although every flight attendant has their own unique reason/s, for choosing this career, there are some common reasons why people may want to join an airline and some reasons why they shouldn’t.
You should consider a career as a flight attendant if you love…
No two days are alike. Depending on the airline you work for, your life as a Flight Attendant is like National Geographic on steroids. The people, places, culture and food you will experience will amaze and astound you.
Deeply Discounted Air Travel
What your salary lacks, your travel discount will compensate for. If you’ve ever dreamed of an exotic trip to Machu Picchu or of visiting the ruins in Pompeii, working for an airline is your ticket to dream destinations and vacations.
Depending on your schedule, you could have 10 to 17 days off per month. On an annual basis this amounts to six months of work spread out over a calendar year.
Hotel and Car Rental Discounts
Most companies offer airline employees generous discounts especially off-season.
Time to Yourself
On layovers, no one is hogging the remote, you don’t need to make your bed and there are no dishes to wash. Use your down time to read a book, go to a concert, call a friend or get a pedicure. Some flight attendants refer to their layovers as mini-vacations.
Visiting Friends and Family
If you haven’t seen Uncle Hansel or Aunt Gretel since 1992, next month’s layover in Frankfurt will give you the opportunity to get caught up on family business and enjoy your aunt’s famous strudel.
Whether you are shoe shopping in New York, buying jeans in L.A. or purchasing the latest handbag in Shanghai; shopping is to flight attendants as water is to fish.
Eating in Restaurants
Every city or country has its food specialty whether its sushi in Japan, BBQ in Texas or seafood in Boston. The chance to eat authentic, local food is a big perk whether you are a foodie or simply famished after your flight.
Wearing a Uniform
This trademark of flight attendants worldwide can be a blessing if you have a low starting salary. You will save a lot of money on clothing and accessories if you are on a tight budget.
Meeting Famous People
I’ve run into stars like Kenny Rogers, Mila Kunis, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer-Love Hewitt, Christopher Plummer, Sting, Lady Gaga, and more. The Who’s Who of society could be on your next flight. It’s always a thrill to brag about the time when so and so was on your flight and whether they were naughty or nice. If you’re lucky enough you might even get a picture to post on Instagram or your Facebook page.
Do not consider a career as a flight attendant if you dislike…
Being Away From Home for Long Periods of Time
The vagabond lifestyle is not everyone’s idea of a good time. You might be on the road for two, three or four days or an entire week. You will be living out of suitcase so be honest with yourself if you are more of a homebody than a jet setter.
Restaurants and/or Eating Out of a Lunch Bag
Even if you pack a serious lunch for a four-day trip, by day three or four, your food supply will run low and you will need to refuel at the nearest grocery store, restaurant or overpriced airport food court. Eating in restaurants can be expensive and unhealthy and not everyone likes to pack a four-day lunch. In most cases, fresh produce, milk products and some select food items are prohibited when clearing customs in other countries. Flight attendants have been known to survive for days on granola bars, juice boxes and ramen noodles.
Experienced travellers learn to live with the fatigue, sleep deprivation and dehydration that comes with flying through time zones in a pressurized cabin. This may or may not be your cup of tea so know what you are signing up for. Working at the airport might be a better alternative than working in the air.
Your office is a pressurized tube that darts through the air. If you don’t like confined spaces or you have a hard-core nicotine habit, consider a real office job.
Socializing and Being Visible
Do you secretly dislike people? Was your sole reason for applying to take advantage of the travel benefits? Once in uniform, you are an automatic spokesperson for the company. People will assume you are a walking information kiosk with the ability to immediately direct them to the nearest bathroom, restaurant or gate. They will also assume that you are a sounding board for every airline complaint and injustice they’ve ever experienced. If you don’t like people, it will be extremely difficult to fake compassion and empathy and to survive in a job where you are constantly in the public eye.
As mentioned, no two days are alike. If you thrive on a routine, the unscheduled landings, flight cancellations and unplanned layovers will disrupt your best-laid plans.
Working on Holidays
Kiss Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, New Year’s, and Thanksgiving goodbye. For the first decade of your career, don’t count on being home for special holidays. Most airlines run on a seniority-based system. Those flight attendants who are lower on the totem pole must do their time and those who are higher on the pole have paid their dues.
Dealing with Children, The Elderly and the Infirm
Wheelchair passengers, unaccompanied minors, passengers traveling with service animals…it’s all in a day’s work! Patience and understanding are a must when dealing with Special Attention Passengers or (SPATS), as they are known in the industry.
If the idea of serving coffee, picking up someone’s garbage or cleaning a lavatory is repulsive, consider a less hands on career.
“Please turn off your cell phone; buckle your seatbelt; stow your bags…” Every flight attendant reads from a similar script. These reminders will be repeated hundreds of times throughout your career so ask yourself if you can handle the broken record aspect of the airline business.
Don’t be Afraid to Fly!
After weighing the pros and cons and making a list of what does or does not appeal to you about the flight attendant lifestyle, you will be able to decide if this is a career worth pursuing. Like the veteran flight attendants we interviewed, you could try it for a summer and see what happens.
The more you know about the flight attendant world, the better equipped you will be to make an informed career decision.