Flight Attendant Salary: How Top Flight Attendants Make $75,000+ Per Year

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If you’re considering a career as a Flight Attendant (F/A), you’ve probably asked yourself, “How much do flight attendants make?” In this era of high fuel costs, low-cost carriers and airline mergers, this question is as pertinent as ever. As airlines struggle to stay afloat and find efficiencies during tough economic times, flight attendant wages have felt the pressure as companies attempt to trim the fat in all aspects of their business.

Despite challenging economic times for the aviation sector, some flight attendants earn robust salaries in the $75 000-$90 000 range. If you are considering a career in ‘the friendly skies’, there are many factors that can affect your wage. Unlike other professions, the hourly wage for Flight Attendants is only one slice of the salary pie.

Base Salary

What are salaries really like in the airline industry? As with other professions, flight attendants earn lower salaries at the beginning of their career and work their way up to higher wages. The following 2012-2016 Hourly Contractual Wage Charts for United Airlines Flight Attendants lists the Domestic and International hourly wages from year one to year 14. Note that salaries have more than doubled by year 14 in each column.

Domestic Hourly

Year February 2012 February 2013 February 2014 February 2015
1 $20.31 $20.72 $21.23 $21.76
2 $21.46 $21.89 $22.44 $23.00
3 $22.83 $23.29 $23.87 $24.47
4 $23.47 $23.94 $24.54 $25.15
5 $26.62 $27.15 $27.83 $28.53
6 $35.00 $35.70 $36.59 $37.51
7 $36.89 $37.63 $38.57 $39.53
8 $37.81 $38.57 $39.53 $40.52
9 $39.04 $39.82 $40.82 $41.84
10 $40.29 $41.10 $42.12 $43.18
11 $41.16 $41.98 $43.03 $44.11
12 $42.14 $42.98 $44.06 $45.16
13 $43.05 $43.91 $45.01 $46.13
14 $43.73 $44.60 $45.72 $46.86

International Hourly

Year February 2012 February 2013 February 2014 February 2015
1 $20.90 $21.32 $21.64 $21.96
2 $22.07 $22.51 $22.85 $23.19
3 $23.44 $23.91 $24.27 $24.63
4 $24.08 $24.56 $24.93 $25.30
5 $27.21 $27.75 $28.17 $28.59
6 $38.96 $39.74 $40.34 $40.94
7 $40.82 $41.64 $42.26 $42.89
8 $41.65 $42.48 $43.12 $43.77
9 $43.02 $43.88 $44.54 $45.21
10 $43.87 $44.75 $45.42 $46.10
11 $44.85 $45.75 $46.43 $47.13
12 $45.96 $46.88 $47.58 $48.30
13 $46.83 $47.77 $48.48 $49.21
14 $47.45 $48.40 $49.12 $50.05

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A major irritant for most flight attendants are check-in/check-out times. Although the airline will expect you to be on-duty (on the aircraft) and ready for the safety and service briefing one hour prior to flight departure, you will only be paid 15 minutes pre-flight and 15 minutes post-flight. If you are required to clear customs, some airlines extend that to 30 minutes after flight arrival.

Per Diems

A big part of a Flight Attendant’s salary is compensation for meals when overnighting at a hotel or when meals are not boarded on the aircraft. This is often referred to as a ‘per diem.’ Per diems vary depending on the length of a stay or ‘layover’ at a hotel. For instance, on a domestic (North American) layover of 12 hours, your expenses will be much lower than on an International layover of 24 hours or more. Since the domestic layover requires a breakfast and/or a lunch credit, the expenses will be much lower for this type of flying.

A 24-hour overseas layover with two breakfasts, one lunch and a dinner credit pays more than a flying cycle that includes fewer meal periods. Depending on the airline’s system, the value of a local currency also impacts per diems. When exchange rates are factored in, flying to a country with a stronger currency is more lucrative. International flights to countries with elevated currencies are the preferred choice of Flight Attendants who want to pad their paychecks. Another bonus? In Canada and in the US, meal allowances are generally tax-free so this portion of a flight attendant’s income is theirs to keep. Some airlines vary in how their per diems are paid out. The following grid illustrates the ‘flat-rate’ system for United Airlines Flight Attendants who are ‘on duty’ or on flight assignment:

Domestic Per Diem

Year February 2012 February 2013
1 $1.73 $1.95

International Per Diem

Year February 2012 February 2013
1 $2.13 $2.50

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For unionized Flight Attendants, seniority plays a huge role in determining access to premium routes. Since seniority works by date-of-hire, a Flight Attendant hired in 1995, would have more choice in terms of their flying schedule than an employee hired in 2008. In a seniority driven environment, a junior Flight Attendant has less access to the high-paying, high-quality flying that a more senior Flight Attendant would hold. Whereas a junior Flight Attendant might have limited options and be forced to fly on routes with lower expenses, a senior Flight Attendant can choose a flying schedule with more generous per diems.

Wide Body vs. Narrow Body

Some airlines also have different pay scales depending on the size of the aircraft. This is particularly true for Pursers (also known as Service Directors or In-Charges). A Purser on a B777-200 is usually paid more than a Purser on an Embraer 175 or an Airbus 319. Managing a crew of 14 vs. a crew of one or two is more demanding and most airlines compensate their Service Directors for the extra work they perform on these aircraft.

Purser Pay vs. Flight Attendant Pay

Many F/A’s eventually become Pursers to boost their salary and to assume new challenges and responsibilities. Junior Flight Attendants can nearly double their salary by becoming a Purser. Some airlines require F/A’s to have a minimum of one or more years of service to become a Service Director. At Air Canada for example, in 2011 a purser on a narrow-body aircraft earned $50.14 per hour while a Purser on the B777 earned $67.92 per hour. In addition to these wages, Pursers are also paid the per diems, night premiums and other expenses that a Flight Attendant would be entitled to.


Do you ‘parli italiano?’ or ‘sprechen sie deutsch?’ If so you have a definite advantage in the airline industry. Flight Attendants hired for their language skills are usually placed on lucrative overseas routes to do language announcements and to communicate with passengers in their native tongue. To a degree, Flight Attendants hired for their language skills are able to trump the seniority system. A junior, Japanese-speaking Flight Attendant has a much better chance of being awarded a flight to Tokyo then a junior unilingual employee. Among Japanese-speaking Flight Attendants, the most senior Japanese speaker will have first crack at the Japanese flights. If you are considering a career in this industry, it pays to know other languages. Some airlines offer language premiums if you can demonstrate fluency. Do your research and investigate the destinations a carrier flies to and learn a second or third language. The more languages you know, the better your chances of being hired and the greater your pay.

Long Haul vs. Short Haul,

As a rule, quick, short haul flights have fewer per diems or expenses than long hauls. On a one-day, return trip from New York to Kingston, Jamaica, if your meals are boarded, you will not be entitled to a meal allowance. Frugal Flight Attendants have learned how to save money by packing a lunch or dinner when entitled to a per diem.

Regional vs. Mainline

Working for a regional or commuter airline vs. a mainline carrier will also impact your salary and working conditions. Wages at the regionals, where smaller, narrow-body aircraft prevail, are lower than wages for Flight Attendants at the ‘majors’ or mainline carriers. The Flight Attendant pay scale at American Eagle Airlines for example, tops out at $33 per hour after 13 years of service. Needless to say commuter Flight Attendants probably aren’t as jet-lagged as their mainline counterparts who do overseas flying. To view the wage scales for American Eagle Airlines Flight Attendants go to:

Extra Hours/Drafting

In a typical month, a Flight Attendant will usually work between 75 and 85 hours up to a maximum of approximately 100 hours. Factors such as weather, employees calling in sick or employees going over their maximum monthly limitation are among some of the reasons why airlines need Flight Attendants to cover extra shifts. Known as ‘drafting,’ Flight Attendant can pick up extra shifts and can be handsomely rewarded through draft premiums worth. At the end of the month when most flight attendants have run out of time on their schedules, it is easier to pick up an extra shift. Although many junior Flight Attendants have second jobs to make ends meet, there is always an opportunity to do extra flying especially at the end of the month.

Vacation and Benefits

Deep discounts on air travel, hotels, car rental, and flights are just some of the perks you can expect with an airline job. If you enjoy a lot of time off, a Flight Attendant can work as little as one, two, or three days a week. If you want to compress your hours, by working six or seven days in a row you can get more time off later in the monthly. Work schedules are flexible and most Flight Attendants use a computerized bidding system to select their days off, preferred routes, preferred expenses and even colleagues they want or don’t want to work with. To put it in perspective, compared to a typical 40-hour week, most Flight Attendants work six months out of the year! Being a Flight Attendant leaves plenty of time for other pursuits.

Location, Location, Location

Flight attendants can commute to their home base. If you are a Flight Attendant based in Seattle, you can choose to live in New York, Los Angeles or Vancouver and use your airline passes to fly to work. Many Flight Attendants take advantage of this perk to live in warmer climates, to be closer to their families or to take advantage of better real estate values in other cities.

The Uniform: Blessing or Curse?

The Flight Attendant uniform can be both a blessing and a curse. While it might earn you a second look from a handsome stranger, for fashionistas who don’t like the cut or color, the uniform probably falls under the curse category. For frugal, newbie Flight Attendants, it is definitely a blessing as wearing the uniform will save you a bundle on clothing costs.

If you want to become a Flight Attendant, it pays to do your research and understand the factors that will impact your salary. The next time you are seated at 35 000 ft., ask your Flight Attendant about the pros and cons of joining the industry and how you can earn your wings.

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