Many don’t even know that corporate flight attendants exist— let alone understand what these gypsy jet-setters actually must do at work. A little more recognized is the job and lifestyle of a commercial flight attendant, and yet, it seems that the perceived glamour of the career outshines the reality. I am not the overall expert of either, but have worked as a commercial cabin crew member— for two VERY different airlines with VERY different rules— and now catch flights on multi-million dollar private jets as a private cabin attendant. Due to this, there are aspects of both industries and careers that I know simply based on the fact that I have faced it myself. The idea for this blog resulted because:

  • My friends outside of the private jet industry have NO idea what I have to do when I go to work as a corporate flight attendant and I thought it might be nice for them to know.
  • So many commercial flight attendants are asking how to get into private aviation, but might not understand all that is different between the two similarly titled and paralleled careers.
  • That there is a path that could fit you best. That you don’t need to become a commercial flight attendant before a corporate flight attendant. I don’t want you to think one is better than the other. THEY ARE JUST SO DIFFERENT.

I not only hope you find your path— I know that you will. Keep going. Continue to hustle. Believe that the best is yet to come.

Hiring & Training —

To become any type of flight attendant, in any corner of the world, you will have to go to training. As a commercial flight attendant, the airline that hires you will pay for your training (unless you live in Spain, Italy, and a few other European countries where a ‘conversion course’ costs about 3000 euro). If you live in the United States, it is completely unnecessary to go to a flight attendant training academy outside of the airline’s training. Do NOT waste your money on one of those flight attendant training academies. Just start applying to the airlines! Your initial investment to become a commercial flight attendant really doesn’t take a monetary investment, but simply requires that you invest time to fix up your resume, apply online and complete the interview process.

In contrast, the beginning of a corporate flight attendant’s career starts with a minimum $5k investment. This is required for the training and safety certification. Even if you are a commercial flight attendant, you will still need to pay for the private jet crew training. If you are a former British Airways, Etihad, Qatar or Emirates crew, you will have a much easier time getting a job as a corporate flight attendant. Although there are many training companies for a corporate flight attendant hopeful to choose from, FlightSafety or FACTs are widely accepted and the most reputable.

It is advised to go with the industry standards, as the industry is practically impossible to break into and it’s better to give yourself the best opportunity for success. The training companies, although they might have crewing resources, do NOT give you a job. You just add the training to your resume, and after the five-day (+ or -) course, it’s your new full-time job to get yourself a job. It’s a hustle and almost not worth it, except there is literally no job like being a corporate flight attendant. There are very few jobs in the world that garner the earning potential that a corporate flight attendant career offers, with such little upfront monetary investment.

Pay & Earning Potential

It was because of the pay that I decided it was smart to become a corporate flight attendant. I have ultimately learned that my mindset was incredibly skewed. The amount of perseverance, sacrifice, and risk that corporate flight attendant’s make is more than most are willing to commit to in their lives. The private cabin attendants who actually “make it” financially can earn up to $175k a year. That number is the extreme in the industry, but commonly, corporate flight attendants SHOULD be making— based on the job responsibilities for a large cabin jet— at least $100k a year. As a contract corporate flight attendant, I can make in 3-5 days what I used to make in 30-days flying commercial. Not bad…the thing is, I never know if I’ll fly. That’s kind of scary.

Commercial flight attendants, on the other hand, start at $18k-$25k a year and cap, after they become fossilized by seniority, in the $75k range. I’m not looking up these numbers but throwing them out there to show the contrast. The numbers could be off, but you get my point. I’ve come to understand that the extreme earning potential differences in the two types of ‘fly lives’ is completely warranted. Your pay is directly related to responsibility, job risk, and basically selling your life— days off, plans, etc.— to whatever someone else wants (i.e the charter client or aircraft owner)… which leads me to the next point.

Scheduling & Predictability

Commercial flight attendants often believe that reserve garners a great degree of unpredictability. Now that I am a corporate flight attendant, I see airline schedules as VERY structured and predictable. You literally have ONLY the airlines’ route map that you will fly to as a commercial flight attendant. You will probably have 3-on/4-off or 4-on/3-off— and the off days will fall on a Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday—Thursday. You have hours that scheduling can call you, and there is usually a list where you can see who is next in line for a trip.

I never jumped at the chance to get called out on standby as a commercial flight attendant, but as a corporate flight attendant, my phone is CONSTANTLY by my side. I say YES to trips before I know where I’m going or who I’m flying. Scheduling companies will ask, “Are you available for a trip that leaves…” I’ve quickly learned JUST SAY YES because there is someone else who is FIGHTING for flights; someone else who wants it more than me. Missing one phone call literally means I probably lost over $1200+; in addition to who knows how many repeat calls or flights with that company. You PRAY as a contract corporate flight attendant to get scheduled. You are on call 24/7. You don’t ever get used to the unpredictability, but ironically, that is part of the appeal. 

With the flights I do get scheduled for, I am lucky if I know 24 hours in advance. That seems like a lot of time if you are a commercial flight attendant, but there is SO much to do before a flight departs, that time is precious and you never really have enough of it. The unpredictability is a psychological rollercoaster that creates a ton of stress, but is truly is worth the ride. My trips literally can go ANYWHERE in the ENTIRE world— but as the way, ‘flight attendant life’ appears more glamorous from the outside— I generally will end up in New Jersey (of ALL places. Insert eye roll emoji here). I don’t care though, really. I learn so much on every flight, and every flight feels like a job interview (because it kind of is). This makes it all exciting in different ways. I don’t have job security, certainty, or consistency. It’s not as bad as it sounds though because living outside of your comfort zone is an irreplaceable adventure.

Job Responsibilities & Catering

As a commercial flight attendant, your job responsibilities are highly centered on safety, whereas a corporate flight attendant is often better prepared for his or her career if the individual has a culinary background, five-star dining experience, or has worked as an executive assistant in the past. Commercial flight attendants simply show up, with personal bags packed, at their gate at the scheduled report time. All the catering is taken care of by the catering company that the airline uses. As a corporate flight attendant, your bags are usually always packed, so you spend all of your time before the flight doing things like running around to 3-5 restaurants to pick up requested food and finding the nearest Whole Foods Market to shop for berries, cheese, mint, orange juice, etc. etc. etc. As a corporate flight attendant, you are basically hosting a dinner party at 45,000, in someone else’s home, and if you don’t bring the food items or correct drinks, you will, for one, look unprofessional and two, not have food.

Before getting into corporate aviation, I had NO concept of how much time it takes to create an exquisite dining experience during a flight. There are so many little things like printing menus or repackaging food so that it’s ready to serve, or will fit in the small galleys, that I just never knew until I started being faced with the pre-flight or in-flight puzzles. And who even knew making sure that I had cream cheese and five different types of bagels and all of the sautéed vegetables to make scrambled eggs during the flight would cause so much anxiety! It makes me laugh thinking about how much I didn’t understand and how much I still have to learn— but that’s the fun of it. It’s absolutely always an adventure, challenge, and confidence booster!

Career Competition

They say only 4 percent of commercial flight attendant hopefuls who apply to work for the airlines actually get the job, but in corporate aviation, the competition is even more fierce. I would say that less than 1 percent of individuals interested in private aviation actually become successful corporate flight attendants. Truthfully, to make it in private aviation, it takes knowing the right people and having a pretty face; often over the fact that you might actually be good at the job. That being said, the corporate flight attendants who make it HUSTLE. They have an ability to deal with rejection, know what they want, and will not stop until they have reached their goals.

With the airlines, computers are often the gate-keeper to getting interviews and usually, if the job is not offered, candidates can apply within six months. The system is more regulated and age plays less (to none) of a part. My Romanian private cabin attendant friend said that, in Europe, after 35 years old your career in private aviation is over. I’m not saying that this is right or wrong— I’m just letting you know how it is in the industry. You learn to play to it and work around how it is. You learn to stay fierce and hungry— because there are a million gorgeous men and women who are fighting just a fiercely to take your place. This isn’t a negative, but the knowledge instead makes me incredibly grateful that I am given the opportunity to fly and incredibly humbled that I have succeeded thus far.

Flight Benefits

One major difference and one reason why commercial flight attendants love their job is due to the flight benefits. Flight benefits are a super cool perk. I used my flight benefits to travel all over the world for nine years. It’s amazing, but oddly, I don’t care so much now that I don’t have flight benefits (in the same way that I did). I can afford to buy full-fare tickets now. Besides, flights are insanely full, and it’s hard to make standby work anymore. I also don’t care about flight benefits, because I would rather stay home because I want to work. I like working now more than traveling. I want flights. I’m not waiting for my days off because I am the one controlling my schedule. Contracting means I do have more control in some ways. I literally create my life and that is not something I want to escape from experiencing.

NOTE: I wrote this from the perspective of contracting, so there are even more differences if a corporate flight attendant is a full-time employee on one jet, but I hope what is mentioned helps you understand a little bit more of life in the skies.



About the Author

Hello, I’m K. J. Watts, but my friends call me Kara. I fell into the sky and have worked as International cabin crew, on private jets as a corporate flight attendant, and earned an FAA Private Pilot Certificate. Over a decade ago, I started this blog, which developed into a love for writing and a debut memoir based on Flight Attendant Life. A California native, I now live in Sydney, Australia, where I enjoy spending time with my husband, writing, and surfing.

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