By Scott Arnold, Sājet Solutions
A common inquiry I receive from corporate flight attendants and flight operators, looking to hire, is basically the same question— “What is the going salary rate for a corporate flight attendant?” My first thought is always, “Excellent question.” The answer? Not so simple.”
Negotiating and/or confirming salaries can be extremely frustrating whenever seeking a full-time position— or if you’re new to industry trying to figure it all out. Don’t worry. The majority of us that have been in this industry for years are also still trying to figure it all out. This is not due to the lack of intellect or knowledge but rather the lack of standardization in business aviation. Simply, there is no industry-wide set corporate flight attendant salary because there is no singular job description for this type of career. Salaries vary as vastly as your duties do… and I mean VASTLY!
That being said, let me try and give some clarity by providing a few examples, as well as the industry averages (as of mid-2019).
Disclaimer: All of the information I am sharing should be considered subjective, as it’s from my own stock pile arsenal. I use to assist corporate flight attendants seeking salary increases and/or negotiating full-time positions. Some of this information may be up for debate (I would be surprised if it isn’t). However, that being said, this information has proven to be extremely effective and successful numerous times. I have consulted many corporate flight attendants on how to negotiate and win their respected salaries, using the following information. So, there is that!
In order to provide the most accurate salary estimate, there are several questions that must be answered first. Here is a sampling but not limited to:
So, why is the salary range for a “corporate flight attendant” so vast?
Here’s my interpretation and breakdown for the United States.
As of January 2020, the average annual pay for a Corporate Flight Attendant in the United States is $55,000 a year. This is based on ALL types of operations and throughout the USA. The complete salary range is $30K to $175K. The lowest and highest spectrums of this range make up a very low percentage of the industry, so the balance evens out at around $55K. If you are higher than this posted top range (and I know a few that are), I’m sure you don’t tell anyone to avoid the booing and hissing or are embarrassed to share it. We all should say, “Good for you!”
Charter companies (FAR135) tend to pay on the lower side of the salary tier due to the nature of the business (It’s all revenue driven, so it’s to be expected). Contrary to the assumption of working with a lower salary, it’s not an easy career. In fact, it’s a lot of hard work with endless pop-up trips and limited time off. Despite being a lower base salary, working for a charter company is always a great “resume builder,” as the experience you’ll gain is invaluable. Typically, the majority of these operations have a lot of annual turnover due to this but…there are “unicorn companies” out there that pay a higher salary and are great companies to work for. It’s all about “the fit.”
If you reside and/or the operation is based in the greater New York City area, Southern/Central California your salary expectations and perceptions are definitely skewed. These markets are the highest paying in the United States due to the cost of living.
FAR91K, FAR135 and FAR125 Operations AVERAGE Salary Range:
Fractional/Owner Services such as; Netjets, Vista Jet, Flexjet (FAR91K), charter “for hire” (FAR135), and large transport/shuttles (FAR125).
The majority of these operations, the CFA’s reside all over the USA and the salary ranges between: $30,000-$75,000.
FAR 91 Operations AVERAGE Salary Range:
Company fleet, private owners
Private owner operations tend to pay the highest due to the job skills required, owner demands, schedule, and having a dedicated aircraft you are responsible for.
West Coast: $115,000
Live anywhere in the USA (and sometimes world) the range also varies widely, ranging between: $77,000-$200,000+
I believe the ranges are due to how many corporate flight attendants are employed by the operation. The more CFA’s that are part of the team, the less you all make. It’s a matter of overhead and costs of running the flight department.
Corporate Flight Attendant National Average Salary Surveys – ranked by Experience:
Less than five years: Minimum: $45,000 High: $148,000
Five to ten years: Minimum: $42,175 High: $155,000
More than 10 years: Minimum: $54,990 High: $177,000
Regarding the above types of surveys, such as NBAA’s … I know for a fact they are compiled by only a handful of participating operators and the majority are FAR91 operators based in large metro areas. Despite their best effort, it’s impossible to get a realistic and accurate national range/average. As the former Director Aircare Crews Staffing, I would review all of these survey’s as they are an excellent resource, but also knowing they are not the absolute. I always conducted my own survey by combining these surveys, interviewing the freelancers and clients, as well as the competitor’s findings. This is why I believe staffing companies have a better handle on accurate salary ranges than any of these published rates. Agencies provide crew support and placement for all types of operations across the country, so their averages are going to be more realistic.
HOW TO DETERMINE OR VERIFY YOUR SALARY
Specific qualifications may allow you to negotiate a higher salary. Perks such as— being multilingual, having trained culinary skills, being a trained chef, nurse, EMT, nutritionist, butler, or personal assistant, having yacht stewardess/steward experience, to name a few. Any of these specialties will not only open doors but may also command a higher salary than what’s being offered.
When comparing, calculating, or confirming your salary, using these listed averages as a reference, you MUST know first what your job description and expectations are. Get answers to the listed questions featured in the opening. If you are the only CFA for a private owner, this may command a higher salary. If the volume of flying is extensive and/or your responsibilities are extreme, this may also command a higher salary.
Your quality of life is a very important component to take into consideration. How vital is it for you to be home and how often and long? If you’re on a rotation— is it weekly, every two-weeks, every other month, or longer blocked periods of time (several months at a time)? If you are away for long periods of time, what realistic compensation will satisfy you financially?
If you are offered a salary which you feel is too low, ask them where they are basing the salary from. Never be afraid to ask! This is your career, your livelihood, and if you never ask the questions, you will never know the real answers. Never assume! You’d be surprised how many smaller flight operations have no idea what the industry standard rates for corporate flight attendants are these days. Mainly because they are a smaller operator, therefore shielded and isolated when it comes to cabin crew interaction and comparisons. The caveat is— it’s a saturated market and there will always someone else around the corner willing to take the job for less. So, their assumptions or misconceptions of respectable salary rates are often skewed.
If you are new to industry and seeking a full-time position, I recommend taking whatever the salary is to build your resume and experience. You are currently lacking the experience to justify negotiating a higher rate. In my book, gaining experience outweighs waiting or the possibility of landing a larger salary. Obviously, if you cannot swing it financially, then you may have to decline. However if you can, commit yourself to a minimum of one year, gain the experience and then later on, if you decide to move on for bigger or better career opportunities, you can.
Successful contractors/freelancers accepting a full-time position may not be ideal for you. It’s simple math— your total annual income is likely higher than the majority of offered salaries. If considering a full-time position, you have to weigh all of the pros and cons:
Full-time: job stability/security, benefits – health insurance, 401K, vacation, schedule, training. – vs-
Freelance: freedom of schedule (the ability to say no to a trip), no guarantees of volume of work, no benefits, no schedule, reimbursements or per diem, self-financing your annual training.
In order to negotiate a salary, it’s extremely helpful to know what the daily rate(s) in your/their region is, as well as the national average in case it’s low.
Daily rates also vary based on: region, type of operation, domestic/international, and experience level. The USA average daily rate is between $475-$500 based on the national range between $350- $800+ per day. The higher tiers are typically in the heavy metropolitan markets. Higher than this top tier typically stems from additional duties required besides being cabin crew – aka: personal assistant, travel concierge or liaison, pet sitter, personal packer/unpacker, etc. I know of a few operators who compensate over $1000/day for their contract cabin crew. Yes, this is very rare but they indeed exist. Some client’s want what they want, so price is no limit.
CALCULATING YOUR SALARY for FAR91
These are the basic calculations I have used in the past to provide the best estimate for a base salary. This is designed for one to two CFA’s working a dedicated aircraft -or- two to three CFA’s sharing one to two designated aircraft.
Take the estimated days per month flying (average) and multiply that by the standard daily rate in your area, or the company’s area, or your set rate, if this is a deal breaker.
(Note: you may have to tweak the total afterwards plus or minus a bit. For instance, if it’s estimated to be heavier international flying– adjust it higher, mostly domestic flying or less flying days – retain the calculated total or adjust it a little lower)
Example – standard cabin crew position, if you’re a new hire or less than five years’ experience:
Average days flown per month: 15
Daily rate: $500
15 x $500 = $7,500/Mo. Yearly income salary should fall in the range ($10K +/-) of: $90,000.
Meaning if you are offered a salaried position ranging between $80,000 – $100,000, that is a very realistic and respectable income.
Example – “A Level” cabin crew position with more than five years’ experience:
Average days flown per month: 15
Daily rate: $750
15 x $750 = $11,250/Mo. Yearly income salary should fall in the range ($15K +/-) of: $135,000.
Meaning if you are offered a salaried position ranging between $120,000-$150,000, that is a very respectable income.
Once you have annual salary, digest it a little. Too low or is it about right? If too low, increase it based on the job duties and schedule involved to know if the salary needs to be increased or not.
NEGOTIATING TACTICS for FAR91
If you’re flying 10 or less days per month, your standard base salary may be reflecting this – MAY, not necessarily.
If you’re flying 10-20 days per month, your salary should reflect this.
If you’re flying 20+ days per month, your salary absolutely should reflect this!
Another consideration: are you allowed to do contract work on your days off or are you required to be 100% exclusive no matter if you’re flying or not? If exclusive, you absolutely have a higher salary leverage.
If you do not have a scheduled rotation, do you have days off each month? Are they set in stone or merely suggestions? If not set or it’s assumed you are always on duty, you definitely have a higher salary leverage.
If you have ongoing duties whenever you’re not flying, such as; stocking aircraft, inventory, office work, etc. You have higher salary leverage.
If you fly more than 15 days per month as a contractor— this is why I said you will need to weigh the options as your annual income might be less BUT … although you are making less annually, you will gain all of the benefits associated with a full-time job.
FAR91K, FAR135 and FAR135 NEGOTIATING TATICS
Most likely you won’t have any. These companies operate a fleet of business jets and several cabin crew so the salary is set. Again, the salary range is vast so your decision is, “do I want a full-time job or not?” There are no guarantees for success as a freelancer. There are no guarantees with a full-time job as companies go through restructuring often. The reality is: consider which is the greater gamble for you?
Although we all fall into the basic career category “Corporate Flight Attendant,” the salary ranges are far from basic. Sometimes we have to swallow our pride or put the ego in check and accept a position that’s best for us to make ends meet. Simply, do your best avoiding the shoulda, coulda, woulda syndrome because you made a decision that was best for you at the time. Own it, learn from it. This industry can be very fickle so be prepared for the unexpected. Each career decision you make, should be reflected as an investment in yourself.
Scott Arnold is a featured speaker at the NBAA Flight Attendants/Flight Technicians Conference (#FAFT2020) in Hartford, CT May 5-7, 2020. He is conducting a 4-hour career enhancement workshop, The Professional You on the Pre-Conference Events day (Day 1 of 3) from 1:00pm-5:00pm. Scott will be speaking about all of this as well as how to network and self-market yourself, how to create resumes that have impact, interviewing skills and techniques, marketing tools, social media and the Instagram affect, and so much more.
For more information on FAFT2020, please go to: https://nbaa.org/events/2020-flight-attendants-flight-technicians-conference/
The program agenda will be posted soon.
Scott began his aviation career in 1988 as a commercial flight attendant, transitioned into business aviation in 2001, is the Founder of The CFA Connection resource platform and Sajet Solutions, former director of a major crew staffing company, and the past Chair NBAA Flight Attendants Committee, and is the Chief Flight Attendant for a private owner.