Sitting Pretty: Reserve, Deadheads and Flight Attendant Job Hacks


Celessa relaxing in sunny California! This is work?!

I’m currently hanging out in my hotel room in California, surrounded by sunshine and drinking peppermint tea. I’m a little under the weather, but it’s not because I have been working too hard.

I am currently being paid nineteen hours worth of credit to work only two flight legs spread across four days, with two long overnights in nice hotels. The rest of the four days I put on my uniform and sit on a plane as an actual passenger snacking on peanuts and looking out the window.

How did I luck out?

There’s a lot you can do in this job to bump up your pay without working yourself to death. As a new hire, 90% of you will be on reserve from three months to five years. But before you mourn the loss of your ability to plan your life, stop and consider this: You are being paid for a minimum amount of hours. Even if Crew Scheduling never calls you, you still get a pay check! That’s something you don’t find at many jobs.

Without further delay, here’s my list of flight attendant job hacks and cabin crew secrets:

Want to know the latest secrets and
insider info of Flight Attendant Life?

Sign up for our newsletter!

1. Understand How Reserve Works

The process of calling a reserve flight attendant to work a trip that a senior lineholder has called out for is more complicated than you might think. But talk to other cabin crew in your company, look up policies and even chat with your union. You need to know how reserve works … so that it can work for you!

2. Check the Reserve Boards

Are you on reserve right now? Are you thinking, they won’t call me! Or are you terrified to leave your house and are considering bringing your cell phone into the shower with you?

Check online, or call Crew Scheduling. For my company, there is a way to see the list of all reserves in your base, complete with seniority, reserve times and ‘days available.’ Study the list, check the open shifts on your job board and ask yourself: is this a weekend or a Holiday where lots of people might call in? If not, throw a suitcase in your car, grab your phone and go enjoy the day.

Norwegian cabin crew aren’t complaining about their 3-day layover in Copenhagen!

3. Utilize Your Days Off

Last September, I was on reserve in Seattle. I was assigned ten hours … the entire month! I had my phone handy but treated my reserve days like my days off (Think hikes, picnics, long afternoons writing at the coffee shop.) It was amazing! On my actual days off, however, I picked up the most fabulous trips out of other bases (we are fortunately allowed to do this at my company). Long overnights in Santa Barbara, Nashville, Austin and Queretaro, Mexico. I basically built my own schedule.

As a bonus, the extra trips I picked up on days off counted as above and beyond hours on my paycheck. So 75 guaranteed reserve hours (of which I only worked 10!) plus 40 extra hours on days off equals a big, fat paycheck.

4. Choose High Paying Trips

If you are a lineholder, or at least a reserve who is able to pick up trips on days off, go for the good stuff. A nice overnight is always a plus, but don’t overlook the 8-hour local that has been sitting on the job board for a week. That’s money right there!

Overhead bin on an airplane

Kara being deadheaded to base … just kidding! Her seat doesn’t have THAT much legroom!

5. Look For Deadheads

A deadhead is a paid, non-working flight in which the company needs to move a flight attendant or pilot from one city to another. Say, a cabin crew member calls out sick in a non-base city. Crew Scheduling might deadhead a reserve out to that city to begin work. Deadheads are a flight attendant’s best friend. When picking up trips, look for the little symbol or abbreviation that stands for deadhead. Sometimes, you will have multiple deadheads on a trip, which, again, is free money for sitting on a plane and looking pretty!

6. Get That Time and A Half

Often times Crew Scheduling will be scrambling to cover a last minute shift and it will “go into the red” as we say at my company. This means that there aren’t enough reserves and the trip is within 72 hours away — crisis mode for Crew Scheduling …but Money Mode for you! Check the open shifts on the online job board and watch out for these trips: Crew Scheduling usually offers incentives for cabin crew who pick up these trips on their days off. At my company, anyone who picks up a trip that is “in the red” receives time and a half pay. Not too bad!

These are how “A” Days (Reserve) make Meghan feel 🙂

7. Get To Know Crew Scheduling

Just like gate agents can be won over with chocolates (sometimes!), crew scheduling can turn a solid “No” into a “Let me see what I can do for you.” All you have to do is figure out who the nice guys are. Remember names (they always introduce themselves), be mindful of how busy they might be and thank them continually for their help. Also: feel free to call Crew Scheduling and ask for your favorite person by name!

Know of anymore flight attendant job hacks or cabin crew secrets? Comment below and let’s pass on our knowledge to the newbies! Or post on Facebook or Instagram, and tag your post #flightattendanthacks

Happy flying!

About the Author Celessa Lynn

writer // dreamer // adventurer // flight attendant

follow me on: