Everyone has their own reasons why they want to become a flight attendant.
Whatever your motivation may be, you have an idea of what you THINK ‘flight attendant life’ is like, but our perceptions are often different than reality. So, what is being a flight attendant really like? What are the pros and cons of life (and work) as a commercial flight attendant?
I’ve worked for an American airline, European airline, and as a corporate flight attendant. I don’t know everything, but I’ve learned a lot in my few years flying. I can’t tell you what to do with your life. At the end of the day, you should try whatever makes you curious. What I hope this article will do is give you insight and an overview of the good and the bad of the commercial airline world. I’ll focus on the pros and cons of what life is (generally) like working as a commercial flight attendant for an American company. These will be listed in the order of what I care about most— not by what is actually more important. Also, I’ve probably failed to mention a few things. My only solution for that? Become a flight attendant and find out where I’ve lead you astray:)
On a personal note, becoming a flight attendant changed my life forever and honestly, I would advise you to stop looking at the pros and cons and just go for it. It will be the best (and worst) thing that has ever happened to you.
Happy Travels, Kara
Travel agreements— known as staff travel, reciprocal cabin agreements, IDTravel, ID-90, jumpseating— are the avenues to which commercial flight attendants and pilots travel for free (or at an extremely discounted rate). For example, (back in the day) I flew from Hawaii to New Zealand for $90 USD…First class. Or, there were those many times that European companies let me ride on the extra jumpseat because there were no passenger seats left. 25 euros here or $34 USD to go from San Francisco to Japan and free all over the United States. Literally the best perk of being a commercial flight attendant that works for an American company. Although I made under poverty line pay, I made up for it in the amount that I would have spent had I had to pay for all of my flights. One year, my dad and I calculated that I would have spent about $50k in flights if I had been required to pay full fare.
The varied schedule that flight attendants have— usually given in monthly increments— is something that I really appreciate. Although rosters and reserve can make it hard to plan ahead, it’s great to work different days of the week and different hours of the day. There is a rhythm to working as a flight attendant and yet, there is also an element of change that constantly happens. You just don’t get too bored with the schedules because something about it is always changing. If your destinations don’t change, the seasons and the people do. Your crew stays the same, but you go to different places. It’s just different than a normal work life and that’s one of the reasons I love flight attendant life so much.
“Here today. There tomorrow,”— This is the lifestyle of flight attendants and pilots. Destinations include variety AND familiarity. Usually, as a new crewmember, you get the unwanted trips— with possibly the lucky call out to London, Geneva, or Rome. You become familiar with your favorite cities and you learn new ones quickly. Other people, who are non-airline related, always wonder where you are at and think it’s so cool that you just got back from Hawaii and go to New York in two days. You like it, but what they don’t understand is that jet lag really sucks.
One of my favorite things about flying is the people I get to work with. I find them interesting and diverse. Some have no college degree, while others have PhD’s. Some grew up in Europe, Thailand, or South America while some have never really moved away from their hometown city in the United States. The people you meet will inspire and fascinate you. Some may annoy the hell out of you, but the nice part is you may never have to fly with that stew again.
Being around 350-600 people a day teaches you a lot about reading body language and human behavior— even if it’s only subconscious. Having great people skills will serve you, and is necessary, for any field. Being a flight attendant helped me so much with my ability to interact, connect, and anticipate what people want. I feel comfortable in new situations and talking to people I’ve never talked to before. I gained knowledge of different cultures and working styles. For the work that I do in marketing, my people skills that I learned through years of flying have come in handy.
I’m lucky to have friends in so many cities across the globe because I’ve been a flight attendant and I’ve chosen to travel. Having friends to meet up with, wherever you may be, is a big pro to cabin crew life.
Layovers can be so incredibly fun (and dull at times, too)! You never really know what will happen. You might have a fun crew who will want to go out and sightsee or enjoy the nightlife. The possibility for unknown adventures while away on a work trip is one of the best things about ‘flight attendant life.’
Most jobs don’t allow for the luxury of “leaving work at work.” In other jobs, there are always emails to respond to and situations to address. As a commercial flight attendant, once the last passenger deplanes, your day is essentially done. You don’t bring your work home with you. I love this about the lifestyle.
Any way that you look at it, pay as a new hire flight attendant is wretched. But seriously, the job is so easy, its fair compensation considering. Great benefits, stay home and get paid for it, flight perks— etc, etc. It would be highway robbery if flight attendants were paid more. Stop complaining and just find yourself a side hustle. If you want to make the finances work, you will find a way.
You can’t change the fact that, as a new hire flight attendant, your life will be dictated by the demands of the airline. You won’t get much say and you will have to become accustomed to changing plans. Your quality of life is directly related to how many years you have worked at the company. Just wait— when you can barely walk, you’ll be able to work only five days a month and go to Sydney. Until then, get ready for a shit schedule and picking up everything that nobody wants.
Some say having Tuesday as your “weekend” is a downside, but I actually like that. It’s unfortunate that, as a flight attendant, going to weddings and normal weekend parties is a challenge, but you trade that for London, Copenhagen, Spain, and Ireland. At least that has been my experience. Take all the weekends away from me that you wantJ
At some point, you probably will crave normalcy. Burnout happens with any profession— including ‘flight attendant life.’ Many airlines offer unpaid leaves of absence and split schedules with rotations of working one month on and one month off. Just let burnout roll its course and if you need to quit for awhile, know that is always an option.
Timezones and jet lag will play a mean number on you. This is unavoidable and one of the biggest downsides to working as a flight attendant. I find jetlag to be hell. I went through periods during my commercial aviation career where I was so fatigued that I could not sleep for more than two hours at a time.
When your body is tired, you will crave chocolate, carbs, and simple sugars. The majority of flight attendants gain weight, but just because it’s the norm, doesn’t mean it will happen to you. For example, most people gain weight when they suffer a broken ankle. I, on the other hand, lost 20lbs. The point is, you get in life what you give. If you determine to pack lunches, eat as healthy as possible, rest and exercise when you have the chance, you will be just fine.
I’ve written about the difficulties and interesting details of love as cabin crew before. Some say there are downsides to being a flight attendant and trying to have a significant other. I’ve even said there are downsides, but the truth is, when you find someone great who gets you and understands the lifestyle, you figure out how to make it work. You figure out communication and distance. You work together. Ultimately, relationships in ‘flight attendant life’ can be a negative aspect of the job, but that’s if you have someone in your life who is unsupportive, untrusting and not understanding. Find someone who gets you and this lifestyle that you love.
There just aren’t that many cons to being a flight attendant, because the way I see it, at the point your negatives outweigh your positives, make a change. When you can’t handle the negatives of what you choose to do, you should simply choose something else. Everything has a negative side— it just matters that you know yourself and what you are willing to put up with and make a trade for.
Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.