So You Want to Become a Flight Attendant
So, you want to become a flight attendant. Or, more specifically, you think you want
to become a flight attendant. Most aspiring flight attendants are eager to jump right into
the application process without first thoroughly researching the career. Here's a look at what
Then and Now
United Airlines was the first commercial airline to hire a female flight attendant in
1930; her name was Ellen Church. She and seven other single women comprised the "original eight"
stewardesses. Their primary role was to provide comfort to the traveling public. Minimum qualifications
were such that the applicants had to be single, registered nurses. Marriage, pregnancy, or
weight gain meant instant job termination and most stewardesses were forced out of the profession
by age 32 due to "old age."
Thanks largely to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, airlines can no longer discriminate on
the basis of race, sex, age, or marital status. This legislation helped transform the job from
a short-term endeavor - strictly for young, single women - to a long-term career option for
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a large influx of men into the industry, which created
the need for a non-gender specific term to describe the position. Hence, the term flight attendant
Today, there are approximately 100,000 flight attendants in the United States; 70 percent
are female and 30 percent are male (this gender gap, however, is narrowing and it is not uncommon
to see all male crews on certain flights). The average age is 25 to 35 and 50 percent are married.
Over one-third have a college degree (although only a high school diploma is required); common
majors include Communications, French, Spanish, and Geography.
Pay averages around $16,000 for the first year and up to $50,000 after 14 to 15 years. The
turnover rate is high (especially among new-hires), but job satisfaction is equally high among
those who manage to survive the first year. Average seniority is 10 years.
Successful flight attendants describe themselves as friendly, outgoing, patient, flexible,
reliable, and punctual (there is absolutely zero tolerance for being late) - unsuccessful ones
as aggressive, temperamental, impatient, and inflexible. Typical concerns include job security
("Is my airline going to downsize or go out of business?"), long hours, and low pay.
Perception vs. Reality
When you see a flight attendant walking through an airport terminal, what is your perception?
Do you envision someone who serves a few drinks, chats with amicable passengers, and enjoys
frequent layovers in exotic cities?
Historically, the public perception of the career has not matched the reality of the
job. Today's flight attendant is very different from the stereotypical stewardess portrayed
in movies and on television. To a certain extent, some of these myths were born out of the
"old days" when stewardesses were elegant nurses who worked on spacious airplanes with relatively
few passengers. In 1978, however, airline deregulation changed everything.
The government no longer controlled fares and route structures as they had in the past.
This created bidding wars and turned airlines into cost-cutting machines. Today, it is nothing
more than a numbers game where more passengers equals greater revenue. The result: planes
are now overcrowded, creating cramped conditions and a culture of hostile passengers. This
leaves flight attendants in a rather unenviable position.