The 6 Best and Worst Things About Being A Flight Attendant
I’ve been socializing lately. Trying to meet new people and have some fun. And when you’re a flight attendant, meeting new people means talking about work.
People have questions. You can’t blame ‘em, it’s a world most people will never be a part of. A background job many people have never thought of doing—or maybe they’ve wondered about a lot. I’ve noticed that the questions about being a flight attendant come in two tints: Positive—as in “That seems so cool, do you get to travel for free?” or negative—“How do you put UP with people?”
Both assessments—that I work in a cool, exciting, and fun environment and that I work in a hellhole full of rude people—can be true. So, in the spirit of ‘Both/And’, I am rounding up the best and the worst of this crazy lifestyle.
The Best and Worst Things About Being A Flight Attendant
6 BEST Parts of being a flight attendant
1. The travel benefits
Of course, the travel benefits are one of the big reasons people become flight attendants. It was definitely what drew me into this wild world!
For those of you wondering, I fly for free anywhere in the US, on my airline and other airlines. When I fly international on my airline, I have to pay taxes on the flight. This is unavoidable, unfortunately. When I fly international on another airline, I have to pay what is called a “Zed fare.” This is a heavily discounted, space-available fare.
If you’re interested in learning more about in the ins and outs of “non-rev” travel, you should check out this post published last year:
Flight attendants also get discounts on other travel-related things like hotels, rental cars, and cruises. So that rules.
2. The Flexibility
The question that comes up the most from regular people, even more than the positives and negatives mentioned above relates to scheduling.
“So what’s your schedule like?”
Often people assume it must be difficult to have a home life, a social life, a family life when you’re a flight attendant. And I won’t lie, it can be. But it is a seniority-based job, and the more years you do it, the more control you have over your schedule.
A flight attendant’s schedule can be surprisingly flexible and making time for family, friends and socializing can absolutely happen! (As a matter of fact, sometimes it is too easy, and we flight attendants end up saying “yes” to everything, overextending ourselves and suffering from burnout. Love it!)
Every airline does their scheduling a bit differently. At my airline, I request my schedule for a full month of work a month in advance. So, in the first seven days of July, I’ll be bidding for my schedule for the entire month of August. In this “bid” I ask for the trips I want, the days off I want, etc. I can even ask to work with certain employees (which I do) and to avoid others.
At the end of the “bidding period”, the computer system starts with the most senior person in the company and gives them everything they want. Then they go right down the seniority line until they get to little ol’ me and give me what I’ve asked for, so long as it is available.
Once our schedules are published, we can drop trips, swap for something different, trade trips with other crew members, or pick up a trip if we really feel like working extra. In the post-pandemic labor shortage that has touched every industry including aviation, scheduling has been decidedly less flexible. But it will level out and we’ll be back to swapping trips at the last minute like we used to.
Inherently, this means when you are new your schedule is less flexible. But hang in there, baby FAs, your day will come too, and you’ll be able to reap the benefit of a super flexible schedule before you know it.
Seriously though, the people are just THE BEST.
3. Working with and Meeting new people
I know I talk about this all the time here on the blog, but it really can’t be overstated. The people you meet– they are one of the best things about being a flight attendant.
I have made some of my closest friends through this job. I have befriended people I would never have met if it weren’t for this job. People much older and much younger than me. People who have worked in medicine and higher education and nonprofits. Actors and musicians. Veterans and former PD and FD. People who grew up poor and who grew up wealthy. People for whom this is a side gig for fun and people for whom this has been their dream career since childhood. People who are gay, straight, bi, pan, gender-fluid, non-binary, black, white, brown, beige, and every other descriptor you can think of.
The people I work with make this job fun on the good days. And on the bad days, they make it bearable.
Read more of my thoughts on awesome crews here: The Unicorn Crew: How Superstar Coworkers Make Our Work (And Life) Better
Though my coworkers are by far my favorite part of this job, meeting customers can be pleasant, too. The flying public gets a bad rap because of the high-profile assholes you see on TV, social media, and even on your flights. You know, the ones causing a huge scene over a minor inconvenience, or getting drunk and puking on the plane, or becoming aggressive with the working crew or other passengers. These people certainly do exist, and unfortunately shitty, entitled behavior is becoming more and more common these days on the airplane. BUT, I’m going to let you all in on a little secret that might just lift your spirits. (It sure lifts mine.)
There are always more good people than bad. Always. Every single time. The vast majority of folks flying in airplanes are decent people just trying to get to their destination. Some might be a little needy, but most are not terrible. Honest.
And just like the varied, amazing coworkers I talked about, so too can the passengers be. You just never know who is going to be on your flight. A celebrity, the love of your life, someone grieving—who you are able to comfort, someone celebrating—who you are able to congratulate, someone nervous—who you are able to put at ease. It’s really cool sometimes, the conversations that can arise. You wind up having interactions that stick with you long after the flight has ended. That make you feel you’ve made a difference in someone’s day, and maybe more. Or maybe they’ve made a difference in your day. You might just feel a little more tightly woven into this tapestry of humanity than you did when you started.
For better or worse, interacting with people is a big part of being a flight attendant. I’m here to tell you, despite the bad rap, they’re not all bad. They’re wonderful, too.
4. Every Day is Something New
Say Bye Bye to boring when you become a flight attendant. Every day is something new. There are different layover cities, different trip lengths (from 1-4 days at my airline), different customers and different crews. You can work early mornings or late nights. You can do one long flight per day or four short ones (gross). You can stack your trips all together and then take two weeks off each month, or you can alternate a couple days working with a couple days off.
Even with the factors mentioned above being the same, there is still room for new and exciting things to happen each day. Maybe it’s a weather delay, a mechanical, a diversion! These are the worst kinds of surprises, but boy do they keep you on your toes.
Then there is the good stuff, a crewmember you work with for the first time and just click with instantly. A nice passenger bringing you chocolates or a Starbucks gift card to say thanks. A compliment letter funneled through your company, making its way to your email. A sexy stranger making (wanted) eye contact. An unexpected layover with a fun crew. A cancellation and a free day off.
None of these things will happen every day, but that is just the point. When you are a flight attendant every single day is different. And it is one of the things I love most about this job.
5. Staying in nice hotels
My standard for hotels has been raised significantly since becoming a flight attendant. (To be fair, I have also transitioned from my late twenties to my mid-thirties, so that could be a factor, too.)
We stay in a lot of different hotels in a lot of different cities, and some are better than others. But on the whole, our accommodations tend to be pretty nice. There are certain standards that must be met for a hotel to be a crew hotel. It must be over 3 stars, must have a fitness center, must have food options available to crew at a reasonable price. We are not supposed to be assigned rooms on the first floor, ever, and we are not supposed to be in hotel rooms that open directly to the outside world (like motel style).
These are super basic parameters, so a lot of the time we stay in very middle-of-the-road hotels. But then there are the stunners. Every now and again I get to stay in a hotel that is SO nice I fantasize about moving in. “This is enough space for me. Just need a tiny kitchenette”
I don’t ever name our crew hotels on the blog for safety reasons, but there are some hotels that alllllllll of us know are worth working a shitty trip for. Our old hotel in San Jose, California, our current hotel in Cancun, Mexico, and our former hotel in Bermuda (for my coworkers reading) are three that come to mind.
Of course, flight attendants are flight attendants, and someone will always have something to say about even the nicest digs. Complaining is just a part of the culture of aviation. (This is one of the most annoying things about flight attendants, but if you want to know the other annoying things, check out this throwback post: The 7 Most Annoying Things about Flight Attendants)
I am definitely still balling on a budget in my personal time, but spending so much of my life in hotels through being a flight attendant has made me really appreciate a nice, clean, safe place, and has made the luxury of a higher tier hotel seem worth the price.
Staying in dope hotels is one of the best parts of being a flight attendant.
6. Alone time
I won’t sugar coat it: Flight Attendant Life can be lonely. But, as anyone with kids can attest, being alone isn’t always a bad thing.
I love my alone time. I have gotten so much of it in the eight years of working as a flight attendant and the past two years of living alone, that now I crave it when I don’t have it, and I relish it when I do.
Layovers can be very social experiences, a time to get to know all the cool people you work with. But they can also be a great opportunity to catch up on “you time”. You can be adventurous and go for a solo hike, a run around a new city, have yourself a lazy beach day, take yourself out to dinner. Or you can stay inside your fancy hotel room the entire time, relaxing by the pool, eating in your bed (one of the Top things flight attendants do in hotels that they would never do at home.) You can be productive—get the bills paid, the budget set, call the florist, make the appointments, write a blog post. Or you can be a total couch potato catching up on Netflix or reading a book. And NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW!
For flight attendants with families or a demanding home life, layovers can be a nice break in the action. A little quiet time with your favorite person. And ain’t that nice?
Now we’ve highlighted some of the best things about being a flight attendant, it’s time to look at the not so great. We’re talking the worst things about being a flight attendant. Buckle up, we’re going to the dark side.
The 6 Worst Things About Being A Flight Attendant
1. Unruly, disrespectful, insane, savage passengers
(And Entitled A$$holes.)
2021 was the worst year in aviation history for incidents involving unruly passengers. 5,981 reports of unruly passengers were filed with the FAA. Of those, 4,290 of them were mask related. That’s 72%. 350 law enforcement actions were initiated against unruly passengers, and the FAA has handed out $5 million in fines. Just for that ONE. YEAR. (Faa.gov)
Y’all, this has gotten out of hand.
Last year was the worst my job has ever been. Flight attendants were verbally assaulted, physically abused, and had to deal with passengers who seemed to be more obstinate than ever. This, while working during a global pandemic to keep the economy alive. Deemed essential workers, flight attendants showed up to work in hostile environments while putting their health and the health of their loved ones at risk. It was a thankless job, and 2021 itself could be called ‘The Worst Part of Being a Flight Attendant.”
Beyond the headline-making violent incidents of crews getting punched or strangled by passengers at work, there is also the less newsworthy, more insidious type of behavior. The entitlement. The escalating of small problems with the hope of getting something free. The feigned outrage over TVs, a non-reclining seat, or an interruption of service in the miracle that is wi-fi at 30,000 feet. There are the cellphones constantly raised, at the ready to record an unpleasant moment with the hopes of making news. And there are those who want to “fight for their rights” at the expense of others, and on public transportation.
People are out for blood. The flying public has been emboldened over the past decade to the point that it is getting dangerous for flight attendants to just show up to work. And on the less dangerous days it is just fucking exhausting.
2021 was the worst year on record for unruly airline passengers. They are the WORST part of being a flight attendant.
2. Getting used and abused by your company
Everyone knows how terrible passengers can be on the airplane. You’ve seen the stories on the news, you may have even witnessed an outburst yourself. But what most people don’t know is that flight attendants take a lot of abuse from their employers, too.
Having rest hours reduced to make it impossible to get eight hours of sleep. Being worked into your days off, with no recourse. Having your schedule—that you bid for and held with your seniority—changed at the last minute with not so much as an apology. Being asked to work on days off to help the operation. Being penalized for being sick and missing work. Waiting around in a hotel lobby for hours after a long day because somebody forgot to complete your reservation. Being the fall guy for everything that goes wrong in the operation—poor on time performance, customer issues, ummm the Pandemic?—when your work group has almost no part in creating, exacerbating, or mitigating these situations.
Job duties being changed and reshuffled, suddenly having more tasks and greater responsibility, without additional compensation. All while pay has not even increased to account for inflation.
Management’s paternalistic “We’re all in this together” tone when union busting or asking flight attendants to work extra, and the vengeful, threatening one when those same flight attendants, unable to get to work on cancelled flights or sick with COVID, have to call out. The promise of family values and shielding our special culture if only we vote down the union. The peeling back of our most basic benefits and undercutting our pay when we do vote to have a seat at the table.
It is office politics on steroids.
It is no coincidence that flight attendants at every major US carrier except for ONE have unionized. And if you want to hear more about flight attendant pay, benefits, and airline’s stuck-in-the-70s labor practices, then check out this post: Pay Me for Boarding: Why Flight Attendants Must Fight For Fair Pay
And speaking of pay…
3. The Pay
The starting Pay for flight attendants is abysmal.
In my first year working as a full-time flight attendant, I made $19,000. That number is BEFORE taxes were taken, so I saw significantly less than that total. Average paychecks for the first six months were $500. Which wouldn’t have been quite so terrible if they weren’t bi-weekly. Yes, seriously. This is not an easy way to make a living in the beginning. I moved in with my parents for the first six months (despite being 27 years old at the time.) and after that I moved in with a partner.
At my airline we were given a raise after a 6-month probationary period, and then another one each year on our anniversary. By the end of the first year, after two raises, I felt like I could breathe a little, but finances were still pretty tight.
With my seniority, I am able to work basically as much or as little as I want, meaning I have a lot of control over my income. And at the pay scale I’m at today, I’m doing okay surviving on this one income as a single person. But if material things are very important to you, if you have a super expensive lifestyle, or if you’re looking to get rich quick—this is not the job to get you there.
Don’t get me wrong—you can make a decent living being a flight attendant. I’m a homeowner in a fairly expensive market. I paid off my student loans on my flight attendant salary, and I’ve traveled all around the world. But it takes some time to get on your feet financially after taking a job as a flight attendant.
The main message here is most flight attendants don’t do this job just for the pay. They do it for the lifestyle, the flexibility, and all the other things listed above that make for a very nice quality of life.
4. It can tax relationships
Being in a relationship with a flight attendant is not for the faint of heart. It takes a secure person to deal with their partner being gone much of the time. When you are a flight attendant, there are a lot of things your partner will find themselves having to do alone. Holidays, birthday parties, or social gatherings with friends. Things you once attended as a pair turn into solo activities because of the hectic flight attendant schedule.
The day-to-day stuff will feel like a solo mission a lot of the time too. Partners of flight attendants can feel they are saddling a majority of the housework—the cooking, the cleaning. And often they are right. Sometimes it feels like we flit in and out, come and go as we please, while they are left holding our life together. While we flight attendants do work hard and are frequently exhausted when we get home, our partners can start to feel underappreciated if we don’t make serious effort to connect and contribute.
And that’s the downside for people with otherwise healthy relationships.
If you are in a jealous or volatile relationship and want to hold onto it for some reason, fahgettaboutit. This is not the job for you. (Or that is not the relationship for you.)
To those of you who might consider dating a flight attendant: Heed these next words before swiping left.
Flight attendants are gone a lot. We spend our time on airplanes full of strangers, socializing with our crews, or holed up in hotel rooms alone. But any of these simple activities can seem nefarious to someone with a jealous mind and an overactive imagination.
The absolute last thing a flight attendant needs after a day of asshole passengers on the plane making their life difficult is someone they love calling to hassle them and make their life more difficult. We need someone who will be our teammate and a safe space. Not an accuser, a parent, or an ego that needs stroking. If you have trust issues, date a 9-5er and get some therapy.
Maintaining relationships can be difficult for flight attendants—romantic or otherwise. And that’s why I’ve placed it here under the worst parts of being a flight attendant. But with some extra effort, healthy boundaries, and mutual respect, it can be done and done amazingly.
Sometimes this job makes us want to cry. But we keep coming back for more.
5. Consistency is…challenging.
Having a routine and being a flight attendant is an oxymoron. Fitness, financial, creative, and personal goals can feel hard to achieve when your schedule is all over the place.
I have a gym I love going to at home, but I have only been home long enough to go there twice this month. I’m “trying to learn” to play the keyboard, but when I only have one or two days at home, practicing never makes the cut. There are errands to run, a house to clean, people to see, and the laundry that never seems to end.
I love having a morning routine. I like to sit in bed and sip coffee while writing my morning pages. I like to do a little yoga or try (and fail) to meditate. This is how I want to start every day. Slowly. With intention.
But you know what? Sometimes I have a wakeup call before 3am. Sometimes my flight was so delayed the night before that even with my legally-mandated “minimum rest” (What the FAA and my company have deemed enough rest for me in between flights) I am lucky to get six hours of sleep after showering and setting my alarms.
Just think of anything you’d like to do. A goal, a project you’d like to finish, a skill you’d like to learn, or that thing you keep saying you “really need to start doing.” Picture any routine you think would be beneficial for you.
Now imagine you’re only in your home 15 days out of the month, with the other 15 spent in hotels—different hotels spanning across different time zones. Imagine that some of the flights you work are early mornings and some of them are afternoons. Some of them are overnight, landing at 7 or 8 in the morning requiring you to sleep in the day, sun high up in the sky. It can be really tough.
Flight attendants have plenty of time. I always say that the flexibility and number of days off are some of the biggest wins of this job. But that time is not spread evenly in one location or time zone, and it changes week to week.
We have plenty of time, but that base of time is so rocky and uneven that it feels very difficult to lay something like a consistent routine on top of it.
It takes a lot of discipline for us to stick to the things we’d like to do. And sometimes it’s just impossible.
I’m forcing myself to write in the back of the airplane right now, for example, when I’d rather be mindlessly scrolling or reading a book. I’m exhausted and when I’m tired my brain doesn’t like to create new things. And flight attendants are tired ALL. THE. TIME.
Because our time at home is so limited, we are constantly having to make annoying choices. I have one day at home—do I go to happy hour with the girls or sign myself up for the gym class I keep wanting to go to? Do I tackle the basement-painting project or the organizing the office project? Do I allow myself some time to rest in my own space or do I try to cram in as much productivity as possible? Taxes or writing what will someday be my first book?
Sticking to a workout routine, a morning routine, a weekly family dinner, a monthly catch up with friends, a team sport, or a volunteer project is difficult when you are on the go as much as flight attendants are.
If you are struggling with consistency, routines, and getting yourself to do the things you really want to be doing, cut yourself a little slack.
Consistency is hard—for everyone, but especially so for flight attendants.
Even the free-est of spirits can get lonely sometimes.
6. Alone Time
I know I just went on and on in the last section about how having plenty of alone time is one of the best parts of being a flight attendant. But it’s not so great for every flight attendant.
Not all flight attendants have partners or families to come home to after a trip. Many of us live alone (like me) or with roommates we don’t often see (because they’re flight attendants too.) Many of us live states away from our family and friends, like I do.
For many flight attendants the scale can tip from ‘plenty of alone time’ to straight up ‘loneliness’. Totally different vibe, and not a fun one.
I’m someone who requires a lot of solo time. Not only do most of my hobbies require concentration and alone time (ahem like this blog, for example), but I also just really enjoy my own company. I like the restful feeling that comes from time spent alone. The pride that comes from doing something intimidating on your own.
But even I, on occasion, can feel the pang of loneliness.
I wake up in my bed alone, I get ready and make my long drive to work alone, I work a flight full of people, and then I go to my hotel room, where again I’m alone. At the end of it all, I make my way back to my car for my solo drive home and when I get there I shower and climb into my bed alone. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner by myself. I do all the chores myself. I pay all the bills myself. I watch the Netflix and the Hulu shows by myself. I celebrate by myself, and once in a while I despair by myself, too.
I love having me time, but it’s a lot of me time.
And not everyone is like me. Some people don’t crave or need their alone time. Some would prefer to have people around always. Are social without need for a quiet recharge afterward. For single flight attendants who would love to find love, this loner lifestyle can be painful.
I love my alone time, but how much alone time is too much alone time?
The answer to this will be different for everyone, and that’s why the abundance of time spent alone is one of the best and worst things about being a flight attendant.
Womp, womp. Sorry to end this post on kind of a bummer note. I guess this is why they say to “save the best for last” and not the other way ‘round.
On a personal note: Guys, please don’t read this last bit with too much sympathy. I’m sure I could be coupled up or have more human interaction if I wanted to. Being solo is not depressing for me on the whole, I’m just illustrating a point.
Sometimes when I post these honest feelings, even with the caveat that they only pop up on occasion, friends and acquaintances will reach out to see if I’m okay. While I appreciate the support, I am very much okay. I’m just a human with human emotions that change sometimes. It’s a part of the gig, and we’re all going through it. It’s important for me to talk about the gray days and the blue days and even the lonely days because everyone has them. Not a single one of us gets 365 days of sunshine—not even the ones living in San Diego.
I’ve told you now what I think are the best and worst things about being a flight attendant. But even with the difficulties, challenges, and occasional bouts of loneliness, I wouldn’t give it up.
This lifestyle, and the people that come along with it, are more than I expected, better than I hoped for, and, in my opinion, well worth it all.
Hey you, yes you! Thanks for stopping by.
I’m Toni and I run the show here at A Wheel in the Sky. Here we talk all things travel and flight attendant life. (With some vulnerable personal development bits, for good measure.) If you enjoyed this post about the best and worst parts of being a flight attendant, feel free to check out some of my other flight attendant content. I’ll link some good ones below.
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Flight Attendant Content
The Personal (& possibly quite relatable):