Hot Tips from a Flight Attendant: Benefits, Job Description and Salary

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Have you ever sat next to somebody on a plane who wouldn’t stop talking?

You know the one

You’ve finally sat down after rushing like a crazy person to the airport, basically getting stripped naked at customs, to only be greeted by somebody simply grinning in your direction, 3 inches from your face, wanting a good ol’ yarn…

My Interview with an off duty Flight Attendant - Life, humour and hot tips. It's funny the things you can learn from somebody unexpected! | | #FlightAttendant #Flightattendantlife #flightattendanttips #shiftwork #nightshift

Well, on one of our most recent trips, this exact thing happened to me.

We were on our final leg home, after traveling for too long, when suddenly an animated, overly-excited woman claimed the vacant seat next to me.

Within 10 seconds of sitting down she quickly turns to me and says in an upbeat fashion, “and where are you two off too?”

I thought to myself… here we go.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to chat and would even describe myself as a ‘talker’ but sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for small talk. I guess spending 15+ hours in airports and planes will do that to you.

In trying not to be rude, my natural instincts kicked in and we got chatting.

It turns out, this 59-year-old lady, as she rightly pointed out, was a flight attendant (off duty) with 32 years experience!

I’m sure you can imagine, as the co-founder of a shift working blog, my ears pricked up and suddenly I was sitting a little straighter in my, not so comfortable aeroplane seat.

For the next 2 and a half hours we chatted… Well, to be honest, I did a lot of listening and not too much talking, if you catch my drift.

But I observed Cath, (not her real name*) get continual special treatment from the crew on-board – and rightly so.

Free champagne, extra peanuts and an exit seat in the economy section with the riff-raff like us (because there were no spare seats in first class…). The best part for my husband Dan and I was not only a free education about flight attendant life BUT also free little bottles of whiskey and vodka! It’s who you know, right?

As I don’t personally know any flight attendants, I wanted to give you an in-depth description of our chat (skipping the pleasantries) and pass on what I found incredibly interesting about the airline industry.

My recount of this totally unscripted event is random and little jumbled at times but it’s a flight I won’t forget.

I hope this helps answers some underlying questions you have about the industry and may excite some of you for a career change?

If you work in the industry, I fully welcome you to comment below and clarify any points I’ve made. What have I missed? What may need more of an explanation. Thank you in advance!

Let’s get into it.

Flight Attendant _

This wasn’t Cath*

It’s All About Seniority As A Flight Attendant

Across the United States airlines, all flight attendants are given a number when they are first employed in the company. It’s based on years of service and not age as it so commonly is in other professions.

Cath, was number 5000 and something… and she had 32 years up her sleeve!

Basically, the lower the number you hold the more years of training and service you’ve had. Cath worked with #2 and #3 only a few months back and the banter in-flight was apparently hilarious. Somewhere along the lines of…Who will kick-the-bucket first for top ranking?!

What was interesting to me, was the number you hold, is based on the company you work for. If you were to leave the airline to chase another dream or do something different, then come back in a few years because you ‘missed it,’ you need to start back at the start… all over again.

This was similar in the nursing field in Australia when you’re working within the public system and move to the private world…see ya later public entitlements!

Why the Ranking Number Is Important

It seems it’s all about the perks. If you hold a lower number, you get priority or ‘premium’ treatment as Cath called it. Here is what she’s talking about:

  • You’re able to request (and likely) get your flight of choice
  • You get to pick which shifts you do and don’t want to do which is often granted.
  • They also get first dibs on popular international flights with a long layover time – did somebody say sneaky holiday?

It’s All About the Stop-Overs

Instead of talking in days in between one flight and the next, it seems the popular thing to do is talk in hours. 55 hours, 13 hours, 75 hours…

Is there enough time to squeeze in a mini-retreat? Sleep? Eat? Catch up with a friend or family member in that city?

If not, according to Cath, there is no point requesting that particular flight. I laughed because this is so far away from my nursing conversations and she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s all about the perks, Em!”

In her company, particular flights are known to have a longer layover time (like New Zealand, Australia and Paris) and these are the ones you want. But they generally go first to those with a lower number, as we mentioned earlier and are super popular.

In Terms of Rostering…

Cath couldn’t talk highly enough about the flexible roster. There seemed to be a great understanding among the staff about swapping shifts to make a potential event, kids birthday or whatever else popped up, work.

This may be the company she worked for and hence I cannot speak for all airlines but I hope this is happening everywhere!

“Oh, The Benefits Are Great!”

If you work for the airline industry, you can fly for free! Yep, you heard me right – FFFRREEEEE.

Again, where you go and when you travel is based on the seniority thing I mentioned earlier.

And… unlike most American jobs, flight attendants get about 5 weeks of leave.

Cath couldn’t stop raving about how being a flight attendant really suited her lifestyle and how she is able to juggle being a mom and working pretty easily. (But she did take some extended time off when she had her children).

“The airline was even forced to move on a flight attendant last year who was still working at 88 years old!”

Cath was saying that unlike pilots, who are forced to retire at 65 years old, there is no rule of forced retirement for flight attendants due to age.

She shrugged her shoulders and said that flight attendants NEVER retire. She said, the beauty of requesting your shifts/flights and making your schedule work for you is too hard to pass up.

I had no idea but apparently, it’s a tough, competitive game to get into!

‘International flights kicked domestic flights butts”   

“I can’t stand messing around with the credit card payments and charging individual people for a drink!”

“On international flights, everyone gets everything unless they specify or have a special requirement, making it a heck of a lot easier to do my job and focus on one thing”

“Plus, I hate the boarding process and I only ever want to do it once per shift…”

That made me laugh because for us most of us, these tedious things like boarding are just part of airline travel.

Waiting in lines and watching people try to stick an oversized suitcase into a too-small or full overhead locker, while holding up the cue is just part of the game.

The general public knows what to expect and most people remain pretty calm throughout the process, even if it’s taking too long.

But I guess boarding can be incredibly frustrating for those who do it every day and actually have a schedule they need to stick to…

Cath was very passionate about her job and absolutely loved the industry. But the thing that she loved most about international trips was the one flight and then she was home to be with her family.

“There is none of this, re-boarding crap again all over again…I’m out!”

Flight Attendant Life_ Humor in the Sky _ _ Sunset outside of plane and clouds

“The training to be a flight attendant is intense”

Cath talked plenty about the intensive training and knowledge required to be a flight attendant.

She seems physically tired just talking it.

Cath mentioned a few things about her training and what was and still is involved which I’ve never really thought before. Here is a quick snapshot of what’s involved in being a flight attendant:

  • Self-defense
  • First aid and recognition of medical problems
  • Security and de-escalation technique training
  • Ticketing and reservations
  • Hospitality training
  • Airline operations and special material handling
  • Customer service and radio communication
  • Meteorology and understanding weather patterns
  • Communicating with people who speak a different language and/or have a disability
  • Survival training
  • Physical fitness

“The planes are all different!”

All planes are different. Some have slides which detach, some don’t. Some have special push doors for an emergency while others are a pull-down handle.

The training becomes more complex when you start to talk about the variations in planes and the differences that arise in terms of emergency procedures for particular flights.

Flight attendants need to know one plane model to the next in case ‘in the unlikely event of an emergency’… they need to act – quickly!

According to Cath, flight attendants need to go through 1:1 testing with an instructor explaining the safety features of particular aircrafts at random.

This may seem a little selfish, but I’m glad they know what they’re doing and have intensive training because the rest of us would be pretty stuffed up in the air without them!

“I’ll Never Be Flight Leader”

If there was an emergency – the flight leaders run the show. They are in-charge (in consultation with the captain) about what goes where and who does what.

They are also the person you often hear making most of the announcements and safety instructions before and during the flight.

(For interest sake, apparently, they are not required to memorize that whole spiel and are allowed to read it if need be).

Plus, they need to deal with all the paperwork involved, even if there is not an emergency, which can be tedious.

Cath thought this was all too much fuss and opted for being a ‘regular member of the crew’ despite missing out on the extra pay team leaders receive.

Flight Attendant Life_ Humor in the Sky _ _ Inside a plane with passengers seated

“There Used to Be a Weight Limit When I Started Working but That Doesn’t Exist Anymore…”

I looked into this a little more closely because it blows my tiny mind that this was actually an enforced rule back in the day (not so long ago!).

Here is a snapshot of the rules being enforced as a flight attendant:

  • Minimum age is 21 depending on the airline as your likely serving alcohol.
  • Height is generally between 4ft 11in and 6ft 3in or between 150cm and 190cm tall. However, there is some grey here when we talk about ‘reach requirement.’
  • Weight – The rules now simply state, ‘your weight must be proportional to your height’… I think they are talking about BMI charts.
  • You must have at least 20/30 vision. Yep – not even 20/20. With the use of glasses or contact lenses, you’ll likely pass this requirement.
  • Have all five senses- hearing/sight/touch/smell/taste
  • Your appearance (despite popular belief you don’t need to be a supermodel) needs to be professional and conservative – yep – no blue or purple hair allowed on board.
  • Jewellery and watches are allowed but they can’t scream Kim Kardashian bling. That too goes for the make-up – natural tones only ladies. Tattoos are okay – if nobody can see them… so don’t even think about a neck tat.
  • For the blokes – no goatees and keep your mustaches, not below the corners of your mouth. As for sideburns, no lower than halfway down your ear. Sorry Austin powers fans!

See more on the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

I didn’t know if I pushed the ‘new’ friendship boundaries, but I got a little personal and asked about her relationships and if it works for her.

She simply looked at me and said – ‘absolutely!”

I have changed a few details here to protect her privacy, but in summary, her ex-husband worked as a ground crew and her current partner was the pilot flying our plane!

She said they often accompany each other when they worked, enjoying the stopover period together somewhere in the world.

A wine in Paris while overlooking the Eiffel Tower for an afternoon – yes, please!

She said she often flew first class – for free, due to being a relationship with the pilot and being a member of the flight crew.

I started to think about the benefits I get with nursing…

Leftover sandwiches from an executives meeting 4 hours earlier is about as exciting as it gets and we are totally thankful for this!

Have you been to Australia?

I had to ask about our motherland…

Interestingly, Australia and New Zealand are VERY popular flights and generally taken by those with a lower position number.


You get a longer stopover which means you can make a holiday out of it. She said some staff even bring their kids (who fly for free), get airport transfers and most accommodation paid for (within reason for course) so why not?

Negatives to Being a Flight Attendant

Dan popped his head over a few times to join in the conversation and asked Cath what she finds difficult about her flight attendant job.

She seemed to be a little stumped (maybe it was the Australian accent?) so Dan spoke a little slower and tried again…

  • “You’re obviously okay with small spaces for a long period of time in a pressurized cabin?”

She basically said it wasn’t an issue for her. She said during longer flights, they are given a few breaks and headed downstairs for a rest. The air is different (“less smelly!”) down there which was her relief during her break.

  • How do you go with serving food during unexpected turbulence? Have you ever spilled anything?

She laughed. She bluntly said, ‘yes, plenty of times but It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be an air hostess in the sky.”

  • Do you suffer from jet-lag and sleep fatigue, or are you used to it by now?

Again, in summary, she said if you use the stopover times to rest and take it easy it’s okay.

Also, she said using her Alaska Bear eye mask and Muji Neck CushionOpens in a new tab. are a must for her! She quickly pulled both of them out of her bag to show me. Check them out below… See it on Amazon

Check it out on Amazon

Flight attendants Salary

We landed before I had a chance to ask this, so I researched for my own interest.

Back in May 2016, the median salary for a flight attendant $48,500, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor StatisticsOpens in a new tab.. However, PayScale estimatesOpens in a new tab. the average pay for a flight attendant at $39,000 a year.

This all seemed to depend on their level of experience. Cath did mention that flight attendants pay was ‘capped’ at 10 years meaning you continued to earn more money per hour until year 10, then the wage stayed the same.

It seems that you can actually learn something by sitting next to a chatty person on the plane.

We hope you enjoyed exploring what life as a flight attendant is really like.

Again, I welcome anyone working as a pilot, flight attendant or working in the industry to comment below. What did I miss? What is your experience working as a flight attendant?



Cath* was aware Dan and I were co-founders of The Other Shift and was happy for us to fire questions in her direction. She asked for her real name not to be used and no images of her used throughout the post. I also haven’t listed the direct company she worked for as per her request.

Emma signature |

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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