Career Spotlight: How to Become a Flight Attendant

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For today’s career spotlight, I’ve interviewed Lisa Owen-Jones, a 23-year old flight attendant from Boston. Originally one of my high school students six years ago, Lisa has since gone on to work for one of America’s most popular airlines.

While Lisa’s stories show the fun side of traveling for work – the free flights, going to interesting places, meeting new people – she also talks about the downside of traveling. She’s never stayed long in one place, and she’s had to miss out on events such as Christmas or family birthdays when she’s halfway around the world. I’ve managed to catch up with how she’s doing, and I’ve learned a lot of useful information to share with my current students interested in becoming a flight attendant.

And if you’re interested in a career in the skies, this article may be useful for you to help decide.


Job Qualifications

Physical Restrictions

While some companies and businesses are not allowed to discriminate potential employees based on physical appearance, airlines have the right to do so to an extent because it could affect the way a flight attendant performs their duties. While the minimum and maximum height requirement varies with different airlines, it’s usually around five feet up to six feet. Some airlines do not have restrictions, and instead base it on one’s ability to reach a certain height. Some airlines may also be particular about the arm length of their flight attendants.

Flight attendants must be at least 18 up to 21 years old, depending on the company. There’s no longer an age limit as long as they’re physically capable of doing their job and have no medical restrictions, and people can continue to be flight attendants until they’re ready to retire.

According to Lisa, while there is no weight requirement, some airlines may impose a visual assessment. Because the aisles along economy class are relatively narrow, they’ll want someone who can move around easily even while passengers are still standing around the cabin. Because of this, they usually get people whose weight is proportionate to their height.

Take, for example, the requirements for United Airlines and the requirements for Spirit Airlines.

In both cases, the age, height, education, and communication skills are similar. However, note that there are differences in the training and provisions for the uniform and luggage. Because these are costly expenses on your part, you need to read the job description and the requirements carefully when applying for flight attendant positions.


Education & Work Experience

Airlines require flight attendants to have a GED. Having a college degree or have a few years of college in their experience could help with your application, but it isn’t necessary.  The role of a flight attendant involves customer service, caregivers, and safety providers. Having job experience with these skills can give you a competitive advantage over other applicants.


Applying as a Flight Attendant

Job Applications

Job applications are similar to any other job you’re applying for. Simply apply for openings (you can find them on the careers page of the airline company, usually under Operations, or on job websites such as Glassdoor and Monster). Research the companies you are applying for. Knowing more about the company can give you an idea what working there will be like, and knowing this information can be helpful during your interview.

On your interview, remember to stay calm and personable. Flight attendants are the face of the airline, so they’re looking for people who can be personable but assertive, as well as responsible and caring for the passengers. Expect that your communication and English skills will be tested. You may also be given scenarios such as handling unruly customers and will be asked how you would handle it.


Additional Requirements

Post-hiring Requirements

After applying and when they offer you a position, you’ll have to undergo a medical exam to ensure you’re fit to be flying. Otherwise, the airline will withdraw their offer. You will also have to undergo a training period, which varies in length and intensity depending on the airline. The basics include the standard operating procedures such as greeting guests, serving food, and handling usual scenarios. However, you will also learn what to do during an emergency landing and what airport codes mean.

According to Lisa, this training will be intense and not for people who think the role of a flight attendant is simply to smile and wave. It’s difficult, but it’s also rewarding. You will eventually understand the operations of airports that not all passengers get to see.

You will need to complete your training before you can get on a plane as a flight attendant. Failure to complete your training will result in your employment being terminated.


Unusual Requirements

Depending on which airline you apply for, there may be additional restrictions and requirements you need to pass in order to work there as an employee. In Qatar Airways, for example, all female flight attendants must be unmarried and childless for five years. If you want to marry, you need to seek approval from your employer first. And if you become pregnant within those five years, instead of making you do tasks in the office or on the ground like most airlines do with pregnant flight attendants, they fire you.

In some airlines in Asia, flight attendants are put under rigorous combat and survival training to deal with unruly passengers or in case the plane crashes far away from civilization. Singapore Airlines, for example, provides the longest training course in the industry, spanning 15 weeks. Training includes the traditional flight attendant lessons such as how to do their hair and makeup, walking in restricting uniforms, but it also extends to emergency training.

In China, where flight attendant positions are in high-demand and with tough competition, airlines can impose very specific criteria to the point that hiring flight attendants turns into a pageant-like competition. Participants could be no older than 25 years, have no visible scars, have a pleasant voice, and must be elegant and thin.


Handling Passengers

As a flight attendant, you’ll meet people from various cities and countries. However, not all of them will be pleasant or have a different view of manners based on their culture, which may sometimes be totally different from yours. Lisa says that one thing you can’t really learn in training is developing a thick skin; you either have one from the get-go or you don’t. You’ll meet friendly passengers, but you’ll also meet rude and demanding passengers who you just can’t seem to please. That’s why being calm, assertive, and level-headed is necessary for all flight attendants.


Preparing for a Flight Attendant Career

Beyond the technical parts of following a flight attendant career, though, there are several points you have to consider to see if you are a right fit for this job. While you may have the physical and educational requirements, you may also have to self-examine if you are personally ready for this career.


Do you understand what this job entails?

You will be travelling a lot, yes, but not travelling the way you would as a passenger being serviced by flight attendants. You will have to put other passengers first and keep them safe, calm, and comfortable throughout the flight. It will also be your responsibility to handle any incidents that could harm or inconvenience other passengers. And a lot of times, these passengers may not be the type you’d like to deal with.

Traveling for work may also mean having to make personal sacrifices. Airlines have put on flight attendants’ job description that they should be willing to relocate for work and travel at the earliest notice. This may be easy for some who love exploring and are very independent, but for people with families, this may be a deal-breaker for a flight attendant career.


How much does a flight attendant make?

Flight attendant earns a median salary from $39,000 up to $48,500 a year. In addition, some companies provide discounted tickets for their employees and their families. However, this is for experienced flight attendants, and the entry-level salary is around $18,000 a year. Some flight attendants may even be required to spend on their own uniforms and luggage. However, during layovers, the airline provides its flight attendants with accommodations, food, and other expenses occurred while on the job.


Based on this information, do you think you a career as a flight attendant would best suit your skills and interests? It’s not all just smiling and waving, but if you’re willing to take on the challenge, this career can be very rewarding.

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