Flight attendants have taken some serious career knocks since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, suffering pay cuts, extreme hours and rude customers, but the profession still holds a special allure for many starry-eyed travelers. The Federal Aviation Administration requires all airlines to train newly hired flight attendants in a course that meets special federal standards. Course topics focus on how to calm patients during heavy turbulence, escaping an airplane during an emergency and what to do when a patient is ill. Some airlines provide a course for new flight attendants, but there are independent training classes available. However, entering the field is competitive, and some candidates take additional training to improve their chances.
No College Degree Required
Flight attendants do not need any college-level training to enter the field. However, since what they do is similar to the work of waitresses and sales personnel, airlines prefer them to have one or two years of customer service experience. Even so, according the Chronicle of Higher Education, roughly 30 percent of flight attendants have a college degree, and some even have master’s degrees and doctorates. Airlines will wave customer service experience requirements for college graduates because they perceive these candidates as having polished interpersonal skills. However, given that the lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,930 and only average about $44,860 throughout their careers, a $40,000 to $160,000 college degree might be an unwise investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and most professionals in the field discourage flight attendants from seeing college as a requirement.
Benefits of a Foreign Language
Flight attendant candidates will be seen as more desirable if they can speak a foreign language, so high school students considering this career should make the most of the foreign language opportunities available to them. Needless to say, American citizens who speak little or no English will benefit from a bilingual flight attendant. However, bilingual entry-level candidates should keep in mind that international flights are usually reserved for the most senior staff due to the greater number of paid hours they offer. On the other hand, foreign airlines like JAL that hire American flight attendants will only hire those who speak the language used in a target location, such as Japanese.
Flight Attendant Schools
There are a number of flight attendant training schools that offer courses meant to give job candidates an edge in the hiring process. These courses teach aspiring flight attendants how to use relevant software and manage ticket and gate agent procedures. Some are as brief as 40 hours over five days, while some require 300 hours, or six weeks. Prices can vary from $800 to $5,000. Alarmingly, many schools encourage students to take federal loans to pay for the courses. Such loans can never be excused through bankruptcy and could cut into the flight attendant’s small salary. For this reason, experienced flight attendants recommend that job seekers who are concerned about competition develop an impressive customer service background and apply at small, regional airlines for their first positions to gain valued experience in lieu of attending school.
The Only Flight Attendant Course Airlines Recognize
Beyond a high school degree, customer service experience and language skills, other factors airlines consider when hiring flight attendants are height and a criminal background check. A positive, engaging personality and a neat, professional appearance are also vital. Once a flight attendant has made it through the hiring process, his or her airline is obligated under federal law to provide a two- to seven-week training course that is highly regulated and security sensitive. Traditionally, airlines have paid flight attendants for their time at training courses, but due to consistent budget cuts, training at some airlines is now unpaid. If you make it to a flight attendant training course, you’ve already bested the competition for this exciting job.
- Gadling: A question about flight attendant schools.
- Gadling: Feds call degree-toting flight attendants overeducated.
- Gadling: How much do flight attendants get paid?
- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Flight Attendant
Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.