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, and officially airlines recognize no other course. 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. The good news is, if you make it to a flight attendant training course, you’ve already bested the competition for this exciting job.
2016 Salary Information for Flight Attendants
Flight attendants earned a median annual salary of $48,500 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, flight attendants earned a 25th percentile salary of $39,860, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $62,490, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 116,600 people were employed in the U.S. as flight attendants.
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- The Chronicle of Higher Education: Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Flight Attendant
- Business.com: Pricing and Costs of Flight Attendant Education and Training
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Flight Attendants
- Career Trend: Flight Attendants
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