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It is the job of the flight attendants to see that all their passengers have a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable airplane flight.
At least 1 hour before each flight, attendants are briefed by the captain, the pilot in command, on such things as expected weather conditions and special passenger problems. The attendants check that the passenger cabin is in order, that supplies of food, beverages, blankets, and reading material are adequate, and that first aid kits and other emergency equipment are aboard and in working order. As passengers board the plane, attendants greet them, check their tickets, and assist them if necessary in storing coats and carry-on luggage.
Before the plane takes off, attendants instruct passengers in the use of emergency equipment and check to see that all passengers have their seat belts fastened and seat backs forward. In the air, they answer questions about the flight; distribute reading material, pillows, and blankets; and help small children, elderly or disabled persons, and any others needing assistance. They may administer first aid to passengers who become ill. Attendants also serve cocktails and other refreshments and, on many flights, heat and distribute precooked meals. After the plane has landed, flight attendants assist passengers as they leave the plane. They then prepare reports on medications given to passengers, lost and found articles, and cabin equipment conditions. Some flight attendants straighten up the plane's cabin.
Helping passengers in the event of an emergency is the most important responsibility of the flight attendant. This may range from reassuring passengers during occasional encounters with strong turbulence to directing passengers in evacuating a plane following an emergency landing.
Lead or first flight attendants aboard planes oversee the work of the other attendants while performing most of the same duties.
Since airlines operate around the clock year round, attendants may work at night and on holidays and weekends. They usually fly 75 to 85 hours a month. In addition, they generally spend about 75 to 85 hours a month on the ground preparing planes for flights, writing reports following completed flights, and waiting for planes that arrive late. Because of variations in scheduling and limitations on flying time, many attendants have 11 or more days off each month. Attendants may be away from their home base at least one-third of the time. During this period, the airlines provide hotel accommodations and an allowance for meal expenses.
The combination of free time and discount air fares provides flight attendants the opportunity to travel and see new places. However, the work can be strenuous and trying. Short flights require speedy service if meals are served. A rough flight can make serving drinks and meals difficult. Attendants stand during much of the flight and must remain pleasant and efficient regardless of how tired they are or how demanding passengers may be. Flight attendants are susceptible to injury because of the job demands in a moving aircraft.
Flight attendants held about 105,000 jobs in 1994. Commercial airlines employed the vast majority of all flight attendants, most of whom were stationed in major cities at the airlines' home bases. A small number of flight attendants worked for large companies that operate their own aircraft for business purposes.
The airlines prefer to hire poised, tactful, and resourceful people who can deal comfortably with strangers. Applicants usually must be at least 19 to 21 years old. Flight attendants must have excellent health, good vision, and the ability to speak clearly.
Applicants must be high school graduates. Those having several years of college or experience in dealing with the public are preferred. More and more attendants being hired are college graduates. Flight attendants for international airlines generally must speak an appropriate foreign language fluently. Some of the major airlines prefer candidates who can speak two major foreign languages for their international flights.
Most large airlines require that newly hired flight attendants complete 4 to 6 weeks of intensive training in their own flight training centers. The airlines that do not operate training centers generally send new employees to the center of another airline. Transportation to the training centers and an allowance for board, room, and school supplies may be provided. Trainees learn emergency procedures such as evacuating an airplane, operating an oxygen system, and giving first aid. Attendants also are taught flight regulations and duties, and company operations and policies. Trainees receive instruction on personal grooming and weight control. Trainees for the international routes get additional instruction in passport and customs regulations and dealing with terrorism. Towards the end of their training, students go on practice flights. Attendants must receive 12 to 14 hours of training in emergency procedures and passenger relations annually.
After completing initial training, flight attendants are assigned to one of their airline's bases. New attendants are placed in "reserve status" and are called on either to staff extra flights or fill in for attendants who are sick or on vacation. Reserve attendants on duty must be available on short notice. Attendants usually remain on reserve for at least 1 year; at some cities, it may take 5 years or longer to advance from reserve status. Advancement takes longer today than in the past because experienced attendants are remaining in this career for more years than they used to. Attendants who no longer are on reserve bid for regular assignments. Because these assignments are based on seniority, usually only the most experienced attendants get their choice of base and flights.
Some attendants transfer within the company to flight service instructor, customer service director, recruiting representative, or various other administrative positions.
Opportunities should be favorable for persons seeking flight attendant jobs as the number of applicants is expected to be roughly in balance with the number of job openings. Those with at least 2 years of college and experience in dealing with the public should have the best chance of being hired.
As more career minded people have entered this occupation, turnover-which traditionally has been very high-has declined somewhat. Still, most job openings through the year 2005 should flow from replacement needs. Many flight attendants are attracted to the occupation by the glamour of the airline industry and the opportunity to travel, but many eventually leave in search of jobs that offer higher earnings and require fewer nights be spent away from their families. Thousands of job openings will arise each year to replace flight attendants who transfer to another occupation or who leave the labor force.
Employment of flight attendants is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Growth in population and income is expected to increase the number of airline passengers. Airlines enlarge their capacity by increasing the number and size of planes in operation. Since Federal Aviation Administration safety rules require one attendant for every 50 seats, more flight attendants will be needed.
Employment of flight attendants is sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, when the demand for air travel declines, many flight attendants are put on part-time status or laid off. Until demand increases, few new attendants are hired.
Beginning flight attendants had median earnings of about $12,700 a year in 1994, according to data from the Association of Flight Attendants. Flight attendants with 6 years of flying experience had median annual earnings of about $18,700, while some senior flight attendants earned as much as $40,000 a year. Flight attendants receive extra compensation for overtime and for night and international flights. In addition, flight attendants and their immediate families are entitled to reduced fares on their own and most other airlines.
Many flight attendants belong to the Association of Flight Attendants. Others are members of the Transport Workers Union of America, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, or other unions.
Flight attendants are required to buy uniforms and wear them while on duty. Uniform replacement items are usually paid for by the company. The airlines generally provide a small allowance to cover cleaning and upkeep of the uniforms.
Other jobs that involve helping people as a safety professional and require the ability to be pleasant even under trying circumstances include emergency medical technician, firefighter, maritime crew and camp counselor.
Information about job opportunities in a particular airline and the qualifications required may be obtained by writing to the personnel manager of the company. For addresses of airline companies and information about job opportunities and salaries, contact:
FAPA, 4959 Massachusetts Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30337. (This organization may be called toll free at 1-800-Jet-Jobs, extension 190.)
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