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Nature of the Work
* Job duties are learned through extensive formal training after being are hired.
* The opportunity for travel attracts many to this career, but this occupation requires working nights, weekends, and holidays and frequently being away from home.
Major airlines are required by law to provide flight attendants for the safety of the flying public. Although the primary job of the flight attendants is to ensure that safety regulations are adhered to, they also try to make flights comfortable and enjoyable for passengers.
At least 1 hour before each flight, flight attendants are briefed by the captain, the pilot in command, on such things as emergency evaluation procedures, crew coordination, length of flights, expected weather conditions and special passenger problems. Flight attendants check that first aid kits and other emergency equipment are aboard and in working order and that the passenger cabin is in order, with adequate supplies of food, beverages, and blankets. As passengers board the plane, flight attendants greet them, check their tickets, and instruct them on where to store coats and carry-on items.
Before the plane takes off, flight attendants instruct all passengers in the use of emergency equipment and check to see that seat belts are fastened, seat backs are forward, and all carry on items are properly stowed. In the air, helping passengers in the event of an emergency is the most important responsibility of a flight attendant. Safety-related tips may range from reassuring passengers during occasional encounters with strong turbulence to directing passengers in evacuating a plane following an emergency landing. They also may 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. Flight attendants may serve alcoholic beverages and other refreshments and, on many flights, heat and distribute precooked meals or snacks. After the plane has landed, flight attendants take inventory of alcoholic beverages, monies collected, and headsets and may report on medical problems of passengers, and cabin equipment conditions or incidents.
Lead or first flight attendants, sometimes known as pursers, oversee the work of the other attendants aboard the aircraft, while performing most of the same duties.
Since airlines operate around the clock year round, flight attendants may work at night and on holidays and weekends. They usually fly 75 to 85 hours a month and, in addition 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 to arrive. Because of variations in scheduling and limitations on flying time, many flight attendants have 11 or more days off each month. They may be away from their home base at least one-third of the time. During this period, the airlines provide assigned 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 and a turbulent flight can make serving drinks and meals difficult. Flight 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 injuries because of the job demands in a moving aircraft. Back injuries and mishaps opening overhead compartments are common. In addition, medical problems can occur from working in a pressurized environment and breathing recycled air, irregular sleeping and eating pattens; and dealing with stressful passengers.
Flight attendants held about 132,000 jobs in 1996. Commercial airlines employed the vast majority of all flight attendants, most of whom live in major cities at the airlines' home bases. A small number of flight attendants worked for large companies that operated company aircraft for business purposes.
Airlines prefer to hire poised, tactful, and resourceful people who can interact comfortably with strangers and remain calm under duress. Applicants usually must be at least 19 to 21 years old. Flight attendants must have excellent health and the ability to speak clearly. In addition, there are height requirements and applicants should not have visible tatoos.
Applicants must be high school graduates. Those having several years of college or experience in dealing with the public are preferred. More and more flight attendants being hired are college graduates. Highly desirable areas of concentration include such people oriented disciplines as psychology and education. 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 the airlines' flight training centers. 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 emergency systems and equipment, administering first aid, and water survival tactics. In addition, trainees are instructed to deal with hijacking and terrorist situations. Flight attendants also are taught flight regulations and duties, company operations and policies, and receive instruction on personal grooming and weight control. Trainees for the international routes get additional instruction in passport and customs regulations. Towards the end of their training, students go on practice flights. Additionally, flight attendants must annually receive recurrent 12 to 14 hours of training in emergency procedures and passenger relations.
After completing initial training, flight attendants are assigned to one of their airline's bases. New flight attendants are placed on "reserve status" and are called on either to staff extra flights or fill in for crew members who are sick or on vacation or rerouted. Reserve flight attendants on duty must be available on short notice, and usually remain on reserve for at least 1 year. However, at some cities, it may take 5 to 10 years or longer to advance from reserve status. Flight attendants who no longer are on reserve bid monthly for regular assignments. Because assignments are based on seniority, usually only the most experienced attendants get their choices of base and flights. Advancement takes longer today than in the past because experienced flight attendants are remaining in this career for more years than they used to.
Some flight attendants transfer within the airline to become supervisors, or may take on additional duties such as recruiting and instructing.
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 airline restrictions on employment have been abolished, turnoverwhich traditionally was very highhas declined. Therefore, the majority of job openings through the year 2006 should be due to replacement needs. Many flight attendants are attracted to the occupation by the glamour of the airline industry and the opportunity to travel, but some eventually leave in search of jobs that offer higher earnings and require fewer nights be spent away from their families. Several thousand job openings will arise each year as a result of the need 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 2006. 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 flight new attendants are hired.
Beginning flight attendants had median earnings of about $12,800 a year in 1996, according to data from the Association of Flight Attendants. Flight attendants with 6 years of flying experience had median annual earnings of about $19,000, while some senior flight attendants earned as much as $40,000 a year. Flight attendants receive extra compensation for night and international flights and for increased hours. In addition, flight attendants and their immediate families are entitled to free fares on their own airline and reduced fares on most other airlines.
Many flight attendants belong to the Association of Flight Attendants. Others may be 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 while requiring 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.
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