How Flight Attendants Work

A Day in the Life of a Flight Attendant

Southwest Airlines stewardesses modeled their sexy uniforms in 1968.
Southwest Airlines stewardesses modeled their sexy uniforms in 1968.
Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

A flight attendant's job goes far beyond picking up trash and doling out beverages, although both are vitally important to the in-flight experience. Customer service and safety are the cornerstones of the flight attendant role, but both have grown more complicated in recent years. "Ever since 9/11, the entire system has changed, and we had to go to a much more secure and detailed process to board, which added a lot of layers," explains Bruton. "Our knowledge base has also increased immensely to make things even safer, and we go through training every single year that you have to perform and pass in order to be able to fly." Bruton also notes that major airlines fly virtually everywhere in the world nowadays, making cultural training a must to avoid issues and misunderstandings.

In addition to demonstrating safety procedures (or being available for questions when the video is showing), flight attendants must also verify the presence of safety equipment and ensure that passengers adhere to regulations, like stowing possessions properly and wearing their seat belts. Also of paramount importance is the ability to assist passengers in emergency situations, from mild turbulence to a passenger's heart attack to an impending plane crash; hence all the mandatory annual training.

From a customer service perspective, the goal is to keep passengers as happy as possible despite the ever-shrinking legroom, seats, and food and beverage options available to ticket-holders. Often, they're crabby before they even board, making it even more important for flight attendants to flaunt excellent customer skills. "People used to get excited when they went on a trip," recalls Kate Linder, a flight attendant with United Airlines since 1978. "Now going through the airport is such a hassle that by the time they get through security they're exhausted."

Overnight trips are common and expected, particularly for newer flight attendants who have less control over their schedules. Seniority determines everything in the flight attendant world, and the people who've been there the longest get first dibs on bidding for routes they wish to work. The typical flight attendant works 75 to 85 hours a month, but many will volunteer to work extra shifts to increase their pay. The maximum number of hours allowed is usually 100 per month [source: Flight Attendants Academy].