How to Become a Flight Attendant

If you've ever considered a career in the skies, here's everything you need to know about becoming a flight attendant.

American Airlines Flight Attendant
Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Thinking of becoming a flight attendant? It's hard to argue with a job that comes with perks like flying for free. Becoming a flight attendant isn't all glamour and trips to Morocco and the Maldives, though. It requires training and working the flights more senior flight attendants don't want. You could get stuck flying the 5 a.m. Atlanta to Tampa route for quite some time. But there is room for upward mobility in the flight attendant world, an opportunity for work camaraderie, and perhaps best of all, a chance to see the world.

If you're considering a career as a flight attendant, you're probably brimming with questions. Do you need a college degree? What's the training program like? How long does it take? Don't worry, we've got all the answers to get you in the sky. Here's how to become a flight attendant.

Where Do You Start?

Here's a little-known fact about becoming a flight attendant: You train after you get the gig. It's not like becoming a pilot, where you have to get a commercial pilot's license before you can apply to be an airline pilot. For those interested in becoming a flight attendant, you have to first apply to various airlines and get hired. If you get the gig, you then take their three-to-six week intensive training course.

Do You Need a College Degree?

Not technically, no. Most airlines only require applicants to have a high school education or GED. However, having an associate's or bachelor's degree only helps you secure employment with a major airline. Even better, if your degree is in marketing, hospitality, communication, or tourism, that's a big plus from the airline's perspective. If you have related skills, even that you didn't pick up from a college education, like waiting tables, working in a hotel, or even hosting at a beachside bar and grill, that could help you get hired, too. Keep in mind that while you don't need a college degree, you do need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a job as a flight attendant.

What are Airlines Looking For in Applicants?

They want you to present professionally, preferably have some sort of customer service experience, be personable, and be able to stand on your feet for long periods of time. Sound easy? It's much harder than you think. Any service industry job can be hard on your body, and being a flight attendant is no exception. You may be sleep deprived and get minimal breaks, but you still have to be responsible for your cabin on a 19-hour flight from Newark to Singapore. You also need to be tall enough to reach the overhead bins and have vision that can be corrected to 20/40. When applying for a job as a flight attendant, you'll need to be able to pass a background check and a drug test.

How to Become a Flight Attendant: The Training Program

Once you're hired by the airline, it's off to the training program. The Alaska Airlines training program runs for six weeks and is tuition-free, according to its website. In training, you learn how to handle emergency situations, including fires, managing evacuations, using oxygen masks and life vests, and operating the evacuation slides. If you thrive in a classroom environment, the training will play to your strengths. After the theoretical portion of training comes practice flights. That's when you'll get your feet wet and learn firsthand what it means to be a flight attendant. The opportunity to learn from flight attendants who have been working for years is really valuable. You'll get to see what works for your colleagues and what doesn't, and pick their brains for advice. Once you've completed your training and practice flights, the airline will submit the application for your Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency to the FAA.

How Do You Become a Flight Attendant?

Now that you know what it takes to become a flight attendant, and what experience and education will make you a more desirable candidate, it's time to start finding the right flight attendant jobs for you. The first two things you want to think about are: What kind of company do you want to work for? And where would you like to be based? For example, would you prefer to work for a regional airline that flies primarily in the continental U.S., or do you want to work on international flights as soon as possible? These decisions will help inform your job search.

The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Flight Attendant

There are downsides to every job, and becoming a flight attendant is no different. You will have to dress in a specific uniform. Hair and makeup need to meet your airline's regulations, and sometimes female flight attendants' heels are required to be a certain height. You will often have to work holidays, and you are typically paid hourly for flying time, but not for time spent getting through security or on layovers. The upside, of course, is that you get to travel for free or at a very low price almost anywhere. That means international flights at hugely discounted rates, and those discounts sometimes apply to first-class seats as well.

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