American aviator Wilbur Wright once said, “The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space on the infinite highway of the air.” If only Wilbur could see the majesty of air travel now: Fights for overhead bin space! $15 sandwiches at Hudson News! Scary, blue toilet water! Ah, the glamour.
But, while traveling the skies is something that has perhaps become a burdensome, tedious miracle for most (we are, after all, flying, let’s not forget–thank you, Wilbur!), there are those among us who long to make 30,000 feet their office space.
If this sounds like you, then you may be at this very moment sitting at your desk, scrolling through your phone, daydreaming of quitting your job, and taking the leap of faith that is becoming a flight attendant.
But, you ask, what do you need to do to get there? What should you be prepared for? The short answer is, of course, everything. Be prepared for a career’s worth of unpredictable, exciting days that will bring you to places you never thought you would see in your lifetime. The longer answer, if you prefer details (and if you’re wanting to learn how to become a flight attendant, my guess is you’re a sucker for details), is below.
Flight Attendant Basic Requirements
Before you even begin thinking of a life of flying with the birds, there are a few basic requirements of being a flight attendant that you need to make sure you meet. Every airline is different and has unique prerequisites that you’ll need to meet in order to provide the best experience possible for passengers–personality, competence, a thick skin to rude people, etc. (Remember that last flight attendant you saw who looked 45? She actually just turned 19). Despite the varying requirements, there are some commonalities that all airlines will be screening for at the very start of your journey.
Below are some no-nonsense, non-negotiable requirements you’ll need to satisfy before even being considered for this coveted position.
- be a U.S. citizen or authorized to work in the U.S. (if applying to a U.S. airline)
- be at least 18 years old (some airlines require you be at least 21 years old)
- be allowed unrestricted multiple entry into and out of the U.S.
- obtain and keep travel documents up-to-date (passport and applicable VISAs)
- have the ability to travel freely to and from all cities where the airline flies
- have a high school diploma or GED (minimum, some airlines require more)
- apply for and clear the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) clearance pass
- pass the airline’s medical test
- be deemed physically fit for the job
If you believe you’ll be able to write a satisfying, mental checkmark next to all of these requirements, great! You’ve done the bare minimum! Now, let’s get into a little more detail about a couple of them, shall we?
When it comes to education, yes, the high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement. Many airlines, however, prefer (and some go so far as to require) that you come to the job armed with a four-year college degree. Four years spent at university counts not only as higher education in the eyes of the airline, but for real-world experience–two valuable assets that are sure to give you a competitive edge over those without them (if you think the process to becoming a flight attendant is starting to sound a little cut-throat, oh, just you wait).
The combination of these two advantages will aid you in your on-board service and any situations you may encounter throughout your job. Flight attendants with this background can also be considered down the road for management positions, just in case you find yourself wanting to plant your feet on the ground later in your career.
Let’s Get Physical
There is no getting around this one: you have to be in good enough shape to work at this job. No, I don’t mean you’re required to have a physique comparable to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Then again, he’d be great at catching a fully loaded food cart that’s careening down the aisle. “Hasta la vista, beverage service.” But don’t worry! That doesn’t happen–except for when it does.)
While you don’t have to be overly muscular, be prepared for the physical challenges that come along with the career. Delta Airline’s website, for instance, states that applicants will need the following:
Ability to work in a physically demanding role which requires frequent standing, walking, bending, stooping, pushing, pulling, reaching and lifting (i.e., pushing/pulling beverage or food carts and lifting and opening emergency aircraft doors).
And folks, that’s just the start of it. Beyond those basics, you’ll also need to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle that provides you with the stamina which will be the backbone keeping you steady and strong throughout a 14 hour, delay-filled workday. That means taking care of yourself as much as you can. Exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep-with-a-capital-S will become the keys to surviving time zone changes, stressful incidents on the plane, and warding off getting sick. You’re going to have to become a master at taking care of yourself. Don’t worry–it’s just one of the many tricks you’ll learn on the job, and tips on how to do it best are always swapped amongst flight attendants
Most airlines are going to prefer candidates with a background in customer service, whether that’s as a server, a bookseller, a hotel front desk receptionist–anything that requires you to interact with and help others is a major, major plus in the eyes of the airline you’ll send your application to.
This kind of background indicates to them that you (presumably) enjoy serving others, that you’re likely good at it, and you won’t need much training on how to treat customers. This is great, because the majority of flight attendant training is not on cabin service, but rather, aircraft safety. Your number one job, which you will likely hear over and over again at training (should you make it that far), will be safety. Service, while also important, will always take second place to keeping your passengers safe.
So, if you are already great with people and have a great background with jobs that served the public, the airline will feel that you can be trusted to represent them and deliver top-notch customer service, and won’t need to worry so much about spending too much time on it during training. It’s an absolute advantage during your application process.
Being well spoken and having the ability to deliver clear, annunciated English is important as a flight attendant. This may be stating the obvious, but communication is everything in this job. You must be able to work with your team, and speak with ease and comfort with your passengers. If you’re given the task of delivering the safety demonstration’s instructions over the PA system, you must be especially easy to understand, as you want everyone onboard to feel comfortable and safe.
Now, if you can do that in not just one language, but a second language, oh baby, that is a huge leg up. Many American airlines hire specifically for language-of-destination (LOD) flight attendants, which are almost always in demand. Airlines that travel internationally need to accommodate their passengers that speak the language of the country being flown to, and so, need to have LOD flight attendants on hand that can communicate with them.
If you’re applying for a general flight attendant position (not LOD-specific), but you speak a second language, oftentimes that prized skill will be what tips the scale towards you over another similar applicant that only speaks English.
No, I’m not talking about whether you can lower your heels to the mat in downward dog (but if you can do that, I truly applaud you). I’m talking about whether you can roll with the punches in this job. And there will be many punches (again, not literally).
If there was one characteristic that I would say you must have as a flight attendant, I would, without blinking, choose flexibility. As a flight attendant, your whole world, your whole lifestyle as a working flight attendant, will be about mastering this skill. There are a plethora of things you’ll need to learn to adapt to, sometimes on the spot. I’ll share a few examples.
When you’re hired, you may not initially get to work in the city that you wanted to. Surprise! Welcome to the start of you being flexible. Now you’ll need to commute (fly) to your base city before the start of every scheduled trip (which can be a single day turnaround flight, or several days of flying, depending). That means arriving far in advance (typically the previous day) to ensure that you’re signing in on time. Bad weather hovering over your base city the day you planned on commuting in? Better play it safe and fly in an extra day early.
Did you plan on having Thanksgiving off this year? Well, you really set yourself up for disappointment there, as you are more likely going to spend it with 120 strangers as you escort them on their way down to Fort Lauderdale. (On the positive side, many airlines give their workers holiday pay, so take heart in that.)
Do you prefer domestic flights over international ones? Well, I hope you packed for the weather in wintry Dublin, because you’ve just been assigned a flight there while you were sitting on standby at JFK (bonus: you have a 48 hour layover with an awesome crew and IT’S IRELAND).
You will never, ever have a schedule that is similar to a regular 9-5. But isn’t that sort of the point? You’re foregoing the predictable, repetitive lifestyle for a more exciting, unpredictable one.
This isn’t to say that you won’t ever be able to carve out some semblance of a regular schedule. In fact, many flight attendants I knew, especially after they’ve gained some seniority after a handful of years, were able to get a lot of schedule and trip requests approved, and learned to love their monthly schedules.
If this sort of lifestyle sounds like an absolute nightmare, I recommend not pushing forward with your application. Really. Because I have given you some tame examples of how you’ll need to bend with the wind, and if you don’t think you could handle even those, I can almost promise you that you will be miserable as soon as you get your first month’s schedule.
If, however, you’re the kind of person who won’t be brought down by the twists and turns that will be thrown your way, especially if you feel they’re a small price to pay in order to travel the world, then go for it. And if you’re reading this article, my gut tells me this is the kind of person you are, anyway.
When you’re representing a company, especially one that serves the public like an airline, outside appearances become tantamount. Throw away everything your mama told you about beauty only being on the inside. Lies! It’s also found in well-hydrated skin, glowing smiles, and uniforms that don’t look like they lived in a crumpled ball for four days in your suitcase before they were hurriedly thrown on.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the #blessed experience of witnessing a crew of Korean Air flight attendants walking through an airport concourse, but I have. And what a sight it was to behold. They looked sharp, with their pressed, well-fitted sky-blue suits, nary a stray hair escaping the identical buns that sat gracefully at the nape of their necks. Almost walking in tandem, they held their heads high and chatted with one another, smiling, their lips glossed over with the same shade of Taylor Swift-red lipstick. People noticed them and slowed, mouths slightly agape, their departing flights momentarily forgotten.
They were beautiful. It was like peering into the Pan Am days, when flying was glamorous, classy, and, well, probably a lot smokier…They smoked a lot back then. The glitz!
An airline is going to want a candidate that is going to put their best foot forward in their appearance. No, you don’t need to look like a supermodel. Far from it. You just need to put your best into presenting yourself to the world. Take care of your skin, put a little effort into your hairstyle, iron your uniform, and smile. You’re getting paid to put on a cute uniform and be a walking representative of the company that hired you! (Ok, you’re getting paid to do a lot more than that. But looking presentable is definitely in the job description.)
Putting a conscious effort into how you present yourself to your customers is something the airline will be expecting of you. So, if you prefer to keep shirts un-tucked, vests un-buttoned, ties loosened, and your hair a hot mess, maybe the life a flight attendant isn’t for you.
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into (are we sweating yet?), let’s move on to the application and interview processes.
Choosing Airlines to Apply To
Take a look at this list of considerations to mull over when picking an airline to send your resume to.
- Do you want to be based in a specific city?
- Do you prefer flying domestic, international, or a mix of the two?
- What is the airline’s starting pay? Its peak pay?
- Is the workforce unionized at the airline?
- What are the travel and medical benefits offered?
- What are the routes flown?
Use these questions to help steer yourself in a clear direction to the airline of your choice. This will help you put all of your efforts on a specific, focused path, giving you a better shot during the application process. I recommend applying to one or two airlines you’d really love to work for because they fit your lifestyle, rather than applying willy-nilly to all airlines just because you want to get to 30,000 feet. Doing so may bring you to an airline where you’ll be unhappy and, pushed into a blind rage, chug two beers, deploy the evacuation slide and whisk yourself away to the tarmac, reenacting the world’s most dramatic resignation in airline history. (True story. Google it. Love you, JetBlue!)
You’ll also want to keep in mind that bigger airlines like US Airways, American Airlines, and Delta Airlines will likely bring higher pay, larger aircrafts, and opportunities to advance within the companies (not to mention, great layovers with potentially swanky hotels). However, bigger aircrafts bring long-haul flights, more jet lag, and more passengers (and more crying babies…yay!).
In that same vein, regional airlines such as American Eagle Airlines, JetBlue, and Delta Connection all service small communities, schlepping them to bigger hubs. This brand of flying will bring smaller passenger loads, significantly less damage to your sleep pattern, and is normally unionized. Keep in mind, though, that your pay will likely be less, the layovers will be shorter (now how are you supposed to see the Gateway Arch?), and you’ll be working multiple, shorter flights every day.
The Best Way to Résumé
If there’s ever a time to be comfortable bragging a bit, it’s now. Your résumé is your first chance to show your airline of choice why you’d be the perfect candidate and that you’ve done your homework.
More important than any particular résumé format, simplicity and consistency should be at the forefront of your design. Make sure it’s polished, clean, and not embellished with too many font styles (if you use Comic Sans, the resume is getting tossed straight into the garbage bin–as it very well should, you monster).
Make sure you’re highlighting jobs that most relate to the skills required to be a flight attendant (your gig as an Elvis impersonator may not apply–or does it? Lots of flights to Vegas, after all), and make an effort to use lingo that matches the type of airline you’re submitting to. For instance, if the airline is focused on being “fresh” and “innovative,” maybe slip a few similar-minded adjectives here and there throughout your resume and cover letter.
Listing your special skills will help paint a picture of who you are as a person and what unique qualities you can bring to the table. Anything to do with volunteer work, community service, or anything you’re proud to point out about your past and that would transfer over into the airline industry should be highlighted.
A couple other great things to add are any other languages you speak and countries you’ve visited. These are great conversation starters during interviews, and will give you a chance to talk about any stories you have from your visits regarding people you met, food you ate–anything to show how enthusiastic you are about traveling.
The Cover Letter
Short and sweet is key–one page maximum in length (you want the HR person to be able to read this at a glance). Jump right into why you’re interested in the airline and how your skills will translate over into being a flight attendant. This is the place where you’ll get to do a lot of that sprinkling of the company’s lingo mentioned above.
Sometimes, depending on the airline, the cover email will take the place of a cover letter. If they would like both, though, make sure your cover email is the teaser trailer to the full cover letter you send. The email should include highlights of the full-length cover letter, enticing the reader to delve more into who you are.
Well, here we are. You’ve made it to the interview.
You’ve been flown out (yes, it’s fancy, you are flown to the interview for free) and the butterflies in your stomach are fluttering, but you’ve got this. It’s now time to go face-to-face with the recruiters, the friendly faces who will decide your fate (no pressure!).
Depending on the airline, you’ll either be facing a large cattle-call-style interview, where you arrive and find yourself mixed in with hundreds of other candidates (moo). Typically, larger airlines will hold these recruitment drives seasonally.
If you’re interviewing with a smaller airline, however, you may find yourself involved in what’s known as a “trickle hiring” process, wherein a select few have been picked to fly to the airline’s headquarters to be interviewed. They’ve typically been pre-screened via a video or phone interview, or simply through their résumé. These trickle-style hiring events occur throughout the year, rather than seasonally.
No matter the type of interview you find yourself walking into, you want to be as prepared as possible. Here are some things to keep in mind.
What to Wear?
Much like an actor who dresses for the role they’re auditioning for, you should go to your interview dressed like a flight attendant. (No, don’t feel the need to pin a fake set of wings to a blazer or bring a prop seat belt.) While there’s no need to wear an actual uniform, you’re encouraged to get pretty close. Ladies, go for a crisp navy or black suit (skirt or pants, dealer’s choice), with matching pumps (some airlines have a requirement that when you’re walking the concourse, you’re wearing at least an inch heel).
Makeup should be natural and classic–nothing too busy or crazy. Maybe pass on the heavy blue eye shadow (like, for always, not just for the interview). Common sense goes a long way here.
If your hair is shoulder-length or below, it should be pulled back neatly in a bun or low ponytail. Resist the slouchy, messy bun, as cute and Instagram-worthy as you may think it is. Keep the jewelry low-key and practical (studs or small hoops for earrings, for example).
For the guys, arrive wearing a dark pair of pants, a nice, clean shirt that could be paired with a vest, suit jacket, or maybe a (very nice) sweater. Make sure your hair is well-groomed, and that your shoes are polished and clean. Also, please resist dousing yourself in too much cologne (same for you, girls, with the perfume). No one wants to suppress their gag reflex due to overwhelming whiffs of Axe body spray.
I also recommend (for guys and gals) to make sure you wear a watch–you’ll be required to wear one at all times while on duty, so it wouldn’t hurt to show that you’re already in the habit of doing so.
A Date with Destiny
All airlines have their own interviewing process, but you will likely be interviewed one-on-one with recruiters, and then, later on, go through a group interview with several other candidates.
Your one-on-one is your time to really show off your charm. They’ll likely be asking basic questions, like, “Why do you want to work for us?” and “How did you hear about this job?” and “What do you think you can bring to the table as a flight attendant?” Be prepared to answer all of these. They’re predictable, but with preparation, you can nail down some great, impressive answers.
Talk about your work history, any travels you’ve gone on (or want to go on), what inspires you to want to work with people, what your goals for the future are, how you’d love to put your second language to use, etc.
Speaking of languages, if you claim to speak a second language, be prepared to prove it and talk the talk. You’ll have to take a test, which could be face-to-face, over the phone, or a video call. The test will consist of speaking with someone who is a native of the language you claim to speak, who will converse with you and determine your level of fluency. So, if you say you can speak Japanese, then make sure you can actually speak Japanese (arigatou gozaimasu!).
After the one-on-one, you’ll be assigned to a small group, typically at least three to four other candidates (if it’s a smaller airline, it could be just one other person, who is now your new bestie for an hour).
During this portion of the interview, you’ll be assigned a common situation that you’ll likely encounter as a flight attendant. One scenario might involve a passenger that wants their oversized bag to fit in the overhead bin, and you’ll need to figure out the best way to work with your team and approach the passenger, who will be determined to keep their bag with them. Your job, as a group, will be to handle and diffuse the situation with as much grace and professionalism as possible.
Now, remember: this is not a one-man show. Don’t be a hero. You are part of a cast, and the recruiters will be watching how well you work with your teammates, not how you can single-handedly outshine everyone else. Support your group by making eye contact with them, communicating, and thinking on your feet to find a solution to the problem–together.
The Finish Line
After the interviews are concluded, a decision will be made. Be prepared–you may get hired that very day (surprise!), or, you may hear back from the airline later.
Either way, make it so that you can walk away from the experience knowing that you did your best. If you get hired, congratulations! Now you get to train for multiple weeks, take a lot of written tests about aircraft safety, and learn the ropes. Oh, and you’ll need to pass the training course, too–you’re not completely in the clear yet. I even knew a couple of people who didn’t pass on their first try.
If you didn’t get hired, don’t lose hope. You can always apply to other airlines, or the same one again (resiliency is a desired trait in a flight attendant, after all). Don’t give up!
As you can surely tell by now, becoming a flight attendant is no walk in the park. That’s the bad news. The good news is that every single flight attendant who is currently enjoying a career high above the clouds was once in the same position you find yourself in right now: curious, eager, and motivated to learn more.
If you’ve read this far and that voice inside your head is still brimming with excitement, you owe it to yourself to listen to that voice. That’s the spark that will help get you through the grueling hiring process and unpredictability of life as a flight attendant. Hold onto that spark, cherish it, nourish it. You’ll need it!