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Working cabin crew isn’t all fun and games

Working cabin crew isn’t all fun and games

If you are looking for a glamorous job, becoming a flight attendant sounds like one of the best options out there. You get a jet-setting lifestyle, you are traveling far and wide, and you get tons of perks.

Take another look, though, and you will find out that working as cabin crew on passenger airline flights is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Below are a few of the reasons why you might want to avoid cabin crew jobs. We’ll talk about cabin crew job descriptions and look at some real-life examples before we are finished.


Let’s start with the rough stuff – a few disadvantages that make life as an air hostess or host a tough job:

• The work is hard and you are on your feet non-stop.

• The hours are not conducive to a social life – you may miss holidays and birthdays.

• The job is tiring and the hours are long.

• If you fly long haul, you have to deal with the miserable effects of jet lag.

• Dealing with rude, grumpy, aggressive and miserable passengers is not fun. Many passengers treat you with disdain.

• It’s easy to catch colds and illnesses constantly.

• You’re susceptible to health risks from being in close contact with so many people.

• Airline management is often difficult to work with from your position.

• The initial glamour of the job wears off very soon.

• Your life and schedule can be completely disrupted by flight delays.

• Changes to the aviation industry are making it harder to view this as a long-term career.

• You are responsible to clean up nasty spills, vomit and more.


Working as cabin crew can be a good option if you only plan to do it for a year or two. If you want to make a long-term career out of the job, you might want to reserve your judgment on that until you have been at the job for a while. It’s fine to think in that direction, but just be aware that your mind may change after a few months.

Many flight attendants say the public treats you as little more than a flying waitress – you earn no respect from them. The actual work that you do is not very challenging, management often does not appreciate you and one of the major perks – seeing the world – can get curtailed when trips are shortened, as often happens.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 99,000 flight attendants work in the United States. Their mean annual salary is $39,840. The law requires major airlines to provide flight attendants in order to see to the safety and security of their passengers. Flight attendants must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be able to work.

Times Have Changed

While the occupation of flight attendant may still capture your imagination – and let’s be honest, it’s pretty cool to think about constantly going new places while you work above the clouds – chances are that you will eventually feel as frustrated as some of the passengers you serve.

In the 1950s, stewardesses wore white gloves and served lobster thermidor table-side. Now, you are more likely to wear rubber gloves and put handcuffs on passengers than serve them lobster. The reality of the job has changed due to several factors – a couple main ones are the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and the troubles of an airline industry that struggles to keep its head above water.

While many flight attendants do enjoy parts of their jobs, the work can drain them physically and emotionally as they are often given little respect.

Long Days

Because airlines have taken to parking planes in order to save money, this leads to fuller flights as the same number of passengers are spread over fewer planes in the system. While this is going on, furloughs, layoffs and other cost-cutting procedures lead to one inescapable reality: fewer flight attendants are taking care of more passengers on board the plane.

At the same time, cuts in pay have forced many flight attendants to work more hours just to make up the difference of what they used to earn. Some attendants made more a decade ago than they do now, even as their duties get harder.

Those in cabin crew jobs often serve 14 hours of duty time on domestic routes, and they can work even longer hours on international trips. Layover tend to be short (sometimes shorter than the workday) and flight attendants say they often have to deal with hunger. Because airlines have done away with meals for passengers on shorter flights, even the attendants are left with little in the way of food options. If there’s no food on the plane and the airline is trying to turn a flight around quickly at an airport, attendants must resort to bringing their own snacks to have the energy to keep working.

Unruly Passengers

Even though they fly 70-100 hours a month, cabin crew job descriptions say they are only paid when the plane’s engines are running. This means they are not compensated for the difficult boarding process where they often have to serve as police officer, baby sitter and referee as passengers try to fit carry-on bags that are too large so they don’t have to pay the fee for a checked bag.

This can lead to confrontation and delays as passengers take their frustrations out on the flight attendants.

Even when an attendant tries to create a friendly atmosphere with a smile and nice comments, passengers often give no response.

New Shoes Needed

Many aspects of an air hostess job (or an air host job) are determined by seniority – whoever has been at the job the longest gets the best perks, such as what route they fly and what section of the plane they work in the most. As an aside, some flight attendants surprisingly prefer economy to first class. Even though they serve many more passengers, their work mostly involves a drink service, while first class attendants are kept constantly busy serving meals and drinks and attending to other passenger needs.

Another downside you probably have not thought about: because you spend so much time on your feet, shoes wear out very quickly. There’s even a phenomenon called “cart toe” where the leather wears out on the toe of your shoe from continually pushing the brakes on the carts that hold food and drink.

Odd Passengers

In addition to cranky passengers, some are just plain strange. One flight attendant tells a story of a woman on a plane sitting on the runway in Tokyo, Japan, who all of a sudden took off all her clothes and started running up and down the aisles. The plane taxied back to the gate, where police ended up removing the woman from the plane.

Some people still try to smoke in bathroom lavatories – some passengers even try to bribe the flight attendants to not write them a warning. Another passenger tried to take a fire extinguisher from the plane as a souvenir.

As a flight attendant, it’s your job to deal with situations such as these with calmness and grace even when everything inside you wants to lash out at these people who are acting so horribly.

Unseen Work

There is also quite a bit of work that flight attendants are responsible to complete that you likely do not know about because it takes place behind the scenes. Flight attendants usually have pre-flight meetings, including oral exams about procedures on board. They do safety checks, prepare the galley and clean up the plane in between flights. They are trained self-defense so they know how to handle themselves in case of security issues or in case of unruly passengers.

Even the fact that many flight attendants have graduated from college with degrees (and maybe even graduate degrees) does not keep some customers from treating them like servants. Because flight attendants are trained to listen to passenger complaints and respond politely in the name of good customer service (unless the complaint is a matter of safety and security), they often have to take complaints that are borderline abusive.

Other Irritants

A few other irritants of the job include getting hit and knocked about by bags that are being stowed or removed from overhead compartments. Because check-in employees do not weigh every carry on bag, some that are quite heavy (and probably over the weight limit) make it on to the airplane. When attendants find such a bag, they are probably not going to fight the incoming tide of passengers to get the bag out of the cabin. Instead, they will just find a place to store the bag, which can be a difficult process.

Another difficult part of the job is cleaning up various bodily fluids on the lavatory floor and sink and around the toilet bowl. Most airplanes do not carry mops due to space restrictions, so flight attendants have to get on their hands and knees (in their nice uniforms) to clean up the messes that are often left.


Sure, there are a few perks to landing an air hostess job (or an air host job). You get to meet a lot of people, you gain independence, you can travel for free or at a discounted rate and more. But as we detailed above, the downsides of the job come at a steep cost. If you are considering a career as a flight attendant, do your research and determine if it really is for you. If so, godspeed! If you’re on the fence, consider looking for something else – life it too short to deal with the hassle.

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