How much do flight attendants get paid?

In 1995 I made $18,000 a year working for a major U.S. carrier. Nowadays most newly hired flight attendants make even less than that. This is because right after 9/11 the majority of flight attendants took huge pay cuts in order to help keep the airlines up and running. Not only did I lose 30% of my salary, I’m still not making what I did before the terrorists did what they did that day in 2001. The only reason I bring this up is because flight attendants that are hired today work harder than ever before, are paid less to do so, and may never make what I do now because salaries are capped after a certain number of years on the job.

How much do flight attendants make? It depends on the carrier, company seniority, and number of hours worked each month. On average flight attendants make $35,000-$40,000 a year. What most people don’t realize is newly hired flight attendants in the U.S. start out only making between $14,000 – $18,000 a year. While some flight attendants manage to top out near the end of their careers at $60,000 (I’ve even heard rumors of flight attendants making as much as $80,000) the only way to do this is to work a killer schedule picking up incentive pay along the way for things like speaking another language and flying the lead position (or both).

Beginning salaries vary by carrier with major airlines paying more than smaller ones. Regardless of experience new hires start out at the same hourly rate and each year are given a raise based on an already established pay scale. It’s important to note that most flight attendants max out on pay after ten to twelve years on the job. Flight attendants are paid hourly, not annually, for flying time only. This means the time clock doesn’t start ticking until the aircraft door is closed and the airplane has backed away from the gate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, flight attendants generally work 65-90 hours each month and spend another 50 (unpaid) hours on the ground preparing planes for flights, writing reports following completed flights and waiting around for planes to arrive.




  1. Hi Heather, thanks for this insight into the work life of flight attendants. I’ve always known that it can be a tough job.

    What does “flying the lead position” mean?

  2. Chief Purser. First Flight Attendant. Head Flight Attendant. Different airlines have different names for it. Some use a different term if the aircraft is bigger or if it’s international so it can get confusing.

    Also, with some airlines, it’s a dedicated position with extra training while on others, it’s just whomever senior enough wants it. In the smaller bases, where we all knew each other, we knew who liked this position and who didn’t.

    Pay wise, it’s usually easier to work more hours if you can do longer trips. Three Hong Kong-San Francisco’s could be all the flying in my month (that would be 4 days to a trip, a total of 12 days a month).

    Meanwhile, shorter hops, even though they don’t involve as much as far as the service offered on board, are both harder to work and harder to build up hours with. Logically, it seems that the short flights should be easier but that’s not the reality.

  3. I understand that F/A’s don’t get paid for boarding and your pre flight checks. Once the door closes, cha ching right? What about the trans atlantic or trans pacific flights when part of the F/A’s go to ‘crew rest’ are you still paid for crew rest? How does that work? Staffing levels and time in rest etc. Thanks.

  4. I am not really involve in flight crew or I am not working in aviation, but i love to read blog post of flight attendants because my daughters dream is to be a flight attendant. On the other hand, this issue gives me a lot of ideas in which such case or cases like this. I am aware of some points if view if many crew members, I don’t know totally the main reason but, I know that someday, my daughter will fulfill her dreams in contributing nice and good service with the flight companies. Thanks a lot for giving me the chance to participate in this post, and hopefully to see more interesting post like this. – flight attendants tax write offs – flight attendants tax preparations

  5. Very interesting blog. I had no idea that they took a pay cut after 9/11. You would think it would be the other way around. With big airlines raising costs anyway they possibly can, I guess the money goes straight to the top, not those who make the passengers comfortable. Same with most industries, but 18k? That’s pretty bad if I can say so. I would think that in a professional job such as that it would be starting near at least 35-40k. Well, I guess it goes to show you must love your job to take that pay.

    What perks do you get as a attendant? I’m sure there are free or cheap plane flights to vacation destinations. It wouldn’t be a bad job if you had a spouse who made enough money to pay for the hotels/food/drinks if you did get a free flight. Still, I have to say, 18k is less than someone makes starting at McDonald’s.

  6. Hello, I would like to become a fly attendance. And can you help me to understand.. For example, in average how many our is possible to have per month if I will be a new in this caree. And do they pay per fly, or no?
    Thank you so much.

    • if you are new at the job you would start out at around 14-18,000 per year. you only get paid for time on the airplane. you are paid hourly. you could be working 65-90 hours a month.

  7. Thankyou for the information ( :
    I am looking into being a flight attendant my self in the near future this was very helpful.

  8. A really interesting and enjoyable blog to read. I love the variety of your posts with each being different, entertaining and informative every time.

    An insight into a flight attendant’s work has given me a greater appreciation for the time and effort that clearly goes into each and every working day.

    I would love to read about some of the interesting passengers you have come across in your time as an attendant and some helpful tips for travelling.

  9. what about height and weight? I can say that this is my dream job and i would take the pay because like with any job after a while you work up to the top and get good pay. not only pay but I think that you should pick a job you will enjoy. That way every time you get up to go to work you feel excited to go to work not stressed. so pick the job you want and work to the top. Have fun at your dream job!

  10. As a 25 year flight attendant for a major carrier – I would not recommend going into this line of work. It may “seem” glamorous and fun from the outside – but trust me – it’s hard work – long hours – and low pay. I fly internationally which is exhausting. Heather is telling the truth when she says we took a 30% pay cut following 9/11. Many carriers have extracted even more concessions from their flight attendants recently. In the last decade- I have seen my pay and benefits literally cut in half. Today’s flight attendants really cannot expect to make more than about $ 40,000/year tops, but that is only after flying for at least 15 years first….you will make considerably less than that for your first 15 years. Unfortunately there appears to be no end in sight to the declining standard of living that today’s flight attendants must endure. As a result – I will be leaving the industry very soon and pursuing another career in finance and real estate. It’s not the same job that it used to be when I applied for the job 25 years ago. I simply cannot “afford” to stay in this career any longer.
    It used to be a good job, but I cannot say that any longer.
    Please take it from someone speaking from experience.

    • Thank You Jay N! I was considering leaving Law Enforcement to be a F/A, because I love working with the public and I love to travel. So, I figured, “Why not get the best of both worlds?” Both careers are considerably very life-threatening. However, I feel the same about L/E, as you do with being a F/A. Heather recently advised me of the same thing.

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