How do flight attendants survive on such a small salary?

I’ve been offered a position as a flight attendant. Training hasn’t started yet, but I’m freaking out a little. Should I back out? It seems like a fun and exciting job, but the pay is $20/hour with only a 79-hour guarantee of work per month. The first year I would have to be on reserve and would need to live within 20 minutes of the airport. A one bedroom/studio within 30 minutes of the airport averages $1400-$1800 per month! We were told that during our six weeks of training we will be paid $1400, which will be prorated. Huh? How do flight attendants afford to pay for rent and living expenses? I am trying to calculate it and there is no way to make ends meet…even with a roommate! What do you suggest to those of us who have not started? Should we turn around and run for the hills? – Cold Feet

Dear Cold Feet,

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one becomes a flight attendant for the money! This is why the majority of new flight attendants are either right out of college or looking to make a career change after the kids are grown and out of the house. While $20 an hour may look good on paper, the reality is it doesn’t add up to much, not when we’re only paid for flight hours. That’s strictly time spent in the air. And with so many FAA regulations limiting us to the number of hours and days in a row we can work, most of us average between 80-90 hours a month. Keep in mind flight time does not include boarding, deplaning, delays, scheduled sit time between flights and layovers away from home, even though we’re on company time. However we are paid a per diem from sign-in to the time we arrive back to base. It’s less than two-dollars an hour.

You’ve been offered $20 an hour with a 79 hour guarantee. That’s roughly $18,000 a year. It’s more than most first year flight attendants get paid. The average flight attendant makes between $14,000-$18,000 the first year on the job. Each year we’re offered a standard raise. Flight attendants who work international routes, speak a second language, work high time (over 100 hours) and work for a major carrier have the potential to earn up to $80,000 a year, if not more, but this is rare. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median annual wages of flight attendants were $35,930 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,420 and $49,910. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,350.”

So how do we do it? Enter the crash pad.
Photo courtesy of Byronv2


  1. There are also expenses that F/A’s do not need to spend money on, like a work wardrobe (apart from that uniform fee but not to get off the subject) and transport. Most of us lived near the airport so it was a quick, cheap bus or subway ride. No car payments. Since I worked int’l, a lot of my meals were paid for while at work. I actually bought very little food at home because of the risk of roommates eating it or it going bad.

    The bohemian-ness of it was actually half the fun. We were all living very frugally so we made our own fun, hanging out at each others’ crash pads. Kew Gardens, I’m sure it still goes on there with JFK based F/A’s!

    Don’t forget all the freebies from the hotel! Once I could afford a bottle of my own shampoo again, I didn’t want to see another small bottle for a looooong time!

    Stealing from the plane was a fire-able offense so I didn’t dare but others did.

    I felt very badly for those whose student loans came through after probation. That was very tight.

  2. You’re so right-definitely don’t do it for the money. But for the lifestyle? You can make it work! Great job responding to her, Heather!

  3. So I plan on becoming a flight attendant. I’m 18 and so passionate about it but I’ve been doing ALOT of research I am a little nervous on how it’s going to work I am going to be living in AZ if that helps any, and I meet all the requirements such as appearence, weight, vision, height, everything like that. I have my GED and but no expirience. I think I need a little help though can you tell me what else I’ll need?

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