5 ways delays are worse for flight attendants than passengers

889452754_8cc5241919This past weekend flights across the northeast United States and eastern Canada were cancelled en masse as a winter storm descended on the region. For the tens of thousands of travelers stranded or delayed, it’s a lousy experience that seems to have no end. But we know it isn’t any better for the pilots and crews scheduled to work the grounded aircraft. To get some perspective on the matter, we turned to Heather Poole, our favorite flight attendant/writer, for some insight on why exactly it’s so lousy for them. — Jason Clampet

You think you’ve got it bad?

Passengers aren’t the only ones suffering when a storm hits town and causes the airports to close. Here’s what happens when flight attendants get grounded.

We don’t get paid

Flight attendants are paid for flying time only. Time on the ground doesn’t count. I’ve been working as a flight attendant with a major carrier for 17 years and from time to time I’ll work an 11 hour day and only get paid for five of those hours. Happens all the time to more junior flight attendants.


All that time between flights goes unpaid. The flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not getting paid. Neither is the flight attendant helping you find a spot for your bag. The time clock doesn’t officially start ticking until the airplane backs away from the gate. Needless to say delays and cancellations affect flight attendants just as much, maybe even more so, than passengers.

We can be reassigned to work for days

Once we’re on a trip, we’re at the company’s beck and call until we die or the weather clears up. When airlines are low on staffing, they can reassign us to work different flights as long as we’re legal. The FAA allows us to work a 16-hour duty day, but we have to get at least eight hours behind a hotel door at the end of the day. Between trips we get 11-12 hours off, depending on if it’s a domestic or international route or whether or not we’re on reserve or holding “a line” (schedule).

After flying six days in a row, the FAA requires us to take a 24 hour break. These 24 hours don’t always take place at home. Sometimes they happen at an airport hotel. 25 hours later we could be right back up in the air. Which is tough because there’s just no way to let our families know when we might be home again.




  1. No pay at all?!? We had one rate for with-passengers, one for without. Both were far less than actual flight time but even that pittance helped. That was a good system because it prodded the company to get the passengers +off+ of the aircraft when there was a long, “rolling” delay. Even if everyone just got off and walked back in the terminal, we were paid less. We didn’t complain though because who wants a whole cabin full of crabby, thirsty, hungry, etc. passengers in crammed conditions?

  2. What a load of rubbish…..or maybe that’s how you’re treated in America. Flying for 12 years in Australia domestic and International our duty time begins when we position to a duty and/or at sign on. If we go over time due to any delays we are paid overtime! Also my base salary is 54 K add another 10-13K in allowances and I’m getting close to 70K per annum.plus you article on 10 insights into FA world ? Perhaps again what it’s like in US…not here perhaps you could clarify in future article you speak of US industry.

  3. Great article. Many people don’t understand that when we are helping them find their seat, lifting their bags, or whatever we are doing for them that we are not getting paid. At the airline I work for, if we are on a hold at the gate we don’t start getting any compensation until 45 minutes after we have sat their with angry passengers.

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