What Is Flight Attendant Reserve?
Flight attendant reserve means a flight attendant who is assigned to a reserve line. A reserve line consists of days off, not a “line of flying” as a line holder who’s line has scheduled trips.
A reserve flight attendant doesn’t don’t know the trips that they will be working in advance, unlike a line holder who has a somewhat of a set schedule. (As a line holder the benefit is that you get a set schedule, but you can change it if you would like so it’s super flexible.)
A reserve flight attendant’s job is to fill in for any trips that another flight attendant may call in sick for, or a flight attendant may have timed out due to rest legalities, or any other operational needs that need to be covered.
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How Many Days Are Flight Attendants On Reserve?
Reserve flight attendants are usually on reserve 18 to 20 days per month, but it can be even less. The more seniority a reserve accrues, the more days off they may be able to have.
Reserve flight attendants are the more junior flight attendants of the airline (newer), the more senior flight attendants are line holders, meaning they hold a line of flying and know their trips in advance.
So even though reserves are more junior flight attendants, as their seniority grows they become more senior, even on reserve.
Do Flight Attendants Get Paid When On Reserve?
Flight attendants do get paid when on reserve, but it works a little bit differently than you might expect.
As a reserve flight attendant, you will have a monthly guarantee. A monthly guarantee is the number of hours you are guaranteed to be paid.
For example, if your reserve guarantee is 78 hours per month with 12 days off, you will be paid for 78 hours even if you end up working less than 78 hours, with 12 days off.
However, if you “break your guarantee” which means you work more than 78 hours, you will get paid for the actual hours you work over the original 78 hours.
If you are awarded a schedule with more days off than 12, about 4 hours will be deducted for each additional day off. There is a difference between being on call and not being used for an assignment, and being scheduled for extra days off.
So if a reserve is on call for 20 days, but sit home without being called for five of those days, they still only have 10 days off according to their pay. Sitting at home waiting to be called doesn’t count as a day off, even if you technically don’t work.
When reserves are on call either at home, at the crashpad, or even in the airport, and they don’t get an assignment, it does not subtract from their monthly guarantee.
Some airlines add a reserve override, which is an extra dollar amount per hour for all flight attendants on reserve.
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Can Reserve Flight Attendants Pick Up Extra Trips For More Money?
Reserve flight attendant pay can be limited. So most airlines do allow reserve flight attendants to pick up extra trips to make additional money. The hours that reserve flight attendants make by picking up extra trips goes on top of the monthly guarantee.
Southwest airlines allows flight attendants to add their own money to “sweeten the pot” so that other flight attendants pick up their advertised trips. (Flight attendants can advertise trips they don’t want so they don’t have to work them.) This is a great bonus for reserve flight attendants to make extra money on their days off.
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The Reserve Flight Attendant Schedule
Flight attendants bid monthly for their schedules, and the reserve flight attendant schedule is the same way. The difference with a reserve flight attendant schedule is that reserves bid for days off.
So when schedules are awarded, the reserve schedule will show reserve days and off days.
The reserve schedule can also have call out periods on the schedule, where there are set hours in a day when they can be contacted to work.
So that means, even if you are scheduled to be on reserve certain days, you are not on call for 24 hours.
Some reserve flight attendant schedules do have 24 hour lines, which means that scheduling can contact them anytime day or night. Those 24 hour lines can be the most difficult because you really don’t know how to sleep.
Will you be working all night? During the day? Early in the morning? Late at night? Who knows! As a reserve flight attendant you will work all kinds of crazy hours, but at least with a call out line, you know when scheduling can’t call you, so you can plan your sleep around those hours.
A standby reserve is a reserve flight attendant who is assigned time at the airport to wait for a specific flight assignment. The reason airlines have standby reserve is so that operational changes happening last minute can quickly be covered.
In aviation, if you are on time you are late, so everyone wants to work as efficiently as possible. Standby reserve is a great system to have in place to keep everything running smoothly.
As a standby reserve there are crew lounges to hang out in so that you don’t have be out in the airport with the general public while awaiting an assignment.
Some flight attendants love standby reserve, and others don’t. If you live close to the airport it’s great because you get paid to lounge around and watch tv or go online. Not only that, but sometimes you can get the best trips last minute. Tel Aviv, Milan, Paris and Hong Kong were some of my favorite last minute standby reserve trips.
Rotating Reserve System
A rotating reserve system is when flight attendants rotate between holding a line and being on reserve every other month, or whatever time frame is dictated by the airline.
It is nice to have a break from reserve by holding a line every other month, but I personally am not a fan of rotating reserve. I prefer to get reserve over with and then not have to see it again. There are some exceptions to that though.
Some bases are so senior that flight attendants can be on reserve for 30 years or more (this is rare for any airline that has a straight reserve system), in a situation like that rotating reserve would be the best option.
Being a flight attendant is a long game, and seniority is everything.
Straight Reserve System
A straight reserve system is a reserve system that has reserve flight attendants who remain reserve flight attendants until they are senior enough to hold a line.
As a flight attendant who was on straight reserve for six years, I prefer the straight reserve system. The benefit of a straight reserve system is that once you are senior enough to hold a line you don’t have to go back on reserve (usually).
The aviation industry can be volatile, so you can really never say never, but if there are enough flight attendants below you in seniority, you probably won’t have to be on reserve again.
Straight reserve can be difficult because you don’t get a break from the crazy trips and hours you end up working. However, when you know that you will hold a line every month, your income is so much more stable.
For example, as a rotating reserve lets say your monthly pay guarantee is 78 hours, so every other month you get paid 78 hours, then on your line holding months, let’s say you work 120 hours. That’s a huge difference in income as opposed to holding a line every single month.
So if a rotating reserve flight attendant makes $40 an hour, on their reserve months they would make $3120 that month, and the months they hold a line, they would make $4800.
The rotating reserve loses $28,000 a year as opposed to a straight reserve system once flight attendants hold a line every month, and that’s why I don’t like rotating reserve.
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United Airlines Reserve System
United Airlines has a straight reserve system.
As a reserve for United Airlines the minimum days off are at least 12 calendar days in a bid month with a monthly guarantee of 78 hours. However, sometimes lines may be built with up to 16 days off per month.
United does have a reserve override of $2 per hour, which makes the starting pay for a reserve flight attendant $30.88. United is currently in contract negotiations and higher pay will most likely be one of the new provisions.
United has one of the toughest reserve systems, but on the flip side it has one of the best systems for line holders.
American Airlines Reserve System
American Airlines has a rotating reserve system. For first year at American Airlines, flight attendants will be on straight reserve. The number of flight attendants required to be on reserve is dependent on operational need, so nothing is ever set in stone.
After a new AA flight attendant completes a full year of reserve duty, they move to rotating reserve. If a flight attendant at American Airlines is still on reserve after four years, the rotation becomes one month on reserve, three months off of reserve and holding a line.
American Airlines has one of the shortest call out times for reserve flight attendants at only two hours. What that means is that crew scheduling can call a reserve flight attendant and they can have as little as two hours to get to the airport to report for their assignment.
Fifty flight attendants were recently fired for not being in position at their base to report within two or three hours while on RAP. Rap is the acronym American Airlines uses for the reserve availability period.
When they are on reserve days, flight attendants need to be in position and not someplace far from the airport.
American Airlines reserve monthly guarantee is 75 hours with 12 days off. The starting pay at American Airlines is $30.35. AA is also currently in contract negotiations and a pay raise will most likely be one of the provisions.
Delta Flight Attendant Reserve System
Delta Air Lines has one of the best flight attendant reserve systems. As a more junior flight attendant you never have to work straight or rotating reserve. Delta has what is called ADAYS, and ADAYS are reserve days.
There are six ADAYS a month for flight attendants that are not senior enough to hold a line every day of the moth. Those ADAYS are the reserve days. They can be broken up into two sets of three days, or all six days can be done at once.
ADAYS can be advertised, so sometimes they will get picked up and flight attendants can hold a line all month.
The six ADAYS are worth 28 hours or the flight credit hours, whichever is greater. So if a flight attendant flies 35 hours during their ADAYS, they will be paid for 35 hours, if a flight attendant flies 10 hours during their ADAYS, they will be paid 28 hours.
Delta Air Lines has a starting pay of $30.96.
So there you have it, flight attendant reserve, in a nutshell. The more you know the more you can be prepared for the flight attendant lifestyle.
Reserve life is different than any other job that’s for sure, and it’s the most exciting time in your career.