How Much Do Flight Attendants Make?
I get this question a lot, and I always shake my head at all the misinformation I see, so I decided to tell the REAL truth about how much flight attendants get paid.
Being a flight attendant isn’t just a job. It’s a career and can be quite lucrative if you work for the right airline.
Before I can answer the question, “How much do flight attendants make? I think it’s important to understand how commercial flight attendants get paid.
A flight attendant can easily make a six-figure annual salary at one airline, and for another airline, they may be barely above the poverty level. Or even at the same airline, the salary can vary because it’s all about how much you want to work and the trips you fly.
Many factors go into how much a flight attendant gets paid, so I need first to pull back the curtain and show how flight attendant pay works.
How Flight Attendants Get Paid
In the aviation industry, flight attendants are paid by the hour. However, the clock only starts ticking on that hourly rate when the airplane door is closed or the brake is released. That means flight attendants spend a lot of time on duty and the clock without getting paid!
Flight attendants are not paid an hourly wage for their time walking through the airport, changing planes, or during passenger boarding.
Boarding is one of the most stressful times for a flight attendants, and they are working for free.
How much do flight attendants make in bonuses?
Bonuses are paid for several reasons. First, not all airlines have the same bonuses and incentives.
A flight attendant can receive on-time performance bonuses, customer satisfaction bonuses, credit card sales, on-board commissions, reserve pay over-rides, starlight pay, commission for food and alcohol sales, and yearly profit sharing.
There are thousands of dollars in bonuses a flight attendant can make in a year. Some flight attendants make almost as much in bonuses as other flight attendants make all year.
Incentive pay is a few extra dollars flight attendants get paid when they fly over a certain number of hours, and that’s an additional way flight attendants pad their paychecks.
Flight Attendant Duty Day
As a flight attendant, there is something called a duty day. A flight attendant’s duty day begins at check-in and ends at debriefing. Depending on the trip and destination, a duty day can be as long as 16 hours, or it can be short, depending on the trip and destination.
So while a flight attendant’s hourly rate may appear high, it doesn’t add up to much if the cabin crew is working unproductive trips.
A flight attendant can have a long duty day and a low flight time.
The more seniority a flight attendant accrues, the more productive trips they will fly. Everything is in seniority order in the airline industry, and often the best-paying trips go to the more senior flight attendants.
For example, a good trip would have only two to three hours out of the day that they are not being paid for. So the duty day would be 13.5 hours, and the pay would be 11 hours. So that’s a good productive trip that would pay well.
An unproductive trip would be a 13.5 hour duty day with 5 hours of pay. That is a long day without a whole lot of pay time.
Flight Attendant Per Diem
How much do flight attendants make in per diem?
Per diem is a low hourly rate paid (usually tax-free) to compensate for any meal expenses a flight attendant may incur during their trip.
Flight attendants are paid per diem from the moment they check-in for their trip until debrief.
They are paid per diem for every hour away from their base for a multi-day trip until the trip ends.
When they work something called a “turn,” a one-day trip where they work someplace and turn around and come back, the per diem is taxed.
International Per Diem is usually a higher rate than domestic per diem. So even the amount of money a flight attendant makes from per diem varies too.
There are so many variables and how much money a flight attendant makes, and it has a lot to do with what kind of trips they want to do and how much seniority they have, and how savvy they are at creating a schedule that makes money.
Even if two flight attendants make the same hourly rate, one can make a lot of money flying productive trips, and the other can work trips that have short flight time (but a lot of time lying on the beach on some exotic layover ;).
There are also long duty days with low flight times and layovers at airport hotels that are not very exciting.
New flight attendants who are just starting on the pay scale end up with those unproductive, tedious trips so that the salary range can be vast between flight attendants even at the same airline.
Flight Attendant Reserve Pay
When a flight attendant is on reserve, the pay works differently. This is because a reserve flight attendant has a payment guarantee, a jumping-off point to how much money they can make.
A lot of airlines have a monthly reserve guarantee at only 79 or 73 hours. That is why you hear many people complaining that flight attendants don’t make a lot of money.
In the beginning, they don’t. If they work for a low-paying airline, they never make a lot of money. But if a flight attendant is off of reserve and has some seniority at a well-paying airline, they can make a great salary.
Flight attendants get raises yearly for a certain number of years contractually. What that means is you don’t have to wait and hope you can get a raise. You don’t have to negotiate any salary, and you don’t have to grovel for pennies from your employer. This is all worked out ahead of time regardless of your performance.
Depending on the airline you choose, you can get a yearly raise for 9-28 years. So at one airline, your 12-year pay can be double what you got waiting for 28 years at another airline.
Some airlines pay holiday pay. This allows flight attendants to make even more money. A holiday can mean double pay. For example, a senior flight attendant can make over $60 an hour, then some trips that fall on a holiday would double the pay to make it over $120 an hour, then if they work a good 11-hour trip, you can see those flight attendants are making great money.
But a more junior new flight attendant would make only half of that for the same trip if they were lucky enough to even get the trip in the first place.
Not all airlines pay holiday pay, and there are very few holidays that count toward holiday pay, but it all adds up to a lucrative career.
Believe it or not, other factors can increase flight attendant pay and add to a basic salary.
The aircraft type, the flight attendant position they work, and even if they are hired to speak a second language can all affect their hourly wage.
How Much Do Flight Attendants Really Make?
So to answer the question, How much do flight attendants make? It varies, but many flight attendants easily make six figures a year. This is because they fly a lot, are topped out in pay, and have great seniority at one of the highest-paying airlines.
If you want to know how much a flight attendant can make at the beginning of their career? The answer still varies. Hard-working first-year flight attendants can make approximately $30K – $50$ at some major airlines, but much less at some other airlines. After five years, the pay gets better, and then after 10 years fly by, you’re banking major bucks if you stick with the same high-paying airline.
Flight attendants don’t have a retirement age, so the sooner you start flying, the longer you can enjoy making more money.
Flight Attendant School
If you want to learn how to get hired as one of the highest-paid flight attendants for a major airline and get the full 411 on exactly how much each US carrier pays their flight attendants check out our Flight Attendant School you can learn how to get hired and live your flight attendant dream.