Flight attendant pay is one of the most contentious issues between airline employees, unions and management – and what they actually make is often a mystery. A survey of data from government and private data gives flyers a picture of how much they actually bring home in their paychecks every year.
Are flight attendants fairly compensated for their work in the skies? New data revealed by Money Magazine suggests that what was once considered one of the most glamourous jobs in the world is among one of the lowest-paid in the United States – or the highest-paid, depending on who you work for.
Citing data from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and private compensation information company PayScale, the starting salary for flight attendants ranges around $24,000 annually, while some senior staff members can earn up to $80,000 per year. On the lowest end, writers for the magazine shared that some flight attendants claimed to them they only made $18,000 every year.
Why is the payment so low? Flight Attendants are paid by for how much time they actually spend flying, but not for time on the tarmac, boarding flights, or for helping passengers deplane. Their average work month can include up to 100 hours of flying time (an average of five hours per day), with an additional 50 hours in preparation time.
What is not included in that compensation figure are the additional benefits that come with the job, including meals when away from their home base and free flight opportunities. Those free flights often come with strict dress codes and are stand-by only. When benefits are considered, PayScale suggests an entry-level flight attendant can earn up to $38,000 annually.
Who flight attendants work for and where they are based out of can also make a big difference. Those who make it to the legacy carriers, can make between $60,000 and $80,000 every year, while those flying for regional carriers may only make half. Location pay can also factor in; flight attendants based in big cities like San Francisco can make up to 10 percent more than the national average due to their location.
Despite the wide range in payments, flight attendants are among the happiest employees in the skies. According to PayScale, flight attendants had a high job satisfaction score compared to other vocations.