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What is a Flight Attendant?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A flight attendant is someone who staffs a plane to ensure that passengers are safe and comfortable. The vast majority of flight attendants work for commercial airlines, although private air transport companies also keep small staffs of flight attendants available. You may also hear a flight attendant referred to as a member of the cabin crew, reflecting the idea that he or she is part of the crew which ensures that the plane reaches its destination safely and with a minimum of disruption.

In the early days of flying, flight attendants were known as stewards or stewardesses, in a holdover from the days of traveling by ship. Flight attendants performed many of the same tasks as the ship's steward, such as attending to passenger needs and keeping an eye out for safety. Over time, however, people began to express a desire for a gender-neutral term, and “flight attendant” began to be used instead. In early 21st century, “cabin crew” became more popular, emphasizing the flight attendant's role as a member of the airline team, rather than someone who only takes care of passengers.

The nature of work as a flight attendant is challenging. Flight attendants are a vital part of the safety of the planes they fly on, as they routinely perform safety checks, educate passengers about safety issues, and also provide first aid to anyone who might be in need. However, they also take care of comfort issues, offering cabin service in the form of meals and drinks, providing blankets and pillows, and taking care of other passenger requests.

Some passengers view flight attendants more like personal servants than airline crew, which can be frustrating for flight attendants who need to attend to other issues, including other passengers. Flight attendants also tend to bear the brunt of passenger unhappiness in the close quarters of the aircraft, even though they are not responsible for late flights, bad food, screaming babies, and many of the issues which arise on a flight. Concerns about airline terrorism have led several countries to give airlines more latitude when it comes to removing passengers from flights for being disruptive, and passengers who abuse flight attendants may find themselves asked to leave, or even arrested.

In order to become a flight attendant, someone must usually have at least a high school diploma. Flight attendants are trained in facilities maintained by the airlines they work for, usually after passing a physical examination and a background check, and then they start work at the bottom of the airline's totem pole. As flight attendants gain experience, they can start to pick routes, hours, and aircraft to work on, using their seniority to pull rank in the scheduling process. Better opportunities are available to flight attendants who are multilingual, as they can be used on international flights, and to flight attendants with a college education.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Scrbblchick — On Jun 19, 2014

When I was a little girl, I thought being a "stewardess" had to be the most glamorous job on earth! Ha, ha. The older I get, the more I am thankful I didn't make that my career. It is mostly a truly thankless job.

I have seen flight attendants deal with situations that would prompt me to commit an in-flight murder! I'm sure they had murder on their minds, but they remained pleasant and friendly. I couldn't have done it.

By Pippinwhite — On Jun 18, 2014

I have nothing but admiration for flight attendants. They put up with a lot of crap for not great pay. It used to be a better job, before deregulation and all. Flight attendants used to get better pay and benefits, but not so much anymore. It's a wonder airlines can find anyone to work.

I always try to be as courteous as possible to flight attendants. Considering what they put up with, I always try to make sure at least one person smiles at them and wishes them a good day.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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