In 1995 I made $18,000 a year working for a major U.S. carrier. Nowadays most newly hired flight attendants make even less than that. This is because right after 9/11 the majority of flight attendants took huge pay cuts in order to help keep the airlines up and running. Not only did I lose 30% of my salary, I’m still not making what I did before the terrorists did what they did that day in 2001. The only reason I bring this up is because flight attendants that are hired today work harder than ever before, are paid less to do so, and may never make what I do now because salaries are capped after a certain number of years on the job.
How much do flight attendants make? It depends on the carrier, company seniority, and number of hours worked each month. On average flight attendants make $35,000-$40,000 a year. What most people don’t realize is newly hired flight attendants in the U.S. start out only making between $14,000 – $18,000 a year. While some flight attendants manage to top out near the end of their careers at $60,000 (I’ve even heard rumors of flight attendants making as much as $80,000) the only way to do this is to work a killer schedule picking up incentive pay along the way for things like speaking another language and flying the lead position (or both).
Beginning salaries vary by carrier with major airlines paying more than smaller ones. Regardless of experience new hires start out at the same hourly rate and each year are given a raise based on an already established pay scale. It’s important to note that most flight attendants max out on pay after ten to twelve years on the job. Flight attendants are paid hourly, not annually, for flying time only. This means the time clock doesn’t start ticking until the aircraft door is closed and the airplane has backed away from the gate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, flight attendants generally work 65-90 hours each month and spend another 50 (unpaid) hours on the ground preparing planes for flights, writing reports following completed flights and waiting around for planes to arrive.