Flight Attendant Salaries

Median annual flight attendant salaries were $38,820. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,200 and $56,610. The lowest 10 percent earned salaries of less than $18,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,630. According to data from the Association of Flight Attendants, beginning median flight attendant salaries were about $14,847 a year.

Unlike most 9 to 5 office workers who earn salaries that are privately negotiated and performance-based, flight attendant salaries are paid an hourly union rate that is based almost entirely on seniority.

For example, all first year flight attendant salaries at a particular airline might be $19 per hour; all sixth year flight attendants, $32 per hour; and all fourteenth year flight attendants, $41 per hour.

Each airline's hourly base rate is unique. Some airlines pay higher hourly rates than others. It all depends on the labor contract. Every 3 to 5 years, each airline negotiates a new labor contract with its flight attendant union. Once compensation is agreed upon, it is fixed for the duration of the contract.

Calculating Flight attendant salaries

As a flight attendant, you won't be paid this hourly rate for every hour that you work. The time you spend commuting to the airport, sleeping in hotel rooms, standing around the airport between flights, and assisting passengers during boarding and deplaning is essentially unpaid labor.

Most airlines only pay you from the time an aircraft pushes back from the gate to the time it arrives at the gate of its destination. This is commonly referred to as flight time, block time, or hard time. The major exception to this is meal expenses. Most airlines pay a nominal hourly rate to cover meal expenses. Hotel lodging is paid for by the airline.

Technically, flight attendants are paid based on accrued pay time, which includes block time plus any excess claim time. Claim time is time paid in excess of block time. For example, if you were required to deadhead to another city during a trip, you would not work the flight (and would not earn block time), but would be entitled to additional deadhead time. This additional time would be reflected in your pay time.

Instead of flight time-based pay, certain airlines compensate flight attendants based on the number of accrued monthly flight miles. Others pay flat salaries regardless of the hours (or miles) flown. These compensation methods are unique, but you should nevertheless be aware of them.

Flight attendant salaries vary for other reasons

Job performance has virtually no impact on your pay. You are expected to work at a high level and will never receive a bonus or promotion of any kind, even for exemplary service. This may seem a little strange to you, especially if you have spent a portion of your life in an office building trying to climb the corporate ladder.

On the positive side, since pay is tied directly to seniority, you will receive guaranteed annual pay raises; they are built right into the contract. As a new-hire, you might even receive a mandatory pay raise after only 6 months of employment, immediately following the probationary period. Another positive aspect of unionized labor is that it eliminates much of the jealousy and biases that surround compensation in corporate America.

For example, you will never hear someone say, "I wonder what they are paying him?, or "I know they are not paying me what I'm worth because I'm a minority." After all, seniority determines pay, which cannot be influenced by human prejudices.

On the negative side, however, you are essentially at the mercy of the labor contract and have no negotiating power as an individual when it comes to compensation. If you believe you are underpaid, you cannot exactly walk into your supervisor's office and ask for more money. Instead, you must rely on your union representatives to stand up for you - and every other flight attendant who works for the airline - during contract negotiations.

Since you cannot negotiate pay as a flight attendant, be sure to choose an airline that makes the most financial sense before accepting employment. You will want to choose an airline that is in an active hiring mode. This will help you gain seniority more quickly, resulting in better pay.

You should also choose an airline with competitive flight attendant salaries. Granted contracts change every 3 to 5 years, but typically frugal airlines stay frugal and more generous ones stay generous. If you want to make the most amount of money, stick to the major airlines.

To a certain extent, any flight attendant can simply peruse the labor contract to determine what a fellow employee is earning. After all, if you know someone's date of hire, you can easily determine their hourly rate; it is in the contract! You must realize, however, that although flight hour base rates are fixed, actual monthly income can vary even between flight attendants with comparable seniority.

For example, some airlines offer premium flight attendant salaries for those who work the lead or "A" flight attendant position, work at night or on certain weekends and holidays, or fly international flights. Additionally, the number of flight hours a flight attendant chooses to fly in a given month has a dramatic affect on income. Certain airlines have a two-tiered wage system which also affects how much you can earn as a flight attendant.

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Airline Salary Comparison Chart

The top ten airline salary rankings for first, sixth and best year (as of October 2001).