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How Do Flight Attendant Shifts Work?

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Flight attendants are a vital part of the airline industry. They are responsible for putting a human face and brand on the company that they work for. It can be hard to maintain a positive demeanor with all of the expectations of the job. The shifts required are not easy to say the least. However, free travel can be a pretty nice perk.

Length of Shifts

Due to the 24-hour nature of the airline business, flight attendants don’t work the traditional nine to five. Instead, their shifts can go anywhere from two hours to 14 hours. Anything longer than that would violate union regulations and wouldn’t be very safe for passengers in an emergency. New flight attendants are subject to a one-year (or longer) probationary period. This means they are on call 24/7 and must fill in for more senior attendants that call out. Some are even required to wait at the airport so they can board planes on very short notice. Flight attendants must be very flexible with their hours. Remember, the most popular travel periods are evenings, weekends and holidays.

Pre-flight and In-flight Tasks

The most important part of a flight attendant’s shift occur at the beginning and end of each flight. Before the plane takes off, the attendant makes sure that all passengers are seated safely, with their seat belts on, tray tables stowed and overhead bins securely fastened. Then the attendant gives the safety demonstration so passengers know what to do in an emergency. During the flight, she serves drinks and meals, provides blankets and pillows, makes sure passengers adhere to restrictions on smoking and electronic device use, assists the disabled and elderly and unaccompanied children and works to curb any disruptions. She is also responsible for communication, including greeting passengers and wishing them farewell and providing updates on flight status.

Post-flight Tasks

A flight attendant’s shift doesn’t end when the plane lands. After the passengers disembark, each attendant fills out an issue report on any incidents that occurred on the flight. Then she checks the passenger cabin for malfunctioning equipment and collects items passengers left behind. Some attendants are responsible for routine cleaning tasks, such as wiping down tray tables or gathering blankets and pillows before the next flight. The airline usually relies on a contractor for heavy tasks, such as steam cleaning the carpeting.


An attendant is assigned a “base city” when she starts working. It allows her to fly out of one airport most of the time. However, an attendant won’t always be able to return home at the end of a shift. Oftentimes, she will have to overnight at a flight’s destination point. Most attendants work three days on followed by at least three days off. These overnights count as portions of "on" days.

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