Airlines are required by law to have flight attendants as they are a key component in ensuring safe air travel. In 2008, 46 percent of all workers in the air transportation industry were union members. They received standard benefits such as paid vacations, sick leave, health insurance, profit sharing and retirement plans. They often also received a unique benefit of getting free air travel. Salaries for flight attendants vary depending on seniority, location and size of the airline.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, the median salary for all flight attendants in May 2008 was $35,930. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,580 while the highest 10 percent earned in excess of $65,350. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,420 and $49,910. In 2009 the median starting salary for a new flight attendant was $16,191.
Flight Attendant Salaries
Flight attendant salaries are calculated differently from most white collar workers. Flight attendants are paid on an hourly basis determined by a union contract that is almost entirely based on seniority. This means that every flight attendant at that particular airline with the same level of seniority will be earning exactly the same amount. Most flight attendants are not paid for time spent in airports or for assisting passengers during boarding and deplaning. They are only paid from the time the plane pushes back from the gate until it arrives at its destination gate.
Some airlines calculate pay differently. This may include being paid based on accrued monthly air miles rather than hours. Some pay a flat salary regardless of miles flown. Others pay for deadhead time required for you to return to your home city when you are not working.
Although most flight attendant salaries are determined by seniority and union contract there are other factors that can affect how much a flight attendant actually takes home. The major factor is the number of hours you choose to work. There are also premium flight attendant salaries for the lead flight attendant, or for working nights, weekends or holidays and for international flights. All of these factors can cause differences in pay for two flight attendants who theoretically are at the same level of seniority.