First, the hard numbers. Flight attendants make $22 per hour on average. However, base wage rates vary immensely between different airlines. For example, starting flight attendants with Mesa Airlines make $16 per hour, where flight attendants working for Delta already make over $40 per hour after working as a flight attendant for the airline for 5 years. These rates are not individually negotiable. Each airline will contractually set hourly pay rates, which increase each year. Most airlines’ contractual wage charts for flight attendants are published online. This makes it easy to compare what works out best for you.
These hourly wages seem on the higher side for a profession that doesn’t require a degree. However, a flight attendant schedule is extremely different from a regular 9 to 5 schedule. A flight attendant works 70 to 100 hours a month on average. This is why the average flight attendant earns about $40,000 a year. A lot of things have an influence on how much you will end up getting paid as a flight attendant. Find out how much flight attendants get paid, plus 6 ways you can make extra money as a flight attendant!
Different pay systems are used among airlines. The three most popular systems are hourly, pay per trip and salary.
The hourly pay system is mostly used in the United States. Flight attendants with an hourly pay only get paid when the aircraft doors are closed. They don’t get paid for their time in the terminal or when they’re on duty doing their preflight safety checks, but can build their hours by flying more and longer trips. The hourly pay rate increases with experience and can top out between $55 to $70 per hour.
Pay per trip
Also known as trips for pay (TFP), is a more complex pay system used by Alaska and Southwest Airlines. This system is based on a combination of miles flown and the trip time. For any flight that is 243 miles or less, a flight attendant earns 1.0 TFP. Flights that are longer than 243 miles will earn a flight attendant an additional 0.1 TFP per extra 40 miles flown, rounded to the nearest 40. A TFP ranges between $22 and $57, depending on the flight attendant’s experience.
A simpler system is a base or straight salary. A flight attendant will be paid a monthly salary, ranging between $2,000 and $6,000 a month, depending on their experience. It’s not tied to the type or amount of trips a flight attendant flies. However, some airlines offer the flexibility of a full-time (80-90 hours) and part-time (40-45 hours) salary.
Regional or mainline
Pay rates vary wildly between mainline and regional airlines. Most mainline flight attendants make just under $30 an hour while regional flight attendants usually start out with about half that amount. Most mainline airlines will also have more opportunities to add pay to your hourly rate, like language incentives and credit card sales. You’ll find out more about these opportunities later on in this article.
A flight attendant schedule has a big impact on how much a flight attendant will get paid if they are paid by the hour or per trip. This means that the more hours you work as a flight attendant, the more hours you will get paid. There’s no maximum amount of hours you’re allowed to fly, so within the boundaries of your schedule, you can make as many hours as you desire.
Most airlines work with two types of schedules. One is a reserve schedule and the other one is a line. A junior or new hire flight attendant will almost always get a reserve schedule for at least the first few years (with a few exceptions). A reserve knows their on-call workdays in advance, but they won’t know what they will be doing on those days. You might be on call from home or from your base airport and next thing you know you get a flight assigned to Bozeman, Montana or Tokyo, Japan. More senior flight attendants will be awarded a line. They don’t only know in advance when they’ll be working, but also where their trips will go to. This means that line holders have a lot more certainty and flexibility since they are able to prepare for and trade their trips.
With either schedule, you have some influence on your pay. A reserve gets a guaranteed payment for a certain amount of hours, usually around 75 hours. Any trip they work or hours spent being on call at the airport will go towards those hours. If a reserve works more than those guaranteed hours, they will get paid those extra hours, sometimes even for greater hourly pay. The same thing happens with most airlines if a reserve works a trip on their days off. That trip will go on top of their guaranteed pay, even if they haven’t worked those full guaranteed hours (yet).
A line holder can trade or drop the trips they got awarded or pick up more trips on their days off. However, they don’t get guaranteed pay. If they decide to drop all their trips, their pay will amount to zero.
A per diem is a small amount of money you get paid for every hour you’re away from your home base. This money is intended to cover your meals and other necessities you can’t access from home if you’re away from the base but you can spend it on anything.
You do not only get a per diem for your flying hours, but also for your layover hours. International per diem usually is non-taxable, so if you make international trips often, the per diem really can add up and it’s all yours!
Since most regional airlines don’t fly international and have shorter trips, you won’t be able to earn as much per diem with a regional airline as you would on a bigger, mainline airline.
You will get paid a little extra working certain positions, because they have particular additional responsibilities. A purser (flight manager) will get an extra pay for their position and so does a flight attendant who is in the position to take care of the galley.
Language qualified flight attendants also get paid extra when they fly routes that require their secondary language. Some airlines also offer to pay for their flight attendants’ education to learn an additional language, so look into that if you’re interested in becoming a language qualified flight attendant.
Most airlines offer some form of inflight sales, whether it’s the airline credit card or duty-free products. These products are sold by the flight attendants. When a flight attendant manages to sell a certain product, they will get a percentage of the sale. Some flight attendants tend to stay away from doing sales, while others make more money from their sales bonuses than their actual hourly pay.
Profit-sharing and bonuses
Flight attendants are eligible for more bonuses besides sales. Some airlines give flight attendants incentives for working during holidays. Having perfect attendance also could earn you extra money, with some airlines awarding up to $100,000 to their top flight attendants.
Furthermore, many airlines will give flight attendants the option to participate in profit-sharing. This usually means that you will earn an extra earning out of the airline’s profit at the end of the year if the airline makes over a certain amount that year.
One of the best perks of being a flight attendant is having an incredibly flexible schedule. Most flight attendants are able to trade their working days to arrange a schedule that works for them. Some flight attendants even manage to fit a side job in their schedule. Most airlines will allow you to work a second job, as long as the two jobs don’t cause a conflict of interest.
The job of a flight attendant is incredibly flexible and you have a lot of influence on how much you end up taking home. If you have a side job and you prefer to fly just enough to cover the bills and keep your health and travel benefits, that’s extremely doable. On the other hand, if you are in love with flying and dream of doing it every day, you will definitely be able to make that work.
Being a flight attendant is not a job you should choose for the money. However, if you love the job, fly a lot and play it smart you will definitely be able to make some good money!
What is your way to make extra money as a flight attendant? Have you tried other ways to make money? Let me know in the comments!