How to Become a Flight Attendant

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Want to travel the world and get paid to do it? If you have solid communication skills, a level head and can work with a team, you can – as a flight attendant.

More Than Serving Coffee or Tea

A variety of skills are required for flight attendants beyond saying: "Buh bye."

Flight attendants may spark visions of a glamorous globe-hopping lifestyle, but it’s also hard work, according to Veda Shook, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the largest U.S. flight attendant union.

Shook spoke to eHow about the needed character traits, physical requirements, what employers look for on a resume and what can be expected the first year on the job.

Flight Attendant DNA

Veda Shook

Somebody who can lead, take direction, and work with a team. "As a passenger, you want to know that your flight attendant can actually command you to get off the airliner in an emergency but can also work with their co-workers [and] appeal to the sensitivities of certain passengers, all in a professional manner," Shook says. They must be able to multi-task and be ever present for any anomaly that could present itself in an emergency, while delivering kind, caring service.

Size Up And Seize Opportunites

Talk to people in the airline industry about what the job is. Go on the Internet to see which airlines are hiring. Do not to discriminate by airline. It’s good experience going through the flight attendant interview process anyway. Don’t prejudge that you may want to be at one particular airline. Look around. Survey the landscape.

Flight School

Flight attendant school is not necessary. Every single airline has [its] own individualized training that is certified through the [Federal Aviation Administration] that you're required to meet anyway, so it’s not necessary. "It doesn't give you an edge," Shook says. "I wouldn’t want people to spend money on that."

Resume Builders

Depending on the carrier -- a minimum age (typically 21); a minimum education, typically a high school diploma plus two years of some type of post-high school education, or an equivalent customer service background are minimum requirements. And then there are basic physical requirements. Beyond that, it’s extremely helpful if you speak a second language.

Acing the Interviews

If you meet basic qualifications, they invite you to an open-call interview. "When I interviewed, 800 people showed up," Shook said. "They broke all those people up into groups of 40 for the first interview. There were some recruiters and some flight attendants who spoke a little bit about the job. Then they asked you to speak for two minutes on a particular topic; after that, they answered questions."

They wanted to see who's comfortable speaking in front of a group, because -- obviously -- as a flight attendant you have to be comfortable doing so (and have command of the English language). But they also want to see your general behavior: Are you prompt? Are you properly dressed? Do you pay attention when others are speaking? Do you interrupt? So it’s not just when you’re up for your two minutes, that’s it. They're also watching the other 58 minutes.

"Then I got called for a second interview, which was a one-on-one and that was a whole laundry list of questions," Shook said. After that, was the third-step interview, which was a group interview with 12 people role-playing some scenarios while being monitored the entire time. After that, they would tell you if you had been offered a position.

When you go to an interview, look as though you could walk onto the plane. Dress professionally -- in a dark suit, like a flight attendant wears.

Physical Requirements

There may be height restrictions (that you can't be too short or tall). You have to have adequate vision. You can have corrected vision but it has to be correctable so you can see exit signs or see in an emergency. You have to have adequate hearing. You have to have certain strength and mobility to be able to open an emergency exit. And you also have to pass a pre-employment drug screen.

Your Rookie Year

You have to be willing to relocate. That’s imperative. You have to take a training program that spans four to six weeks and is typically unpaid. When you complete that and [are] given a hire date, you may have another gap in which you complete your training, say June 1, but you wouldn’t go online until July 1. So there will be another gap in there where you'll also be without a paycheck. "For me, it was a challenge not to get my first paycheck until six weeks after I actually started employment." Shook said.

Then, typically, you will be on reserve, where you would not have a regular schedule -- you'd just know your confirmed days off. That can last anywhere from one month to several years. It depends on the carrier, what the business plan is, what the growth plan is. Then after that, you “hold the line,” as they call it, where you actually know what your trips are, where your trips are and your exact workdays, or "days on" -- not just your days off. It’s a seniority-based [schedule] system. So the most senior person holds what she wants, based on what is available.

Positive v. Negative

The ability literally to travel the world is a pro. And the inability to control where you'll be at any given time is a con. If there is bad weather or something, that schedule we talked about goes sideways. Even if you hold a line and you need that Friday or Saturday off and you’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Friday, if your plane is stranded on Thursday night, you won't make that appointment.

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