Air cabin crew make the flying experience pleasant and safe for passengers

As a cabin crew member, you'll provide excellent customer service to passengers while ensuring their comfort and safety throughout the flight. Serving refreshments and meals and selling gifts and duty-free items are all part of the job.

Crew are trained to deal with security and emergency situations and can administer first aid to passengers.

It's also your responsibility to ensure that all emergency equipment is in working order prior to take-off and that there are enough supplies on board. You'll help passengers board the plane and give a demonstration of safety procedures and equipment.

Responsibilities

As an air cabin crew, you'll need to:

  • be professional, punctual and courteous at all times
  • attend a pre-flight briefing, during which you'll be assigned your working positions for the upcoming flight. Crew are informed of flight details, the schedule, the number of infants on board and if there are passengers with any special requirements, such as diabetic passengers or passengers in wheelchairs
  • carry out pre-flight duties, including checking the safety equipment and doing security checks, ensuring the aircraft is clean and tidy and that information in the seat pockets is up to date and all meals, drinks and stock are on board
  • welcome passengers on board and direct them to their seats
  • inform passengers of the aircraft about safety procedures and ensure that all hand luggage is securely stored away
  • check all seat belts and galleys are secure prior to take-off
  • make announcements on behalf of the pilot and answer questions during the flight
  • serve meals and refreshments
  • sell duty-free goods and advise passengers of any allowance restrictions in force at their destination
  • reassure passengers and ensure they follow safety procedures correctly in emergency situations
  • deal with any difficult or inebriated passengers (who may be acting in a rude or anti-social way) politely but firmly, to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone on the flight
  • give first aid where necessary
  • ensure passengers disembark safely at the end of a flight and check that there is no luggage left in the overhead lockers and no stowaways or suspicious items on board
  • complete paperwork, including writing a flight report.

Salary

  • Base pay can vary greatly depending on the airline as some pay better than others, but you can expect a starting salary in the region of £12,000 to £14,000.
  • Air cabin crew with experience can expect to earn a base rate of £15,000 to £18,000 a year.
  • Base pay at senior cabin crew level, which can be reached after a few years, is around £20,000.
  • You can add an hourly flight rate, inflight commission on sales and performance bonuses to your base rate. Depending on your base rate, this additional income can boost your salary to around £20,000 to £28,000 a year.

Some airlines offer additional allowances on top of base pay for the number of languages spoken. Most airlines also offer overnight payments for nights spent away from home.

The majority of airlines offer free flights to cabin crew on domestic flights and some offer free or heavily discounted international flights. There is usually a policy for discounted travel for immediate family and spouses.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Cabin crew work shifts, which usually involves irregular and unsocial hours. This can mean working early mornings, through the night, at weekends and on public holidays. Short-haul flights may provide more regular hours than long haul.

You sometimes have to work or be flexible on your days off if your return journey is cancelled or delayed, but you'll be compensated in these cases.

Part-time opportunities are available, still involving unsocial hours.

What to expect

  • Airlines catering for the package holiday market tend to recruit air cabin crew on a seasonal basis.
  • Some airlines require staff to live within a certain radius/easy travelling distance of the airport. Flexibility is vital, as staff may need to be on stand-by for work at short notice. You might be based abroad.
  • The work can be demanding as cabin crew have to deal with, and often work through, tiredness and jet lag if crossing over different time zones.
  • The airline will provide you with a uniform, and you'll be expected to dress smartly and be well groomed at all times. Many airlines do not allow visible tattoos or piercings.
  • Air cabin crew often work in confined spaces and have to spend a lot of time on their feet. The work is physically demanding, particularly on long-haul flights. Dealing with difficult passengers in an enclosed space, with an audience, can be stressful.
  • The amount of time spent away from home varies depending on the airline you work for, and whether you're working on short or long-haul flights. Spending nights away from home is especially common with long-haul work.
  • You'll work with a variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Qualifications

A degree or HND/foundation degree or postgraduate qualification is not required for entry into work as a cabin crew member. Instead, most airlines expect you to have a good secondary education, with some requiring grade C or above in English and maths.

Studying a degree, HND or foundation degree in one of the following subjects may be useful in showing the airline that you have an interest in the area:

  • hospitality management
  • languages
  • leisure and tourism management
  • travel.

Being able to speak other languages is particularly useful and this could put you at an advantage against other candidates.

Vocational qualifications (NVQs and BTECs) are available at different levels in various cabin crew topics. They are awarded by bodies such as:

One and two-day taster courses, which give an indication of what cabin crew work is like, and other introductory courses are also available. For details, see course providers such as Cabin Crew Wings.

Completion of these courses and qualifications demonstrates your enthusiasm and interest in the career, but won't guarantee you a job. They may give you an edge over other candidates, but most airlines do not require them before considering you for a vacancy.

The majority of airlines do have a list of requirements, however, which candidates must meet. This includes some or all of the following:

  • minimum age of 18, in some cases 21
  • good standard of health and fitness, with the ability to swim 25 metres unaided
  • minimum height requirement, which may differ between airlines and usually be in proportion to weight. In the UK, this is often measured as reach rather than height
  • good hearing and eyesight, although glasses and contact lenses are allowed
  • valid passport permitting unrestricted travel worldwide
  • a completed Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check
  • a medical examination, although some airlines may not require this.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • excellent communication skills
  • exceptional customer service
  • confidence in dealing with a range of people
  • good co-operation skills as you'll work with different teams day-to-day
  • compassion and the ability to support your colleagues
  • discretion when dealing with VIPs or royalty
  • competence in handling difficult situations and the ability to remain calm under pressure and in emergency situations
  • the gift of being tactful and diplomatic but also assertive where necessary
  • commercial awareness and sales skills
  • flexibility in working unsocial hours on any day of the year
  • the capability to work quickly and efficiently, often to tight time constraints
  • numeracy skills for handling cash, including foreign currency
  • the capacity to work in a confined space
  • the ability to diffuse situations calmly and quickly.

Work experience

Airlines may wish to see evidence of relevant work experience rather than qualifications, as they're keen to see that candidates have the required skills.

Part-time or temporary work in customer service roles will be particularly useful, as will any work that demonstrates teamwork and communication.

Employers

Airlines operate on a chartered or scheduled basis, with some operating a mixture of both. Chartered flights usually run during the summer and/or skiing seasons to the most popular tourist destinations, whereas scheduled flights operate at regular times all year round and go to a range of destinations.

Typical employers include large and medium-sized British airlines and international carriers. For a list of member, passenger and cargo airlines, consisting of around 290 airlines in over 117 countries, see International Air Transportation Association (IATA). Individual airports usually have a list of the airlines and tour operators operating from their airport on their website.

Temporary seasonal opportunities are available through airlines and tour operators to cover the peak summer period (May to October).

Permanent contracts are rare and competition for them is fierce; it may take several years of seasonal work before you can apply for a permanent contract.

Business and corporate jet companies also hire cabin crew, sometimes for VVIP flight attendant positions for their prestigious clients. This role may also be advertised under the title of corporate or executive cabin attendant or VIP cabin crew.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment firms such as The Launch Group handle vacancies and provide support and advice.

You can also check individual airline websites.

This is a highly competitive profession. You'll be applying against a variety of candidates, from school leavers to those with a significant amount of experience.

Airlines recruit throughout the year so keep checking websites regularly and make speculative applications. Research the airline you're interested in thoroughly and target your application accordingly.

Professional development

Each airline provides its own structured training programme for new entrants, which can vary in length depending on the airline. It typically lasts between four and seven weeks.

The primary focus of the training is passenger safety, including the aircraft's safety equipment and emergency procedures, security and first aid.

Training also involves a series of written and practical tests on areas such as:

  • assertiveness
  • cultural awareness
  • currency exchange
  • customs and immigration regulations
  • food preparation and service
  • galley management
  • passenger care and customer relations
  • personal grooming
  • product knowledge.

Following the basic training, you'll spend around six months in a probationary period, which is viewed as a continuation of your initial training. During this time your performance will be monitored by trainers or senior crew.

In passing the probationary period, new recruits become full members of the cabin crew team.

Some airlines also enter their cabin crew onto professional qualification courses such as the NVQ in Aviation Operations in the Air, or the Certificate or Diploma in Cabin Crew. These courses are offered by:

When appointed to a new position, it's usual for air cabin crew to attend a structured training programme tailored to that position. For example, air cabin crew who have previously worked on short-haul flights but have recently obtained a job working in long haul will attend a training programme tailored for long-haul positions.

Additionally, airlines that operate a range of different aircrafts vary the training programme to suit the type of plane. Airlines also encourage on-going development through in-house specialist courses, in areas such as crew resource management.

Career prospects

Promotion for air cabin crew is based on experience and performance. From the role of cabin crew member, it's possible to progress to the position of purser or chief purser - which is the title given to the chief flight attendant.

Pursers have the same responsibilities as the general cabin crew but are also given the management responsibilities of a certain cabin, such as first class or business class. As purser, you'll ensure that all crew within your cabin deliver the highest level of customer service while encouraging the sale of duty-free items. Most airlines require staff to have between two to five years' experience to become a purser.

From the role of purser, you can progress to senior cabin crew. This position is known at some airlines as cabin supervisor or cabin service director. The role is very similar to that of the purser except you'll have responsibility for all cabin crew on board, not just in one particular cabin. All cabin crew and the purser/chief purser will report to you. You'll usually be involved with training and supervising new recruits and will have to ensure all relevant paperwork is completed at the end of the flight.

Some air cabin crew may also wish to become very very important person (VVIP) cabin crew. This type of work is carried out with very important private clients, usually on private aircraft. The clients are typically prestigious and may include government officials or royal families. The highest level of service is expected and employers require at the least two years' experience of working in premium (business or first) class. Many VVIP positions are based in wealth areas of the Middle East.

Another option is to move into ground-based operations, such as cabin crew training or recruitment, passenger services or crew controller. Or, at larger airlines, you can move into other areas, including marketing, sales, HR and safety training.

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