If you want to live the jet-set lifestyle working as cabin crew you'll need to demonstrate hard work, dedication and professionalism, around the clock and the globe

Air cabin crew members provide excellent customer service to passengers while ensuring their comfort and safety throughout the flight. Crew are trained to deal with security and emergency situations which may arise and can administer first aid to passengers.

As a cabin crew member, you'll 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.

Air cabin crew strive to make the flying experience pleasant for passengers and will serve refreshments and meals and sell gifts and duty-free items. You may work on short or long-haul flights.

Responsibilities

Tasks may vary depending on the size of the team you're working in and whether you're working a short or long-haul flight. However, your duties will include:

  • attending a pre-flight briefing, during which air cabin crew are assigned their 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
  • carrying 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
  • welcoming passengers on board and directing them to their seats
  • informing passengers of the aircraft safety procedures and ensuring that all hand luggage is securely stored away
  • checking all seat belts and galleys are secure prior to take-off
  • making announcements on behalf of the pilot and answering questions during the flight
  • serving meals and refreshments
  • selling duty-free goods and advising passengers of any allowance restrictions in force at their destination
  • reassuring passengers and ensuring that they follow safety procedures correctly in emergency situations
  • giving first aid where necessary
  • ensuring passengers disembark safely at the end of a flight and checking that there is no luggage left in the overhead lockers and no stowaways or suspicious items on board
  • completing paperwork, including writing a flight report.

Salary

  • The base pay can vary greatly depending on the airline as some pay better than others but you can expect a starting salary of between £12,000 to £14,000. To this base rate, you can add an hourly payment you will receive while flying, as well as bonuses for performance and commission for inflight sales. This can boost your take-home salary to around £20,000 to £25,000 a year.
  • 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 of experience, is around £20,000.

Some airlines will 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 that usually involve irregular and unsocial hours. It can include working early mornings, through the night, at weekends and on public holidays. Short-haul flights may provide more regular hours than long haul.

You may also have to work or be flexible on your days off if your return journey is cancelled or delayed, but you'll normally 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 may be 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 for people who are new to cabin crew work are also available. For details, see course providers such as Cabin Crew Wings.

Completion of these courses and qualifications will demonstrate 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 will need to show:

  • 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 260 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 may be 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 positions for their prestigious clients.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also check individual airline websites. Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.

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 relevant experience.

Airlines recruit throughout the year so keep checking relevant 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 specific 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, the first three to six months are usually spent in a probationary period and are viewed as a continuation of the initial training, during which performance is 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 will 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 is possible to progress to purser or chief purser.

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 the purser, you would ensure that all crew within your cabin deliver the highest level of customer service. You would also give feedback on their performance and try to boost sales of duty-free items. Most airlines require 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 also known at some airlines as cabin supervisors, cabin managers or cabin service directors.

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 and/or chief purser would report to you. You would usually be involved with training and supervising new recruits and would have to ensure all relevant paperwork was completed at the end of the flight.

Some air cabin crew may also wish to move on 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 usually require at the very least two years' experience of working in premium (business or first) class. Many VVIP positions are based in wealth areas of the Middle East.

Some cabin crew members may decide that they want to move into ground-based operations such as cabin crew training or recruitment, passenger services or crew controller.

In larger airlines the cabin crew role opens doors to many other roles. Cabin crew members can progress to working in marketing, sales, HR and safety training.