Flight Attendant Pay Explained

How much do Flight Attendants make per hour at the four major airlines in the United States in 2023?

The four airlines with the largest fleet size, most frequencies, number of employees and passengers carried are American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest. Now let’s take a look at how the starting hourly rates compare at the four largest major airlines in the United States! If you are thinking of becoming a flight attendant it would be wise to learn how flight attendant pay works. Airlines don’t do a good job of explaining how the flight attendant salary adds up. If they did, there would probably be less applicants! There would also be fewer new hires transforming into disgruntled employees because they would have a better idea of what they will actually be  paid before their first chaotic flight, extended duty day or multi day pairing that never ends. 

With that being said, it’s important to understand that the hourly rates presented below are paid to the flight attendants based on the time they are on the aircraft with the doors shut either on the ground or in the air. There are additional pay components that come into play which will be explained after comparing the starting and top rates. Flight Attendant Starting Salary Comparison

  • American Airlines Flight Attendants represented by the APFA (not to be confused with AFA) are not happy. The union has been in negotiations with the company for over four years and things are heating up! Starting pay remains unchanged at $30.35 per flight hour. The top rate reached after 12 years of service is $68.25. These rates have been in effect since 1/1/2019.
  • Delta Airlines Flight Attendants have a starting hourly rate of $32.20 which went into effect 5/1/2022. Then after 12 years of service the top rate of $72.38 is reached. Delta is the only major airline where the flight attendants are not represented by a union. The airline officially started paying flight attendants during the boarding process on June 2, 2022 which will hopefully lead the way for other airlines to follow.
  • United Airlines Flight Attendants start out at $28.88 then reach the top rate of $67.11 after 12 years of service. These rates have been in effect since September 2020. The flight attendants are represented by the AFA and as of August 2023 are currently in contract negotiations with the company.
  • Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants rates contained in their contract have been converted to hourly using a formula to make it less complicated. The starting rate is $28.91 and then the top rate is $72.80 which is reached after 12 years of service. These rates have been in effect since 11/1/2018. The 18,000 flight attendants at Southwest are represented by TWU Local 556. A tentative agreement was voted down in June 2023 by the executive board of the union.

Many members of the flying public may be unaware that flight attendants are not paid when the aircraft door is open, such as when they are greeting passengers during boarding or saying goodbye upon disembarking. This is a common misconception about the aviation industry when explained to people outside of it. If you have ever been a passenger during an extended delay, you may now be able to sympathize with your flight attendant crew – as each minute passes, their pay decreases, meaning they must work longer than planned and receive less compensation for it. To address this, some airlines have implemented pay components (known as “RIGS”) that give flight attendants some additional monetary reward for working extended duty days. The amount varies, depending on the airline, and may not be significant compared to what they would have earned had their flights gone as scheduled.

Flight Attendant Flight Pay

The main component of a flight attendant’s salary, which we will refer to as “flight pay”, are the total hours the flight attendant is on the plane with passengers either navigating the taxiways or flying in the air.

Typically, flight attendants employed at major airlines in the United States will not receive flight pay until all customers are boarded, the doors have been closed and the pilots have released the aircraft brakes in preparation for pushback from the gate.  Most airlines use the term “block out” for this.  Flight pay will continue until the flight reaches its destination, parks at the gate, and the aircraft parking brake is set.  This is known as “block in”.  The “blocks” in question are referring to the chock blocks the ramp crew puts behind the landing gear wheels to prohibit unanticipated aircraft movement.

The rate of flight pay at each airline is different. Typically, flight attendants who belong to a union and are employed at a major airline will receive a higher rate of flight pay. Flight attendants will all receive the same rate of pay defined by their airline and that rate will increase every year the flight attendant celebrates an anniversary (which is referred to as “seniority accrual”) and will stop when they reach the top rate. Flight pay does not vary based on individual experience or performance. It is a set rate that all flight attendants within the same airlines will receive once they graduate and start logging hours.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, flight attendants log between 75-100 hours a month of flight time. These numbers can vary at each airline depending on the airline’s work rules such as any cap on hours and if overtime is offered or available.  

 Depending on your seniority within your airline, flight attendants are either on “reserve” or are “lineholders”.  Lineholders are guaranteed a minimum amount of flight hours in predetermined trips per month and those trips are awarded through a seniority-based monthly bidding process.  The different ways that airlines facilitate this bidding process can differ, however all of them rely on seniority to determine what flight attendants can “hold”.  Reserves are also guaranteed a set amount of hours each month, regardless if they fly or not.  Reserve schedules are awarded during the monthly seniority-based bidding process as well.  Being on reserve requires the flight attendant to be available should the company need them to work a flight or sit standby at the airport where they might be needed to fill a position on a crew as quickly as possible.

Here is a comparison of the hourly rates flight attendant receive for flight pay at each airline.

Flight Attendant Per Diem

The second component of a flight attendant’s salary is “per diem”. This is compensation paid to the flight attendant for every hour they are away from base. Per diem typically begins when the flight attendant reports for duty and ends 15 minutes after the plane blocks into the gate on the final leg of a trip.  The 15 minutes post block-in is called a“debrief”.

Per diem is meant to cover expenses such as meals and basic essentials while the flight attendant is away from home. The flight attendant will continue to accrue per diem even after the flight arrives at a layover and the flight attendant has checked into their hotel room for the night. In case you’re wondering, all airlines cover the cost of hotel rooms when flight attendants are required to layover while working a trip. Per diem ranges between $1.50-$2.00 per hour. Some airlines pay a few cents more if the flight attendant is working an international trip which means flights from the United States to an international destination.

For example, a flight attendant works a 4 day trip. From the time the flight attendant reported at the airport for their first flight until their 15 minute debrief on the fourth day, their time away from base (TAFB) totals 84 hours. The airline they work for pays $1.50 per diem so the flight attendant will receive $126 in per diem for that particular trip. If the flight attendant happened to work the same trip once a week, then the total per diem for that month would be $504.

Per diem for multi-day trips in which the flight attendant is required to layover for one or more nights is not taxed. Some flight attendants will specifically bid for longer trips so that they receive more per diem pay.  Packing your own food and spending less on layovers are two ways that you can maximize your per diem allowance and keep more of that money in your pocket.  It’s not uncommon for flight attendants to want to sightsee, enjoy local nightlife, or shop while on a layover- which means they could end up spending more than they earn from per diem.  If one can afford that, no harm no foul because enjoying a layover is a part of the flight attendant experience!

Besides flight pay and per diem, flight attendants may receive additional compensation if they work a specific position on the plane, such as the “Lead Flight Attendant” or if they are language qualified on flights that require an interpreter. Depending on the airline, position pay ranges from an additional $2 to $3 per flight hour and language pay is an additional $2-$3 per flight hour. These pay components are only paid when the flight attendant is receiving flight pay- not for every hour away from base like per diem.

As you can see, flight attendant pay isn’t as clear as a blue sky! Some airlines don’t really go into detail regarding the nuance of pay when they hire new flight attendants and for a good reason. The idea of not getting paid for the first hour you’re at work, the time you are on the ground experiencing a delay or in between flights would not be very alluring for potential candidates. Many flight attendants complain about the lack of a true hourly rate for every hour they are at work. It’s important to note that pilots are also paid the same way for their flight time. Pilots might not be as perturbed by this since they receive a much higher rate for flight pay and also have lower limits for how many hours they can fly each day and remain on duty.  It’s important to note that this is the aviation industry standard and is not likely to be changed anytime soon. 

Key Points on Flight Attendant Pay

  • The two main components of flight attendant pay are flight pay and per diem.
  • Flight pay is paid for the hours the flight attendant is on the plane.
  • The rate of flight pay typically increases after every year of employment until the top rate is reached. The higher the seniority, the higher rate of flight pay.
  • Per diem is paid for every hour the flight attendant is away from home.
  • Some airlines provide supplemental pay which could be based on position worked, languages spoken, international flights and night flying.
  • A Flight attendant’s monthly salary will vary greatly at each airline. It really depends on seniority, hours flown, or guaranteed that month and what other supplemental pay is received.

Here is a comparison of supplemental pay components flight attendants receive at each airline.

Due to the unprecedented disruption COVID-19 has put on the airline industry, flight attendants may be facing potential involuntary layoffs (furloughs), involuntary base transfers, company requests to take extended leaves of absence, requests to retire early or take a buy-outs, and pay and hours reductions.  It’s unfortunate and will all depend on each airline’s financial health, government stimulus, the ability for management to come to reasonable agreements with each flight attendant union and, most importantly, getting the public flying safely again as soon as possible.  It cannot be overstated how fervently we wish for the health, well-being, and financial stability for all of our flight attendant colleagues.  Stay strong and stay safe!


Do flight attendants get paid by the hour or by the trip?

Flight attendants get paid per flight hour but have other pay mechanisms in place that guarantee they will receive a minimum pay for each trip. These mechanisms referred to as “RIGS” track the flight attendants total duty day and total time away from their base. 

Do flight attendants get paid between flights?

The time between flights referred to as turn time is included in the total duty day and would only affect pay in the event of an extended duty day which usually triggers additional pay (not much) depending on the airline.

Do flight attendants get paid 40 hours a week?

Nope. They typically log 70-80 flight hours per month which would be multiplied by their flight pay rate. The credit hours will vary each week depending on the flight attendants schedule and reserve status.

Are flight attendants well-paid?

The salary of a flight attendant can vary based on factors such as the airline they work for, the amount of hours flown and how many days away from home each month. Generally, flight attendants earn a decent income. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for flight attendants was $63,760 in May 2022. However, it’s important to note that entry-level flight attendants may start with a lower salary, and the earning potential can increase as they accrue seniority which often provides the ability to work more productive trips. All major airlines in the United States offer some form of additional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and travel perks.

What is the duration required to become a flight attendant?

The exact duration to become a flight attendant can vary depending on the specific airline and their training program. Typically, it takes about 3 to 6 weeks to complete the initial training program provided by the airline. This training covers topics such as safety procedures, emergency protocols, customer service, and airline policies. After completing the initial training, new flight attendants usually go through a probationary period where they gain on-the-job experience under the supervision of more experienced crew members. Overall, the process to become a fully qualified flight attendant can take several months. Flight attendants fresh out of training will encounter a cornucopia of different personalities. They shouldn’t stress because there will always be more good crews that will be supportive, helpful and potentially become new friends.

Is a degree required to become a flight attendant?

No, flight attendants do not typically need a degree to enter the profession. However, they do need to meet certain requirements set by the airline they are applying to. These requirements often include a minimum age, height and weight restrictions, fluency in English, and the ability to pass a background check, medical examination and drug screening.If you are considering a career as a flight attendant, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the specific drug testing policies of the airline(s) you are interested in applying to.

While a degree is not required, some airlines may prefer candidates who have a college education, particularly in fields such as hospitality, tourism, or customer service. Additionally, having a degree can give you a competitive edge when applying for flight attendant positions, as it demonstrates a level of commitment, dedication, and the ability to learn and adapt.

It’s important to note that different airlines may have different requirements, so it is always a good idea to check with the specific airline you are interested in working for to see what their specific hiring requirements are for  flight attendants.

Are flight attendants provided with complimentary hotel accommodations?

Yes, flight attendants often receive hotel accommodations provided by the airline they work for. When flight attendants are scheduled for an overnight layover or a long-haul flight, the airline will typically arrange and cover the cost of their hotel stay as well as the transportation to and from the hotel. This is done to ensure that flight attendants are well-rested and ready for their next assignment. The specific policies regarding hotel accommodations may vary between airlines, so it’s always a good idea to check with the airline you are interested in working for to understand their specific benefits and policies. Prospective flight attendants should be prepared  for days when the hotel van is late, rooms not ready or be without  a hotel at all. These unpleasantries don’t happen often but are part of the job. So be grateful for your free hotel rooms provided to you by the airline. Ensure you rest up for the next flight. Have patience when you don’t have one and be polite until you do. 

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