Flight Attendant Pay Explained

The majority of the flying public may not be aware the flight attendants aren’t paid while on the ground greeting you while you board or while saying goodbye as you deplane. This is the biggest misconception.

If you’ve ever been a passenger experiencing a lengthy delay and getting angry or have anxiety over it you can now sympathize with your flight attendant crew because as each minute that passes their pay is being diluted which means they will be working longer than expected and receiving less. Some airlines have put in place pay components that will provide the flight attendant some additional pay should that flight attendant experience an extended duty day but it’s not much compared to what they would make if the scheduled flights went as planned.

Each airline has in place different pay components called “RIGS” to ensure the flight attendant receives some reasonable compensation during extended delays, long taxi times, diversions, gate holds, cancellations, or any other event that causes scheduled flights to not go as planned.

Understanding Flight Attendant Flight Pay

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

Typically all 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 aircraft has released the brakes in preparation for pushback from the gate. Flight pay will continue until the flight reaches its destination and parks into the gate also known as “block in”.

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 at airlines will receive the same rate of pay defined by their airline and that rate will increase typically every year the flight attendant celebrates an anniversary (which is referred to as accruing seniority 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 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 the airline, flight attendants will be guaranteed a certain amount of hours each month regardless if they fly or not. This is usually referred to as “reserve” which requires the flight attendant to be available should they be called into to work for 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 which is compensation paid to the flight attendant for every hour they are away from home. One big difference between per diem and flight pay is that 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 flight for that flight attendant’s particular trip.

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 particular designation 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.

As an example, a flight attendant is working a 4-day trip. From the time the flight attendant checked in at the airport for their first flight to 15 minutes after their last flight on the fourth-day totals 84 hours away from home. 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 one time each week then the total per diem for that month would be $504.

Per diem for multi-day trips where the flight attendant is required to layover for one or more nights is not taxed. Some flight attendants specifically will look for longer trips, pack more, and spend less to increase their hours away from home so they receive more per diem pay. It’s not uncommon for flight attendants to want to party, sightsee or shop while on a layover which means they may end up spending more than they will actually earn from per diem on a particular trip–and that’s okay as long as they are having fun which is why they enjoy being a flight attendant!

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 speak a language. Depending on the airline position pay ranges from an additional $2.00 to $3.00 and language pay an additional $2 an hour. These pay components are only paid while the flight attendant is on the plane with the passengers and not paid every hour like per diem is.

As you can see, flight attendant pay isn’t as clear as a blue sky! Some airlines don’t really go into detail 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 gripe about the lack of a true hourly rate for every hour they are at work. It’s important to note that pilots also paid the same way 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.

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 layoffs, requests to retire early, take extended leaves of absence, and see a reduction in their pay rates and possibly elimination of pay elements. It’s unfortunate and will all depend on each airline’s financial health, the ability for management to come to reasonable agreements with each flight attendant union, and most importantly getting the public flying quickly and as possible again.

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