I’m a flight attendant for a major airline. Some of us are making $150,000 a year thanks to overtime


A flight attendant on an airplane.
“I had a captain who said he prided himself on kicking people off the airplane if they were being rude to us or other passengers. That’s something I think is important,” said one flight attendant (not pictured). Matej Kastelic/500px/Getty Images
  • A flight attendant for an American airline (who asked to remain anonymous) said they’re in demand.

  • There’s opportunity to earn a lot from overtime, they said – up to $150,000 a year before taxes.

  • But they also deal with people who refuse to wear masks. Here’s their story, as told to Elle Hardy.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with a 36-year-old flight attendant for a major American airline from Dallas about the demand for flight attendants. This person has asked to remain anonymous, but their identity and employment have been verified by Insider. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve probably seen that the industry is struggling as there have been serious staff shortages. Some airlines have canceled a large number of flights because of the shortages.

I’ve been flying for about six years, though at the height of the pandemic, I was furloughed for six months. I was lucky to be able to afford to take the time off and do a bit of traveling, but I know a lot of folks for whom the furlough was really hard.

Now, it’s the opposite. Picking up overtime shifts is always an option.

If you’re on your day off when the airline’s desperate for people, it’ll offer overtime and say, “Hey, if you work this trip, we will pay you time and a half.” That’s been much more prevalent in the past six months.

My airline has hired about 1,000 new flight attendants this year, and it’s also bringing on board about 1,100 new hires who were pushed out of training when the pandemic started.

I don’t do overtime because I don’t need to, but I know a lot of folks who make a lot of money by picking up those extra trips

They’ll make the same money in two or three flights that we do in five on a normal shift.

I make about $5,000 a month if I work 18 days that month. If you’re doing some overtime, you’re looking at about $7,000 a month. There are some flight attendants, we call them “senior mamas,” who work 150 to 200 hours a month at up to $69 per hour. To me, that’s absurd, but they’re pulling in about $150,000 a year.

We’re not like pilots, who are limited to 100 flight hours a month. Normal flight hours for someone like me is about 85 flight hours per month.

When it comes to picking your flight routes, you’ll only get places like Hawaii and Frankfurt, Germany, if you have the seniority – we’re talking 40 years at the airline sometimes

For someone at my level, I can more or less pick and choose what I want.

There are different layers of routes, and your requests are put into a computer. Then, based on everyone’s seniority, it tells you what you get. I really like the food and beer in the upper Midwest, so I mostly pick there and usually get it.

We receive our monthly schedule in advance. Generally, flights are open for bids between the 12th and 15th of the month, and by the 18th, you’ll know next month’s schedule.

The only way I can explain people objecting to masks is that it’s market specific

If you’re coming from San Francisco, you know everybody’s gonna play ball. Once you get to Atlanta, for example, not so much.

I hate to say it, but it’s political. Where the state went in the last presidential election can tell you where you’re going to have problems with people refusing to wear masks.

In Florida, you’ve got nothing but tourists. But Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana – that’s where you get people kicking up about masks.

But I’m a bit of an anomaly. I’m 6-foot-four and 240 pounds. They don’t mess with me.

Once, a gentleman started yelling at two female colleagues because the drink cart was blocking the aisle. I went to him and said, “Hey, you need to behave.” And he sat quietly in his seat for the rest of the time.

To tell you the truth, once most people calm down from acting like a jerk, they realize that they’ve acted like one – and they don’t look at you after that.

If I ask somebody to please cover their face, they do it. I personally haven’t encountered a problem, but I have heard horror stories from my colleagues about having to call the police.

When I say horror stories, it’s actually a fairly straightforward process. Recently, my friend had to call the police to meet the airplane because a man refused to put on his mask. The captain said, “Everybody, please remain seated. We’re going to have some folks board the aircraft.” They came on board, and the person was removed.

I’ll say that our pilots, the captains in particular, absolutely have our backs. They’ll brief us before every flight and say, “If anybody goofs off, if anybody has a mask problem, you let us know, and we will remove them.”

Recently, I had a captain who said he prided himself on kicking people off the airplane if they were being rude to us or other passengers. That’s something I think is important.

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