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Is Being a Flight Attendant the Worst Job in 2013?

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It seems as though the flying public has become a bit fascinated with the role of a flight attendant. In years past it was a glamorous position, which nurses held to attend to the needs of the elite who could afford to fly, and as the years flew by changes to the position developed. On board service was cut by the airlines to save money, flight crews were tasked not only with looking after on-board safety but now also security, and the airlines were deregulated setting off fare wars and the fight for customers.

In recent years we've witnessed flight attendants blow emergency slides and quit (ala Steven Slater), flight attendant's have nervous break-downs on board and rant over the public address system and we're about to see an airline dress their cabin crew as maids and butlers as a marketing ploy, so where am I going with all of this? CareerCast just released a "study" of the worst jobs for 2013 and being a flight attendant is number 10.

Now the evidence would suggest that a flight attendant losing it and blowing a slide and ranting over the PA is stressed and overworked... and at some airlines they are! Each airline operates differently with their own policy and procedures based on the foundation of what the FAA regulates.

Here's what CareerCast says about the job:

High stress, low pay and a shrinking job market all contribute to flight attendant's inclusion among the worst jobs of 2013. The BLS projects virtually no change in job prospects, as airlines continue to consolidate and reduce staff.

Now, let's go through these claims.

High Stress -- Yes, there is high stress in the job... sometimes. Boarding is stressful, you need to get the flight out on-time otherwise you have some explaining to do. Irate and unhappy customers also add to the stress of the job, but they add to the stress of any customer-facing position out there; not just flight attendants. As much as some flight attendants don't like to admit it, we are on board for service/customer service and safety. Sure, we're there "primarily for safety" but we also have a role to play in making sure our passengers are happy, taken care of and chose to fly with the airline again in the future. Security adds to the stress as well, the thought of 9/11 is in the back of everyone's mind and being situationally aware at all times can be a burden. Let's remember that flight attendants are the first responders for any situation that happens on that airplane and they're trained for those situations. In fact, yearly, flight attendants return to training for recurrent lessons in evacuations, CPR, and other emergency scenarios.

But is it always stressful? No! There's a lot of downtime on trans-continental and international flights (ever wonder why the flight attendant never throws your magazine in the trash bag? They're reading it themselves!), if a flight attendant works for an airline with more than two cabin crewmembers on board their co-workers can help solve passenger concerns and problems, and their overnights are their time to explore, eat, and enjoy the city they're visiting... all stress-free!

Low Pay -- Now here's where it gets tricky. Yes, generally speaking, the starting pay for a flight attendant is low. And, I'm not just saying low... I mean... very low. Regional airlines usually make less than legacy airlines (or the majors) but even the legacies start out flight attendants around $18-20 per flight hour (every hour the door is closed). Flight attendants are not paid during boarding, deplaning, or delays. Some will argue that their "per diem" (an hourly rate that the airline pays to help in covering the cost of eating and entertainment on the road) counts as pay. But, for the most part, that per diem payment is $2 an hour. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't call $2/hr getting "paid."

With that said, the longer you stick with an airline the better your pay will be. Every year your hourly rate will increase, your seniority will improve (at some airlines this will happen more slowly than at others) affording you better flights, schedules and lifestyle. A flight attendant blogger, The Flying Pinto, also posted about this study and said:

Am I rich? Yes, in terms of freedom and lifestyle. How many people can build their own schedule and work as little or as much as they want or need to?... How's my actual pay check? As good as, the higher end of a nurse's salary.

And while her seniority allows her to build a schedule that fits her needs (as does mine, in full disclosure) I cannot discount those flight attendants hired after me that don't have the seniority to build their own schedules yet (junior flight attendants are usually on call in the event a senior ones calls in sick), they don't have a say in where they go, what time they leave, or what days they have off. Further, to say that the average flight attendant salary is the higher end of a nurse's is a bit bullish. You may earn that amount if you fly 120+ hours a month and take only eight days on the ground. But, the longer you stick with the airline the more livable the wage, and in time, if the airline a flight attendant is employed at grows, so will their job opportunities and salary.

That brings us to the final note from CareerCast, the shrinking job market. A little research will show that the airline industry is bouncing back! All of the majors and most of the low cost carriers have hired new flight attendants this year. To say that it's shrinking shows their lack of information.

So, is being a flight attendant one of the worst jobs in 2013? That depends on you. Everyone is different. If you're willing to devote the time and "pay your dues," and wait patiently as every year you move up the pay scale and seniority list the end benefits are amazing, like The Flying Pinto described. However, do your research before just applying to any airline. Each one of them has a different definition of how and what your seniority means and how it'll affect your life. Make the right choice for you.