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Flight attendants: Sometimes dismissed as servers in the sky, these essential airline workers sometimes spend more time up in the air within a 24 hour period than they do on the ground, making sure your flight goes safely and smoothly. But how much do we actually know about their jobs? Two flight attendants, one current and one former, dispel 5 common myths and explain what exactly they do.

RELATED: 8 things never to say to a flight attendant

Myth #1: Flight attendants are glorified waiters/waitresses

Before becoming a public relations specialist and segment producer, Christine Mango was a flight attendant for seven years with Continental Airlines. Though she said most passengers were respectful, others viewed her job as a “glorified waitress” whose job, they believed, was an above-the-clouds version of the servers they interacted with at their neighborhood watering hole. Mango says that while flight attendants do serve alcohol, snacks and (sometimes) meals, their most essential role is safety. “All flight attendants have been thoroughly trained for emergency situations” she says,  “And it’s not just a one-time deal, flight attendants also have to attend recurrent training classes every six months.”

And the airlines don’t hire just anyone for these important positions. Delta once shared that 50,000 people applied when they announced a large round of hires in 2013. And most of the time, to join a crew, you have to complete online assessments and video chats just get an interview, and then undergo a thorough background check, rigorous training and more. Speaking a second or third language always helps, too.

Myth #2: You don’t have to follow the flight attendant’s directions

While you might pull out your headphone at the first whisper that the pilot has an announcement for the cockpit, you might roll your eyes at a plea from a flight attendant. Mango says that what a flight attendant says in the aisles is your duty to follow, as they’re the ones responsible for making sure all passengers comply with federal safety regulations. “Flight crew interference incidents, including disobeying crew members’ repeated requests, can result in up to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $250,000,” she says.

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Myth #3: Flight attendants lead a glamourous lifestyle

Though flight attendants do get to jet-set around the world, wear sophisticated uniforms and meet people from every corner of the globe, Mango notes it’s not as glamorous as you might think. “It is hard work and rough on the body. Besides the physical labor, often times you are laying over in a different timezone, so many suffer from sleeping problems,” she says. You’re also expected to work holidays, weekends and evenings.

Megh Wingenfeld, a flight attendant for the past 7 years for a major airline, echoes Mango, adding that getting adequate rest is a real struggle. “When the gate agent announces that the delay is due to “crew rest,” it doesn’t mean we’re just back at the hotel sleeping in. Pilots and flight attendants have a required amount of rest before they can legally fly again, so this delay is for everyone’s safety,” she explains. “There’s a good chance that if your flight is delayed for this reason, the crew working your flight got in very late the night before and spent the day dealing with delays, bad weather, and lots of upset passengers.”

Myth #4: Flight attendants are paid well

Though Mango says that with overtime, a flight attendant can earn raises that bring up a flight attendant’s annual salary, the beginning years of their careers are are pretty lean. According to the job site, Indeed, wages fluctuate by airline, but an entry-level flight attendant can expect to bring home $35,000 a year. What might surprise you is that most flight attendants are paid hourly. And the clock starts ticking at a specific time, Wingenfeld says. “We do not start getting paid until everyone has boarded and the plane door closes; all of the work we do preflight; safety checks, boarding, counting inventory, assisting guests, and even sitting at the gate waiting out a delay—we’re not getting paid our hourly rate [for that],” she explains. “We hate delays as much as anyone else! It’s no fun showing up to work all ready to go in uniform only to find out you can’t clock in yet,” she explains.

Myth #5: Flight attendants are lazy and rude

When a flight attendant turns down your request for a drink during take off, to stow your bag for you or call your connecting gate to hold your next flight, you might snidely think to yourself (or whisper to your travel companion) that he or she isn’t helping because they don’t want to. Wingenfeld says the opposite is actually true. “We don’t tell guests ‘no’ to certain requests because we’re lazy or don’t want to help you; everything we do is regulated by a law. It’s no fun asking guests multiple times a day to put away their laptop, buckle up their child, or keep pets in their carrier… but we have to. Trust us,” she says. “We are trained and tested every year on these rules. If we don’t pass our yearly training we lose our job. We are even required to carry our airline’s flight-attendant manual at all times—it weighs a ton but this aspect of the job is what we are hired for. Besides our desire to make everyone comfortable and happy, we want you to be safe.”

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Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay Tigar

Lindsay is a lifestyle and travel writer, and content strategist. She is a passport stamp collector with an affinity for great wine, coffee and conversation. You can find a full collection of her work at
Lindsay Tigar


Freelance Travel and Lifestyle Journalist for @travelleisure, @voguemagazine, @usatoday, @bravotv @brides, @weddingwire and many more.
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