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Ever wondered, “How can I make it my job to travel for free?” If you’re like most people, it’s definitely a dream to get paid to touchdown in every country on your travel to-do list. This is what leads many people to the airline industry. “The appeal of working for an airline is being able to travel when you want and see the world,” explains travel agent Greg Antonelle.

But while it might seem glamorous to head to the airport daily and meet travelers from around the world as they catch their flights, are the perks of working for an airline really worth the irregular hours, lower pay and hard work? Here, we’ll give you all the information you need to decide if it’s for you.

RELATED: 6 perfect jobs for people who love to travel

Pro: Flights are free or reduced for employees—but there’s a catch

Let’s cut right to the reason this job interests you: Are there really free flights for all? Sort of, kind of, not really, according to Antonelle. If you work for an airline, you’ll enjoy either free or reduced fares, but the catch is you’ll have to fly standby, meaning you only get on if there are extra seats available. With many airlines overbooking their flights, grabbing a seat can sometimes be a challenge, especially over the busy holidays and summer months. That said, David Millman, former air traffic controller with the FAA says that he could count on one hand the number of times he didn’t make it onto his flight. His tactic was to always check the flight beforehand to see if seats were available. If a seat was free in first class, they would place him there at no extra cost. Better yet, employee travel privileges extend to spouses, parents and children, too. Or, if you want to go away with your sig-o or best friend, many airlines offer what’s called a Buddy Pass, which allows your plus-one to only pay the taxes on the flight, not the full ticket price.

Con: The hours can be unpredictable and you’ll likely work holidays

Working for an airline often involves working shifts that could include either a very early-morning start or a pretty late-night finish. Also, because flights are leaving and arriving at all hours, 365 days per year, you’ll likely have to work weekends and holidays, including Christmas and New Year’s Day, when the rest of the world is relaxing at home. And then there’s the bad weather, which can cause unexpected cancellations and delays, meaning you could be required to put in mandatory overtime at a moment’s notice.

Pro: There is room for upward mobility

Airlines like American employ well over 100,000 employees in dozens of departments across dozens of cities around the world, so there’s often room for moving up the ranks. “Many people start off in entry-level jobs, such as baggage handlers, and over time get promoted to supervisors and managers,” Antonelle explains. “Also, there is a family-like camaraderie at airports between workers, giving your co-workers and bosses the chance to really bond and get to know you.”

ALSO: Another way to get free travel? Orbitz Rewards lets you instantly earn towards hotels!

Con: The pay is less than you might think

That well-kempt woman who speaks four languages who just checked you in for your flight? She likely makes about $13 per hour. Baggage handlers make even less. Flight attendants fare slightly better, with average salaries hovering around $40,000.

Pro: There’s flexibility with time off

Though many US companies allow employees about two weeks of paid time off per year, that just isn’t enough for those who want to truly collect passport stamps. Antonelle explains that part of the bonus of working at an airline is that you can move around your calendar to make room for extended trips or getaways. “Typically the airlines don’t care if you take off work, as long as you can find someone to take your hours,” he says. “So if you want to take a long vacation, as long as you can find someone to cover for you, there are no worries.”

Con: Patience of steel is an absolutely essential job requirement

Cut services, hidden fees, delays, cancellations, overbookings…. All these factors play a role in creating what airline employees refer to as the irate customer. When things go wrong during travel, customers will let out their frustrations on airport customer service agents and inflight staff. Airline employees frequently have to endure being argued with, shouted at or sometimes even punched, but at the end of the day, it’s your job to make things right, be the bigger person and remain calm at all times. It’s a true test of your zen abilities!

Pro: Most airlines offer full benefits, even for hourly employees

Especially in a time when health insurance is a bit of a gamble, having reliable, consistent access to coverage is a big perk of accepting a job offer. Most airlines offer health insurance, and other benefits such as paid time off and 401K, even to their hourly employees (which is just about everyone you see at the airport and in-flight). Benefits will vary, however, depending on the airline, region and seniority.

Verdict: Bottom line? If you’re young and don’t have kids, the unpredictable hours and lower pay are probably tolerable inconveniences, considering you get free, unlimited travel anywhere your airline flies. On the other hand, if you enjoy a high standard of living, prefer a predictable schedule, or want to keep your nights and weekends free, it’s probably not for you.






Tagged: Feature

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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

One thought on “Is working for an airline really worth the travel perks?”

  1. I would like to work in an airline, just part time. I am not interesting in flight attendant. , just work at the airport. I do not know where to apply. Thanks for your advice.

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