Airline cabin crew: job description

Airline cabin crew are responsible for the comfort, safety and welfare of passengers travelling on aircraft during flights to and from the UK and international destinations.
In 2012, 2.98 billion people flew safely on scheduled services, according to the IATA, the international trade association for the air transport industry.

What does an airline cabin crew member do? Typical employers of airline cabin crew | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Working as a flight attendant for a major airline is often perceived to be a glamorous and exciting job. The air cabin crew of a commercial airline are jointly responsible for the safety and comfort of its passengers. Duties include:

  • greeting passengers as they board and exit the plane
  • showing passengers to their seats and providing special attention to certain passengers, such as the elderly or disabled
  • serving meals and refreshments
  • checking the condition and provision of emergency equipment and information for passengers
  • demonstrating emergency equipment and safety procedures
  • administering first aid
  • dealing with emergencies
  • supplying passengers with newspapers, magazines and in-flight entertainment
  • selling duty-free commercial goods and pursuing sales targets
  • producing written flight reports after completing a journey.

The role can be physically and emotionally demanding; there is a high degree of responsibility involved, and cabin crew are expected to deal with all passengers diplomatically - even when feeling the effects of travelling through time zones and spending extended periods of time on their feet.

Many airlines require cabin staff to live within close proximity of a particular airport, and crew members may have to go away at short notice if on call. Working hours may involve long shifts and unsociable hours, and it may be necessary to work during public holidays. However, many cabin crew members enjoy the chance to interact with a wide range of people, and the opportunities to explore and enjoy global destinations are almost unparallelled.

Competition for vacancies can be intense. Advertisements appear in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. Useful publications include Travel Weekly, Flightglobal and Travel Trade Gazette.

Typical employers of airline cabin crew

Specialist recruitment agencies advertise roles on behalf of major commercial and budget airlines from across the globe. Providers of training courses often have close links to recruitment agencies and airlines, although completion of a training course does not automatically land a high-flying job (sorry).

Qualifications and training required

Personal qualities, appearance and good health and fitness are normally more important than academic qualifications, although many airlines do ask for at least five GCSEs (including English and Maths) at grade C or above. A degree in any subject is acceptable, although a nursing, travel, tourism, leisure or languages qualifications may be helpful. Work with the public, or experience gained within nursing, catering, the hotel, tourism or travel trades is usually necessary.

Most airlines require cabin staff to complete a training course covering such things as safety procedures, legal/immigration issues and customer service upon entry to the organisation. A range of preliminary training courses are also available, which introduce students to skills and recruitment processes. Such courses often have useful links to major recruiters and can be an advantage, but do not guarantee entry to the profession.

Key skills for air cabin crew

Employers look for strong evidence of the following skills:

  • good communication skills
  • excellent interpersonal skills
  • the ability to remain calm in emergencies or when dealing with difficult passegers
  • diplomacy and tact
  • good colour vision and hearing
  • good general health and fitness – many airlines require cabin staff to be able to swim at least 25m
  • assertiveness
  • the ability to keep a cheery countenance when you've been on your feet a long time and you're out of your time zone.

Employers often have physical requirements due to space restrictions within the galley; these may include minimum/maximum height requirements and proportionate bodyweight. Visible tattoos and piercings are strongly discouraged, and staff are required to look smart, often involving wearing a uniform.