VSA Future Hosts Global Speech with Flight Attendant
From hectic schedules to traveling all over the world, being a flight attendant isn’t your typical 9-to-5 job. But there’s much more to being a flight attendant than pouring drinks and helping passengers fit their oversized suitcases in overhead bins. Steven Savva, a flight attendant for American Airlines, gave students a rare insider’s perspective into the life of a flight attendant at VSA Future’s first global speech this summer.
Flight 333 is now Boarding…
Mr. Steven didn’t originally intend on becoming a flight attendant. He studied at Rutgers, picking up an English major and Economics minor. After college, he worked as an English teacher in Korea for over a year and planned to go to graduate school in Germany. However, at the gym one day with his friend, he suddenly had the crazy idea of becoming a flight attendant. It was a huge risk, but Mr. Steven swallowed his doubts and applied. Six months later, he found himself at the American Airlines headquarters in its flight attendant training program.
Fasten Your Seatbelts for the Training Program
Although anyone can become a flight attendant, not everyone will. In fact, it’s more difficult to become a flight attendant than it is to get into Harvard—according to American Airlines’ website, for every 125 candidates that apply, only 2 are selected.
The first step to “getting your wings” (lingo for becoming a flight attendant), is applying for the position. To even be eligible for the position, there are a string of requirements that must be fulfilled. Among them are having a high school diploma or GED equivalent, being at least 20 years old (flight attendants have to serve alcohol), possessing a valid US or foreign passport, having a clean record (flight attendants have to take care of children and unaccompanied minors), and being able to travel unrestricted to and from all countries that are served by the airline company. Knowing a second language and having a college education, although not required, are a major advantage since the hiring process is so competitive. Mr. Steven noted that many of his coworkers were doctors and nurses on the side, and many others were lawyers and teachers.
After applying, Mr. Steven had to undergo a series of interviews: over video then in-person, along with individual and group interviews. From a pool of 70 interviewees, only Mr. Steven and 5 to 6 others made the cut, with Mr. Steven being the only male. Then came the training program. As Mr. Steven stressed, it was “difficult.”
As part of the training program, Mr. Steven lived for six weeks at the American Airlines headquarters, Skyview, in Dallas, Texas. Although he was unpaid, his rooming and food expenses were all paid for. His job was simply to study and train—that was a big enough responsibility itself! For five to six days a week, Mr. Steven took classes from 7am to 9pm. He also took tests every week—fail two and you were expelled (unfortunately, Mr. Steven said that a few of his classmates didn’t make it). Ninety percent of the training was focused on safety; this included being prepared for evacuations, fighting fires, medical emergencies (e.g. choking children), physical combat, handling human trafficking, and learning the extensive FAA regulations. Most of his service training would occur later when he’d be working his first trips.
After six hard months, Mr. Steven emerged unscathed with his newly acquired wings. With graduation under his belt, his life as a flight attendant began.
Flying Always Comes with Turbulence
As with any job, life as a flight attendant comes with its ups and downs. After graduation, Mr. Steven was sent to live in a new city, or his “base,” from where he’d commute to the airport for work. He ended up getting sent to Philadelphia, where he’s still based and has been for the past 7 years.
For the first five years, Mr. Steven admitted that he didn’t really have a life outside of work. He only saw his family 3 to 4 times per year. In other words, “You give yourself completely to the airline company.”
A big part of the learning curve was adjusting to his hectic schedule. When it comes to working hours, seniority is everything. As Mr. Steven explained, the longer you’ve worked for an airline, the more say you have about picking your shifts. For a newbie like Mr. Steven, that meant he had to take trips that were less than desirable, including working on the weekends and working multiple flights per day. Mr. Steven also had to adjust between two different schedules: a reserve or on-call schedule and a set schedule.
In months when he’s on reserve, he’s guaranteed 12 days off but has to remain near the airport and ready to head into work on short notice if he’s called in. When crew scheduling calls, he only has a slim 2 hours to get to the plane. In all his years, Mr. Steven said that he never missed a flight, as even a 10 minute delay can cost the company $100,000!
In other months when he receives a set schedule, he’s able to bid for trips he wants to fly and days off. He also has the ability to drop and trade trips, as well as pick up trips on days he’s off for bonus pay, allotting him a lot of flexibility in his working hours.
Working while Taking in the View
Mr. Steven then gave a run down of what his “average” day looks like (“There are no average days!”). He typically drives to the airport, checks in on his work phone, goes through an expedited security check (he periodically has random searches and drug tests), and boards the plane to meet with his crew to go over the crew briefing in which he and the pilots and other flight attendants discuss flight details such as who is serving business class or the main cabin.
The main cabin, Mr. Steven explained, is the largest part of the plane and usually 6 to 7 flight attendants work it on international flights. Business class—Mr. Steven’s favorite cabin to work—is smaller and requires only 4 flight attendants. First class is even smaller and requires only 2 flight attendants. According to Mr. Steven, it’s fun to work but can be tiresome and a bit intimidating (especially when you’re serving famous celebrities like Lady Gaga), thus it’s worked by the most senior flight attendants.
When it comes to long haul flights to Europe, Asia, and Africa, the issue of sleep comes into play. Special FAA certifications are required to enter a crew rest. First, all crew members perform the initial meal and beverage services. Then, half the crew sleeps while the other half works and they rotate. The crew sleeps upstairs on crew bunks which can accommodate about to 8 people. Finally, both teams meet as the plane prepares to land to perform the arrival service together. When the plane lands, the crew heads to the hotel together for a layover, where the real “vacation fun” begins.
Getting Paid to Travel Across the World
The main reason why becoming a flight attendant is so competitive is all the perks it offers. In addition to health insurance and the ability to bring family and friends to fly free with you, you’re able to see the world and get paid to do it. Mr. Steven added that even if a plane is full, he’s able to hop on by sitting in one of the jump seats, which are foldable seats reserved for flight attendants.
Throughout his many layovers, Mr. Steven has toured a myriad of places including Budapest, Paris, and the Carribean. Although he’s always very tired, he never tires of going out and exploring.
As for how Mr. Steven is paid, flight attendants are paid hourly based on actual flying time. This means that the hourly value of trips, from a minimum of 5 hours to a maximum of roughly 40 hours for the longest international trips, doesn’t include the time spent passing through security, waiting for passengers to board the plane and stow away their luggages, or waiting through delays. The money clock starts only when the aircraft door is closed and ends when it is opened.
However, flight attendants are also paid per diem. They make $2.25 for every hour they’re away from base, and this money can be funneled into entertainment and food costs. For example, Mr. Steven said he can make roughly $180 for 2 days in Paris.
Thank you Mr. Steven for teaching us about being a flight attendant!