FAQ: How Many Hours Does a Flight Attendant Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 25, 2021

A flight attendant can work various hours that require flexibility because they often change from month to month. Flight attendants may work nights, weekends and holidays while they travel the country or the world. Airlines and federal guidelines dictate attendants' flying hours, although individual flexibility can change the more seniority a flight attendant gains. In this article, we answer questions about the number of flight and ground time hours flight attendants can expect to work and the regulations and circumstances that dictate flight attendant schedules.

Related: Learn About Being a Flight Attendant

What are a flight attendant's hours?

Flight attendant hours are an accumulation of time an attendant spends onboard the airplane performing their specified duties. They can expect to spend 65-90 hours in the air, and an additional 50 hours preparing the airplane, processing passengers during boarding and performing post-flight procedures. Typically, flight attendants work 12-14 days and log 65-85 flight hours each month, not including overtime.

Flight attendant schedules can change month-to-month and some attendants may work more weeks than others. New flight attendants typically work a reserve schedule, also known as on-call or standby, as needed, with little choice in where they will travel or how long the shift lasts. Flight length, destination and layover determine flight attendant schedules. For example:

  • Turns: Turns are the shortest routes, with attendants flying to a single destination with no layover, and immediately returning to their home-based airport.

  • Two-day trip: For these flights, attendants complete one leg, or flight, in one day, have a layover, then return the following day. Most airlines complete three flights per day with layovers anywhere from 10 to 24 hours long, though longer layovers may extend into a three-day stay.

  • Three-day trip: Three-day trips require flight attendants to complete more than one leg per day. They may experience multiple layovers, or a very lengthy one.

  • Four-day trip: Flight attendants can fly for seven consecutive days before taking a day off, allowing time for longer trips. Trips that last over three days may involve multiple flights, cities and layovers.

  • Long-haul trips: Long-haul flights are over seven hours long, are usually international trips and flight attendants can choose where they fly. Assignments for these long-haul flights often go to senior attendants who fly the same trip repeatedly or trained on specific aircraft.

Related: How To Write a Flight Attendant Resume Objective (With Template and Examples)

Are there restrictions on flight attendants' work schedules?

The Federal Aviation Administration sets guidelines for flight attendants' working schedules to ensure ample rest periods. The FAA limits attendant duty hours and regulates the number of staff per flight.

Duty hours are the time attendants work immediately before the aircraft embarks from the origin gate to the time it arrives at the destination gate and does not include layover or commuting time. Rest times are the time between completion of one duty period to the beginning of another and are separate from commutes or layovers.

FAA requirements for flight attendant rest periods are:

  • For a duty period of over 14 hours, a rest period of nine consecutive hours must take place.

  • Eight-hour rest periods are acceptable as long as a scheduled 10-hour rest takes place within 24 hours of a reduced rest period.

  • Duty periods of over 18 hours require a 12-hour rest period.

  • Dependent on the number of passengers, the FAA requires a certain number of attendants during flights to ensure rest periods throughout the flight.

How often do flight attendants work?

A flight attendant's schedule may depend on the preference of the attendant, their seniority and location. Some flight attendants may prefer to log lots of flight hours, while others prefer shorter trips with more days off. Some attendants may travel to their home-base airport and commuting is a consideration when choosing trips. Attendants who live close to their home-base airport may work more flights than those who must drive or fly to their home airport.

New flight attendants typically work a reserve schedule and must be close to the airport, or sometimes wait at the airport for a call to duty. Senior flight attendants enjoy more flexibility in their schedule and choice of destinations. Both roles enjoy the same travel benefits with about 12 days off per month.

The two general schedules are:

Reserve schedule

Flight attendants on reserve schedule remain available 24 hours a day and typically work flights rejected by senior staff, which can cause long legs or layovers. Depending on the airline, new attendants can expect to work at least 18 reserve days and remain on a standby schedule for a few months or years, depending on the airline or home city.

Line holder schedule

Line holders bid for desired routes or workdays and can swap or drop trips. Bidding for trips begins at the same time each month, and flight attendants can choose their schedule according to their preferences. Line holders can work up to 25 days a month, although individual airlines may cap the number of hours attendants can work.

Read more: Your Guide To Working as a Flight Attendant

When do flight attendants get their hours?

Flight attendants may receive their schedules at the beginning or end of the month, and at least two weeks before their first assignment. The schedule, or roster, contains all the information the flight attendant needs to know about each leg. Their schedule also lists additional information such as the attendant's accommodation information and transportation details to and from the airport. Schedules also provide coded information for:

  • Airport codes for each destination city

  • Equipment and aircraft type

  • How long the attendant is in a location before flying again

  • An attendant's assigned position during takeoff and landing

  • The day the attendant reports for duty

  • Estimated length of flight time

  • Expected layover time

Can flight attendants change their hours?

When flight attendants are new, they may first work on a reserve or standby schedule. As flight attendants gain time and experience, they become senior flight attendants who have access to more desirable schedules or routes. Senior flight attendants can request schedules according to their desired destinations, days off or layover times. Some airlines may provide systems so they can swap flights with another attendant or find coverage for a trip.

Do flight attendants pay for their own accommodations?

Airlines cover the cost of meals and accommodations for flight attendants who travel overnight or longer. Once flight attendants receive their schedules, they know how long their layover is and where they are staying. A flight attendant's regular paycheck also may include food allowances.

Are flight attendants paid during layovers?

Technically, flight attendants are no longer on the clock once the plane reaches its destination. A flight attendant's official duty time begins when the plane pushes from the gate until it arrives at its destination. Preflight, boarding, post-flight, delays and layovers are not official duty time so attendants can use layover time as they wish.

What are the benefits of flight attendant seniority?

As people progress from junior to senior flight attendant, working for the same airline over time may come with benefits. Here are four benefits of earning flight attendant seniority:

  • They can design their schedule: Senior flight attendants often can choose or create their schedules. Though they may not get every request, senior flight attendants have scheduling priority and flexibility, and some may choose to work the same line to maintain a routine.

  • They can choose their flights: Senior flight attendants may prefer to work close to home or travel extensively. They earn the flexibility to alternate between routes, layover lengths or destinations.

  • They can choose a home base airport: Some senior attendants may prefer particular routes and choose to commute by flying to their home base airport, though others may choose an airport close to home to reduce commuting time.

  • They qualify for better pay: Senior flight attendants earn higher pay on longer flights and can choose to fly more often to earn more. Schedule flexibility also lets senior flight attendants earn according to their preferences so they can work as much, or as little, as they want.

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