Soaring Debts, Grounded Dreams: The Flight Attendant’s Guide to Side Hustles

When flight attendants first get started, wages are very low, and those assigned to big cities may be eligible for food stamps. Some crew live off stealing food from first class snack baskets.

American’s flight attendant union reps may get paid 115 hours of ‘trip removal’ a month not to fly (plus additional hours they pick up). But the average flight attendant might be working just 75 paid hours. So when you see that a 13th year American Airlines flight attendant earns $68.25 per hour, that’s not $130,000 a year – it’s more like $61,000.

However pilot and flight attendant jobs have a lot of down time, and there’s tremendous opportunity for starting a side hustle. These aren’t schedules that work well with a fixed schedule second job, or on call part-time work. But online businesses and ‘make your own hours’ kinds of roles are well-suited.

One flight attendant has recorded a TikTok advising other crewmembers on earning side income.

  • Online influencer. This earns her $50 to $100 per day offering observations as she travels. But take care not to share in uniform or mention your employer because you’d be putting your job at risk. And flight attendants can be quite mean to each other, ratting you out.

  • Fiverr gigs. She earns money rating online dating profiles, charging men $10 apiece. She also gives “advice on how to talk to girls.”

  • Real estate. This one is harder to balance since ideally you’re available to clients and not on a trip. She talks about flipping properties, but that’s out of reach for most cabin crew and also risky.

  • Catering staff. There are online services that match people as one-off providers of catering staff, from wait staff to bartenders. Or see what temp agencies may have for irregular work.
@destanieaaa Replying to @annie ♬ original sound – Destanie | Flight Attendant ✈️

Pilots have side hustles too. Insurance businesses are common. One United pilot was a pimp in Houston with a string of brothels.

During the pandemic one American Airlines flight attendant was making money selling courses to other cabin crew about how to make money selling pictures of their feet online. The world is a very niche place.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. The vast majority of illegal drugs smuggled into the US are coming in by surface transport means or by being masqueraded as commercial cargo. Flight attendants and legacy major airline pilots barely register as drug smugglers into the land of way too many drug users/abusers since the real volume and black money from the illicit drug trade is huge.

  2. One of the stars of Wicked Tuna is supposedly a JetBlue captain. He’s never referenced the airline only sometimes he hast to turn it over to his crew because of his flight schedule.

  3. I know several FA’s for the Big 3 who all make well over $100k in salary…all have been flying 10-15 years. They’ve figured out how to maximize schedules and will go out of their way to fly on holidays where they’re making double pay so it can be done. I’ve also been told that MLM’s are rampant amongst FA’s too trying to make extra cash.

  4. When you sign up for the job, the compensation isn’t a secret. If you find it inadequate, look for another job. Stop the whining.

  5. The reality is that all US carrier FAs are paid based on pay scales and, for most of the industry, contracts that are publicly available.
    Other than inflation which is “sticky” (has left prices higher even if not increasing at the same rate), nothing has changed for FA economics.
    Pilots got large raises based on pilot-specific supply/demand dynamics. FAs do not and will not ge what pilots got and it is foolish for any FA or union to think they will.

    Delta’s non-union FAs got boarding pay (which benefits junior FAs) and increased pay (including for all non-union employees)because the company UNILATERALLY wanted to get ahead of inflation and exactly what is happening now.
    AA, WN and UA are all dealing w/ dissatisfied FAs and FA unions that can’t take a pay proposal to their members that its “only as good as” what a company gives its non-union FAs and yet AA has specifically said that is all it will do. WN has tried to not say it but they are doing as much while UA sits on the sidelines and their FAs think they will all be made right in the end – which is a fantasy.
    FAs don’t gain substantially more value on the job after 5 years and other airlines are happy to have the disgruntled ones leave.
    The best experience comes in having the seniority to fly optimal trips and maximize pay at the higher end of the scale.
    There will always be people that want to see the world and the FA job is a great way to do it.

    AA, UA and WN FAs have to accept that they are at the mercy of unions that cannot deliver what they want – which is to get ahead of inflation which their employees didn’t cause. Other jobs might not be much better but at least there aren’t unions standing in the way of a reasonable increase in pay.

  6. Let me summarize Delta Dunns lengthy post. The management at Delta does not want a union so they pay to keep one out

  7. Not domestic but I’ve been on some state run airlines where, upon the cabin door closing, FAs take cash an reseat people from economy to business. Apparently, there’s even an established split with the cockpit crew on this haul. At first, I couldn’t figure out why some people were being ushered to the front. Then I saw the exchange of cash, and it all made sense.

  8. This is very much a US issue because in most of the rest of the world, it is not permitted for crew to use their rest period to engage in any sort of private business or second job. If they do, their rest period must restart from scratch after they complete doing whatever they were doing. The rest period is intended for safety, not as time to earn extra money.

    I have terminated multiple crew over the years for engaging in second jobs and side hustles that left them unable to legally perform their contracted primary employment.

  9. ‘only’ 61k. Mind you that’s what a new doctor makes – after taking on quarter million in debt for school. No wonder why a happy meal is 18 bux these days….

  10. H2oman,
    and let us know who, other than unions, are harmed by Delta’s strategy.

    Employees want maximum pay and the best work rules. If Delta delivers via a direct relationship what unions promise but can’t deliver, then Delta has done what unions cannot.

    And THAT explains why Delta has managed to remain as non-union as it is – and why tens of thousands of employees in the combined DL/NW voted to NO LONGER be represented by unions as part of the merger process.

  11. Sean/B747,

    Given there are lot of part time cabin crew members at European airlines too, where is the boundary set between appropriate and inappropriate side hustles engaged in by such FAs? Does FA selling a lot of stuff on Facebook marketplace and the like get monitored by the airlines systematically in such a way that it doesn’t count on someone else “informing” on them first?

  12. I worked as a F/A for American. All of us started our careers with six weeks of training. Nobody knew what they would be paid. The trainers refused to discuss wages, health insurance benefits, and all other forms of compensation until the last day of those six weeks. If you asked about pay and benefits any time before that, you were gone the next morning.

  13. I worked as a F/A for American. All of us started our careers with six weeks of training. Nobody knew what they would be paid. The trainers refused to discuss wages, health insurance benefits, and all other forms of compensation until the last day of those six weeks. If you asked about pay and benefits any time before that, you were gone the next morning.
    As for side hustles, I worked with strippers, actresses, and a priest. Once I accumulated enough seniority to set my own schedule, I earned my Ph.D. on my days off and soon moved on to a different career.

  14. I agree not getting paid for the downtime at airports sucks but do your research before you accept the job! You can’t complain when you have all the information. No one told you to take this job.

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