Why Flight Attendants Are Walking Away: 9 Hard Truths Behind The Glamor

Virgin Australia flight attendant Ashlee Jane recorded a TikTok explaining why she quit her job. The flight attendant lifestyle seems rewarding at first, but is actually grueling.

You can’t really switch airlines, since you will start out at the bottom (seniority rules). But it’s easy to see why people stick with it once flexibility start to improve a little and pay goes up a bit with seniority – but also easy to see why the job drains you – and why so many flight attendants burn out on the job without leaving it like Ashlee Jane does.

@ashleejjane I quit my job as a flight attendant.. ✈️ #cabincrew #flightattendant #quitmyjob ♬ original sound – ASHLEE JANE

She concludes that being a flight attendant is ‘less of a job, and more of a lifestyle’. She says that if you can “adapt” and “surrender” to your employer you might love it. Here are 9 reasons, though, that the job of flight attendant is rough – especially for new hires – and wears down many crewmembers over the course of their careers.

  1. You don’t get a consistent schedule. You express preferences for the month, but those probably don’t get honored unless you have substantial seniority or you want to work the flights no one else does, like on Christmas.

  2. You can’t plan a life around the job. Since your schedule isn’t consistent, you can’t plan to be home on a specific day and time. That makes it difficult to build stable relationships and to raise a family and friendships can be tough to maintain, too. You can’t commit to attending a book club, a birthday party, or even to attend a wedding when you’re invited months in advance.

  3. Even the schedule you get isn’t guaranteed. Bad weather may cancel your flight and you may get re-routed. Even union contracts may not protect you from undesirable trips – an airline may send you somewhere in violation of your contract and you probably have to comply, just getting told to ‘grieve it’ later.

  4. The job is always the same. More experience doesn’t get you more responsibility. At most you might get extra paperwork duties and pay as a purser. You’re basically doing the same thing day in and day out for years, rather than challenging yourself and growing.

  5. You don’t even get to travel on your own much. People come to the job for the allure of travel, but life as a nonrev is hard. Airlines fill their planes far more than they used to, making it tough to travel standby – and you don’t just need to find a seat to your destination, you need to be able to reliably get back. Full planes make that hard, but you’d better not miss a shift. And it’s not as though you have much disposable income from your flight attendant job to travel, so even when you have the time and available flights, you may not be able to afford to take advantage of it.

  6. Even your work trips aren’t glamorous. Until you gain the seniority to travel to far-flung destinations with long layovers, you’re slogging it out to places like Sioux City (if you’re flying United Express) or Des Moines. You may not even get New York trips if you aren’t based there. And at the end of a four segment day that started early and ended with delays, if you don’t time out in a different city from the one you hoped to visit, you may be too exhausted to take advantage of being there.

  7. The pay. After 20 years you might be making $70 per hour, but if you’re only flying 80 hours a month that’s still less than $70,000. And starting pay isn’t much more than a third of that. Your union isn’t going to get you more, the best-paid flight attendants are non-union at Delta. There’s not going to be a union wage premium for a job that has low barriers to entry. Plenty of people apply for open positions, and training isn’t very long compared to pilots and mechanics. There’s not much leverage that’ll increase wages. Some airlines would staff with fewer flight attendants if it was legal to do so (most are required to have 1 per 50 passengers, though major airlines with premium cabins frequently staff widebody aircraft with more than that).

  8. The passengers. You meet some interesting people. Most of the people you interact with you never even find out whether they’re interesting. And some of them are downright obnoxious, or emotionally draining. Some attack you, others grab you, or snap at you. Even if those are outliers, so are the opportunities for deeper and interesting conversations. Passengers, the tagline from the Kevin Smith film “Clerks” applies: “Just Because They Serve You… Doesn’t Mean They Like You.”

  9. Colleagues. Some are great, many are not. You get paired to work with many new people and frequently don’t know what to expect. Since many airlines do little to monitor employees in the air, and there are frequently limited consequences for shirking responsibilities, a conscientious flight attendant finds themselves picking up the slack for others working the flight who are less so. And that’s even more exhausting, and demoralizing.

The flight attendant life is a unique blend of allure and adversity, a dichotomy that both attracts and repels. Ashlee Jane’s candid TikTok encapsulates the essence of this lifestyle—a relentless cycle that demands personal sacrifices and offers limited rewards, especially in the early stages of one’s career. And by the time flexibility and pay grow, the rest of the job may have worn too much and its sameness grated enough that it’s difficult to enjoy.

While the job provides a window to the world, it often comes with a view that’s uncontrollable. Flight attendants, much like the aircraft they work in, must navigate through turbulent conditions. Too many get stuck – failing to weigh the transient perks against the enduring hardships. Ultimately, it’s a career that isn’t merely about flying from place to place but about finding a way to stay afloat in turbulent skies.

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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  1. Don’t forget about the bloggers out there (tag yourself here @Gary) that sh*t all over hard working flight attendants day in and day out, all for a few extra clicks. Not to mention the comment section of bad passengers encouraged to join the bashing…

    Thanks for the ONE singular post in support of the crews you love to hate.

  2. Regarding item number six, if you are a working flight attendant, it is easy to avoid slogging it out to places like Sioux City or Des Moines. When you apply to become a flight attendant at Air Koryo so you can work in the flying comfort of a Ukraine-built Antonov An-148 aircraft you should never land in any town in Iowa.

  3. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to be an FA. It seems like possibly one of the worst jobs possible. There is no glamour in being public facing or working as generic capacity labor.

  4. At one time it was a glamorous sought after job but that ship sailed for reasons too numerous to mention. No way would I want that job today.

  5. @Joseph, yes I agree! I don’t know why I’ve been doing it for over 40 years. It’s just absolutely terrible! My company gives me a lot of flexibility where I can work just 4-6 days a month and take 3 months off a year. I mean who really wants that? I should be working a 9-5er 5 days a week with a regular 2-3 week vacay. That would be so much better! Don’t even get me started on how I’ve traveled the World and gotten paid to do it. I’d rather have paid my own way and started traveling in my later years a trip here and there when I could afford. That would have been so much better. I guess I picked the wrong career. Oh well. Too bad for me.

  6. Lol I’ve worked remote for years and have traveled just as much as most flight attendants. I almost thought about becoming one but now I work half as hard and make twice as much with the benefit of working anywhere.

    Traveling for work is way different than working while traveling

  7. Wah, wah, wah, the lifestyle I want is not compatible with the job – no education or skills required – that I have.

    What kind of complaining are you going to do when you throw children into the mix? Most of your complaints & inabilities go right out the door once you have kids.

    Another one spoiled by getting paid for a year to stay home is my first guess, thanks a useless shut the world down policy over a flu we all got anyway, vaccine or not.

    While you are young, marry a rich older man as a trophy wife and don’t have kids so you can travel and see the world on someone’s else dime…

    Sad when tik tok rants are news.

  8. I adore the flight attendants on my flights. Some are a lot nicer than others but I understand it’s very hard work. As for the video about quitting the job, ALL of this was explained in GREAT detail during the interview process. Full disclosure and no surprises. You signed up for this grueling work.

  9. @Reggie exactly – I’ve been traveling while earning a software NYC salary for 4 years now all while accumulating points I can flip to free J class.

    Not to mention the fact you get to enjoy your favorite destination for a month rather than a weekend

    FAs have it harder than anyone else traveling at the same rate they are

  10. Interesting timing. My understanding is the Virgin Australia flight attendants union rejected an enterprise bargaining agreement last week that would have seen them paid as little as AUD48,000 p.a.. Can’t say I blame them for kicking us a fuss. Expect more how hard it is to work for VA stuff.

  11. Let’s go back to properly bashing them for the reality rather than caving into the woe me. Every job has a list of things that make it difficult. Every worker can complain if they want. Flight attendants, led by union talking points and surly senior FA’s who make life hell for everyone, are their own worst enemies. They blame everyone but themselves when the reality is that the job is not that hard, they chose it knowing full well the scheduling and years to get seniority, and that they imagine it to be anything more than what it is…a slight step up from a Starbucks Barista. Despite their complaints though tens of thousands of applicants are readily waiting to take their jobs…but most never leave it making what should be a 10 year launching pad (like it used to be for most) into imagining that this is an actual life career. Why? Because as much as they want you to think it’s so horrible, they actually like the lifestyle. They just want our sympathy, more money, and less work in the process. That’s not calling out awful conditions. That’s just laziness and greed. At least the FA cited in the post did what I wish most would do who hate it…just leave.

  12. Any job has its ups and downs; however, you are compensated for your time and effort accordingly.
    Front line customer contact is especially difficult…nature of the beast.
    Just ask a nurse, school teacher, fast food manager, or phone rep.
    Some thrive, some survive, some despise.
    If dissatisfied with the job, time to move on.
    However, take inventory of your skill set…there may be limitations!!

  13. “ After 20 years you might be making $70 per hour, ”

    Where do these people get this nonsense? It takes 12-14 years to top out at most legacy airlines in the US, at least. I started the job when I was 21 and was topped out by age 33, making around $70/hr. Worked 7 high time turns a month and made a bit over $5k. not rich by any means, but I worked a week out of the entire month and im not broke afterwards. If I wanted, I could clear $15k that month.

    We got it made in the shade. The primadonna flight attendants that complain and make these videos just still haven’t figured out how their actual job works – so many of these kids don’t know how to make money because they’ll work a 10 hour 3-day trip, when you can do 30 hours in 3 days instead.

  14. @ Stuart. Well stated. BTW when my ex-girlfriend (hired in the days of stewardesses and transitioned to flight attendant due to age) called in sick for a trip, it was rarely because she was sick but her children were. Single mothers, or fathers, probably need to find other more suitable employment.

  15. @Stuart, love the comment. I wish I knew how to make my coffee like a Starbucks barista! Here’s a question for you. Why do all these commenters always say it should be a 5 or 10 year launching pad? I love my lifestyle and I make good money. So if I make it a 5 or 10 year launching pad, after that I’m supposed to be making alot more money like most people get paid in the US and work 5 long days a week? Most of my family and friends work those type of schedules and it just looks like torcher to me. A few of my family and friends make more than I do but not most. I just never get that part from all the commenters. Is it a thing like misery loves company so I’m supposed to be miserable like everybody else? I guess I just don’t get why anyone cares how long I do my job. I could give two hoots what you do for a living and how long you’ve been doing. Why is my job so interesting to people that they’re always in my business? Perplexing.

  16. Working for an airline requires a lifestyle change. Everything is strictly seniority basis. You start at the bottom, after 5 years, one gains a bit of seniority. This is true for every position at any airline. Years ago, the turnover was very high. But now all the airlines, explicitly state, what the conditions of working in such as such position will be during the first interviews. There are trade-offs and that is known upfront.

    Yes, flights are very full, and standby is difficult. But it can be done. The transportation business is 24/7/365 and that will never change. Pay is very competitive within the 4 majors. Could it be better? Sure! But it is far from minimum wage.

    Once one becomes acclimated to the working conditions of an airline, it can be one of the better jobs in America. It isn’t perfect. But for me, I achieved my dreams.

  17. Sounds like she didn’t do her research and had too high expectations of this part time career.

  18. Thanks for the support Gary. As a former cabin instructor, one of my biggest pet peeves with New Hires is their complete ignorance of the lifestyle choice they just made, and we address that in the screening process and followed on Day One. The poster is young and may not have had the same work ethic nor ‘career stamina’ needed for this job. I’m 8 years in, started late in life(59), am a single FA operator and will retire at 10 with an AA subsidiary. I have enjoyed it for the most part and was mostly prepared for the life. Having an understanding and supportive spouse helps; relationships can be challenging given the topsy-turvy schedule. Bottom line: do your homework and be prepared for a career unlike any other you may have had. It can be rewarding if you make the job yours.

  19. For all of the haters on this board, unless you have actually experienced this job you have know idea of what you are speaking of and even those who have been doing this for awhile and are seniors it is very different for juniors right now and not in a positive way. We were not told of the difficulties of this job, in fact we have been down right lied to, at least by my company and union leaders. I’m sure perhaps it was different when these people who have spoken these lies were juniors but right now it is a mess with crew scheduling pushing new flight attendants and pilots as far as they possibly can when it is absolutely unnecessary. However due to loopholes in flimsy union contracts it gives crew scheduling power to do this. This is also not a job of uneducated people that did not go to college. I myself have a college degree and have had many other careers but chose this because it was something I had always been interested in. The training is not some cake walk. It is difficult and flight attendants work hard and put in a lot of time and energy to earn those wings so I don’t think they are just coming in expecting the world and then complaining because their diamonds aren’t shiny enough. This is probably the worst career I have ever had. Never have I worked somewhere where I have felt so dehumanized. So before you make judgement on other people’s experiences they are having with this occupation maybe try and understand for many of us we have found out that what we thought was our dream job has turned out to be a nightmare, and I swear to god the next person who says no job is perfect or a job is a job, I’m going to scream. What is wrong with wanting a perfect job that makes you happy and wanting to work for a company that actually cares about it’s employees? It’s the least you ask for especially considering no one got into this career field for it’s pay. My airline doesn’t even pay a livable wage. Also for those who say you start out at $28 and up, divide that by 2 because we do not get paid all the hours we are actually working, only on the aircraft when the doors close until they open. Not our hour before flight check in times, not our long sits in airports between flights, not when passengers are getting on and off the aircraft taking their sweet ass time. Not when we are in our hotel (sometimes not very good ones) on a layover away from home, not when you are in your hotel shuttle 30 minutes away from the Airport on your layover. I could go on about so many other things we as flight crew have to stay on top of also but I’ll just leave this here.

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