The Best US Airlines For Flight Attendants Based On Salary

Flight attendants do a lot more than pour drinks. They assist sick passengers, enforce onboard rules, keep hundreds of people comfortable throughout their flights, and carry out safety procedures in the event of an emergency (such as an evacuation or terrorist threat). Think of them as a customer service representative, nurse, and firefighter all rolled into one job description.

Despite the hefty amount of responsibility required for the role, not all flight attendants are paid the same — and, as some cabin crew might argue, not all are paid enough. In the U.S., flight attendant salaries are determined by the company and are based on an hourly wage rather than a guaranteed yearly salary. According to user-submitted data on Indeed, the average base wage for the gig in the U.S. is $26.93, but one company pays its flight stewards, on average, over $8 more per hour. With a wage of $35.43, Delta is the best-paying airline for cabin crew.

Delta also gets bonus points for being the first U.S. airline to pay flight attendants during boarding. Traditionally, crew members don't start racking up their hourly remuneration until all passengers are seated and the cabin doors close, but the carrier agreed to start compensating attendants half of their usual pay during boarding periods.

Large airlines tend to pay flight attendants more

The average flight attendant wage at American Airlines is $33.44, ranking in second place after Delta, according to over 200 salaries reported to Indeed. However, statistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that American Airlines comes out on top when ranked by annual flight steward salary ($69,664 in 2019, compared to Delta's $61,488). This could be the result of longer hours worked and other factors.

Based on hourly pay, United Airlines is the third-best carrier for flight attendants, offering an average wage of $31.77. Southwest Airlines trailed behind with a reported average wage of $28.60.

In the list compiled by Indeed, most carriers — and especially regional and budget airlines — fell below the national average. For example, Allegiant Air pays an estimated $26.42 per hour, Frontier shells out $26.02, and Spirit offers only $25.13 on average. Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier operating in seven hubs around the country, came in last, paying only $18.50 per hour. However, an online job posting by the company confirms that flight attendants can earn $21.78 after one year.

How flight attendants can boost their income

Flight attendant salaries can vary considerably, even within the same airline. For instance, flight times, seniority, and yearly raises can all impact how much an attendant takes home. Then there are additional perks and benefits, such as bonuses, travel discounts, retirement plans, and sick leave. Cabin crew — or those considering a career as one — should compare complete employment packages, not just base pay, when choosing an airline.

Location can also influence how much flight attendants earn, even though they travel all around the country (and sometimes the world) for work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that flight stewards based in Connecticut earn the most per year on average, with a robust annual mean salary of $108,310 (as of 2022). Other states with above-average salaries include Massachusetts, Arizona, California, and New York.

Finally, flight attendants can leverage their unique skills and qualifications to boost their earnings. Surprisingly, given how much they're responsible for in the air, cabin attendants often don't need to have a college degree, but higher education could increase their chances of landing a better-paying job. Studies in public relations or hospitality, for instance, can be useful when applying for flight attendant positions. Knowing a foreign or second language can also boost an attendant's qualifications and help them negotiate for a higher salary.