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Galley Gossip: Flight attendant interview - The pros and cons of speaking a second language and how it affects reserve

Dear Heather, I am hoping to become a flight attendant soon (have a face to face interview next week!) and have a question about reserve status. I speak Japanese fluently and was wondering how different things are for flight attendants who speak a different language. Are they on reserve for the same amount of time? Is anything different? - Natasha

For the first time in history being a flight attendant is considered a profession, not just a job. Fewer flight attendants are quitting, turnover is not as high as it once was, and competition to become a flight attendant has gotten fierce. Ninety-six percent of people who apply to become a flight attendant do not get a call back. In December of 2010 Delta Airlines received more than 100,000 applications after announcing they had an opening for 1,000 flight attendants. Even though it is not a requirement to have a college degree, only the most qualified applicants are hired. Being able to speak a second language will greatly improve your chance!

The only thing that affects reserve status is company seniority (class hire date). Seniority is assigned by date of birth within each training class. This means the oldest classmate will become the most senior flight attendant in your class. Seniority is everything at an airline, and I mean everything! It determines whether you'll work holidays, weekends and when, if ever, you'll be off reserve. So it's important to accept the earliest training date offered.

While speaking another language doesn't affect how long you'll serve reserve, it will have an impact on your flying career.

PROS

1. MORE MONEY. "Speakers" earn more per hour than non-speakers. Unfortunately it's only a few dollars on top of what a regular flight attendant is paid. Remember most flight attendants make between fourteen to eighteen thousand a year the first year on the job, so every dollar counts.
2. GOOD TRIPS. Speakers on reserve are assigned trips to foreign countries where people speak their language. No offense to cities like Phoenix, Pittsburgh or Portland, but a layover in Paris is just a tad bit more desirable. Not just because it's a foreign city with exciting things to do and see, but because international routes pay more per hour (on top of speaker pay).

3. DAYS OFF. An international flight usually ranges between eight to fourteen hours, while domestic flights rarely go over six hours. Because flight attendants are paid for flight hours only - all that time we spend on the ground is not considered flying time, which means the flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door is not being paid - it takes domestic flight attendants a lot longer to get in their hours each month. Flight attendants who work international routes work what is considered "high-time" trips and high-time trips equate to more days off.

CONS

4. BAD TRIPS. Speakers get what is called "bid denied". What this means is they get stuck working the same trip until they have enough seniority to hold something else. I know a number of speakers who became so tired of working the same route week after week, month after month, year after year, they chose to drop their language qualification altogether. In the beginning of ones flying career, a thirty-six hour layover in Paris might sound great, but even Paris gets old after awhile.

5. LESS FLEXIBILITY: The best thing about being a flight attendant is the flexible lifestyle. Because we're paid only for the hours we work, we're free to manipulate our schedules however we like. We can work high-time one month and not at all the next month. We can also "back up" our trips. Most flight attendants are scheduled a few days off between each trip. By trading trips we're able to adjust our schedules so that we can fly several trips in a row in order to get a big chunk of days off to go on vacation or just hang out at home. Speakers have a harder time doing this because they can only trade, drop, and swap with another speaker that has the same qualifications.

6. PROBLEM FLIGHTS: On domestic routes problem passengers have no trouble letting us know what's wrong. At my airline international routes are only required to be staffed with one speaker per cabin. If we don't speak the language, we have no idea there's a problem or if we do know there's a problem, we have no idea what the problem is, and the flight goes on as peacefully as it had been. Unfortunately those who do speak the language get stuck handling all the problems.

Photo courtesy of Dmytrock's

Filed under: Airlines, Galley Gossip

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