Ever wondered what a cabin crew roster is like? How many days off do flight attendants get? Do they have specific routes? How long do they have out-station? Read on to discover all you need to know about a Flight Attendant roster!
A Flight Attendant roster can vary greatly between different airlines. In some airlines flight attendants come home every night after duty whereas cabin crew in other airlines are regularly away on multi-day trips and so can only spend about a third of their time at home. It depends a lot on the airline and the destinations the airline flies to – whether they operate mainly short haul and domestic flights, or long haul and international flights.
Some airlines (usually low-cost carriers) only operate short haul flights whereas other airlines only operate long haul flights. Most airlines however do a mixture of short and long haul flights. Let’s look at the different lengths of flights so we have an idea of the differences between short and long haul. Note this is a rough guide and some airlines define short and long haul in different ways (eg: according to miles travelled, or whether it is a domestic flight or not).
Ultra Short Haul Flights:
Flights less than 1 hour long. For example Dubai to Muscat or Dublin to Liverpool.
Short Haul Flights:
Flights 1-3 hours long. For example flights from UK to Spain, or from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Medium Haul Flights:
Flights 3-6 hours long. For example London to Cairo or Perth to Bali.
Long Haul (LH) Flights:
Flights 6-12 hours long. For example New York to LA or Sydney to Tokyo.
Ultra Long Haul/Range (ULR) Flights:
Flights 12 hours and longer. For example Doha to San Francisco or Singapore to London. By the way if you are looking for tips on how to survive these long flights check out my article here!
A cabin crew schedule is usually different every month and combines a mixture of longer and shorter flights and day/night flights.
One thing that greatly affects a Flight Attendant’s roster is whether they have turnaround flights or not. Turnarounds are also known as ‘there and back’ flights. It is basically when a flight is quite short in duration, thus it doesn’t warrant the crew stopping off and staying over in the destination, so they operate a subsequent flight (or flights!) afterwards. Their shift then finishes for the day in the same place it started – at their home base. The crew can often work a 12 hour day when they are doing turnarounds as all the embarking, disembarking, cleaning of the aircraft and safety checks on top of all the flying hours adds up quickly.
For example, a flight from London to Malaga is just under 3 hours flying time. Obviously this is not the only flight the crew are going to work that day, so they will often do one or more short flights in the day after this initial flight so that their day becomes a full working day. They could just fly to Malaga and back from London, or sometimes they may even do another shorter flight on top of that as well, for example a quick London to Manchester and back.
The majority of airlines that operate both domestical and international flights have a mixture of turnaround flights and layovers. However some airlines (mostly budget carriers) only operate turnarounds, meaning these crew never experience layovers and always return to their home after every shift. Examples of airlines where the crew always do turnarounds are Ryanair and Easyjet. Their rosters would show long working days and usually only one day off a week.
A layover is when the crew fly to a destination and then disembark the plane after the passengers, instead of operating the flight back. They will stay in a hotel overnight (provided by the airline) in the destination and then operate the flight back the following day normally. Generally when a flight is longer than 4.5 hours this means the crew should be entitled to a layover. Otherwise it would be too tiring for them to operate another flight back on the same day. Layovers are necessary to ensure crew have adequate rest between duties, and that they are not fatigued from working too many hours. Layovers are also known as ‘stopovers’ or being ‘down route’ or ‘out-station’.
Crew are paid a basic on-ground salary when they are on the layover, ontop of their flying duties. This covers costs such as food whilst on the layover. So along with spending time in an exciting destination, crew are getting paid for the whole duration of the layover, which is why crew prefer layovers to turnarounds. Compare this to crew on a turnaround, who will go back to their house and not get any money for that.
An example of one airline that has only layovers and no turnarounds is Virgin Atlantic. The roster for cabin crew at Virgin Atlantic is made up of all long haul flights.
How long are Flight Attendant Layovers?
Again, this totally depends on the airline. Not just on the airline, but on the season too! Some airlines schedule extra flights in the busier holiday months and so there can be variations in the layover time. As a very rough example, layovers are generally not shorter than 24 hours. This will give crew time to rest, sleep, eat and explore!
As a rule of thumb, for a long-haul flight (12+ hours flying duty) cabin crew should get at least a 2 day layover in the destination so that their body can adapt. Note however that some Middle Eastern Airlines do not adhere to this and their crew regularly operate 14 hour flights with only a 27 hour layover.
Some carriers (British Airways for example) in addition to layovers also have ‘night stops’. This is for medium-haul flights that land late outstation and then depart the next morning. So the crew will literally stay overnight in the destination for 13 hours or so at the crew hotel, just to sleep, rest and then operate the first flight back in the morning.
How many times does a Flight Attendant fly per month?
Depending on the length of the flights you are given that month determines how many times a month you can fly (and therefore how many days off you will get!). It is generally worked out in the number of hours you are flying per month – you’re not allowed to exceed a certain number of flying hours that is set by your company and the flying board for your country. So if you work only long haul flights, you’ll clock up more hours in the air quicker and therefore you’ll work less flights (and ultimately have more days off!).
Flight Attendants work a similar number of hours each month to regular office workers. It’s just their duty hours vary greatly and are often packed much closer together (well you’re not going to go and work 16 hours straight in the office are you?!). So one month you might fly 6 times (just doing 3 Ultra Long Haul flights) and another month you might fly 40 times (doing 20 turnarounds). It totally depends on the length of the flights you have been given, as you won’t be able to exceed a certain number of flying hours a month. This number varies between airlines but can be between 90-120 flying hours per month.
For example Dubai to Los Angeles is a 16 hour straight flight. You operate the flight out and then the next day/two days later you operate the flight back – that’s 32 hours flying already. And that’s just the time in the air. Don’t forget the time it takes to embark and disembark passengers, safety checks etc. Add all these hours up and it equals the same to what most people in ‘regular’ 9-5 jobs work in one week. So often if a crew has an Ultra Long Haul flight rostered, that will be their only flight they will operate that week. If a crew only does ultra long haul flights one month, they’ll only do a total of 6 to 8 rostered flights (3 or 4 destinations) and will have more days off as all their working hours have been crammed together.
You can see on the roster below, in one week the crew only flies to Sydney and back, with a 31 hour layover in Sydney. This flight is 14 hours long so is classed as an Ultra Long Range flight. With ULR flights the crew should have 2 days off before and afterwards to rest and recover. Hence it is better to try and get these long flights as you fly less days and you get guaranteed days off before and after!
When a crew has turnarounds they generally get less days off. It seems unfair right – crew with layovers (and free time on the layover) are the ones who get more days off! And ultimately they are the ones who get paid more. Turnaround crew work more days because their flights are shorter, therefore their flying time is less. So they need to make up the flying hours (by doing more turnarounds, sigh).
Turnaround crew often work 6 days straight and then have one day off. Turnarounds are often more tiring for crew as the crew don’t even have time for a break, even though the duty hours can be just as long as an Ultra Long Haul. For example if a crew does a turnaround from London to Moscow and back – that can easily be a 12 hour day with no dedicated break time! Whereas on Ultra Long Haul flights crew will get a few hours off during the flight to rest. Just look at the roster below to see how tough a turnaround roster can be. All the flights are legal to operate, even though the roster looks so busy and there is a combination of day and night flights.
People often wonder how many days off flight attendants get each week. Truth is it varies greatly. No two weeks are the same. Some weeks you’ll get one day off, other weeks you may get 5 days off – it totally depends on the flights you have been rostered and how much rest you need between the flights (you need more time off for longer flights so your body has adequate time to overcome any jet lag). Legally though crew can not work more than 6 days in a row.
When do cabin crew know their next month’s schedule?
Airlines work on a monthly basis, so crew will get a new roster schedule each month. As to when they receive this roster, this once again depends on the airline. Most airlines however try to give crew their upcoming month’s roster in the middle of the month before. So for example, around 15th-20th January the roster for February will get published. It can be difficult to plan your life and social activities when you don’t know your plans a couple of weeks later, but it all takes getting used to and adds to the excitement of the job! To see more pros and cons of being a Flight Attendant click here!
Standby is when a crew is on reserve and could potentially get called last minute to operate a flight. Think of it like a doctor on-call in a hospital. At that moment there is nothing assigned to them, but something could come up at any minute.
Crew get pulled from standby if rostered cabin crew have called sick for a flight, if a crew gets offloaded (forgets their passport, fails to answer correctly the safety questions, fails a drugs/alcohol test), if crew are no longer legal to work (eg crew have been delayed on ground for hours before a ultra long-haul ULR flight). Standby crew will then get a call from Crew Operations asking them to operate the flight.
For standby crew need to always have their mobile phone on them so they can answer a call straight away and be ready to work.
There are two types of standby: home standby or on airport standby.
Crew are rostered to be on home standby sometimes just for one day (to cover any turnarounds) or sometimes for a block of days (to cover any layovers). They will usually be rostered 8 hours on standby and need to stay in their house for the duration of the standby period. Often the crew could only have half an hour between receiving the call and needing to be out the front door. Sometimes it is even less! So ideally they should have their hair and makeup done and have their suitcase packed if it takes them a long time to get ready! For crew that get ready quickly, often they don’t get ready until they get a phone call. Sometimes crew get called, sometimes they don’t – it’s all luck of the draw.
Some airlines assign crew to a few days home standby once every couple of months, whereas other airlines such as Emirates put crew on standby for a month (‘reserve month’). Generally crew do not like being on standby incase they get sent on a rubbish flight – some crew have a tendency to call in sick for these demanding flights or turnarounds, so there is a high chance you’ll get one! The pay for standby is also quite poor if you don’t get called to operate a flight. If you do get called for a flight, you get paid for your time you were on standby plus the flight you operate.
For airport standby the crew actually need to come to the airport for a few hours – all ready in their uniform and suitcase packed. Airport Standby is when crew need to be ready to cover a flight STRAIGHT AWAY! They will literally get a phone call and need to run straight away for the flight – not like home standby where the crew has a bit of time to sort themselves out. They are there for any super last minute flights (for example a crew faints during boarding) – when a crew from home standby wouldn’t be able to get there quick enough. Crew need to check in at the airport for their airport standby so that the Crew Control team know they are there, and there is a room the crew can relax in and rest until they get called (or can go home if their airport standby duty is over and they didn’t get called).
Airport Standby crew need to be packed for any destination – summer or winter as they never know what they could get called to operate!
Sometimes it will happen that cabin crew are rostered for a flight, and then a few days (or a few hours!) before the flight their roster will change and the flight has been swapped for another flight due to ‘operational reasons’. There are many reasons why this can happen, for example a flight got delayed so the crew will not be legal for their next flight. So sometimes crew will have made plans for a layover and then last minute that layover gets taken off them and they go to a different destination!
In many airlines flight attendants are able to swap flights with other crew. Some airlines even allow crew to swap flights for days off with another crew if their rosters allow. Every airline has slightly different rules, it just depends on the airline. Some airlines are not as flexible as others and you must do your rostered flights.
Airlines have a bidding system where crew can request specific flights each month. This is never guaranteed, but often crew get at least one requested flight. When I was flying I always requested to work the flight back home for Christmas (as I was based in a different continent to where my family lives and the flights were always full so I could never fly back as a passenger) and luckily I always got it. I was also lucky enough to get some requested flights to go to friends’ weddings, have my birthday in San Francisco, and even got a requested flight to be in Sydney for New Years Eve one year!
However just requesting a flight doesn’t mean you’ll get it. So many times lots of crew will request popular destinations with long layovers, and only the lucky ones will get it!
Requested Days Off
Crew can also request days off, for example to add onto the end of their vacation dates or to attend important social events.
Like all other jobs, crew get annual leave too. It varies from company to company, but they get a similar amount of days off to regular jobs. We would have 30 days of annual leave – but remember this includes weekends too! So it was basically 4.5 weeks off a year that we were entitled to. Crew have a bidding system to choose the annual leave dates they can get for that year – usually they get the dates that they request but it is not always guaranteed. Annual leave for the year is often sorted out a few months in advance, so even though crew don’t get their rosters until the month before, they will know when their vacation dates are so they can start planning for their holidays.
Some flights require a flight attendant who is a language speaker of the country the airline is flying to. For example airlines in The Middle East will always have an Arabic speaker onboard, or some airlines will have a Japanese speaker onboard on flights to Japan for instance. This just makes it easier for passengers who can’t speak English.
Sometimes crew need to do recurrent safety exams and practicals, or training for a new aircraft type. This will show up on their roster for that month and counts as a working day.
In some airlines all of the cabin crew are trained on all of the different aircraft types. In other airlines crew are only trained on some of the aircraft types (this usually happens if there are several different types of aircraft and they don’t want the crew to be trained on too many). This can mean that certain crew won’t get to go to certain destinations as their aircraft doesn’t fly to that destination.
For example, Emirates has a 380 fleet and a 777 fleet so crew will either work on one fleet or the other.
Etihad used to have dedicated 380 fleet and 320 fleet (with everybody operating on 330 and 777/787) but now crew are being trained on both 380 and 320 so crew will be able to visit all destinations.
In Virgin Atlantic all crew are trained on the same aircrafts.
Cabin Crew Roster App
Roster apps such as Roster Buster are great for seeing how many hours you’ve worked and what routes you’ve done. It is also really handy for planning when you and your friends are free to meet as it allows you to compare your flying schedules!
If you are interested in attending a Cabin Crew Open Day/Assessment Day, click here to read all my tips!
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