Blog: Can new flight attendants afford to live in the cities they are based?

Justin Weed, a flight attendant since 2018 for American Airlines has transferred bases four times before finally landing in Dallas-Fort Worth.

When I began flight attendant training nearly four years ago, I had thirteen options for where I might be based. I wound up with three choices: Boston, New York or Washington, DC. Though American Airlines is based in Dallas, Texas,  it is one of the more senior bases in the system. Seniority is based upon the amount of years worked for the airline. With each year we receive pay raises until our pay caps out at 13 years. 

When a new hire flight attendant graduates flight attendant training the base pay is $32 per hour, while the top of the pay scale is $68 per hour. Flight attendants are paid for inflight hours and on average work 75 hours per month. When I arrived in Boston, I came with a letter in hand saying I was expected to make $28,000 that year. That letter was supposed to help me secure housing in Boston. 

Using Data USA to compare average income between cities in 2019, it shows that the average median income in Dallas was $55,332 and in Boston the average median income was $79,018, that’s a $23,686 discrepancy. 

Historically it is recommended that no more than one third of your income should go towards housing. So moving to Boston I knew I should be looking for rent that was $778 per month or less. If the median income of Boston residents in 2019 was $79,018, then someone making that salary range could afford to pay $2,195 per month, nearly triple what I should be paying for rent with my starting predicted income. 

Based on the median income in Dallas in 2019, if an individual paid one third of their income towards rent then they could afford to pay $1,537 per month. This would be about twice as much as what a starting flight attendant should be paying towards rent. 

Now at the top of the pay scale for flight attendants, if someone works the average of 75 hours per month they would earn $61,200 per year before taxes. So while this might be more than the median income in Dallas, it still is less than the median income in Boston. If they paid one-third of their income towards rent, they shouldn’t pay more than $1,700 per month. One other consideration is that Texas does not have income tax, so this may save renters money.

While flight attendants have the power to be able to pick up extra trips and work above the average amount of hours, it has made me wonder if there is a bigger disadvantage to being based in certain cities. A new flight attendant has to serve reserve for their entire first year. This means they are on call for their first year or flying, and during that time they are paid a guaranteed 75 hours each month. They can pick up extra flying on their days off above their guarantee, but in many instances this ends up being difficult with contractual legalities. 

Would it deter a new flight attendant from continuing on in the profession if they’re unable to afford adequate housing in a new city? What are the attrition rates for the first year from base to base?While I haven’t included the average rent prices for these cities, as Data USA does not include them, if I were to continue looking into this I would want to check and see if the reflected median income and the average price of rent are correlated.

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