Everyone knows flight attendants represent the airline for the passengers, and have a commercial role by distributing meals, selling goods, managing the entertainment system, and receiving complaints.

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One of the well known glamour airline-clichés for flight attendants, circa 1960 (source).

Apart from this commercial role, they also provide the regulatory information about safety. But I feel there is more to know related to their technical role.

What are the non commercial missions or responsibilities of a flight attendant, what are they accountable for? did that role change over years? How are they trained? What is their career path?

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    $\begingroup$ Managing passengers in an emergency, and evacuation comes to mind. To me the safety aspects of the cabin crew is the most valuable, while simultaneously the most underrated by the general public, which is a shame $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    Jun 10, 2016 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ Is there really a need to put stock photos in questions? Are we turning into Medium? $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Jun 10, 2016 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Their regulatory-mandated role is as safety technicians. The FAA expects them to manage passengers in the event of emergencies, whether those emergencies consist of passengers suffering medical events, being disruptive, or having to evacuate a burning airplane. Their hospitality and customer service roles are actually secondary to the role they play in ensuring safe and successful completion of their flights. $\endgroup$
    – habu
    Jun 10, 2016 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ There primary role is safety. Everything is just added sugar. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jun 10, 2016 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @mins Because it's not relevant to the question. It doesn't aid in understanding, or support the content. It's just like a more space-hungry version of the salutations new users sometimes add to their questions. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Jun 10, 2016 at 11:55

2 Answers 2


I flew for a major airline as a flight attendant for 7 years. The FAA requires flight attendants on board for the safety aspect of passenger service and sets the minimum number based on the aircraft's passenger capacity. We usually flew with at least one more crew member than the minimum required by the FAA.

Our FAA mandated duties include safe boarding, including stowage of personal articles, arming the evacuation slides after the doors are closed, a safety briefing prior to departure, verification that the cabin is safe for flight, inflight enforcement of pilot instructions (usually return to seats and fasten seat belts), and to render passenger assistance as necessary for flight safety. Same for pre-landing and de-planing. First aid training (including how to deliver a baby in-flight) was rarely seen by the public.

Annually we would be required to attend jet recurrent training where we reviewed NTSB accident reports with an emphasis on cabin crew responses to emergencies, review of first aid and CPR techniques, re-testing of our knowledge of the location and how to use all the safety equipment on board, including life preservers, life rafts, and emergency slide procedures. We were also briefed on any changes to FAA mandated procedures and tested on everything.

We were trained to be current on every aircraft the company flew so that we had maximum flexibility for our scheduling. At the time I flew, this would have been B-727, B-707,B-757, B-767, DC-9, DC-9 stretch, and L-1011. That meant we had to know the location of every flashlight, first aid kit, supplemental oxygen bottle, safety briefing kit, life raft, life preserver, safety exit, safety lighting, etc. for every aircraft type we flew.

The normal passenger service duties that passengers see such as food and beverage services, in-flight entertainment and generally trying to be accommodating, were in addition to the FAA required duties and were entirely up to the company's discretion to provide and train us for.

The FAA mandated safety aspects of flight attendant duties have become so integrated with the normal flow of a commercial flight they can go nearly unnoticed, especially for routine travelers.

And no, we weren't trained how to land a plane in case all the pilots got sick at the same time and passed out.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this interesting answer. I was not aware flight attendants were trained to deliver a baby. As @falstro already commented, FA role is sometimes misunderstood. Is it possible to know about a FA team structure? Do you know if the FA role is similar under other regulation agencies? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ FA team structure is based on a monthly schedule via a seniority based bidding system. For any given flight, a Lead Flight Attendant was assigned, usually based on this bidding. The Lead is responsible for coordinating with scheduling, the flight crew, the ground crew, catering, etc. Cabin assignments were done on a rotating basis unless, by agreement, a couple of FA's really preferred one cabin over another in which case they could swap - for the entire month's schedule sometimes. The Lead wasn't necessarily the most senior, just the most senior who wanted that position for the month. $\endgroup$
    – PJNoes
    Jun 13, 2016 at 16:00

In the FAA word, 14 CFR 121 has a lot to say about flight attendant responsibilities. In fact the term flight attendant is used in Part 121 150 times. The most direct sections of Part 121 are 121.391 Flight attendants, 121.392 Personnel identified as flight attendants, 121.393 Crewmember requirements at stops where passengers remain on board, 121.394 Flight attendant requirements during passenger boarding and deplaning and 121.397 Emergency and emergency evacuation duties.

There are more sections dedicated to training and duty times as well, and various other responsibilities are sprinkled throughout Part 121.

Section 121.391 basically requires at least 1 flight attendant for each full or partial block of 50 seats. This is why when American Airlines went to a 160 seat configuration on their 737-800s they had to add a fourth FA. Later they removed ten seats so they could eliminate the extra FA.

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    $\begingroup$ The elements in the answer seem very complementary to the other answer, and the references valuable, however the answer would be better is you could summarize the important points in addition of providing the links. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Jun 12, 2016 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @mins I think PJNoes has done a great job of summarizing everything as much as possible, so I don't think I could add to that, except by providing the regulations that require those responsibilities. $\endgroup$
    – OSUZorba
    Jun 12, 2016 at 1:53

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