Flight attendants sometimes feel like a small buzzing army on the plane. Whatever your need, there is a smiling face ready to help, whether that is with a soothing voice, a snack, or an air sickness bag. If you’ve ever been on a flight and lost count of how many friendly flight attendants you noticed, you might be wondering how large the cabin crew can actually be.
How many flight attendants work each flight depends on a few factors. One is the length of the flight because, like pilots, flight attendants need mandatory breaks after too many hours in the air. Another is the size of the plane—the number of flight attendants that fit on a 737/777/747 is very different.
Here are the guidelines that usually determine how many flight attendants are on a plane.
Are There Legal Requirements for How Many Flight Attendants Are on a Flight?
The FAA actually has mandates for how many flight attendants are on a flight. An airline has to have one flight attendant for every 50 passengers. While small regional carriers and airplanes with a payload less than 7,500 pounds can make do with just one flight attendant, jumbo airliners that carry 400 passengers need at least eight flight attendants!
There are a few circumstances under which airlines can have fewer than the required number of flight attendants on board. If a flight attendant falls ill during a flight and cannot perform duties, there’s nothing the airline can do. Flights can also run with fewer flight attendants if there are staffing shortages or the flight is under capacity, but only when the airline isn’t flying out of its base.
Other governing bodies around the world are not as specific with their requirements. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency establishes the baseline number of cabin crew separately for each aircraft during the certification process. The International Civil Aviation Organization states that airlines must look at the ratio of flight attendants to passengers and emergency exits when determining staffing. Usually, international guidelines are similar to the FAA rules.
The reason the guidelines are so strict isn’t that the FAA and EASA are concerned with you getting your peanuts on time. Flight attendants are not just waitstaff in the sky—they perform important duties for passenger safety. In case of emergencies, such as evacuations, flight attendants have to be ready to guide passengers through the situation. That’s only possible if the flight attendants aren’t overwhelmed by how many passengers they are responsible for.
How Many Flight Attendants Are on a 737?
A Boeing 737 is a narrow-bodied jetliner airlines use for shorter flights. It has about 150 seats. Airlines have to legally employ four flight attendants on a Boeing 737.
How Many Flight Attendants Are on a 777?
The Boeing 777 is a larger plane than the Boeing 737 and is used for long-haul flights. It has 388 seats. According to the FAA math, the legal minimum for how many flight attendants need to be on a 777 is eight. However, many airlines will fly more than that, staffing their 777 flights with at least 10 flight attendants.
How Many Flight Attendants Are On a 747?
The Boeing 747 is the largest airplane on Boeing’s roster and the largest plane produced in the United States. It is used by airlines for very long flights. Although the configuration depends on the airline, it usually fits 450 passengers. The legal minimum is 9 or 10 flight attendants, but most airlines will staff these flights with crews of 13 or even 14.
Why Does Flight Length Affect How Many Flight Attendants Are on Board?
As mentioned above, the length of the flight usually determines how many flight attendants are on board. First, the length of the flight affects the size of the plane. Airlines use smaller jets for short-haul flights, which in turn require fewer flight attendants to man.
Like pilots, flight attendants also have mandatory breaks and cannot spend more than 12–14 consecutive hours in the cabin. Long-haul flights will have more flight attendants than the legal minimum so cabin crew can break up their shifts and take breaks in the crew berth.
Do Flights Always Have the Legal Minimum of Flight Attendants?
Although the FAA and other governing bodies mandate the minimum number of flight attendants that have to be on each plane, most airlines will have larger crews. It’s always good to have extra flight attendants on hand to cover breaks and step in if a flight attendant falls ill.
Another factor is customer service. Having more flight attendants on board improves the customer experience and speed of service, making for happier passengers. However, due to staffing shortages, some airlines, such as American Airlines, are downsizing their crews. Flight attendants and their unions are against these changes as they increase the workload of individual attendants.