Why don't flight attendants earn their hourly pay during boarding?

FILE- American Airlines flight attendants, represented by the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA), picket outside Ronald Reagan National Airport on August 30, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The rigors of air travel can get stressful for flight attendants, from dealing with unruly passengers on flights to a lack of staffing. 

These are among several issues that have led flight attendants to hold protests at 30 airports on Tuesday to push for more money. 

Flight attendants argue they are still working for wages that haven’t changed in years, while pilots received large pay raises in 2023. 

The protests were organized by the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents crews at United Airlines and several other carriers; the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union of crews at American, and the Transport Workers Union, which represents crews at Southwest and other airlines, the Associated Press reported. 

Do flight attendants earn hourly pay during boarding of a plane?

Flight attendants working at major U.S. airlines don’t receive flight pay until all customers board, the doors have been closed, and the pilots have released the aircraft brakes in preparation for pushback from the gate.

A big part of flight attendant compensation is known as "flight pay," the hours a flight attendant is on the plane with passengers walking the taxiways or flying in the air, according to Flight Attendant Professional

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Delta is the only major airline that pays flight attendants for boarding time. In 2022, the Atlanta-based airline started paying its flight attendants at half their hourly rate for a set 40-50 minutes of boarding, depending on the type of plane and its destination. 

According to NPR, Delta is the only U.S. airline whose flight attendants are not unionized, and some saw the move as an effort by the airline to discourage workers from forming a union. 

How much do some major airlines pay flight attendants?

Flight attendant salaries vary at the major airlines. At American Airlines, flight attendants earn a starting pay of $30.35 per flight hour. The top rate reached after 12 years of service is $68.25. These rates have been in effect since 2019, Flight Attendant Professional noted. 

Delta flight attendants make a starting hourly rate of $32.20, which went into effect in May 2022, and after 12 years of service the top rate is $72.38.

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United Airlines flight attendants start out at $28.88 then reach the top rate of $67.11 after 12 years of service. These rates have been in effect since September 2020. The flight attendants represented by the AFA are in contract negotiations with the company.

At Southwest Airlines, the starting rate for flight attendants is $28.91, and then the top rate is $72.80, which increases after 12 years of service. These rates have been in effect since November 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.