Every so often, you get on a plane, and it seems like there are more flight attendants than passengers! Other times, you sit for what feels like hours, staring at the illuminated call light… thinking to yourself, where are all the cabin crew?
The truth is, crewing levels — the amount of flight attendants and pilots on an aircraft — vary hugely depending on airline, aircraft, and route.
What doesn’t vary so much is the minimum amount of flight attendants per plane. And, with the glamourised days of air travel seemingly past us — did you know Virgin Atlantic used to carry dedicated onboard masseuses? — this minimum gives a good guide as to the amount of cabin crew on each type of plane.
Legal minimum crew complements are established during the initial aircraft certification process, and are then agreed or modified by the national aviation authority. So, what are they, and how many cabin crew can you expect on your next flight?
Number of flight attendants by aircraft type
The numbers listed below are for aircraft specified in the “typical” seating configuration most airlines use because theoretical seat numbers and normal airline configurations can differ wildly. As an extreme example, the largest Airbus A380 could have 853 seats — but most operators have around 450 seats.
The baseline minimum crew numbers are set by aviation authority rules. These require that aircraft with 50-100 seats have at least two flight attendants. For larger aircraft, another flight attendant is required for every addition 50 passengers.
However, during the certification process for differing cabin configurations, full evacuation drills are carried out, ensuring all the passengers can vacate the aircraft safely.
The results of these drills mean sometimes certain aircraft configurations require more flight attendants to ensure a fast enough evacuation. As a result, the base rules are not always applicable, and certain aircraft may only have 150 seats but require 4 flight attendants.
Medium / Longhaul
Longhaul / Ultra-Longhaul
The absolute minimum number of flight attendants on a flight
So, you’re counting the number of flight attendants onboard, and it doesn’t add up? Well, while the legal requirement for the number of cabin crew is fixed, there are some exemptions, and, flight attendants can be reduced below these numbers.
These exemptions are normally only allowed away from home base.
If you’re flying with an airline based out of New York, the airline will only be able to fly with reduced flight attendants on their return flights back into JFK.
Airlines cannot plan to leave their home base with less than the minimum required crew, regardless of disruption.
The number of flight attendants on an aircraft varies hugely depending on the service levels and size of the aircraft. Smaller regional jets may operate with only 1 flight attendant onboard, all the way to the enormous ‘Superjumbo’ A380, which has a legal minimum of 18 flight attendants!
The legal minimum number of crew onboard an aircraft is determined during the certification process. This is a complex combination of the number of passengers carried — 1 flight attendant required for every 50 — alongside the maximum cabin configurations and the number of emergency exit doors and results of evacuation drills.
As a general rule, shorthaul aircraft normally have around 4 flight attendants. Midhaul aircraft around 6 flight attendants, and Longhaul aircraft have 8+ flight attendants.