How do aircraft types compare in terms of a flight attendant’s job?
For a flight attendant, the basics of the job remain the same whether it is a narrow-body or wide-body aircraft, although there are minor changes in service, safety and of security. But, generally, if you’re on a jumbo jet, you know you’re really going somewhere (long haul) and you’ll average 12-48 hours away.
A narrow-body aircraft has one aisle and up to six passenger seats – the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 are examples of this configuration. They can be single-class or two-class – economy and business – and mainly operate short-haul and medium-haul routes. The largest aircraft of this type is the Boeing 757-300 which can accommodate up to 295 passengers.
The new A320 cabin. Photo: Airbus
A widebody aircraft has a double aisle and can accommodate up to ten passengers – the Boeing 777 and Airbus 340 are just two of the types in this category. They will have two, three or four classes – economy class and business class are the staples and some may also have first class and premium economy class. They tend to operate on medium, long-haul and ultra-long-haul routes. The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest wide-body passenger aircraft, and in a three-class configuration, it seats around 540 passengers.
The latest A380 cabin interior. Photo: Airbus
For a flight attendant on a narrow-body aircraft, there will be a much smaller crew of three to five flight attendants, depending on the number of seats and aircraft certification. Typically each flight attendant will have a specific area to tend to and typically 50 or fewer passengers to attend to in normal operation or in an emergency.
On board jumbo jets, the same rule of less than 50 passengers applies, but there are more gate operations to cover. For example, on an A340, a minimum of 9 hostesses and stewards is required. On the A380, an average of 21 to 26 flight attendants are carried depending on the airline and its operations and the number of passengers on board.
The A380 can carry up to 26 cabin crew members. Photo: Qantas
On narrow-body aircraft, normally the lead crew member and a flight attendant will provide service in the front of the cabin, whether in economy or business class. If manning is low in business class, the flight attendant will work in economy class while the main crew member works alone in business class.
An all-economy service would start with two crew members in the front of the aircraft and two crew members above the wing. It’s basically about sharing the workload as a small team. Communication is easier on smaller planes because you can see and hear what’s going on. It can be fast and intense service, as you can provide meals, bar service, hot drinks, storage and retail service, all within an hour or of them. Experienced crews get used to judging the timing needed as well as looking for visual or auditory cues in the cabin.
Crews on short-haul flights must be quick and efficient to do whatever is necessary. Photo: Wizz Air
On a widebody aircraft, your designated gate area and class of duty will decide how and where you work. You could say that each lane in each class is run independently in small teams, like working on individual private jets. Both lanes should start all services at the same time, so that everyone is on the same page and the service runs smoothly. It is not common for the flight attendant to leave their duty area during the flight to work in another class or cabin, but it can sometimes happen if there is a high workload in a particular cabin.
Teamwork and good communication are essential, so that everyone understands their role and what is expected of them. It’s harder to communicate on bigger planes, so the work tends to be more condensed with each class. On a long-haul flight, there is less time restriction for the service. Other services such as water service are decided in each cabin, but the first and second meal service is normally set by the lead crew member, so all meals start at the same time.