Flight Attendants are there to help if you get sick right? So what happens if the Flight Attendant gets sick? Think of all the germs flight attendants are exposed to everyday! A few things get factored in. How critical is the illness? Can the flight continue on? Obviously, if the flight attendant is in critical condition, the Captain would find the quickest safest place to land. But, what happens if the crew member is just too sick to preform his or her duties? There are two things to consider, the service portion and the safety responsibilities.

The Service:

You’d be surprised at how adaptable flight attendants can be. This is one of the things we are hired for. Because no two days are quite the same and we need to be prepared for anything. If a fellow flight attendant falls ill, we would tend to them just the same way we would a passenger. Assuming they are ok, and just can’t perform the service, the remaining flight attendants would do the best they can to finish the service. On a recent trip to Las Vegas we had a flight attendant stricken with food poisoning. Luckily we had four lavs in coach because she went in one and didn’t come out until landing! We continued on and managed to get the service done on our on. Not really a big deal, just more work. But, remember our main job is safety and our sick flight attendant needed someone to assume her door responsibilities for landing.

The Safety Aspect:

We had FAA (federal aviation administration) minimum crew with the sick flight attendant, and now we were short one flight attendant. What do we do? We find an ABA or able bodied assistant and ask them if they are willing and able to help in an emergency (similar to when you are seated in an exit row seat). The only difference is our ABA won’t sit in a flight attendant jump seat, we would sit them as close to the exit they are responsible for. The ABA is then briefed by a flight attendant on the operation of their assigned door and told what to say and do should an evacuation be necessary.

What happens if a flight attendant falls ill on a layover?

Normally, if a flight attendant find themselves ill on layover and too sick to work/fly home they would have to call scheduling. Scheduling is in charge of making sure the flights are covered with the minimum amount of flight attendants needed on every flight. Hopefully, the flight wasn’t already down to FAA minimum although most flights seem to be staffed at minimum crew these days. If this is the case scheduling will do whatever it takes to get the flight staffed properly. What if it is short notice and they need to get the flight out on time? Sometimes they are able to find another flight attendant laying over at the same hotel and they might pull that flight attendant from their pairing (trip) and dead head another flight attendant in from a base that will replace the flight attendant that was pulled to cover the first flight.

This happened to me in Stockholm and there was nothing normal about my situation. I was so sick and barely managed to get a hold of my lead flight attendant. The hotel was having issues with their phones! I did manage to talk to my lead and she assured me they still had minimum crew and not to worry about calling scheduling she would handle it. This was also before internet and international cell phones and since the hotel was having issues with their phones I couldn’t contact my Mom who I was living with at the time to tell her I wouldn’t be back on time. It turned into a huge mess. When I arrived at the airport in Stockholm the next day, still not feeling well, the agent didn’t want to let me on the flight because he said I needed to contact scheduling. The problem was, I had no idea how to contact scheduling from the airport. Luckily I came across another agent who was more than helpful and actually carried my bags down to the plane for me. By the time I landed back in NY I had a feeling I should check in with my supervisor to see if she knew what was going on. Just as I suspected she did not and I was still scheduled to work a flight to Paris that night! I finally made it home, my poor mother was worried to death. At least now there is internet! What did we do without it?

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Photo from MSNBC.com



  1. Good article! Thanks, Flying Pinto!

  2. Interesting about the FAA regs. I looked up dead heading in your other article and it seems that those are the fun trips. Thanks for a good read, as always!

  3. EU-OPS1 allows a flight to return with one FA indisposed as long as the 50 passengers/FA is maintained. Passengers in excess of this should be off loaded

  4. jodiann Greenwood @ 2011-09-21 17:08

    can persons with sickle cell become a flight attendant?