A reserve flight attendant is not so much a job description but rather a job condition of employment with an airline company. A reserve flight attendant is simply a flight attendant on reserve duty who can be called out at short notice.
Reserve duty means to be on standby or call out duty which means being available to be for called out at a moment’s notice to cover a flying duty because of sickness of another crew member or an operational matter.
Operational matters might include situations where the original aircraft is substituted to bigger aircraft for a particular service needing extra crew, it might be an aircraft that has gone what we term ‘US’ or Un-Serviceable and by the time engineers have fixed the problem that has caused the aircraft to go ‘US’ it could also see the crew go out-of-hours.
That is, all aircrew operate to a contract that stipulates maximum working hours including extended working hours to cover operational delays. While there can be a mind field of clauses, there is a final limit of available duty that can be performed by any one flight attendant. When this is exceeded those crew must be stood down from further duty and either be sent home or to a hotel for a specified period of rest. The rest time required will be dependent on the circumstances, or more correctly previous duty time that lead to them running out of available work hours.
Should our example aircraft be fixed and certified as serviceable by the engineers and the flight is still authorised to operate then there needs to be a crew to operate the aircraft. Enter the reserve flight attendant who is in effect an operational flight attendant who happens to be on what they call reserve duty. Some airlines call it standby duty but all crew know that it means the same thing.
Reserve duty is rostered in spans of time usually covering a 12 hour period of time although Low Cost Carriers (LCC) can really exploit the friendship in this one with ridiculous operational clauses in their contracts.
Typically an early time span, a midday time span and a late time span. Some larger airlines operating many flights operate with rolling reserve or more frequent time spans to cover their departure time. This might start at 0400 to 1600 and increase by the hour up until say 0900 to 2100 thereby giving good coverage for the morning flights and subsequent afternoon / evening flights with fewer reserve periods for back-of-clock operations over night.
The value, opportunities, benefits or non-benefits and limitations of being on reserve duty varies depending on the airline you work for in that some are seniority based while others do not operate a seniority system. A seniority system enables those who have worked there longer to get a better choice of work or in this case reserve span.
Sometimes reserve periods are incorporated in a working block. These are called composite blocks. Blocks are normally monthly rosters sometimes spanning two months of work delivered up to one month in advance. A seniority system I feel, having operated in one for many years is fair for all over time.
The lifestyle benefit is that you can choose according to your seniority in the system and likely hood of receiving the work you bid for to fit around your known flexible commitments. If you are a parent you might wish to bid for late reserve for example because you need to be home in the mornings to take your kids to school.
A non-seniority airline on the other hand would automatically allocate you your reserve period no questions asked. You would then have to work around the reserve periods allocated to you.
These allocated times may work around any requests that you nominated prior to that working block being created for you but the limit of this is that you are normally only allocated one such request.
There are several types of reserve periods available to the reserve flight attendant. These are single day coverage, multi-day coverage and airport stand-by. Airport stand-by is not operated by all airlines but for those that do, it means that you literally go to the airport and sit in the crew lounge and wait to be called out for work. It covers the need for immediate coverage of airline operations and avoids aircraft delays by having crew ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
Alternatively you may be placed on home reserve. A reserve flight attendant at home is given a maximum call out time that they must be at the airport by. For domestic operations this can be as little as 60 minutes for some airlines however 90 minutes is more the norm. For international operations this is normally 90 to 120 minutes.
Remember these are maximum times that you must be at the airport and signed on by and ready to fly. In some cases you may be given a days notice or even a weeks notice of a flight that you have been allocated to be a crew member on.
Here’s the real lifestyle benefit of being a reserve flight attendant however... There is normally no restriction as to what you can do while on home reserve so long as you can get to the airport in the allocated call out time. Some days you will get called to go to work and other days crewing won’t call you and your time is all yours.
In reality it means you can go to the movies or play tennis, look after your kids or study for a degree.
Yes you get paid to literally ‘standby at home’.
Yes you are paid while you are on reserve and depending on what you contract says will depend on what you get paid. Some are paid on a reduced hourly rate while others keep your normal rate but pay you a 1 for 3 ratio. I.e. a 12 hour span would see you be paid for 4 hours of that 12 hour shift.
Other contracts see you paid a base wage irrespective of what you do.
Personally I’ve spent many hours and indeed months as reserve flight attendant and it enabled me to do things like renovate my house, obtain my commercial pilots licence, achieve diploma studies and even go to the gym or have a hit of tennis while all the time being paid for my duty all be it at a 1 for 3 ratio.
It just means that you need to be organised as a reserve flight attendant with uniform ready and bag packed just in case you get the call.