Of course I couldn’t actually follow a flight attendant around during a flight, but I met with one at the airport and asked her some questions about her job then observed her during the flight. The first thing she mentioned is that a typical day on the job could mean a trip to an exotic beach, a delayed flight, or some crazy adventure. It doesn’t sound like work; in fact, to me, it sounds like a trip, not a job—but she does deal with challenging passengers in tough situations.
There are two types of flight attendants: line holders and reserves. Line holders know their schedules weeks before the flight, whereas reserves will find out a day before the flight. She was a reserve since she is relatively new to the industry, so she finds out where she is going the night before the flight. Flight attendants are expected to be at the airport an hour before departure. Once on board the airplane, the lead flight attendant briefs the others on responsibilities and safety. Then the captain briefs the whole crew on flight time, weather issues, and other details. The flight attendant I talked to said that passenger boarding can be extremely frustrating. Everybody is eager to get on and have their luggage stowed away in the overhead bins. Frustrated passengers and the fact that flight attendants are only paid when the plane door is shut is annoying. During flight, she serves meals and drinks and solves the occasional problem, but she said that it can really be pretty relaxed. She sits at the back and reads a book sometimes too.
If the flight is a long-haul flight, after landing, the airline gives each flight attendant their own room and pays for their meals. She says sometimes (usually when the layover is more than 15 hours) the airline provides hotels near beaches or in a downtown hotel.