By Laura Cronin 19 Apr 2023 7 min read

What shifts do cabin crew work?

Cabin crew, or flight attendants, work in one of the most dynamic and challenging roles in aviation. Their job entails ensuring the safety and comfort of passengers on board, serving meals and drinks, and addressing any concerns during the flight. However, the work schedule of cabin crew can often be demanding and unconventional. They work in a shift pattern that can involve different times, days, and shift durations. In this article, we'll examine the different shift patterns that cabin crew work at various airlines.

Pairing system

One of the most common shift patterns for cabin crew is the "pairing system." The pairing system involves grouping flights into pairs (an outward and a return flight) that can range from one to five days, starting and finishing at the same airport. Cabin crew members are assigned a pairing, and they work together for the duration of the pairing. After the pairing is over, the crew members receive some time off before being assigned another pairing. The pairing system can have long working hours, sometimes spanning over 12 hours, and can include night shifts, early morning shifts, and weekends.

Reserve system

Another shift pattern for cabin crew is the "reserve system." This system requires the cabin crew to be on standby in case any crew member calls in sick or there is a last-minute flight change. Reserve crew members on “home standby” must be ready to report to the airport within a few hours of receiving a call, and often get ready at home so that they are ready to leave quickly if called. Crew members on “airport standby” have to get ready and come to the airport for their shift so that they are ready to go straight away if called. Reserve shifts can be unpredictable, and the crew members might be required to work long hours without any prior notice. 

Fixed roster system

Some airlines have adopted a "fixed roster system." This roster system involves scheduling the cabin crew for a fixed set of working days and times each month. This system provides the crew with a more predictable work schedule, and they can plan their personal life and other activities around their work schedule. However, the fixed roster system can also be challenging, as the cabin crew members might work long hours, and their days off might not coincide with their friends and family's schedules.

Continuous crew pairing system

Additionally, some airlines have implemented the "continuous crew pairing system." This system groups cabin crew members into teams that work together for a more extended period, such as a month. The team is responsible for operating flights during that period, and they are given time off after the period is over. This system provides a sense of stability and routine for the cabin crew, as they work with the same team for an extended period.


Shift patterns

The shift patterns for cabin crew can also vary depending on the type of flight. Short-haul flights, such as domestic or regional flights, might have different shift patterns than long-haul flights, such as international flights. Short-haul flights generally have shorter shifts, sometimes lasting only a few hours, while long-haul flights can have shifts that last up to 16 hours. Long-haul flights also require more rest periods for the cabin crew, and they might have a longer break between shifts.



Cabin crew members often use a Roster Bid system that allows them to bid for the shifts and flights that they’d prefer to work. It’s not a guaranteed system, and staff do not get assigned to every flight that they’ve requested, but it gives crew members a better chance of having some control over their schedule. Some crew members even use the bid system as an opportunity to time a flight to a specific destination in order to attend special events with friends and family. Bidding is done on the basis of seniority, so longer-serving crew members have a better chance of getting on the flights that they want.


In conclusion, shift patterns for cabin crew can be challenging and unconventional. The pairing system, reserve system, fixed roster system, and continuous crew pairing system are some of the shift patterns that airlines use to schedule their cabin crew. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to the cabin crew member to choose the system that works best for them. As the aviation industry continues to evolve, airlines might adopt new shift patterns that provide more flexibility and work-life balance for cabin crew.

Browse the latest cabin crew jobs here.