19 Things Flight Attendants Wish You Knew

When JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater lashed out at a passenger and made a dramatic exit down the aircraft's emergency slide in 2010, people were left wondering what could have pushed him over the edge. 

Sure, every job is stressful, but don’t flight attendants live a life of glamour and travel? And compared to what’s endured by paying ticket holders, are flight crews really forced to endure an overwhelming number of annoyances? 

The truth is, flying brings out the worst in some people. It might be brought on by the long lines and delayed flights or having your intimate belongings shuffled through by a stranger in security. But that tension is made worse by an unfortunate mix of media misrepresentation (really, Pan Am?) and a growing sense of passenger entitlement.

To help you enjoy a happier and safer experience on your next flight, allow me to share with you 19 things your flight attendants wish they could bluntly tell you before you fly the friendly skies:

1. There’s most likely poop on your tray table.

Try as we might to stop them, parents continue to change their baby’s diapers on the tray table in front of your seat. While the cleaning crews do try to wipe them down, sometimes delays, maintenance checks, or simply a lackluster cleaning job means the surface is less than sterile. Solution? Bring wet wipes.

2. Pretty much everything is gross, except the air!

Cabin air is not as dirty as people think. A portion of the air is recirculated to reduce humidity. But it’s run through hospital-quality HEPA filters, and is actually cleaner than the air found in most public buildings.

Most people get sick after traveling not because of what they breathe but because of what they touch. Always assume that the last person to occupy your seat was a toddler and wipe accordingly! This includes the aforementioned tray tables, seat buttons, screens, seatbelt clasp, and for goodness sake, wipe the window

3. The seatbelt sign is kind of a big deal.

Most of you wouldn’t consider going down the highway at 60 miles an hour without your seat belt fastened. But when we’re hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour and we turn on the seatbelt sign? Half the passengers decide that it’s the perfect moment to use the bathroom!

Additionally, if you hear the captain state that flight attendants must be seated, it’s extra important that you should be, too. Flight attendants will often move around the cabin during mild bumps, but they'll stay seated if they know things are going to get intense.

4. If you have a baby, bring diapers.

If you’re diabetic, bring syringes. If you have high blood pressure, don’t forget your medication. That way, we’re not trying to make a diaper out of a sanitary pad and a pillowcase, or asking over the intercom if someone has a spare inhaler.

5. Also, if your child has ear problems, ask for two empty cups.

Hold them to your child’s ears tight like they’re listening to the ocean. It will help equalize the pressure difference during ascent and landing.

6. Projectiles kill people.

We don’t make you stow your laptop because we’re worried about electronic interference. It’s about having a projectile on your lap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get hit in the head by a MacBook going 200 miles per hour.

On that note, it’s really unsafe to keep a child over ten months old in your lap during turbulence! I can’t tell you how many times a parent argued with me about buckling up little Jack or Jill because they were frightened. However, it’s a whole lot scarier for you and surrounding passengers when we hit an air pocket and an unbuckled child becomes a 40-pound projectile.

7. The booze hits you way harder than you think.

Due to the high altitude, alcohol is more powerful when you're on a flight. Many passengers don't realize how much more drunk they get at 35,000 feet. If you're noticeably drunk or getting unruly, it's your flight attendant's responsibility to control the situation. 

Solution? If it’s time for a passenger to start tea-totaling, we’ll rim their glass in alcohol but only fill it with mixer. And yes, we are sure to cancel the charges—though most folks in that state don’t ever remember.

8. Cell phones, explained.

There are two reasons we ask you to turn off electronics during takeoff and landing. The first is so you’ll pay attention to our safety demo. Despite thinking that you’ve seen it all before, planes today are retrofitted into so many different interior models that you might be missing something important.

Second, mobile electronic devices won't bring an airplane down but they can be really annoying to pilots by giving false readings on their instruments. Just imagine sitting in the flight deck descending to your destination and hearing the interference of a 100+ cell phones picking up a signal. There’s nothing like a pilot thinking we’re 10 feet higher than we are upon landing to seal in your cramped back after a long flight.

9. Stop trying to sneak into First Class.

Before boarding, your flight crew is given a manifest of all passengers and their seat locations. And no, I don’t care if you go fishing with the CEO every summer, you can’t sit there without paying.

10. Remember that you’re still in public!

I have seen grown men emerge from the lavatory in a bathrobe and boxers. Others change into pajamas at their seat. Unless you’re on a private plane, in what world is this normal?

11. Please stop trying to hand us dirty diapers or bags full of bile.

When we’re not wearing gloves, and especially during meal service! I understand that you’re trapped near the window or nursing an ill child, please give me a moment to put down this other individual’s food before I grab that warm bundle of gross.

12. Understand it’s really, really hard to get our job.

In 2011, the airline I applied to received over 44,000 applications for 200 flight attendant job openings—that’s a lower acceptance rate than Harvard! In my training class, over 80% of us had at least one undergraduate degree and several held Master’s. 

13. That we’re not just there to serve drinks.

Because the pilots can't see the back of the aircraft, flight attendants are depended upon to be the eyes and ears at the back of the plane. It's up to them to be aware of what's going on with the aircraft and alert the pilot to any emergency situations.

During our extensive training, we crammed down Top Ramen while devouring the over 1200 pages of required information held within our FAA manuals. Days were spent repeating drills in which we screamed exit commands at mannequins, put out fires, disarmed police officers pretending to be terrorists, practiced delivering babies and evacuating an aircraft. For about three hours, we learned to mix a few drinks, as well. 

14. And we hate wearing those heels.

While there are gaggles of guys and gals who bought into the glamour of flying, most flight attendants take their responsibilities much more seriously than their appearance.

So, why are we all dolled up? While each airline is different, ours required that all ladies wear a pair of heels of at least several inches in the airport and while boarding. We were also contractually required to wear red or pink lipstick, blush, nail polish and maintain a clear complexion.

15. Also, you make more than us.

Flight crews, including pilots, are only paid “wheels up to wheels down.” That means, while the pay may start at $20 per hour, those hours aren’t clocked until the aircraft door closes! Delays? Not paid for that time either. Not only does that mean the starting pay for flight attendants is around $16,000 per year, it also affects what we’re allowed to do before our time clock starts.

16. Like lifting your bags? (We can’t.)

Back injuries are the number one reason FA’s are out of work, and determining who’s liable for getting hurt while lifting the coin collection someone decided to bring on board is tricky! It’s extra frustrating when passengers just leave their bags in the aisleway, assuming that the crew is there to pick them up as a standard service. 

Speaking of which; can’t ever seem to get your carry-on to fit? It’s wheels out, every time. 

17. Additionally, we wish you'd time your bathroom trips better. 

Disregarding the fasten seatbelt sign and jumping up to visit the lavatory whenever you need to can add to delays. Why? Because there's a sequence to taxiing and getting in line for takeoff. If somebody gets up to use the restroom, your flight attendants have to tell the cockpit so that the pilots can stop the plane to wait until you’re back in your seat and buckled up—during that time your plane could lose its spot in line.

18. And the celebrities in first class? They’re not that interesting.

Yes, you probably did see Jude Law or Nicki Minaj as you were boarding! And yes, that is why I’m guarding the first-class area like a bouncer. But trust me, celebrities are almost always shorter and less attractive in person. (Except for Cameron Diaz. That woman shared her lunch with strangers and looks like an angel—we should all be asking about her skin cream.)

19. Finally, you’re our favorite part of the job.

That’s because chatting with interesting people or being able to help when someone needs it is easily the best part of our day. In fact most passengers, at least 90%, are absolutely amazing. 

So, when boarding your next flight, just smile, say a simple “Hello,” and know that your flight attendants will do their best to ensure you have a wonderful flight!

Want to make sure your next flight is enjoyable? Check out: 7 Strategies to Stay Comfortable on a Long Flight

  • June 25, 2015

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.


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