If you’re a frequent flyer, you probably think you are an air travel expert. While you might know a thing or two more than the other passengers on board, you’re far from being the number one expert on that flight. There is one group of people who know far more than you ever could about flying — the people who get paid to do it.
While some people see flight attendants as nothing more than drink-slinging cabin crew, there’s a lot more to the job. Their primary responsibility is the safety and well-being of their passengers, and flight attendants know more than you can imagine about the ins and outs of air travel. Most will be more than happy to answer your questions — but there are some things they’re less likely to volunteer.
For instance, did you know that many pillows and blankets aren’t washed between flights? They’re simply folded up and stuffed back into the overhead bins. So when you nap with a pillow or blanket, you nap with everyone that pillow or blanket has ever napped with.
Luckily for you, you don’t have to fly completely blind, as we’ve gathered a collection of 20 things you should feel lucky to know. Or rather, 20 things your flight attendants will probably be grateful that you've learned before boarding their flight!
Unless you’ve had a catastrophe at your seat, such as spilling your drink all over yourself, or have a genuine emergency, please refrain from using the call button. These alarms might as well be wired directly to the flight attendants’ seats, because that pinging sound pierces them to the core. Pushing a big red button is always fun, but try to resist the temptation. Flight attendants spend most of their time going up and down the aisles, so one will likely pass by shortly if you need some water or a blanket. You don’t want to do anything to make them hate you.
Flight attendants are always being whined to. “Her baby won’t stop crying.” “He won’t stop kicking my seat.” “His elbow is in my space.” What do you think these flight attendants are, your parents? Flight attendants can’t do much to ease the tension between you and your neighbor, and you’re stuck on that flight whether you want to be or not. Turn around and ask nicely before tattling.
Due to the fact that it’s easier to get drunk at a higher altitude, it’s important for the flight crew to not only know how much you’ve had to drink, but also have some degree of control over what you're served. Although it’s only a small part of their job, serving drinks gives flight attendants a certain amount of power that you might not consider. If you’re drinking from your own bottle, your flight attendant has no way to regulate how much you consume. Drunken passengers can cause quite a bit of stress to flight attendants, so it’s best to follow the rules to leave the bottle at home.
That being said, flight attendants may sometimes cut you off without telling you, too. A "please" or "thank you" might get you an extra mini-bottle for your next rum and Coke, but getting too intoxicated could get you a light pour — or get you cut off completely. Some flight attendants may also disobey requests for regular coffee and secretly serve decaf instead. A sleeping passenger is a less bothersome passenger, after all.
Those First Class lines when you’re going through security? Those are totally set up by airlines, and TSA often really doesn’t care where you go. Even if you’re in coach, you can sometimes step right up and get through quicker. Use your discretion, of course. Some airports are stricter than others, and this is more likely to work when TSA agents are in too much of a rush to give your boarding pass a good look.
Many people dream of becoming part of a cabin crew flying the skies, but what they don’t seem to realize is that life as a flight attendant isn’t always so glamorous — especially where salaries are concerned. Sure, veteran employees could eventually see a decent wage, but the average flight attendant’s yearly salary is a mere $36,000, and some of the crew get paid as little as $20,000 annually! Even these numbers are generous, as most flight attendants are paid hourly, and those hours are only counted in the air. You might hate waiting two hours on the runway, but imagine how your flight attendant feels — they might be getting paid a six-hour wage when they actually worked eight or nine!
Just like blankets and pillows, headphones are often just repackaged — although they are at least sanitized! So if that makes you squeamish, make sure to pack your own for the flight.
Flight attendants don’t just turn the lights on and off all willy-nilly — it’s actually a safety measure. Lights are dimmed during takeoffs and landings in the evening in order to help your eyes adjust to the dark. If you need to evacuate the plane in a hurry, you don’t want to have to wait for your eyes to catch up to the darkness outside.
Many airlines will request that you open your window shades for the same reason. This way, if there’s an emergency, you’ll be able to orient yourself more easily and see what’s going on. It also helps rescuers see inside. (The cabin crew will also sometimes request that you pull the shades down before you leave the plane at hot-weather destinations, to help keep the cabin cool for the passengers on the next flight.)
Pets don’t travel in absolute squalor, but it’s no walk in the dog park either. While the temperature in the cargo area is regulated at least a bit, the noise isn’t. You’ve probably seen workers on the runway wearing headgear in order to protect themselves from the sound of the engines. Your pets, unfortunately, do not get that luxury. More ominously, poor ventilation and extreme temperatures have also been responsible for multiple pet deaths in cargo holds. Consider paying extra to carry your pet onto the flight or driving to your pet vacation instead.
Do flight attendants have the power to upgrade passengers to business class or first class? Yes. Do they do it often? Not really. For starters, they can only do it after the airplane’s doors close. There’s not always room, either, nor are there always enough first-class or business-class meals to accommodate additional passengers. Some airlines will also require annoying paperwork explaining the move. In the end, your chances of getting an upgrade will increase if you’re very nice, very tall, well-dressed, pregnant, or happen to know the flight attendant.
Instructions for proper storage of luggage aren’t just suggestions. Large bags must go in the overhead bins. If you somehow smuggled your oversized bag past security, congratulations: You’re the Pablo Escobar of trafficking clothes and toiletries. It still has to fit in the bin, though. There’s no magic room that flight attendants have set aside for storage because you chose to pack all of your worldly possessions. Just tell your flight attendant outright that your bag doesn’t fit and ask them to have it stowed under the plane.
Flight attendants aren’t the only airline employees responsible for your in-air experience. Both flight attendants and check-in staff have a roster of passengers and where they’re sitting — and check-in staff can seat you in a spot surrounded by small children if you manage to get on their bad side!
Skirt length is one of the dress code guidelines for female flight attendants. Once an air hostess is out of the probationary period, however, this does get relaxed a little and she’s allowed to hem in her skirt a little. This is so ubiquitous, in fact, that male pilots are often known to get a bit friendlier with attendants who have longer skirts, as new hires are often more amenable to their advances. Heather Poole, former air hostess and author of the book Cruising Altitute: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, claims that she even knew one fellow senior employee who kept her skirt long on purpose specifically because she knew she’d maintain crewmates’ interest.
There is actually no limit to how many snacks you can have on board, provided everyone has already been served. So don’t feel bad asking for more! Flight attendants, of course, have full discretion as to whether or not they will oblige your request, so remember to smile and say please.
It may seem odd to hand out snacks to someone whose job it is to hand snacks out to you, but this is actually a highly appreciated gesture. Flight attendants are often rushing from plane to plane and don’t always have time to grab snacks for long flights — especially good ones. So if you’re catching a flight back from Belgium, maybe buy an extra chocolate bar for your hardworking flight crew. Don’t buy them a sad packet of mixed nuts. That’s a total jerk move.
It sounds dark, but it’s actually true. Many commercial planes also ship cargo, which can sometimes include human remains (referred to as “HR”). It may be off-putting, but remember, the recently departed deserve to be buried where they please, so they can truly rest in peace.
While it’s true that most airlines discourage tipping, they don’t outright ban it. Many airlines have instructed their flight attendants to turn down the first attempt to tip them. So go ahead and ask once or twice more. If you’re really determined to reward your cabin crew’s hard work, you can also leave the tip in an envelope on your seat before you leave.
You know how you always remember to bring your passport when flying overseas? Do yourself — and your flight attendant — a favor and bring a pen too. You’ll likely have to fill out a customs form when landing, and you don’t want your scramble for a pen to hold up your vacation. Don’t assume the flight crew will have enough writing utensils; chances are your fellow travelers will be banking on the same thing.
Flying is a very hectic business. Between the many delays, interruptions, and maintenance checks, wiping down plane seats and folding trays can sometimes fall through the cracks. And despite their best efforts, flight attendants aren’t always able to keep parents from changing diapers on trays either. Bring your own sanitary wipes if you’re going to be using the foldout tray, especially for your meals.
Everyone knows that you have to turn off your cell phones to avoid interference with the pilot’s radio signals. You’ve probably also wondered how that could possibly apply to electronics such as your laptop or iPad as well. But your flight attendants ask you to stow away all your other electronics for a different reason upon takeoff and landing — they’re potential projectiles that, at hundreds of miles per hour, could cause serious damage. That’s why you need to keep your belongings under the seat in front of you until the flight attendants say otherwise, even if there’s an empty seat next to you.It’s also the reason why a flight attendant telling you to buckle up your toddler instead of just holding them in your lap isn’t just being a stickler for rules. Unbuckled children can easily become projectiles. For more air travel secrets, know that your flight attendants aren't the only knowledgable insiders; there are quite a few things your TSA agent won't tell you but that you should know.
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