As a flight attendant who’s been on the job for 20 years, it’s easy to take my travel insights for granted – the little tips and tricks that make the trip go smoother.
But after watching so many passengers miss important events this summer due to flight cancellations and delays, I knew I had to start sharing this knowledge. Last month I shared nine tips for surviving travel now, and I was surprised by the positive response — and the thousands of comments.
After the story was published, I invited readers to submit more questions, of which I received hundreds. I know for some of you, I have a strange and mysterious job. It was fun learning what makes you wonder, from how fresh we look after long flights (low lighting) to whether or not you should have the coffee on board (I don’t, but most do flight attendants do).
Here are my answers to a selection of your questions, some edited slightly for length and clarity. I hope you enjoy them.
I was recently assigned to an exit row while already on board. I don’t want to be responsible in an emergency. What happens if a passenger says they don’t want to sit there?
We want you to speak up. They have a very important job in this line and we have to be able to trust everyone who is there. We ask everyone in line if they are willing and able to assist with an evacuation, and their refusal is perfectly understandable. Nothing bad happens; You can switch to any other free seat, or we can ask for someone to switch places with you. There’s always someone who would prefer the exit row for the extra legroom.
What would you wish for all passengers on an airplane to make your job easier?
Accepting us as human beings and not treating us as part of the aircraft furniture goes a long way. It’s demoralizing to welcome people aboard flights who see through us with no answer. Smiling and saying little things like “please” and “thank you” always help lift our spirits. That perfect flight attendant smile is hard to remember when everyone around us is throwing stinky eyes at us.
What are some things passengers do that drive flight attendants crazy?
Do not touch flight attendants. That should be common sense, but somehow it isn’t. We don’t like being pushed, knocked, or grabbed.
The lack of headphone etiquette is driving me nuts. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to talk to someone who’s looking straight at me and doesn’t care enough to pause their movie or take out their earbuds. The fun part is, I usually ask them what they want to drink or eat. I give the courtesy of asking three times. If I don’t get an answer, I’ll go to the next passenger. Here’s the worst: About three rows later, the same person rings their call button and asks why they didn’t get a drink.
When flying off duty, do you let the flight attendants know you are a flight attendant? Is there a secret handshake or code? do you get special treatment
Yes! There is no secret handshake, we just say hello and tell them where we are. We don’t get any special treatment, other than maybe making a new friend or getting a whole can of soda. We, as a courtesy, inform the crew if there is an emergency on board so they know where to go for an extra hand to help.
Do you have an insider tip for parents flying with small children? I am a single mother and dread every flight with my almost 2 year old child.
First things first: your child will feel your nerves. If you are stressed, they will be stressed. Make flying as exciting as possible for them in advance. Dress them up in a special new airplane outfit or buy a new book or box of crayons. Let them have as much screen time as they want. Download and watch a new movie or series. Practice with headphones before you fly so you know how they work. Allow them to carry their own small bag for traveling with new airplane activities. Let them eat or drink something on the plane that they’re not always allowed to have, like cookies, chips, or a little soda. We don’t always have them, but you can always ask the crew about those little plastic wings and let us know if it’s their first flight.
Keep your carry-on as light as possible and check the rest. Pack some diapers, a change of clothes, some snacks and medication. We also like it if you bring car seats. I know they’re heavy and difficult to handle, but mostly young children feel more comfortable because it’s familiar and lifts them high enough to see out the window. We like them because they are safer. It also doesn’t hurt to let them work out at the airport before the flight.
I’ve been terrified of flying ever since I lost friends on the 9/11 planes. Turbulence and the patchy behavior of other passengers don’t help. What would you suggest to calm my nerves?
There is nothing I can say to calm your nerves after losing friends that day. We all lost something, but for you it was personal. This is so much deeper than an irrational fear of flight. We are all afraid of flying, even if we are not actually afraid. You are not alone.
Other passengers may contribute to all of this, but if you mind your own business, other people shouldn’t bother you. Legitimate problems with passengers are actually rare. I don’t like flying as a passenger anymore either; Being around people on my day off causes mild anxiety. so i feel you When I fly as a passenger, I’ve started to carry noise canceling headphones and my tablet with movies or shows. I’m looking at something as soon as I sit down and pretend I’m in my living room. I’m immediately engrossed in my show.
If you’re sitting next to someone who scares you, chances are an attendant may move you if the flight isn’t full. It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask a gate agent if you can sit by a window or aisle before boarding. A glass of wine can also help you relax and enjoy the flight.
I am amazed that as a flight attendant you actually chose to live on an airplane for a living. Ever get scared in the air?
No, I’m usually not scared. However, every now and then something scares me. I know every sound and every feeling my plane makes, and if I hear something that’s not quite right, I get nervous. If it’s necessary, I call the pilots and tell them what I’ve heard and they check things out.
I would always rather fly than drive. The commute to and from work is the scariest part of my week. I like to be in heaven and looking down. The world looks so peaceful from above. My office window is a beautiful respite from a crazy world of traffic and chaos. Instead, try to think about it. Part of our fear of flying is the lack of control: we have to rely on two people we don’t know and can’t see. They go through a lot of training to earn this responsibility. We take it for granted, but flying really is a miracle. Try to ignore the rest and enjoy being able to travel anywhere in a few hours compared to the weeks or months it would have taken our ancestors to do it.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
That we are on planes for customer service. We’re actually here for safety. Before World War II, stewardesses were registered nurses. The requirement to be a registered nurse ended during the war because nurses stopped flying to join the war effort. Now we go through intensive training to learn how to use all safety equipment on board and where it is located on each aircraft. We train basic life saving skills like CPR. We’ll learn how to evacuate an airplane in an emergency landing on land or in water in 90 seconds or less. We also learn firefighting and how to deal with security threats and unruly passengers.
The second biggest misconception is that our job is glamorous. Our days are very long and our nights are short. Sometimes we are so tired that we don’t enjoy our long stays with sightseeing, but instead spend our pajamas in our hotel rooms with movies. However, some nights are unbelievable. The craziest thing about it is that I can be sitting by the sea one evening sipping Prosecco with fresh seafood, and the next day eating a four-day-old sandwich in my galley next to a toilet while someone does yoga on my face. Being a flight attendant is so much more than just a job; it changes your entire lifestyle. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.