When flying the friendly skies, flight attendants serve an essential purpose, and it's not just to bring you snacks and drinks and make sure the WiFi is working. They also keep the cabin secure and are trained to assist in emergencies. So obviously all passengers should want to treat them with respect and make their jobs as easy as possible, right?
However, you may be doing things that annoy flight crew without even realizing it, and there's a lot people don't understand about their job. So here are 15 little known airline crew facts and ways passengers could make the experience a whole lot easier.
1. Safety — not hospitality — is their primary duty.
A lot of people unfortunately treat flight attendants like waitresses, and a significant portion of the people who do this clearly don't treat actual waitresses very well if their behavior in the air is any indication. But as an Alaska Airlines flight attendant tells Business Insider, bringing you food and drinks is not their sole purpose or even the most important. "We are primarily trained in safety and hospitality comes after that," they said.
Flight crew are certified in CPR and first aid, and are also trained to extinguish small fires, handle bomb threats or hijacking attempts and, yes, to deal with intoxicated, aggressive passengers.
2. Lining up before your row is called actually makes boarding take longer.
Air travel can be stressful and flight attendants know you're eager to find overhead storage for your carry-on and to get situated in your seat. But crowding the gate causes congestion for people who really do need to board first — like the elderly, disabled, and even the crew. So try to be patient and remain seated or stand away from the gate until your section is called. It really will ensure you get off the ground faster.
3. It isn't just smoke that will set off the lavatory smoke alarms.
Apparently aerosol hairspray and yes, even your vape, can activate the smoke detectors onboard, which can trigger an emergency landing in some situations. So whether you're having a nicotine fit or a bad hair day, please wait until you deplane.
4. Flying that much is hard on your body.
There are a number of health risks associated with being a flight attendant, and it's actually a very tasking job, even if it doesn't seem like hard work to an outside observer. Not only are they constantly exposed to people's germs through recycled air, but they are exposed to higher than normal levels of radiation from spending so much time at flight altitude. A 2018 study found an increased occurrence of all types of cancer for flight attendants, likely due to the greater exposure to radiation and other carcinogens.
Work schedules also do a number on flight attendants' sleep patterns, especially more junior employees who tend to get assigned the least desirable routes. Plus all that constant change in altitude and pressure can lead to dehydrated skin and bloating.
5. Bending the rules can lead them to incur hefty fines.
When you make a request and a flight attendant cannot accommodate it, that's very often because doing so would break with an FAA regulation and subject them to fines. A flight attendant shared some examples on reddit. "Yesterday a man asked me for headphones while taxiing, I told him I wouldn’t be able to get them to him until after take off, that’s because if I did bring him headphones while taxiing I could be personally fined for doing something non safety related while taxiing."
In, fact, once the door is closed, flight attendants can't do anything that isn't safety-related while the plane is on the ground. That includes serving drinks during a long tarmac delay.
6. A little kindness goes a long way.
Despite being such a customer-facing job, many flight attendants say it can be lonely, and often passengers ignore them. A friendly greeting means a lot more than you might realize, says another flight attendant on reddit. "It means A LOT to us if a passenger actually says hello back to us and smiles. We'll remember your face. Believe me, because we got 150+ people who usually ignore us," they said.
And being extra personable can also pay off for you with a flight attendant who had been having a hard day. "One guy said 'Hey good morning!' to me, and all flight I gave him alcohol on priority right away." Please and thank you during food and beverage service is also a plus.
7. Please take off your headphones.
Perhaps the most common pet peeve flight attendants share is when passengers don't take out their headphones when they address you, whether it's about your beverage preference or to ask you to secure your safety belt or stow your tray and mobile devices. "If I talk to you for any reason, take off at least one side of your headphone so I don't have to repeat myself over and over. Don't act bothered because I interrupted your movie to ask if you wanted a drink," said one reddit flight attendant.
8. Flight attendants are even more essential in a post-9/11 world.
Safety protocols have changed since the September 11th attacks, and pilots can't leave the cockpit for any reason other than to use the lavatory. So pilots want you to know that not only are flight attendants primarily responsible for your security but also for theirs. "They are my eyes, ears, and voice for keeping things calm in the cabin because I am not allowed to go back and sort things out after 9/11 happened," says an airline captain. They also protect the pilots during bathroom breaks by cordoning off the lavatory area.
9. Flight crew aren't paid for the hours they're not in the air.
Think you're annoyed by a delay in boarding or deplaning? There's no chance you're more frustrated than your flight attendants, who are essentially working for free until the door closes. Several flight attendants report that they're paid on an hourly basis and aren't really on the clock until the cabin door closes. So try not to bother them too much about the cause for your delay, since they want just as badly as you do for the plane to take off.
10. They really don't like it when you touch them to get their attention.
I mean, who would, right? However, one of the top pet peeves flight attendants cite is when passengers touch them to get their attention. "The amount of times someone has poked me in the waist, back of the head, and yes my ass in order to ask me take their trash or some other stupid s–t is TOO DAMN HIGH!" says one understandably frustrated attendant. Yeah guys, not cool! And keep in mind all flight attendants are trained in self defense, so it behooves you to keep your hands to yourself.
11. The greeting process isn't just about hospitality.
Several flight attendants on reddit say one of the primary reasons for greeting passengers is to size them up. "When a flight attendant is standing at the boarding door and greeting people, we aren't just greeting people but looking and monitoring people for potential threatening behavior to other passengers," says one. They may also be looking for able-bodied people who might be able to help out in case of an emergency situation.
12. Flight crews rarely know each other well, or at all.
Despite the camaraderie you see between the crew in the flight deck and throughout the cabin, often they have never worked together before they find themselves scheduled for a flight. "We have the 15 minutes of safety checks to make introductions and figure out how to work together," says one flight attendant. "And then you won't work with those people again for three more years."
13. Don't drink the water... or the coffee.
Yikes, am I glad I learned this information, and I'm a little horrified when I think back to past flights, but a couple airline employees caution you to stick to bottled water and avoid the coffee. "The water comes from the onboard system that has the fill port right next to the port the lavatories are drained from," says a pilot. "The water system routinely fails e coli checks." So it's also probably a good idea to use hand sanitizer after using the restroom.
14. The airline industry is governed by some very antiquated laws.
A lot of the laws that govern how flight crew are paid are based on the Railway Labor Act of 1926. It was amended in 1934 and in 1936 Congress extended it to cover airline employees as well. But if you've traveled by rail and by air, you can probably see there are some huge differences in those two transportation modes, so it seems a little silly to apply rules intended for train stewards to flight attendants, but there you are.
15. Hold your applause.
While you may think it's cute or even appreciative to clap when the plane lands, most flight attendants don't like it when the cabin erupts in applause after a successful descent. "It's a huge slap in the face," says one crew member. First off, they say just because a landing is smooth doesn't mean it was safe, and just because it feels rough doesn't mean it was poorly executed.
Basically, there's a lot going on behind the scenes that laypeople don't understand, and your applause can also come off as sarcastic. Now, if you want to applaud a flight attendant's deft handling of an unruly passenger? That's totally OK.