Every airline passenger knows the challenges of spending five (or more) hours confined to a tight seat in a small space. But have you ever stopped to think about what it’s like to work in that cramped space, as a flight attendant taking care of 200 people?
10 Ways to Make Your Flight Attendant Your Friend
We asked flight attendants, current and former, to name things passengers can do to make their jobs a little easier. Why should you care? For one thing, in many circumstances, flight attendants have the say-so to reward you with a free cocktail or even a seat upgrade. But even if you don’t get any tangible reward, think of kindness to the flight crew as your contribution to civility and goodwill in the skies.
If there’s one thing every flight attendant would love to have every passenger do, it’s this: Be nice. “It’s so rare these days that when someone looks at me I notice,” says Heather Poole, flight attendant and author of Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “If that same person also says something nice I’m almost always too shocked to respond. A kind word goes further than most passengers will ever know.” You can practice it from the moment you step through the plane’s door: Smile and say hello to the cabin crew—it’s that easy.
Have you ever been behind that passenger who boards the plane, finds his seat, and then blocks the aisle arranging everything he needs—laptop, cell phone, headphones, pillow—while everyone behind him is at a dead stop waiting to get past? Of course you have. Don’t be that person. You have plenty of time at the boarding gate to get those items out of your bag. Or plan way ahead and bring a smaller, separate “seat sack” with those items and just keep that with you. That will help everyone get into their seats quicker, which will make your flight crew very happy.
If you aren’t physically capable of lifting your bag into the overhead bin, and you’re not traveling with someone who can help you, check your bag instead. There’s a good reason for this: Most airlines have strict rules prohibiting cabin crew from helping with bags because of injuries caused by repeated heavy lifting. So even if your flight attendant wanted to help you, they aren’t allowed to. “It’s about safety for us,” explains one. “They don’t want us going on disability.” Also, on-time departures are a huge consideration for airlines, and the most common cause for delay is baggage. That’s why some carriers encourage you to check your bag—for free—at the gate.
Take Out Your Earbuds
Ahh, the ubiquitous earphones. Flight attendants are happy that so many people keep themselves occupied during a flight. But when cabin crew members are coming down the aisle with food or drinks, they ask that you take at least one of your earbuds out so you can hear them. “I always ask ‘What can I get you?’ and they say ‘What?’” one attendant laments. They get tired of repeating the beverage options over and over to passengers who don’t remove their earphones. If you don’t want service, at least signal that. “It’s common decency to let me know that you’ve seen me, and I’ll go to the next one. If you’re not acknowledging me, I’m moving on.”
Entertain Your Kids
If you’re traveling with young ones, come armed to the teeth with everything you need to keep them happy and occupied—toys, puzzles, movies, and even the food they like, which may not be what’s available from the airline. “I’ve had people come on board without a diaper bag,” says one flight attendant. “We love your babies, but … ” says another. Members of the cabin crew are not babysitters, so please don’t ask them to hold your baby while you go to the bathroom.
Let Them Help You
“If you are a fearful flyer, or are feeling sick, say something,” notes one attendant. “We can help, and we want to help, and we can usually tell by looking at someone what’s going on, but it’s better if you inform us.” By law, attendants aren’t allowed to dispense any medications, even aspirin (so make sure you bring your own medication if you need it). But they can help get you more comfortable, and, when necessary, help prevent your last meal from ending up in your lap or your neighbor’s.
Don’t Be a Space Invader
“Our galley is our ‘haven,’” says one flight attendant. “We go there to prepare for service, to talk, to gather ourselves, to just be. If you want to chat with us we are usually OK with that (we all like people, after all!) but keep it to 5 to 10 minutes, 15 at most. I have met the most wonderful and interesting people at 35,000 feet, and that is one reason I love being a flight attendant. Just be mindful.” Others add that if you need to go to the galley to stretch on a long flight, please ask first—and keep it brief.
There’s no excuse for rude or boorish behavior on a plane, but unfortunately, it happens. When it does, says one flight attendant, you either ignore it or resolve it politely. “I can’t tell someone to put their seat forward, I just can’t. I get that people just need to be heard or sympathized with, but I just can’t get involved in that.” Neither can they force people to change seats because you want to sit next to your wife/husband/friend. And if the child behind you keeps kicking your seat, ask the parent—without being confrontational—to be aware of where those little legs are hitting because, no, your flight attendant can’t get involved in that, either.
It’s tempting to tune out when attendants are giving the safety instructions, but the attendants’ first job is keeping us safe in the air, and they appreciate it when they have your eyes and ears. “On every flight, our position comes from a place of safety,” says one cabin crew member. “By company and FAA policy we are personally held accountable if we don’t follow FAA guidelines.” If you haven’t buckled your seatbelt or your seat is reclining on takeoff, that could mean someone’s job. She says there are ghost riders onboard, unknown to them, whose job it is to make sure flight attendants are enforcing the rules.
Go When It’s Time to Go
Did you know that flight attendants are only paid for the time they work when the doors are locked? That’s why they appreciate it when you board efficiently and why they’d like you to de-plane as quickly as possible. “I’ve had people who don’t want to wake their sleeping child,” says one flight attendant. “And I want to say, ‘Your kid is still asleep?’” Have your shoes on, your things gathered, and be ready to get up when it’s your turn. You have places to go, and so does your flight attendant.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Flight Attendant
- Sleeping on Planes: 13 Tips for Travelers
- 9 Outrageous Reasons to Get Kicked Off a Plane
Deb Hopewell is a longtime journalist and the former editor of Yahoo Travel. She writes for Outside, Fodor’s, Architectural Digest, Travel+Leisure, and others. Follow her on Instagram @debhopewell and Twitter @dhopewell.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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