I Have Been on Literally Thousands of Flights
Yes, thousands. I was a flight attendant for a major airline for five years. I figure that means I’ve been on roughly 3,000 flights. So, I know a little bit about air travel. One thing that separates the savvy from the stressed is knowledge. The more you understand about how the airline business works– particularly, how your crew functions and how that affects you– the better a traveler you will be.
So, keep these in mind the next time you get onto that jetway and prepare to take to the sky…
1. Flight attendants are safety experts
Yes, they really are, and it’s about much more than just the safety demo that no one pays attention to. Your crew has been through weeks of safety training that includes first aid, CPR, use of the defibrillator machine, administering of oxygen, management of nausea– and that’s just the medical stuff. Then you have emergency procedures like water landings (yes, that is a real thing and not a euphemism), fire in the cabin, depressurization, and (God forbid) a crash. Your crew is trained on all of these, and re-certifies every year. They take this part of their job very seriously. You can show respect for this expertise by paying attention to the safety demo and following all orders from your crew. You life could literally be in their hands.
2.The exit row is not just for extra legroom
If you choose to sit in an exit row, generally you do get extra legroom. Do you know why? It may seem obvious, but that extra room is to accommodate passengers that may have to use that exit in an emergency. Guess who’s responsibility it will be to make sure those passengers can get out: YOU. Your flight crew is counting on you to be strong of mind and body so that you can carry out your duty to get the window or door open if there is not a flight attendant sitting there or if they are incapacitated. Please take that responsibility seriously. This is also why your crew will ask you not to put your belongings in any space that could restrict a flow of passengers.
3.Airplanes are not cleaned in between every flight
It’s true. Sometimes, the turnaround is so short that the crew only tidies up– puts blankets and pillows back into the overhead, and collects trash left on seats. They do not look inside seat pockets or wipe down tray tables. I’ve seen people change babies or put dirty diapers on tray tables, and I don’t know if or when those things ever really get a proper cleaning. Keep that in mind the next time you eat off it.
Speaking of gross things people do on planes…
4.People still try to use the lavatory when there is turbulence. Think about that.
Yes, that means what you think it means: pee on the floor. If you read my paragraph above, you know planes are not the cleanest. Add to that the fact that lav floors do not get mopped, and you will see why I cringe anytime I see someone walking around in just socks or [clutches pearls] barefoot. Yes, I have seen people go into those lavs barefoot. Gross, gross, gross!
5.You CAN bring water on the plane…
and it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. People forget that just because you can’t take water through security, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own water bottle. Just bring it empty, and then fill it at the filling stations that most airports have these days, after you’ve passed security. That water is filtered and is just as good as the price-gouging $5 bottles from the news stands.
6.The seatbelt sign is more than just a pretty face
Please save yourself injury and sit down when the seatbelt sign comes on. Turbulence can be very dangerous; in fact, it can be the most dangerous thing you are likely to encounter when flying. Airplanes are made to withstand very severe turbulence– the wings can even flex a great deal– but your body is not. If you get thrown around the plane and hit your head or some other body part because you weren’t obeying the seatbelt sign, you’ve just caused yourself needless injury and possibly ruined your vacation. If you have an emergency and the seatbelt sign is on, ring for a flight attendant. They will come to you if and when it is safe to do so.
7.Once you are in the air, your flight crew has ultimate authority…and they know who you are!
Did you know that there are different sets of laws once you are in the air? Because there is no police, fire, or EMT in the sky, your flight crew is basically all of those things. They have ultimate authority and can have you find or arrested at your destination if you violate aviation law. So please, be a good citizen of the sky for the short time you are there.
Another reason to be on your best behavior is that flight attendants have what’s called a Flight Manifest. On it is every person’s name, their seat number, and their frequent flier status (along with any other pertinent information). They know who you are and what seat you are supposed to be in. If you’re a frequent flier, you might get some perks. If you violate aviation law, your name will be given to authorities on the ground.
8.Your Crew Can Use that Authority to Make Your Flight Awesome
…and they can also use it to make it hell. Be polite to your crew and treat them with respect and they can do all kinds of things for you. The most common thing I did was to comp drinks. If someone moved their seat to accommodate a family, for example, or checked their bag at the door because the bins were full, I’d always offer them a free drink once we were airborne. But crew also has the authority to seat you wherever they want. Yes, that can mean a free upgrade in the air! Let’s say you are a frequent flier and you’ve been given a crappy seat. Maybe it’s broken and doesn’t recline, maybe you have a seatmate who is rude or bothering you. If you politely ask the crew if there is anything they can do, who knows? They may move you to a better seat in the same cabin, or even let you sit in an upgraded class.
On the flip side, if you are rude to your crew, they might “not notice” your call light, or they might “forget” that drink/pillow/blanket you asked for. One of the most common things that would happen on my flights is that people would ignore the seatbelt sign and get up to use the lav right after takeoff. This is not just dumb, it’s dangerous (see #6), and it can get you trapped in the back for the entire drink service. If you’re in the bathroom and the flight attendants take the beverage cart into the aisle, blocking your access to your seat, they very well may not move to let you back. You may have to just wait there until the service is done or until the cart is moved. You won’t get much sympathy from the crew if this happens to you, because you should have been in your seat.
9. Your crew might be pulling a 16-hour day
Depending on their “duty regs” (duty regulations), your crew can be made to work 16+ hours. Being a flight attendant can be a lot of fun, but it can also be exhausting. Again, remember that you are all in this together, literally, and be kind– not just to your crew, but to your fellow passengers as well.
10. Air travel is one of the safest ways to go; your crew wants a smooth, stress-free flight just as much—and maybe more than—you do.
When there’s a delay, you are frustrated. I get it. Your crew gets it. We all get it. But being a jerk isn’t going to get the plane off the ground any faster. Your crew is just as inconvenienced as you are, especially if they are on hour 15 of their duty day. They want to get to the destination just as much as you do. Believe it or not, the crew usually knows just as much as you do regarding the reason for a delay. They rarely, if ever, have a good reason to withhold information. So, if they tell you they a) don’t know the reason for the delay, or b)are waiting to hear from the cockpit regarding the delay, believe them. Sometimes the cockpit is so busy taking care of their own business and communicating with the tower/ground/mechanics that they may not get a chance to update the crew on a minute-by-minute basis. And if you decide you’re so upset that you want to get off the plane, and it’s still at the gate, be aware that by law, all your bags must be pulled. A plane cannot take off with baggage in the belly of the plane of a person who is not on board. If you think about it, I’m sure you can imagine why. So don’t be like a guy I recently heard about who tried to leave a delayed plane without his bags. He put up a big stink, got the plane further delayed, and was arrested for interfering with crew. Don’t be that guy.
So there you have it: 10 things your crew wishes you knew, which will make you a better traveller!
Are you a flight attendant or pilot? Leave a comment and let everyone know what else you wish the flying public knew when they board a plane.