A flight attendant answers your burning travel and etiquette questions

Written by ecuib

As we bid farewell to summer, travelers are surely hoping to say “so long” to the chaos in the skies too.

As a stewardess on the job for 20 years, I can tell you that this season of delays and cancellations hasn’t been a picnic for us either.

Recently, I arrived at a doctor’s appointment with dark circles under my eyes, exhausted from a delayed flight the night before. “Huh, I never thought the flight crew would be equally inconvenienced by the delays,” my doctor said.

While some travelers get mad at flight crews, the reality is that we don’t like delays either (we often don’t even get paid for them, as I explain below).

If you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep on airplanes, a nap is a wise use of your time on a long flight. On flights to Europe from the United States, I have dinner and then try to sleep, although I rarely manage to. When I land I stay up until bedtime where I am locally. If I can’t keep my eyes open, I take a short nap so I can still sleep that night. This should put your body on the right schedule to wake up the next day rested.

For the reverse route, which is usually a daytime flight, I force myself to stay awake to sleep as soon as I get home. A short nap on a long flight won’t hurt, and if your flight is longer than 12 hours, get as much sleep as you can.

If you are alone and not wearing a medical alert bracelet, please let us know. Knowing what’s wrong helps us respond to your needs correctly, faster. For example, if you suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), which has symptoms similar to poisoning, we can get you medical care quickly if we already know you have diabetes and you you’re not drunk.

Once a passenger told me that he had frequent seizures and how I should handle them. It wasn’t a full flight, so I was able to move it alone to the back row, near my kitchen. He actually had several minor seizures during the flight, but I was there and made sure he was safe the whole time.

Human spread is not acceptable in any seat. That said, the middle seat is the flight’s dreaded torture device. So the unwritten rule is that the middle seat gets both armrests. The aisle and the window each have their own armrest and room to lean a little.

To deal with someone invading your space, ask them nicely. Often the person doesn’t even realize they are being rude. Try a joke, like, “they keep making these seats smaller and smaller.” This recognizes that your problem is with the seat, not the person, and that you’re both in the same boat. As long as you feel safe, try to handle it yourself before involving the flight attendant.

If the person is tall enough and completely bent over in their seat and has nowhere to go, you can offer to swap seats. We all hate the middle, but it might be more comfortable for both of you during the flight.

While I’m not aware of a rule against eating food given by passengers, in the case of homemade treats, we don’t know where they come from or what’s in them. Even if your heart is in the right place, it’s a crazy world out there, so we probably wouldn’t eat them. (Fun fact: Many airlines actually advise their crews not to eat the same meal in the same place on any given day. This is to prevent crew members from getting hit with food poisoning at the same time. ) Packaged foods, like candy, is a safer bet.

Gift cards are the best option if you really want to give us something. Think of places commonly found at airports that sell things everyone can enjoy, like a warm, comforting drink that helps keep us fresh and perky on those early morning flights. We appreciate every gift we receive, and they make our day no matter what.

I keep track. I start taking mental notes once someone has had three or four alcoholic drinks. I take into account the duration of the flight and the way the person behaves before deciding to intervene. Red flags increase aggressiveness and demands, excessive misunderstandings, or just get really loud. The effects of alcohol are actually felt more strongly in flight due to decreased oxygen levels.

I’ve cut several passengers in my career, and it almost never goes well. Almost everyone argues and insists that they are fine. If things get worse, we let them know that their disruptive behavior may be in violation of federal law and that we may arrange for law enforcement to meet them when we land. This usually fixes the problem.

It’s true. Each airline is slightly different. I get paid as soon as the door closes, and we stop getting paid when the door opens. This is also true for pilots.

This means that if we show up for work on time and our flight is delayed by three hours, we don’t get paid for that time. If we board, have a plane full of passengers, and then have a maintenance issue or an air traffic control wait, we also don’t get paid for that time. However, if we get out onto the taxiway and are number 27 in line for takeoff, we get paid for it.

If a flight is cancelled, most airlines have cancellation compensation that protects us, so we receive the compensation provided. However, some airlines do not have this protection. So trust me: we hate delays and cancellations as much, if not more, than our passengers.

Sit as close to the kite as possible. Think of the plane as a seesaw: the wing is the most stable part. Keep your air vent open. Wear layers that you can take off if you start to feel that sweaty feeling. Ask the flight attendant for a cup of ice cream or any other non-alcoholic drink that calms your stomach. I also recommend not flying on an empty stomach, but don’t eat too much right before a flight either.

If you vomit, that’s what that sick bag in your seat pocket is for. You can throw the used bag in the toilet bin, press the call button, or leave it sealed under the seat in front of you. Please don’t leave it there for an unsuspecting cleaner to find, or hand it to a flight attendant who doesn’t have a trash bag in hand.

I absolutely would, but this career is definitely not for most people. If the thought of working the same hours every day in an office makes your soul want to shrivel up and die, this might be the job for you. You may have a terrible day of flying that makes you want to cry like a toddler, but the next one is guaranteed to be completely different: new passengers, a new location and quite possibly a whole new group of co-workers.

Being a flight attendant is always a great way to see the world. But some cities still elude me. I’ve wanted a long layover in New Orleans my whole career, it never shows up in my schedule. After 20 years of flying, I still have six states and countless countries to visit.

This job is mentally and physically exhausting in a way that I think is comparable to working in a hospital or school, except you can’t go home for three to five days. It impacts relationships and you can’t have pets, but you also meet amazing people and can make lifelong friends that are more like family.

It takes a certain type of person to fall in love with this life, but when that person finds this job, it’s magic. For me, the good always wins out over the bad; if ever that changes, that’s the day I’ll hang up the wings.

About the author


Leave a Comment