Those paragons of virtue, those symbols of security, and the quintessential quiet are what we expect of our flight attendants or flight stewards.
The role has been in existence over one hundred years and derived from that of similar positions on ships and trains. Sources of the word “steward” in transportation are reflected in the maritime term: “Chief Steward.”
The term purser and chief steward are used interchangeably when describing staff with similar duties on the high seas. Additionally, the job of a flight attendant revolves around safety to a much greater extent than those of similar staff on other forms of transportation.
Those demure denizens have a far more direct involvement with passengers because of the confined quarters on planes.
Fliers of all types have taken note as they board the aircraft of the primary role of flight attendants. From traffic cops to olfactory sensors their initial task is to assist with the loading of carry-on baggage and make sure those that sitting in emergency exit rows seats are actually able to assist in an evacuation.
There might be some things you didn’t know when it comes to flying the friendly skies. To gain a little insider insight, I spoke with seasoned flight attendants who divulged some trade secrets of the sky. Here are a few things you should never ask a flight attendant and more tips on how to treat them.
1. How long will the seat belt sign be on due to turbulence? Surprise, they’ve still not invented a crystal ball for this one. Yes, we all get restless sitting on an airplane, but rest assured, flight attendants aren’t the ones making the call to turn on the seat belt sign in the first place. Of course, if a captain turns on that dreaded little light in the middle of the flight, it’s for good reason.
Safety is always their number one concern, and do you really want to mess with that? Things happen, and turbulence is an inevitable part of flying. Sometimes, pilots aren’t too sure how long the bumpy ride will last. Flight attendants are certainly no strangers to wanting to move around mid-flight, but please, don’t make their job any more difficult by pestering them about the seatbelt sign. They get it! If you have to use the restroom, just stay put, and zip it.
Quick insight: If they’re strapped in, You should be strapped in.
If your flight takes off and the captain informs the flight attendants to “Please remain seated” until further notice, chances are that you’re in for a hell of a ride. Get ready for turbulence! That chime you hear a few minutes after you take off indicates to flight attendants that the aircraft has reached 10,000 feet, which is typically when they get out of their jump-seats and start getting the service carts ready. If the captain ever tells us to remain seated however, they know it’s going to get ugly.
The same holds true if the captain tells them to suspend beverage service. The rough translation of that is, “Tighten your seatbelts!” And, speaking of alcohol...
2. Can I order more than two alcoholic beverages at once? No. Never. Ever. Just don’t ask for this. First of all, while flight attendants are there to “attend” to your needs, they’re not there to act as your personal bartender at the local dive bar. There’s no need to get sloshed on a flight anyways, because, well, that’s just asking for problems. Are you really going to drink more than two cocktails that quickly anyway? So fast, in fact, that you’ll be finished before you’re able to flag down the flight attendant for a refill? Besides being obnoxious and inconvenient, this request will also probably annoy your fellow passengers.
3. What have you got? This ‘what not to ask’ applies not only to the drink cart but also the food card, and am told that this can really irk flight attendants, seeing as their carts typically display all drinks available and menus are often handed out.
Additionally, on many flights, there is an announcement made listing all beverage & meal options, along with many seatback pockets containing some sort of pamphlet that describes the airline’s services and offerings.
Do your flight attendants and fellow passengers a favor and pay attention and have your order ready when it’s your turn. And when you’re handed a cup of coffee and asked, ‘Cream and sugar?’ don’t reply, ‘What?’ Come on, people. What do you think they’re going to ask after you’ve been handed you coffee? Your favorite color? 4. Will you Stow my bag? And here you thought it was their job to do stuff like this. Nope. Flight attendants are actually not permitted to lift your bags because it causes too many injuries — a huge worker’s comp issue. The rule is, if you can’t lift it into the overhead bin yourself, check it. A flight attendant can help you push your bag further into the bin once it’s up there or help you close the door, but that’s about it. Find a fellow passenger to help you shove it in the overhead bin.
5. Please call ahead to hold a connecting flight.
People ask all the time, but it’s not going to happen.
And they can’t ask the captain to make a call either.
Nor should you ask the Pilot to fly faster. Just another reason to make sure you leave enough time between flights when booking a connection.
Permit me to share with you some tips to stay under the radar of any flight attendant’s wrath: 6. Never grab or poke a flight attendant.
First off it’s a good rule for most people but on a plane reaching and tugging at a flight attendant borders on boorish behavior.
7. There’s no need to ask if you can use the restroom when you haven’t taken off provided the seat belts sign is not on.
Do you think what goes into the toilet is dumped onto the tarmac? It’s hardly a secret that the plane toilet isn’t very clean, though it may come as a surprise to learn that some flight attendants rarely use them.
That’s why it helps when passengers make an effort to clean up after themselves in the bathroom. It certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by the cabin crew. Flight attendants greatly appreciate fliers who ensure toilet paper has been thrown away, the toilet has flushed, and water from the sink and floor has been cleaned up.
Quick tip to exit the lavatory door as it’s not rocket science—just push! 8. Waiting for the wheelchair when you disembark.
It’s the one thing completely out of their control so being cross with them when you’ve waited an inordinate time is of no assistance. The wheelchair service is subcontracted to the airlines and too often it’s not a top priority. I’ve had a multitude of complaints about a specific airline when in reality it’s the airport (Heathrow for example does not have a sterling reputation) who has difficulty in providing a wheelchair in a timely fashion.
9. They often double as ticketing agents.
Ever think you’ve seen your flight attendant somewhere before? Chances are they checked you in. Several airlines have flight attendants working at the gate of their flights before takeoff, so remember this as you are arguing about seat upgrades and delays.
And while I’m on the subject, I’m often asked how much pull gate agents actually have to give you upgrades or other perks. The answer, not surprisingly is it really depends on the airline. But on board, flight attendants have full reign (almost) over what bonuses they dole out — which is why you should pay sharp attention to the last point on my list.
10. Sometimes they just tell you what you want to hear.
Like, “Yes, your bags will make your connecting flight” since they also work on the ramp and know exactly how bags get passed from plane to plane.
NOT. Their job is to keep you happy on the flight, and we’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means smiling and nodding when they actually have no idea what the answer to your question is.
On that note, while I’m sure they wish their smiles were genuine all the time but sometimes they are totally faking it in the hopes that that will make you stop talking and start smiling back.
11. We’re Not Drunk on the Plane But . .
Flight crews, which include the pilot, the co-pilot, and the entire air staff, sometimes go out together during long layovers and sometimes drinking is involved but here’s the thing: The U.S Federal Aviation Agency has an 8-hour requirement of “no alcohol” for pilots before a scheduled flight. Most airlines have their own rules requiring 12 hours of abstinence before a flight and Flight Attendants are under the same rules as pilots at most carriers, which means no drinking 12 hours prior to the flight.
So what can sometimes happen is that a flight crew will go out and have a few cocktails, during an international trip for example, the evening before a scheduled flight leaves the next afternoon, so technically they are within the limit but are just edging the line on the 12-hour rule.
I don’t mean to intimate that any of the flight crew is drunk when you are on your plane. Flight crews are subject to random alcohol and drug testing by the government and by the airline. These tests for alcohol can happen at any time and are demanded on the spot, usually through a breathalyzer or urine sample.
The flight crews know this and are mindful of when they can and cannot consume alcohol to be in compliance.
But when you hear about pilots being arrested for being under the influence it doesn’t mean they are raging alcoholics but caught pushing the limit.
12. ‘Thank you’ can go a long way You will always get more with a spoonful of honey.
Any flight attendant will always give better seats, meal preferences, double drinks, and a selection of limited stocked complimentary items to the passengers who treated them like a fellow human being.
Learn to say Hi, Bye and Thanks. These are not robots, when someone serves you food or a drink, basic courtesy is to acknowledge it. Ditto when someone says hello, the normal response is a near identical retort.
Remember flight attendants are trained in basic medical procedures; most can even deliver a baby. So the next time you board a plane, take a thought for those overworked, overwrought and underpaid flight attendants. Flying around the world may seem glamorous but it’s not an easy profession.
And as you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ ziontours.co.il