When JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater lashed out at a passenger and made a dramatic exit down the aircraft's emergency slide, people were left to wonder what put him over the edge. Sure, every job is stressful, but does being a flight attendant come with a unique share of annoyances? We talked to flight attendants around the world to learn what goes on behind the scenes, what pushes their buttons and what passengers can do to make their jobs easier.
1. We don't give orders just to hear our own voice.
Getting you to your destination safely is the number-one priority of flight attendants. "People find rules annoying but they don't understand that there's a reason behind every rule—which is to keep you safe," says Sara Keagle, who's been a flight attendant for 18 years and blogs about it at TheFlyingPinto.com. Ellen,* a former flight attendant for United Airlines , wishes "that passengers would understand that we're required by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to ensure safety at all times. We've seen what can happen when a flight hits unexpected turbulence, so we need you to sit down so that you don't hurt yourself."
2. We don't enjoy delayed flights any more than you do.
Sitting on the tarmac is stressful for passengers and flight attendants alike. "We're usually on the plane an hour before the passengers to prepare for the flight, plus we've been at the airport for a few hours before that," says Fanny Delaunay, a former flight attendant for Air France. And if you're tired, multiply that by three to understand how tired your flight attendant is. "It's likely that we're on the third or fourth day of a multiday trip. We're tired and want to see our families too," says Ellen.
3. Give each other a hand during boarding.
According to Teresa,* a former flight attendant with Delta Air Lines, the hardest part of a flight is boarding, because properly stowing baggage can be tricky. "If passengers worked together and stopped only thinking about themselves it would make our job a lot easier, as well as help the flight get out on time." So be considerate of other passengers by leaving them some space when you place your suitcase in the overhead bin, and assist someone who's struggling to stow their suitcase.
4. An airplane is a mode of transportation, not a flying restaurant.
Keep in mind that the main function of flying is not to provide you with a fine dining experience. According to Ellen, "we usually don't board 100 percent of any one food option, so passengers should be prepared not to get their first choice." As Gary, a flight attendant with United Airlines, puts it, "You're on board a 747, not a 7-Eleven. We will do everything we can to make your flight enjoyable, but sometimes we just don't have everything that you want."
5. A simple "please" and "thank you" goes a long way.
As do good manners. "It meant the most to me when people would say 'good morning' in return as I greeted them when they got on the plane," says flight attendant Lisa Lent. According to Teresa, sometimes passengers would bring the crew little gifts, like candy. "We also loved it when someone would offer us their magazine after they were through with it. It's always those little things that made a big difference."
6. Many passengers don't realize how much more drunk they get at 35,000 feet.
"Due to the high altitude, alcohol is more powerful when you're on a flight," says Fanny. If you're noticeably drunk or getting unruly, it's the flight attendant's responsibility to control the situation. "Sometimes if we think you've had too much to drink, we'll serve you, but not serve the whole mini-bottle of booze," confesses Ellen. "We may just dip the rim of the glass in enough vodka or gin and fill the rest with mixer."
7. And serving you those drinks is not the primary reason we're on board.
Flight attendants are there to ensure your safety, not cater to your every need. They go through rigorous training, including medical emergency training, CPR and training to evacuate an aircraft. "Because—fortunately—most flights do not encounter safety problems, some people believe that we're just luggage handlers and beverage servers, and don't recognize that flight attendants are highly trained for the safety and comfort of the passengers," says Agnes Huff, PhD, a former flight attendant for US Airways and Pacific Southwest Airlines. Sara explains that because the pilots can't see the back of the aircraft, flight attendants are depended upon to be the eyes and ears at the back of the plane. It's up to them to be aware of what's going on with the aircraft and alert the pilot to any emergency situations.
8. We're a very tight bunch.
Despite sometimes having met only minutes earlier, "once the crew is on board for a flight, something miraculous happens," says Gary. "We suddenly become one another's best friends, as if we've known one another for years. I guess the trust comes from knowing that we really do have one another's back in an emergency." According to him, the most intimate conversations take place during taxi, takeoff and landing. Those bonding moments are referred to as "jump seat news."
9. We wish you'd time your bathroom trips better.
Disregarding the “fasten seatbelt” sign and jumping up to visit the lavatory whenever you need to can add to delays. "There's a sequence to taxiing and getting in line for takeoff," says Sara. "If somebody gets up to use the restroom, we have to tell the cockpit, and they have to stop the plane and wait until the person is back in his or her seat and buckled up. During that time we could lose our spot in line." Plus, says Ellen: "Moving the 300-pound drink cart back to the galley against gravity after you've pulled it all the way to the front because one passenger needs to use the restroom is the most annoying thing ever."
10. Meeting passengers can be the best part about being a flight attendant.
"One of my favorite parts of the job was having meaningful conversations with interesting people," says Fanny. "Maybe it's an underlying fear of flying, or just the magic of being in the air, but people tend to open up and talk about themselves a lot. You can learn so much."
*Names have been changed.