Secrets Of Flying: What Flight Attendants Know But Most Passengers Don’t
Flight attendants are required to keep passengers comfortable and safe. That doesn’t require stewards to tell passengers everything. In fact, they know many things that passengers don’t.
For instance, did you know that plane oxygen masks have time limits? Or that large planes have secret compartments for the crew to sleep? Flight attendants have revealed many facts that the average passenger doesn’t know. Learn all the facts that flight attendants secretly want to tell you.
Attendants Size You Up As You Board
Why do flight attendants greet everyone as they board? It’s not just to be polite. They are also sizing up their passengers. No, they are not looking for a fight; they are seeing which passengers may need more assistance, who has kids, and who is traveling alone.
Flight attendants will often take mental notes on who might need more care, such as the elderly or young children. If someone seems intoxicated, they will be escorted off of the flight.
They Can Restrain Aggressive Passengers
What happens if a passenger becomes aggressive while on a plane? Believe it or not, flight attendants are able to handle it. They are trained in self-defense and can restrain aggressive passengers if needed.
Flight attendants are not as helpless as some movies make them out to be. They can use zip ties and seatbelts to restrain passengers. If a passenger is held down, they will be placed in a private area until they are let off at the next stop.
Airplane Oxygen Masks Have A Time Limit
If you’ve been on a plane, you’ve likely seen the flight attendant demonstrate how to use the oxygen mask. Requiring one is rare, so most passengers have never used one. But if you do, know that they have a 10 to 14-minute time limit.
That may not sound like a long time, but it is. It is long enough for the plane to drop below 10,000 feet, which will allow people to breathe again without circulated air.
Why The Lights Turn Off During Takeoff And Landing
During takeoff and landing, the lights inside the plane will turn off for a few minutes before turning back on. There is a good reason for this. Landing and takeoff are the riskiest parts of a flight. If the plane experiences issues, the lights need to remain off to conserve power.
The lights turn off early so that the passenger’s eyes can adjust to the darkness. It takes about 30 seconds for vision to adjust. If the worst happens, the passengers will be able to see.
Flight Attendants Will Not Say When An Engine Goes Out
If a plane engine goes out, the flight attendants will not tell passengers. This may sound alarming, but planes can fly fine without an engine. Their wings allow them to glide for a long while.
During flight training, it is typical for instructors to cut the engine and allow the student to land a plane without an engine. Many passengers do not know this, so flight attendants do not want to scare them with the news.
Flight Attendants Have Secret Codes
Flight attendants have a secret language. They are trained to subtly tell one another about unruly passengers or dangerous situations. “Codes are used by crew in order to maintain calm and order in the cabin,” says flight attendant Amanda Pleva.
For example, you may have heard a dinging noise at the beginning and end of flights. This tells the flight attendants that the most dangerous stages of flying–takeoff and landing–are beginning. The attendants then prepare for safety.
The Captain Is The Boss
According to flight attendants, the captain is the ultimate authority. Once the plane takes off, the stewards must defer to the captain. That said, pilots still have to do their job, and flight attendants are left to do their jobs.
If an emergency situation occurs, or if a passenger becomes unruly, the flight attendants will alert the captain. That said, the pilots cannot arrest passengers. But they can contact the police to perform an arrest once the plane lands.
Large Planes Have Private Nap Compartments
The longest flight in the world takes passengers from Singapore to New Jersey, between 18 and 30 hours. Passengers have plenty of time to sleep on the plane, but what about the crew? On larger planes, flight attendants have their own nap compartments.
Boeing 777s and 787 jets have secret nap areas for the flight attendants. They are often tucked inside hatches above or below the galley, which is why you never see them. Thank goodness the crew will stay well-rested!
The Crew Can Open Bathrooms From The Outside
Yes, passengers can lock the door of the bathroom. But if someone is breaking the rules in the lavatory, flight attendants can still get in. They have their own keys in case they smell smoke or someone seems hurt.
Some lavatory doors also come with a safety lock (or rather, unlock). Sometimes, there is a hidden lock underneath the “no smoking” sign that will open the door. Remember this if your child ends up trapped in the bathroom.
Why Attendants Clasp Their Hands Behind Their Backs
You may have noticed that flight attendants hold their hands behind their backs when passengers enter the plane. Besides giving the passengers more room, there’s a good reason why attendants do this. They are counting the passengers.
Counting the passengers helps the flight attendants know if everyone has boarded. To help, they count with their fingers. But it is rude to noticeably count people using their fingers, so they hold their hands behind their backs.
Some Flight Attendants Also Use Their Phones
In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration allowed people to use their phones during takeoff and landing. This decision has left flight attendants feeling torn. While some fight to bring back the cellphone ban for safety, others use their phones on flights.
Flight attendants may not make a lot of money, and the free Wi-Fi on planes is invaluable. It also allows them to stay in touch with people, which is already difficult during such a fickle job.
Think Twice Before Ordering A Diet Coke
Diet cokes are popular drinks, but many flight attendants get annoyed when someone orders one. Why? Because they are hard to pour. Diet coke is fizzier than other sodas, and the increased pressure can make it nearly uncontrollable.
An anonymous flight attendant told Travel and Leisure that you have to pour a diet coke upside-down. The pressure keeps the drink in the can, so it’s easy to over-pour it. If you order a diet coke, be careful not to spill it.
Why Flight Attendants Don’t Like The Coffee
Passengers may order coffee on a flight, but many attendants won’t. Airline water is not the safest water around. According to a study by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, disease-causing bacteria is in 15% of airline water.
On top of that, airline employees do not clean coffee maker tanks as often as they should. There have been no reports of passengers getting sick from the water on a plane, but some airlines are switching to bottled water for safety.
A “Thank You” Goes A Long Way
As with many customer service employees, flight attendance have seen their fair share of rude passengers. Many express how grateful they are for passengers who say “thank you.” You may be surprised how often that doesn’t happen.
Some flight attendants may upgrade an especially kind passenger. If a better seat is available, they may offer it to you. Other times, they will offer it to someone who has a reason for needing it, such as a pregnant flyer.
Many Do Not Get Paid Well
From traveling for days to sleeping on a plane, flight attendants have a hard job. But many still don’t get paid well. In the U.S., starting flight attendants will make around $18 an hour. Time spent not in the airport or plane, such as at a hotel, are compensated as low as $1.50 an hour.
The longer a flight attendant works, the more they’ll get paid. Long-term flight attendants can earn as much as $30 per hour.
The Real Reason Airlines Charge More For Extra Bags
Have you ever wondered why airlines charge more for an extra bag? It’s not because of potential damage to the plane. Airplanes already have an “off” center of gravity, so employees often add sandbags to even out the weight for takeoff.
Airlines charge more for bags to prevent flight delays. The more bags a plane carries, the longer it will take to unload it and prepare it for the next flight. The extra charge encourages people to consolidate their luggage.
Some Flight Attendants Are In Relationships
Flight attendants have a notoriously hard time dating. They often go away for several days or weeks, traveling to many different countries. As a result, many flight attendants bond with members of the crew. Some of them even date fellow attendants.
But you won’t see much evidence of that as a passenger. As with all employees, flight attendants put professionalism first. But behind the scenes, attendants are stuck together in an enclosed space, so they naturally form relationships.
Attendants Will Cut Passengers Off
Did you know that it is illegal to get drunk on a plane? This is why flight attendants will refuse to board people who are noticeably intoxicated. Getting intoxicated may annoy other passengers or even put them at risk.
Although many flights offer drinks, attendants will cut you off if they need to. You can only consume drinks provided by the airline, and a flight attendant has a right to refuse your order. Drink responsibly, even in the air.
Keep Your Shoes On
While on a plane, you may want to take your shoes off for extra comfort. But you don’t know how dirty the carpet is. Flight attendants know how often (or infrequently) planes are cleaned, but this information is not released to the public.
Forbes estimates that plane interiors are cleaned once every few months. That’s a long time when hundreds of people frequent a plane’s cabin and spread dirt all over with their shoes. For your health, keep your shoes on.
First Class Is Not The Safest Spot
A common myth states that the first class is the safest spot on the plane. The opposite is true. In 2016, Time analyzed the Aircraft Database’s list of crashes and fatalities. The front seats had a fairly high fatality rate at 38%.
The safest spot of the plane is actually the back seats. The middle seats in the back row have a fatality rate of 28%. The worst seats are aisle chairs in the middle, with a 44% fatality rate.
There Are No Rules Against Flirting
Technically, there are no rules against attendants flirting with the passengers. You can politely make your move if you find an attendant attractive. That said, we can’t guarantee that the attendant is going to like your advances.
Flight attendants place professionalism above all else. Many are used to people hitting on them, and they don’t appreciate passengers interrupting their work. If you want to try, remain polite, and accept it if they don’t seem interested. Pressuring or embarrassing an employee is never okay.
The Food Isn’t Healthy, Either
While airline water isn’t the best, plane food is even worse. These pre-packaged meals are loaded with salt, sugar, and fats. Many wait for a long time between being cooked and being served, which increases the risk of bacteria.
Flight attendants do their best to keep the food safe and refrigerated. If you’re on a long flight, you’ll want to eat a meal. Also, remember that you can bring food onto a plane with your carry-on bag.
It’s Not A Glamorous As It Looks
The life of a flight attendant is a difficult one. Many attendants work 12 to 14-hour shifts, and those on international flights work for longer. They often get jet-lagged and still have to work on the flight back.
The hours are also unpredictable. Some attendants will get calls at 4:00 am asking them to come in. Employees often work on the holidays and away from their families for long periods of time. If you want to be a flight attendant, you have to love it.
Certain Appearance Standards Are Still In Place
Unlike the 20th century, stewards are no longer required to be a certain age or look a certain way to get the job in the U.S. However, there are still some beauty rules in place. For instance, attendants are required to keep their hair a natural color and wear it up if it’s long.
This is not the same in other countries. In some Asian countries, stewardesses are required to look physically attractive, as they are one of the airline’s selling points.
Hot Drinks Are A Hassle On Short Flights
If you are on a short flight (less than 45 minutes), you can order a hot drink. But it will annoy flight attendants. On a plane, stewards cannot heat water until the plane reaches altitude, about 20 minutes into the flight. Preparation for landing begins 30 minutes before, making hot drinks inconvenient.
If the flight is short enough, some airlines will not even allow hot drinks. They are a hassle for the flight attendants and a safety hazard.
You Can Tip, But Not All Airlines Will Let You
Tipping is not the norm for flight attendants because they often earn more money than waiters. Some airlines allow it, while others ban it. Certain airlines will even punish stewards for accepting tips.
Before you tip, check to see if it’s okay with the airline. Do not feel offended if a flight attendant refuses your tip. It is most likely because the airline discourages tipping. When in doubt, you can always ask–they will appreciate the kind gesture.
Turning Off Your Phone Actually Does Make A Difference
In 2014, the largest flight attendant union in America asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to bring the cellphone ban back. That’s not because a cell phone will crash the plane. When stewards ask you to turn off your phone, they do so for a solid reason.
Cell signals can interfere with air traffic control frequencies. Pilots need these frequencies to ensure that they’re going the right way and won’t run into another plane. Put your phone on airplane mode!
The Field Is Highly Competitive
Stewarding is a highly competitive field. In 2010, Harvard had a higher acceptance rate than Delta airlines. Delta had 1,000 openings, and they received over 10,000 applications.
Only four percent of flight attendants get a callback. They have to go through several interviews to land the job. Sometimes, candidates will wait six months to a year between interviews because positions are so scarce. This must be why stewarding has a low turnover rate; employees work hard for this job.
You Have Nothing To Gain From Being Rude
It is not smart to be rude to a steward or stewardess. They may smile and remain polite, but they also have some control over your experience. They might move you to a different seat if you are being too disruptive or “forget” your beverage order.
Don’t ask for free services or upgrades. Do not touch a flight attendant, even to get their attention. They work a hard job as it is; you don’t need to make it harder.
Do Not Wrap Your Gifts Ahead Of Time
Many people travel for holidays and birthdays, including flight attendants. They know never to wrap their gifts before their flight. Why? Because security may have to unwrap it to see what’s inside.
There is also a good chance that the wrapping could fall apart if the luggage takes a beating on the plane. While this isn’t an “on-flight” related tip, it could save you from having to spend more money and time rewrapping a present.
Here’s How Long A Plane Can Be Delayed
Have you ever had a delayed flight where you ended up sitting on a parked plane for a while? If so, have you ever considered how long the plane can sit there for? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a plane cannot sit in the terminal for more than three hours.
There are some exceptions, such as emergency situations. Flight attendants are told to offer food every two hours whether the plane has taken off or not.
Packaged Blankets May Not Have Been Washed
When most passengers receive an airplane blanket, it is packaged in plastic. But that doesn’t mean it’s recently been cleaned. In 2000, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (who supplied the blankets) accused some airlines of repackaging them without washing them.
Another analysis from The Wall Street Journal says that some employees don’t wash blankets for five to 30 days. If you want a clean blanket or pillow, consider bringing your own or buying a new one at the airport.
Save Money On Water
Flight attendants know that you can’t bring a full bottle of water through airport security. But the more experienced employees will pack empty water bottles and fill them with water after they get through.
Many airports have water fountains, and some even offer filtered water for bottle refills. You may save money, and it’ll prevent you from drinking the airplane water. It will also save the flight attendants time since you’ll already have a drink.
Rude Passengers Have A Bad Record
In 2014, a survey by Citi/AAdvantage found that most airplane passengers are rude, often unwilling to trade seats even if the other passenger is pregnant. This kind of behavior may give you a bad reputation. Flight attendants will report especially rude passengers.
If this happens to you, the next plane employees you see will know about your records. Airlines talk, and some are hesitant to allow passengers who have caused a scene. Some could even have their memberships revoked.
Seatback Trays Are Dirtier Than A Toilet
In between flights, employees quickly wipe down the cabin. They usually pick up trash and disinfect seats but do not have time to clean the seatback trays. In 2015, a study found that most seatback trays are eight times dirtier than a toilet handle.
Bring some disinfectant wipes onto the plane. Clean the seatback tray before you put drinks or food on it. You may even want to disinfect the seatbelt if you want fewer germs.
Pilots Also Have To Sleep During The Flight
Just as flight attendants need to sleep during long flights, pilots also have to rest. Pilots have separate sleeping compartments than the stewards. Their rooms are larger, and a pilot may spend half of a long flight resting there.
Of course, flight attendants won’t tell passengers that the pilot is sleeping. They don’t want to scare anyone into thinking that the plane is unmanaged. Rest assured that there will always be at least one pilot awake on the job.
You May Not Know If There Is A Bomb Threat
If a flight attendant knows about a bomb threat on a plane, they may tell passengers. They do not want to incite panic. Instead, they will tell the pilots, who will schedule an early landing, and contact the police.
You could be a passenger on a plane and never know about a potential bomb threat until you land. Even joke threats are taken seriously. The flight attendants will remove the dangerous passenger before anyone else disembarks.
Flight Attendants Will Make You Wear Headphones
Did you know that airlines demand that people wear headphones? It is company policy. If passengers play music or shows out loud, the cabin will descent into chaos. Fellow passengers will get annoyed, and some may not be able to hear directions from the stewards.
Flight attendants will tell people to put on headphones if they need to. Some airlines will also provide free headphones to people who don’t have them. Don’t be rude; never play noise out loud.
Why Flight Attendants Still Wear Uniforms
Since the first commercial flight took off in 1914, flight attendants have worn uniforms. There are many reasons for this (besides making them look good). For one, it’s easily recognizable. Passengers can always tell the difference between the pilot and a steward.
Second, the uniform tells passengers that flight attendants are professional and require authority. If they appear professional, passengers are more likely to obey them. It also tells fellow stewards what airline the flight attendant is from.
Don’t Get Starbucks At The Airport
Flight attendants know better than to buy Starbucks at the airport. For one thing, they receive free coffee on the plane. But for another, airlines such as Delta and American serve complimentary Starbucks coffee.
Since 2015, airlines have served Starbucks Pike Place coffee. If you like Starbucks for its lattes and other espresso drinks, buy it at the airport. But if you want a classic coffee, wait until the plane. That’s what employees do to save money.
Your Flight Probably Doesn’t Have An Air Marshal
An air marshal detects and reports threats to flights. They dress in casual clothing and often pose as a passenger. Even so, most flights do not have an air marshal on board.
Over 44,000 flights fly across the U.S. every day. It is impossible to place an air marshal on every flight, especially since 3,500 were laid off in 2014. If there is one on board, the flight attendants will know but not report to other passengers.
The Brace Position Is Not A Myth
Before a flight, stewards may demonstrate the brace position. In the brace position, passengers press their heads to their knees and cup their heads lightly on the back of their heads. Some conspiracy theorists say that this position does nothing, but they are wrong.
The brace position is proven to prevent injury should the plane crash. When Scandinavian airlines flight crashed in 1991, and a U.S. airlines fell in 2009, the brace position helped passengers.
Yes, Flight Attendants Are Watching You
Flight attendants have to keep tabs on their passengers. If something seems wrong, they will intervene to help the passenger. This means that, yes, stewards are keeping their eyes on you.
If you’re watching or reading something embarrassing, maybe don’t do it on a plane. The staff will notice, but they will be too polite to humiliate you over it. If you are bothering other passengers, stewards will notice. They may even step in if they need to.
Flight Attendants Can Act As First Responders
Medical emergencies can happen on airplanes. Fortunately, flight attendants are trained to respond to a medical emergency. They know how to perform CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, and they store defibrillators and first aid kits on board.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a replacement for a doctor. If the situation becomes more serious, the pilot may land the plane early. Unless it’s an overseas flight, this could take around 15 minutes. A steward may also ask if there is a doctor on board.
Flight Attendants Cannot Share Food
Airlines have a rule that flight attendants cannot share food. This is done to prevent food poisoning and keep others safe. Even if the flight attendants eat packaged food, they cannot share it with each other or other passengers.
Even so, most flight attendants will bring their own meals. Stewards cannot eat prepackaged meals on short flights. Even if they could, many stewards do not like eating the prepackaged food. We can’t blame them.
Some Meals Are Prepared Days In Advance
Airline food is not fresh. This seems obvious, but it might not be obvious that these meals are prepared days in advance. Many meals are packaged 12 to 72 hours before the flight. No wonder flight attendants pack their own meals.
After the flight ends, any unused food is thrown away. This is standard procedure unless the captain says otherwise. Airlines cannot give these meals to shelter, either. If you wanted to take a meal with you, you’re out of luck.
Never Give Trash To A Flight Attendant
If you’ve been on a plane, you’ve probably seen flight attendants carry a trash bag to let passengers throw out waste. There is a good reason why they do this. Handing trash to a steward is a health risk, especially if it’s a cup that you drank from.
Sure, a flight attendant may accept your trash. But it interrupts their workflow and could get them sick. Hang on to your trash until the steward comes around with a trash bag.
Stewards Can Only Do So Much For Your Pets
Some airlines allow pets on board for people who are moving or have a guide dog. But flight attendants can only do so much for these pets. They will work to make them comfortable, but they cannot control noise, turbulence, or restlessness.
Flying with a pet comes with some share of risks. Since the air is thinner 30,000 feet in the air, some pets will suffer from respiratory problems. It can also be difficult to calm their anxiety, especially on loud planes.
Keep Your Feet Off The Seats
It might feel comfortable to place your feet on the chair in front of you, but it will annoy the passenger in front of you. A flight attendant’s job is to make sure that everyone is comfortable. Don’t be surprised if they ask you to put your feet down.
If you have an empty seat in front of you, this may be okay. But flight attendants may move passengers to other seats, so don’t get used to it.
Most Flight Attendants Are Older
The stereotype of the young, hot stewardess is not as common as some people think. The Population Research Bureau says that half of all flight attendants are aged 45 or older. At least 22% are 55 or older.
Flight attendants are not all female, either. In the U.S., the percentage of male stewards has increased by 26% since 1980. Many flight attendants have older coworkers, so don’t be surprised if you see an employee above age 45.
Do Not Order Strange Or Fancy Drinks
Planes have a small variety of drinks. Sometimes, a passenger will order a special mixture of drinks, such as a Bloody Mary. The flight attendant will allow it, but they won’t enjoy it.
Flight attendant Andy Sparrow says that it takes a while to sort through the drinks to make that special order. And once one person breaks the mold, everyone else does, too. “As soon as one person asks for one, half the cabin fancy their own,” he told The Telegraph.
The Job Has Many Health Risks
Did you know that working on a plane comes with health risks? According to a 2006 study, flight attendants are prone to poor air quality in the plane, cosmic ionizing radiation, pesticides from disinfection sprays, sleep disruptions, and heavy physical job demands.
All of these lower a flight attendant’s immune system. They are exposed to many different people, and they can easily get sick. They can also suffer from sleep loss and stress from overworking.
Flight Attendants Suffer From Poor Air Quality
The air quality on planes is not ideal. Although cabins are pressurized, they still have 25% less oxygen than they do at ground level. In 2005, Swedish researchers discovered that plane air is quite dry, which irritates flight attendants.
Stewards commonly suffer from itchy eyes, coughs, congestion, a sore throat, and fatigue. Experts call the short and long-term effects of cabin air “aerotoxic syndrome.” For flight attendants, it is a normal part of work life.
The Best Time To Fly Is The Morning
When flight attendants get a morning shift, they celebrate. Why? Because early flights are the smoothest and safest. Studies show that early morning flights (before 8:00 am) are less likely to be delayed.
There is also less air traffic in the morning and fewer people on the plane. This gives passengers more room and flight attendants less work. It’s a win-win for everyone. If you are willing to take an early morning flight, do so.
Flight Attendants Are Not Allowed To Gain Weight
Have you ever wondered why all flight attendants appear slim? Airlines have strict rules about how much a flight attendant can weigh. It sounds harsh, but think about it: they must be able to lift heavy objects and easily move down the aisle.
Stewardess Annie Kingston told Oyster that flight attendants are weighed every year. She added that stewards “must have a healthy BMI.” This encourages flight attendants to remain fit so that they can work efficiently.
Employees Can Deliver Babies On Board
Flight attendants are trained to handle almost any medical emergency. Many will know what to do if a passenger goes into labor. One flight attendant told Business Insider, “I could deliver a baby if I have to.”
That said, having to deliver a baby on a plane is rare. Most airlines do not allow pregnant women onboard if they are beyond 36 weeks. International flights may not allow women even earlier in pregnancy. But if it happens, flight attendants will be prepared.
Flight Attendants Know Almost Everything About The Plane
If you have a question about the plane, you don’t need to ask the pilot. Flight attendants know almost everything about the vehicle. During flight school, they spend six to eight weeks memorizing plane facts, FAA regulations, and emergency situations.
While some flight attendants know more than others, some know a bit about emergency landings as well. If a hijack occurs, or if a pilot is unable to fly the plane, a flight attendant can step in.
Your Flight Crew Has Likely Met For The First Time
Sure, flight attendants can make friends on the job. But stewards and stewardesses are rotated so often that many are strangers. Whenever you get on a flight, know that the crew has likely met for the first time.
Airlines have a high amount of employees. For instance, Delta has 25,000 flight attendants spread out across 5,400 flights per day across 52 countries. Stewards are used to getting along for a flight and then quickly saying goodbye.
Your Flight Attendant May Have Checked You In
Have you ever boarded a flight and thought, “I recognize that stewardess”? Chances are, she may have checked you in. Many flight attendants double as ticketing agents when they aren’t working on the plane.
This does not mean that your flight attendant can give you a discount for being on the same flight. They still have to abide by airport rules. Besides, many airlines have limits on whether or not a flight attendant can give a passenger an upgrade.
When The Plane Door Is Open, Employees Don’t Get Paid
If you’ve ever gotten annoyed by a passenger taking forever to board, you’re not alone. Flight attendants do not get paid when the plane door is open. Once that door closes and the flight begins, they’re on the clock.
That doesn’t mean that flight attendants can do whatever they want while not on the clock. They still have to appear professional and do their jobs. The reason they don’t get paid is that stewarding has odd hours and is not a 40-hour work week.