Secrets of a Modern Day Flight Attendant

 

Shhh! These are the innermost secrets of a modern day flight attendant.

It’s not a quick read. But if you have time you need to know this stuff because it’s something that anyone who flies regularly needs to fully appreciate what the flight attendant who has your life in his or her hands goes through and why they don’t always smile like you would like them to!

We’ve been in the industry for many years and have never known some of these innermost airline flight attendant secrets.

“We are not paid during boarding or until the door to the aircraft is shut. This means it’s mandatory to show up to work about 2 hours early but not be paid for it. So the hellos and goodbyes are not because “we are paid to say it”, at my company it’s not required to say hello during boarding, or good bye during deplaning, but many of us do because it’s the courteous thing to do as a person.

We can work a 13 hour day and only be paid 5. We are paid only during flight. So sometimes some of us end up with crappy trips where it is 5 flights all about an hour long each (so in total, only 5 hours of paid work). So while we are boarding, deplaning, etc. all of that is unpaid since that aircraft door is technically open. If you add in delays, that’s an even longer day, all without pay.

We hate delays just as much as you do, if not more. Delays usually means if I was going to originally have 10 hours of rest at the hotel before having to fly the next morning, now it is 8 hours. This 8 hours includes having a meal, showering, getting ready for bed, getting ready in the morning and travel time to the airport.

My job is safety first and service second. This usually hits a sore spot for the people who still believe flight attendants are glamorized waiters and waitresses. In contrary, our training actually focuses very little on customer service and mainly on emergency scenarios.

We don’t staff the plane for serving the passengers, there are a certain number of flight attendants on a particular flight because each is responsible for a specific duty in the event of an emergency and if this minimum crew is not met, and there isn’t a way to find a flight attendant to replace the missing flight attendant, the flight has no choice but to cancel.

This doesn’t mean, I have any right to mistreat any human being, but it does mean if it’s safety related it’s more important than customer service. If there is a safety violation, our airline will be fined, we would be disciplined, also in rare cases issued with a personal fine. We are always encouraged to be nice but sometimes nice doesn’t always work.

There are people who think we’re being silly because we told them to sit down during turbulence. Usually nothing happens but if we do hit an air pocket, this will cause the passenger to fly into a hard surface on the plane or onto another passenger. It’s our job to prevent that from happening. Of course we’ll always start by saying “hi, we’re going through some turbulence, can you please stay seated?”

If after a few times that doesn’t work and said passenger is blatantly ignoring us, a “sit, NOW” is acceptable. No, the customer is not always right.This is not a private jet. People are upset when the service is not personalized not realizing there are 300 people who are also on board. Since we are not required for service, airlines generally only staff us for government mandated crew staffing. If it feels like it’s taking forever for us to pick up trash, look back, most likely you’ll see we’re still in the aisle handing out drinks or barely back in the galley and setting up a trash cart.

I’ve encountered passengers who were upset because I couldn’t remember what drink they had during the first service, or pressing the call light to request for a drink before we even closed the boarding door and barely even gotten catered. I urge passengers to write to airline companies if their complaint is the service is too slow because we would love it if they decided to staff an additional flight attendant for service related duties.

However, given the history of how air travel is becoming, most likely the airline will just lessen the service for faster service and remain the same amount of staffing. Most passengers in reality do not choose airlines based on service, therefore most airlines are cost competitive.

It’s hard to answer the question “how much do you make in a month”. It depends on the trips we are able fly and how much we decide to work. I can work 20 days, doing exhausting trips that barely give me enough time to eat or go to the bathroom and earn half the amount I would working 6 days, staying at 5 star hotels and living life like a paid vacation. This is all within the same airline.

On a good month my friends and I view my job as a dream job. I’ve worked trips where literally I was paid to do pretty much nothing. I ate, sat, chatted, read my book/magazines and waited to take my break in the crew rest bunks. Then we landed, checked into a hotel that averages $500 USD a night, explored the city (I brought my significant other on this trip), lived life and the return flight was pretty much the same thing.

I had 2 passengers, both ate and didn’t want anything but to sleep and be left alone. So I was back to eating, reading, chatting, and waiting to go to bed in the bunks. During this entire trip I was being paid and I couldn’t believe this was my “job”.

It’s paid approximately how much someone my age would make in close to 2 weeks of going to work every day 9–5, 5 days a week. I’ve had other trips where literally for 13 hours it felt like I was nonstop walking (I checked my Apple Watch, I walked for 11 miles). Not even a moment to eat, and barely able to use a bathroom. Checked in to a hotel I’m sure people get murdered in, and barely able to lie in a bed for 6 hours before the next day to repeat the same thing and paid below poverty level for someone in my country.

The water from the plane is disgusting. I feel truly sorry for our coffee and hot water drinkers. That water is in a tank under the plane and I’ve never seen that tank being cleaned out.

How gross the lavatories are. To be honest I only use the lavatories on the airplane if I need to wash my hands or if I absolutely have to go to the bathroom. If it’s a short flight and I can leave the plane, I’m definitely waiting until I can use the bathroom in the airport.

(This varies with airlines) We do not get paid extra nor do we “work up” to working in a premium cabin. On certain planes it is actually more desirable to work in economy (usually the plane configuration, staffing etc). There are certain routes where I absolutely loathe working in first class and business class, and if given a choice I would much rather work in economy. Working in first class does not mean you are the “most experienced”.

My first day on the job I was the “lead first class flight attendant” and on that specific plane/route, usually it was the most junior person that ended up with that position.

It’s impossible pleasing everyone and a lot of times a good deed ends up biting us in the ass. When I first started flying, I gave a sandwich to a passenger who had a medical condition and he forgot to bring food. Well, this followed by another passenger demanding I refund her because it was “not fair that he got it for free but she had to pay”. I told her I couldn’t refund and this resulted in her feeling discriminated.

This also goes with moving a passenger into an aisle seat. Maybe the guy at the window seat is nice and doesn’t care, or maybe he is a jerk who will complain that I allowed someone who didn’t pay for the seat to sit there. I wouldn’t know, since I just got on the plane too. Yes technically he didn’t pay for all the seats in that row, but you will not believe how some people twist things once they feel wronged.

I had a woman tell me I was the worst flight attendant ever when she was exiting and I was working in a totally different cabin than she was sitting and did not even interact with her. A lot of people feel like because something bad happened we should give them something complimentary; well you see that opens up a can of worms. Basically if I do it for you, I have to do it for everyone else.

We will tell you if we are expecting to crash. The captain will give you the same information that we know if there is time and then we will begin emergency landing procedures. My job is to make sure we all get out alive, so of course I would want you to be as prepared as possible.

We have to be diplomatic in situations to avoid discrimination lawsuits. For example, that man that’s overweight and spilling into your seat on a full flight? I can’t tell him to suck in his gut or ask a thin person to switch with you. However, you can, because the worst that can happen is you’ll get a no and maybe a glare. If I do, I am risking a possible lawsuit against my airline or at worst, my job.

With the age of social media, a lot of things get twisted. I never want to be the flight attendant that “harassed a mother and her crying baby” or “not allow a man with a medical condition sleep” because he snores.

Your crew might be strangers to each other. I work at a major airline so it’s not uncommon we have not flown with each other before. Sometimes I don’t meet all my crew members until a couple hours into the flight.

Working in the airline industry has made me skeptical of innocent people being kicked off of airplanes.

I’m not saying all of them are lying. I’m just saying we have a chain of command that we follow before we remove someone from a flight. This usually involves about 10+ people (and from different departments) who all agree said passenger should not be on the flight, a lot of paperwork and a possible delay (without pay). I’m not looking for extra work for myself over something trivial and I just want to get home too.

If your boarding is delayed because they are missing a flight attendant and you see a flight attendant rushing on to the plane. That flight attendant is most likely not the flight attendant that caused the delay. At airports we have standby flight attendants (one or two at a time) who are dressed in uniform, bags packed and ready to go if a flight needs them or reserve flight attendants who get short notice to cover a trip when another co-worker cannot make it.

I have been called to work a flight because the flight attendant who was supposed to work it got into a bad car accident on his way to work (which was why he couldn’t give notification as to why he wouldn’t be there). I got to the gate within 5 minutes of my notification and met with glares from the passengers.

I’ve also had 1 hour notice for a reserve flight (I live an hour away from the airport) so I was the only late crew member to show up and of course passengers were upset at me but not knowing the circumstances. The worst is when we are facing weather (Mother Nature’s fault), and many of our crews are displaced and we have to fly into other airports to help work a flight. I’ve done it, but passengers are usually mad when they see me not realizing, if I decided to not take the flight, every one of them would most likely be spending the night in the airport.

We can’t do anything about your lost bags, delays, or rebooking your ticket. Sometimes I’ll get passengers who complain to me about things I really cannot do anything about. This also includes the meals, entertainment selection, and dissatisfaction with the airline. Yes, I am the flight attendant at this airline, but I do not work in all the departments at the airline.

I received training on how to evacuate a plane but I did not receive training or information on where to find lost bags or how to book a ticket for a passenger. Also, we don’t make the meals. They get loaded into a cart and put onto the plane and we just heat it up for you. If we have any left over, I can give you the other meal option (usually there’s 2 in coach) but if you don’t like either, there’s little I can do.

The airport you see us in, we might be as unfamiliar with it as you are. I had just transferred to a new base, so I was returning home from a trip and clearing customs for the first time at the airport. A woman approached me and demanded I lead her to the service desk. I was off work, exhausted from a 17 hour day, in a rush to get to my car to beat traffic and just trying to leave the airport like all the other passengers. To be honest I would have helped her on a human level, but she was very rude in the way she approached me.

I politely told her I did not know, and she demanded that since I was an employee it was her right for me to assist her. I told her again, “sorry, I do not know” and pointed to an customer service agent who I felt would definitely know the airport way better than I would. She then proceeded to storm off, not before rolling her eyes at me. Just because I report to work at an airport, doesn’t mean I’m the airport wizard – my duties are in flight only.

Just as if I decide to stop for a drink at Starbucks on my way to work, I am not obligated to stop everything and assist someone who is taking a flight on the airline I work for.

We’re human and we make mistakes too. Usually by the end of a long trip, my interactions with passengers can become a bit foggy (I’ve flown up to 15 flights in 4 days). I’ll get drink orders mixed up because after a while it starts all becoming a blur of combinations. So if I’m walking from the front to the back of the aircraft, and I get about 10 requests along the way, I’m bound to forget some of them. People get mad, but it’s really nothing personal.

I can’t possibly have an individual one on one experience with thousands of people in a short span of time and it’s very likely I won’t recognize you in the terminal. There’s really no point in asking for an upgrade.

We get asked during boarding to be upgraded but at my airline, flight attendants do not handle ticketing/reservations (totally different department). We do not know which seats will be occupied until we have our final manifest, which is after boarding and right before the boarding door is closed.

At my airline, we have rules against unauthorized upgrades and we can only move you into a different cabin if it is a safety related issue and we can’t move you within your ticketed cabin.

If you feel like an upgrade is compensation for x,y,z the company has done, the best course of action would be to resolve it with the company so they can document it. I’ve seen my fair share of blatant scamming (everything from self injury on the plane, to sob stories) for upgrades, which is why we will not move anyone unless there is a very legitimate reason.

Many of us will fly the same routes, and yes I’ve seen the same passenger try to pull the same scam twice. Also, it can be seen as unfair to our passengers who actually paid for their premium cabin seats/ earned it with their airline loyalty status.

(This one is purely based on my airline)

Our training is tough. We went through a 3 month training program in which 90% of that was safety, medical and security related. Each day was close to 10 hours on average, and with only one day off a week and multiple tests a week. By the time we were done, I can say I felt pretty confident in commanding an evacuation, fighting a fire or using an AED if needed.

I had my first emergency landing when I started flying my first month, and I was able to react immediately as if it was almost second nature. However, in those 3 months we probably only had 1 hour worth of customer service training. I was also someone who never worked a day in my life prior to being a flight attendant.

So yes! The first time I ever handed out a meal tray or even touched a galley was my first day at work. I was more nervous brewing coffee and serving a meal tray than I would have been if I had to administer oxygen to a passenger. I had no idea what I was doing when it came to the sequence of service and it was mainly just me observing what I saw my more senior crew members do. Passengers would be mad because they had to wait extra-long sometimes because I had no idea I was supposed to start heating the meals 20 minutes ago. I’m much better now though, I promise.

It genuinely upsets me when some people think we are useless and only there to give them food/drinks. Yes, that’s part of the job but that isn’t our main job. If my main job was handing out drinks, airlines would have long replaced flight attendants with pre-placed meals and vending machines and aircrafts could operate without a minimum crew and flights would never have to be delayed or cancelled due to lack of crew. This would save the airline millions if not billions a year on pay/benefits.

However my main job is to ensure we get to our destination safely and we all get to go home to our families. That is the job I take pride in doing and what I signed up for. Regardless if it’s my 5th flight of the day, I will always check to make sure the emergency equipment we have on board is in good working condition. Most likely we won’t need it, but if we do need an AED, oxygen tank, Halon, in-flight medical kit etc., I want to make sure it’s properly working and I can be confident in using it.

The airline entrusts us to watch over this multi-million dollar machine as well as the hundreds of lives on-board. It would be irresponsible to expect passengers to figure out how to deal with emergency situations, medical emergencies, notice a malfunction with the aircraft or prepare for a crash. Within my first month of flying, I alerted our pilots to a malfunction in our aircraft cabin door upon take off (flight attendants are the eyes and ears of the cabin), this caused the cabin to decompress.

Luckily, I caught it before we hit 10,000 feet and oxygen masks were not needed. We descended back to a safe altitude and landed. I’m not trying to “give myself praise” but if flight attendants were not on-board, would the flight have continued and would everyone just pass out from a lack of oxygen? It’s disheartening when some people think in an emergency we would ditch them. In an emergency, we will stay on the aircraft until we know you are out of the aircraft and safe.

Time and time again in crashes/evacuations the crew can be seen doing their job (Asian a crash, Hudson River landing, Pan Am terrorist attack, 9/11). Contrary to popular belief we are not “all dead” once anything goes wrong or even if we crash. Fortunately most of us will never have to experience a horrible event like that but even if you were a complete asshole to me during the flight, I’ll still make sure we both get out and make it home because that’s my job…”

Post Script: Some of this post may come off as me “hating my job”. It’s not a perfect industry, just like any industry or job. I love my job 90% of the time and there are many positives to the job, which is why I am still here and so many people are still applying. On board, I can openly discuss the positives with passengers therefore an answer based on that wouldn’t really be answering the question.