Traveling and seeing the world as a flight attendant might seem glamorous, but most passengers don’t know what they really have to deal with regularly.
We chatted with two flight attendants to get the scoop on their job, from the perks and inspiring passenger stories to the lows and downright frustrating moments. Here’s what they wish their passengers would keep in mind.
Common courtesy should actually be common
Being up in the air doesn’t mean you should say goodbye to your manners. Kelly Kincaid, a flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier with 10 years of experience (and also the creator of Jetlagged Comic) told HuffPost that her biggest pet peeves while at work include passengers who don’t respond when she greets them at the door of the aircraft and those who don’t remove their headphones when she’s chatting with them about their drink or food orders. She also notices what passengers do when she’s collecting trash.
“What really gets my blood boiling is when I’m collecting trash and someone is holding up garbage in one hand and tapping away on their laptop with the other, eyes cast down,” she said. “It’s so degrading when someone doesn’t acknowledge your presence, especially when you’re taking their crap.”
She added later: “Look up and smile at the person taking your trash, who also doubles as your CPR first responder and evacuation expert. Teach this to your kids, too. This will make it awesome for your flight attendants, and we will spread that love to everyone else on the flight.”
“If one person has a bad day on the aircraft, it can ruin it for all,” he said.
For everyone’s sake, don’t forget about hygiene
Robert also suggested some tips about personal hygiene based on experience that we really don’t want to know more about.
“Make sure to shower and apply deodorant before joining our gang of vagabonds,” he said. “If you have stinky feet, do not remove your shoes! One set of stinky feet can violate an entire cabin.”
He also asks that passengers be mindful of keeping their space tidy and try to remain seated when flight attendants are serving food and drinks. And if you do need to use the bathroom while in the air, remember it’s not your personal space.
“No loitering in the lavatory!” he said. “We don’t call it a restroom on a plane because we want you to avoid thinking you are meant to rest in there. There is normally one toilet for 30 to 50+ passengers so do your business and get out.”
They’re not giving safety instructions just for fun
When the flight attendants do their regular safety demo, resist that urge to shove your earbuds in your ears. Robert said passengers who ignore the guidelines that are there for their own safety frustrate him the most.
“You wouldn’t ignore or give lip to a firefighter if they told you not to go in a burning building, so why do you dismiss us or roll eyes and get huffy when we’re giving you instructions that are meant to keep you safe and save your life in an emergency?” he said.
It can take a little to do a lot
You’ve probably seen those occasional heartwarming stories about passengers helping out parents with small children. Kincaid and Robert get to witness these inspiring moments in person and see passengers go above and beyond with little acts of kindness.
“There are times where we’re trying to get a parent and child seated together and a kind person offers their seat, or when an elderly person is trying to lift their bag and someone steps in to offer a helping hand,” Robert said. “We notice these things and often give those good citizens extra attention and goodies for their kind deeds.”
Kincaid said she gets joy out of seeing people help each other ― and do a bit extra for the flight attendants, too.
“The other day, a young man was cleaning up some trash he noticed on the floor before we could,” she said. “It’s a small thing, but it goes beyond my expectations when someone does something kind and selfless when they think no one is looking.”
Stock up ahead of time
If you’re gluten-intolerant, vegan or have another restriction that you can manage on your own, it’s a good idea to come prepared. Robert said you shouldn’t expect the crew to have an endless supply of options.
“Bring your own (not smelly) snacks and water because those little cups of H20 we pass out don’t cut it!” he said.
There’s more to their job than bright smiles and bubbly attitudes
The flight attendant aesthetic includes a pristinely clean uniform, a dazzling smile and a cheerful attitude, which might lead some people to forget that the job takes a lot of work.
“I wish passengers knew how much hairspray, makeup and doctors’ visits go into making us appear runway ready,” Robert said. “When the reality is, we’re often shattered and exhausted.”
He noted that flight attendants play the role of safety professional while also always smiling, being well-groomed and catering to hospitality duties.
All grievances aside, Kincaid wants passengers to know how rewarding her job can be.
“I think most people think it’s just pouring Diet Coke and trying not to strangle people (which is also true),” she said, “but you also live this incredible, freestyle life.”