1. BRACE! – I’ll bet you there wasn’t a flight attendant in the world who did not open their flight manual and review the ditching procedures right after seeing what an amazing job the US Airways crew did evacuating a flight after landing in the Hudson River. On my last flight from New York to Chicago, out of La Guardia, you better believe I felt for my life vest under my jumpseat and did a quick 30 second review of our emergency evacuation procedures before take-off. While I know what I have to do, do you know you should do when the flight crew yells BRACE!
2. QUICK, I NEED A BARF BAG! – The last time I heard these dreaded words I happened to be standing in the first class galley. A passenger from coach came running all the way up the aisle and proceeded to throw up all over the lead flight attendant who was holding an open plastic bag, two commuting flight attendants sitting on the jumpseat, the cockpit door, the first class galley counter, and all over the linoleum floor. The sick woman pretty much made a semi-circle from the entry door to the coffee pots, hitting everything in sight – except for me, thank God. I felt really bad for her. I felt even worse for the other flight attendants. But it was Chris, a fellow coworker, who got the worst of it. When he bent over to clean up the vomit with a little shovel and crystals that turn barf into a foamy gel, his cell phone fell out of his starched shirt pocket and smack dab into the mess.
3. I PROBABLY FLY MORE THAN YOU DO – That’s the phrase that bothers my friend Anthony, a flight attendant for a foreign carrier, the most. It’s what usually follows next that bothers me – I’M A (insert frequent flier status here)! Even so, that doesn’t give you the right to do whatever it was you were doing that you were asked to stop doing, something you already know you shouldn’t be doing, given the miles you’ve flown. Now turn it off and put it away.
4. CAN I HAVE A GLASS OF WATER – SO I CAN TAKE A PILL Passengers don’t realize how quickly airplanes are turned around. Before I even have a chance to stow my crew bags and check the emergency equipment to make sure that it’s there and working, passengers are already making their way down the aisle to their seats. Boarding is by far the busiest time for a flight attendant. Half the time we haven’t even had a chance to set up the galley when passengers, five seconds after walking aboard the airplane, come running to the back of the aircraft to ask for “pill water.” Which is why we sometimes look a little flustered by the request.
5. SO DOES THAT MEAN THE ALCOHOL IS FREE? Whenever an announcement is made that there’s going to be a delay, nine times out of ten a passenger (or four) will ask if the alcohol is free, and freak out when it’s not free, because when it rains or snows or the airplane has a mechanical, free alcohol is always the solution. I mean who doesn’t want to get trapped in a flying tube for hours on end with a bunch of drunk passengers?
6. YOU’RE HOLDING US HOSTAGE! Luckily the only passenger I’ve ever heard use this phrase was celebrity passenger who is known for her magazine and television show. She made this announcement years ago in the first class galley after sitting on the tarmac in New York for over an hour due to icy weather conditions at the airport. We were flying to Bermuda. After the crew explained that we could not go back to the gate and lose our spot for take-off just for her she eventually sat back down and surprisingly did not say another word. My coworker Florence, who found herself with a three hour air traffic control hold in Chicago on a full Super80 flight with hysterical passengers – two who were claustrophobic and one who kept threatening to sue because the airline was holding him hostage, announced, ‘And how do you think I feel?” My sentiments exactly. No one likes a delay, including flight attendants.
7. ARE THERE ANY FIRST CLASS SEATS AVAILABLE? Recently a woman asked me this question on a flight from New York to San Francisco because her headsets didn’t work at her seat and she refused to move to another aisle seat in coach unless her husband could sit right beside her. The flight was full. Trust me when I tell you that if you feel the need to ask this question, the answer is no. Flight attendants do not upgrade passengers. Gate agents are the only ones with upgrading power, so those are the people you need to schmooze. But keep in mind that not only is there a standby list for those oh-so-precious premium seats, and each and every passenger on that list knows exactly where their name is on the list, there are very strict rules about moving passengers from coach to first class when there are seats available.
8. CAN YOU HELP ME GET MY BAG IN THE OVERHEAD BIN? For those of you who follow my blog, this question was addressed in my post, flight attendant pet peeve #3: you want me to do what? Simply put, unless you are an unaccompanied minor, elderly or handicapped and your bag is not too heavy, I will not put the bag in the bin. What I will do is help you find a place for the bag. I may assist you in getting the bag inside the bin, but the key word here is assist, people, as in team effort, because I will not do it for you.
9. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO FOOD / WE HAVE TO PAY FOR FOOD / YOU RAN OUT OF MY PREFERRED FOOD CHOICE? Exactly that – there’s no food, you have to pay for food, or we ran out of your preferred food choice – nothing more. It’s not personal. It’s business. So whatever you do, please don’t get mad at me, I’m just the messenger. Trust me when I tell you that flight attendants dread passing this message along to you. We already know how you’re going to respond. So just where did the service go? Unfortunately it disappeared along with those high ticket prices, which is why we’re now all stuck inside the flying metal tube together. Can’t we all just get along, regardless of the food situation?
10. ON MY LAST FLIGHT… These four little words are just the beginning of what I like to call “the bad response,” which is the response I often get whenever I tell someone what I do for a living. Ya see these four oh-so-innocent words will now be followed by a pause, which will then be accompanied by a weird look, which of course leads to a very bad story about their last flight. Needless to say, the conversation usually doesn’t go so well after this. How can it? I’ve now been linked to the worst flight this person has ever had.
11. (From creepy pilot) ANYONE WANT A BACK RUB? Uh – no! I don’t think so. Now here’s your coffee. Get back in the cockpit and stay there! This question came from my favorite pilot, Bob, the singing pilot, who is so not creepy at all, even though he did write a song about me – Lay across your jump seat, Heather.
12. HERE, TAKE THIS DIAPER? I’ll take the diaper, but only if you’ll work the beverage cart. Seriously, the last thing I want to touch is a dirty diaper (or crumpled snot rag) when I serve people food and drinks for a living. It’s just not sanitary to do such a thing. Look, I have a two year-old who travels often, so I know how it is, I know it’s not easy, but you’re going to have to keep the diaper at your seat until the aisle is clear and you can dispose of it properly in the lavatory trash receptacle.
13. WHEN DO WE GET THERE (During boarding) As I stand in the aisle and stare blankly at my watch, I’m trying to remember where we are right now, because I’ve been to several cities already, and where are we going again? Oh yeah, now I’ll just add the flying time, subtract the time change, and while I’m doing this passengers are flagging me down for “pill water” and asking me to help stow their bags. “Don’t they know what time they land when they buy their ticket?” asked Lynne, a fellow coworker. “Honestly, flight attendants only know what time they have to report to the airplane.” Sad, but true.
14. CAN YOU BREAK A $100? Uh-no! Which is exactly why you’re asking. Whenever somebody asks me to break a large bill, I make it a point to find the change, even if I have to go through the cabin begging each and every passenger to help me out. Usually passengers who carry big bills are trying to score a free headset, drink, or snack. Oh I know exactly what they’re doing. And don’t ask me for change every five seconds in flight, either. I don’t have it. I’ll get it to you as soon as possible. I’m not going anywhere. I promise!
15. WHERE ARE WE? On the airplane. Honestly, I don’t know where we are when I’m working a flight. I don’t have a chance to sit and stare out the window. What I do know is that we’re not there yet and the man in 24B would like a diet coke and his wife would like a glass of water – no ice, and that there are at least 50 more passengers behind you left to serve, before we pull the cart back up to the front of the aircraft and throw it all away. Please don’t make me walk all the way to the back of the aircraft, not when I’m in the middle of the service, just to call the cockpit and find out where we are – approximately, because we won’t be there for long and you know you’re going to ask me again, because we’re still not there yet.
Other tales from the skies
Amazing and insane stories from a real-life flight attendant and co-pilot