Galley Gossip: 5 ways flight attendants handle difficult passengers

Flight attendants deal with unruly passengers all the time. How we handle a problem passenger depends on the situation. Most of the time a few simple techniques can be used to diffuse a situation, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Because sometimes, every once in awhile, we have no choice but to involve law enforcement – not just for our safety, but for the comfort and safety of passengers on board. What kind of behavior could possibly result in an arrest? The following scenarios actually took place in flight and are just a few examples of what not to do on an airplane.

THE GROPER: When I first started flying, a big wig studio executive sitting in first class from New York to Los Angeles walked into the business class galley and pinched my you-know-what in front of three coworkers. Shocked, we all just stood there trying to comprehend what had just happened. That’s when Mr. Big Wig actually did it again.

THE FIGHTER: A young woman dressed suggestively wandered around the coach cabin talking to several different male passengers. Later on we learned she had asked each one of them to buy her an alcoholic beverage. After they refused, she finally came back to the galley and requested a beer. The flight attendant refused to serve her since she appeared to be a minor. The passenger responded by punching the flight attendant in the face.

THE FLASHER: A passenger stood inside the lavatory with his pants down around his ankles. Whenever he’d hear someone pass by, he’d push the accordion door open and quickly expose himself.

Here’s a tip: If you wouldn’t do it at your mama’s house, don’t do it on the airplane.

Usually flight attendants can spot the typical problem passenger during boarding. This is because when we smile and say hello, they bite our heads off, letting us know exactly why they won’t be flying our airline ever again. Whether or not we had anything to do with what went wrong before they even came on board does not matter. We are now stuck for hours on end with an unhappy passenger who is determined to take it out on us.

Of course, it never fails, this same passenger will not find a place to stow their bags because they were late getting to the airport and now the overhead bins are full . This is the passenger whose seat does not recline due to the fact they’re sitting in front of the exit row. This is the passenger who did not get a chance to purchase a snack because we ran out of food before we even got to their row. This passenger, without a doubt, will snap at a flight attendant at some point during the flight. So what can a flight attendant do to keep the situation from escalating?


  1. Get down to their level: Literally, get down on one knee in the aisle. This position is less threatening to passengers
  2. Listen: Most passengers just want to be heard. That’s it.
  3. Keep calm: Do not raise your voice. Stay in control
  4. Just the facts: Ask what the problem is and then have the passenger suggest a solution. Keep emotions at bay.
  5. Excuse yourself: A new face is new energy. If you’re not getting anywhere with a difficult passenger, remove yourself from the situation and ask a coworker to step in. Even though a coworker may tell a passenger the exact same thing you did, they could get a completely different response.