Galley Gossip: The Worst, Funniest and Most Common Bad Airline Passengers

Photo credit: Telstar Logistics

From time to time I get asked questions about bad passengers. I thought I’d share a few of them here.

What’s the worst passenger behavior you’ve witnessed?

I’ve caught passengers taking other people’s luggage out of the bin to make room for their own bags. I’m not joking. They’ll pull out a bag, drop it on the floor and walk away leaving it in the middle of the aisle for the passengers behind them to crawl over. Have you ever tried stepping over a 21-inch Rollaboard? Not easy. Happened three times last month!

The funniest?

Recently a woman tried to stow her suitcase in that, oh, what do you call that spot? Crevice? Crack? Between the overhead bin and the ceiling? There’s like a millimeter of space there! I don’t care which airline you’re traveling on, that’s not going to fit. Then there are the recliners and the anti-recliners. One anti-recliner got upset at a recliner because she couldn’t get her tray table down. I suggested if maybe she removed the gigantic fanny pack from around her waist it might go down. She looked at me like I was the crazy one! One man actually called me over because the passenger in front of him had reclined his seat. I had to point out that, uh … his seat was reclined too!

What’s the most common bad passenger behavior you’ve seen?

These days, people are so self-absorbed multitasking as they board a flight they don’t even say hello to the flight attendant greeting them at the boarding door. They’re too busy talking on the phone, typing on their laptops, listening to music and texting as they walk down the aisle to notice their backpacks and duffle bags are whacking people in the head. Recently a passenger got mad at me – ME! – because I wouldn’t help him lift a heavy bag. That’s because he couldn’t get off the phone to improve his one arm bag swing. Two arms always work better than one when it comes to getting those bags into the overhead bins.

What are the rules for dealing with bad passengers?

We can’t call the police or the fire department at 30,000 feet. That’s why it’s a good idea to take care of problem passengers on the ground before we depart. Before we kick someone off the plane, we’ll do everything we can to make a bad situation good again. Usually, it involves doing the following:

  1. Getting Down: Literally, we get down on one knee in the aisle at the passenger’s level. This position is less threatening to passengers.
  2. Listening: Most passengers just want to be heard. That’s it.
  3. Keeping Calm: We try not to raise our voices. Staying calm and in control will diffuse most situations.
  4. The Facts: We might ask what the problem is and then have the passenger suggest a solution. This way we’re all on the same page.
  5. Walking Away: A new face is new energy. If I’m not getting anywhere with a difficult passenger, I’ll remove myself from the situation and ask a coworker to step in. Even though a coworker may tell the passenger the exact same thing I did, they could get a completely different response.

If that doesn’t work, and we’re in flight, we might issue a written warning signed by the Captain. All this means is if a passenger doesn’t stop doing whatever it is they were doing, authorities will be called to meet the flight. That’s why I say if you’re going to freak out, might be a good idea to wait until we’re safe and sound on the ground and parked at the gate. No one wants to divert a flight. Plus you don’t want to end up in jail far away from home where no one can rescue you.

The 10 Best Travel Apps For Flight Attendants

1. FAAWait – During a creeping weather delay a flight attendant who also works part time as an air traffic controller told me about FAAWait. It’s his favorite app. One click and we knew which airports across the country were also experiencing delays, how long the delays were averaging, and what had caused the delays.

2. MyRadar: Recently a fearful flier on board one of my flights spent three hours watching the weather light up his iPad screen: blue, green, red – wow, so much red! He knew exactly when to expect turbulence, how bad it might get, and how long it would last. Knowing this kept him calm. At one point he even turned around in his seat to let the crew know it would be smooth flying from here on out. Two seconds later the captain called to tell us the exact same thing, it was safe to get up and finish the service. Since then I’ve been recommending the app to anyone who mentions they’re afraid to fly.

3. WhatsApp: An Emirate’s flight attendant from Bosnia based in Saudi Arabia told me about this app on a flight from Miami to New York. WhatsApp makes it possible to send text messages to friends and family out of the country free of charge. There is virtually no cost to stay in touch with loved ones. You can even share audio and video messages.

4. Twitter: Still the best way to get breaking news! You don’t need to “get it.” Just learn how to use the hashtags to find information as it’s happening. For instance, not too long ago I was at an airport that was being evacuated and no one knew why. That was my cue to search the airport code – #DFW. That’s how I found out there was a bomb threat on an incoming flight. I learned this from passengers who were actually on board the flight and tweeting about it as they taxied to the gate.

5. HappyHourFinder: Flight attendants don’t make a lot of money. In fact new hires start out making less than $18,000 a year. And yet we’re subjected to overpriced hotel and airport food on a regular basis. This is why we take advantage of happy hour specials, particularly ones that include half priced appetizers, which might explain how I ended up at Vince Neil’s Bar, Tres Rios, in Las Vegas two hours after learning about the app in the crew van on our way from the airport to the layover hotel.6. Instagram: Because when you travel there are just so many beautiful things to photograph. The app not only makes your pictures look ten times better, it’s easy to text and email your photos or post photos straight to Facebook or Twitter. What I enjoy most about the app is following people whose photos inspire me to travel, like @Lax2Nrt or even @Umetaturou who shares hilarious pictures of a Border Collie named Sora who can balance anything on his head. One of these days I’m going to fly to Japan and walk that dog!

7. Postagram: Remember when you used to send postcards to family and friends from around the world just to let them know you were thinking about them? Now you’re too busy to think, let alone search for just the right card to send. Not to mention all that time it takes to address and stamp it. With Postagram you can turn your cool photos into postcards by using pictures from your phone, Facebook or Twitter. Write a short message and Postagram will take care of the rest.

8. Yelp: Whenever I find myself at a layover hotel in a new city, the first thing I do is pull up Yelp just to see what’s nearby. I might use it to find a great place to eat, check out a tourist attraction, or locate a pharmacy within walking distance. Users post reviews and photos to help narrow down the search so you can determine whether or not it’s worth it to leave your hotel room.

9. HotelTonight: If you’re a commuter like me, this app will save your life one day. At noon each day HotelTonight offers great last minute deals on a couple of hotels near your current location. Get a $25 credit with your first booking, $25 for each friend who signs up, and $25 when a friend makes their first bookings. So … who wants to be friends?

10. GateGuru: Enter an airport code and up pops everything you could ever want to know about food, shopping, and any services offered, along with reviews, ratings and maps. Enter your flight number and access flight status, delays and weather conditions all in the same place.

Galley Gossip: How Being Married To A Flight Attendant Is Great Training For The Job

Photo: Christopher Bailey

Hi Heather, My wife is a flight attendant and for some time now I’ve been looking to make a career change and was thinking of becoming a flight attendant myself. I can see how she enjoys it and has fun with it and I’d like to try it, too. Do you think it would be a good or bad thing to bring up in an interview situation that I am married to a flight attendant or does it matter at all? Obviously being married to one gives me a greater insight and depth of understanding of the job and what it involves compared to many other candidates. I have a degree in Microbiology so I have somewhat of a brain, although my wife might debate that with you. I also co-managed a bar in Ireland before I came to the United States so I know what it’s like to have to deal with difficult and intoxicated customers. I also was an airport screener for a while and I’m a state certified emergency responder. I’d like to think these things would make me a strong candidate. Just curious what you think. Thanks for your time, Brian.

Based on your work experience alone, you sound like the perfect candidate to me! You’re comfortable cutting people off handling intoxicated passengers, you’re familiar with the responsibilities that go along with working at an airport, and you have a pretty good idea of what life is like in the sky. Being a certified emergency trainer will only make you more attractive to the airlines. Your wife, I’m sure, has mentioned that no one ever dies in flight, right? At least not until a doctor can make an official pronouncement. This might be why so many flight attendants have nursing backgrounds. Some are even senior enough to hold a flying schedule that allows them to balance a nursing career at the same time. These are always my favorite flight attendants to work with because when there’s an emergency in flight, they tend to take over. That being said, I truly believe it’s your wife that makes you a standout.

You've Got Heather Poole

You of all people should know that it takes a special person to be involved with a flight attendant. As you’ve mentioned, you already understand our crazy schedules and what the job entails. Most people don’t realize that being a flight attendant isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and it affects everything we do – or don’t do, because we can’t get the days off to do it. This explains why so many new flight attendants either quit a few weeks after successfully completing the training program or last a lifetime. It’s that extreme. Many people can’t deal with our long absences, missing holidays, not being able to make long-term plans, and our ever-changing schedules. Just last week I was reassigned not once, but twice before 10 a.m. on day two of a three-day trip, and then on day three, my three-day trip turned into a four-day trip. If there’s one thing that flight attendants have in common it’s that we always have back up plans A, B and C, because when it comes to working in the aviation industry something is bound to go wrong. It’s why being flexible in terms of scheduling is so important. This is exactly what makes you special. You understand all of this already. I say if you’ve got it, flaunt it! Good luck.

Galley Gossip: How To Answer Difficult Flight Attendant Interview Questions

I’m scheduled for a flight attendant interview on Tuesday! I’ve been through the process once before so I am familiar with the questions they may ask, but I’m just not confident in my answers sometimes. The hardest part is answering behavioral or situational questions. When they ask, “Name a time when…” I find it really hard to recall examples from my past work experience. I have trouble with these questions and I’m not sure what a good answer may be. I hope you can help. Here are a few examples.

1. How do you handle stress?

2. Name a time when you were under a lot of stress and how did you deal with it?

3. Describe a situation when you had to make a quick decision?

You’ve been through the interview process once before, so you already know what to expect. That’s half the battle. Try to relax and don’t forget to smile. Being able to keep your cool during a stressful situation is a big part of the job. The fact that the airline called you for a one-on-one interview says a lot about you. Thousands of people apply for the job, but very few applicants hear back from the airline. Remember that next time you’re not feeling overly confident. And try to have some fun.

When it comes to answering interview questions, the most important thing to do is let the airline know you’re a customer service oriented person – as often as possible. Talk about how you go above and beyond the call of duty to help people. Airlines are looking for flight attendants who are friendly, work well with others and take pride in their job. Try not to read too much into the questions. There’s no such thing as a right answer. You don’t have to share life-altering events for an airline to realize you’d make a great fit. Think in terms of the job. Keep it simple.

I can’t answer the questions for you, but I can give you a few things to think about when it comes to stress and making quick decisions.

 


1. How do you handle stress? Look how you’re handling it right now – perfectly. You’re doing everything possible to prepare for the interview. When you come prepared for something, you’re less stressed, and when you’re less stressed, you’re able to focus on the task at hand and do a better job. This is why the airlines spend weeks, even months, training flight attendants. When something goes wrong, we don’t think about it, we go right into action. How else do you think we’re able to evacuate hundreds of passengers during an emergency in just a few seconds?

2. Name a time when you were under a lot of stress and how did you deal with it? Running late, for me, is the worst stressor of all. When one thing goes wrong, it seems like everything goes wrong. This is why I give myself plenty of time to get to the airport. And why I set not one, but three alarms to wake me up when I have an early sign-in. Of course, it wasn’t until I found myself sprinting through the Tampa airport practically buttoning my blouse as I ran because my alarm didn’t go off to learn this lesson. Learn from your – er, my – mistakes. And pack the night before.

3. Describe a situation when you had to make a quick decision. Recently a passenger walked on board with his fly down. I could have ignored it, but I decided to tell him. I know I’d want to know! But I whispered it in his ear instead of saying it out loud for all the other passengers to hear. He blushed, turned around, and zipped up real quick. He also thanked me several times. Your quick decision doesn’t have to be a life changing event. Really you just want to show you’re a helpful person. When someone falls down, do you help them up or do you keep on going? It’s what the airline wants to know about you.

Hope that helps.

You might also want to check out this “Galley Gossip” post: “How To Prepare For A Flight Attendant Interview.”
[Photo courtesy of Kudumomo]