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21 Flight Attendant Secrets Every Traveler Will Want to Know

These flight attendant secrets will make air travel a happier, safer experience for all

Air Travel flight attendantKent Nishimura/Getty Images

Help them help you

The next time you get the urge to fly—or “blast through the sky in a pressurized metal tube,” according to one hilarious airline announcement—you’ll spend a good deal of time in close quarters with the cabin crew. They’re a wealth of knowledge about all things flight related, which is why you can make your trip smoother by learning the things flight attendants wouldn’t do on an airplane, what flight attendants first notice about you and the rules to follow when you fly. But let’s be serious: Most of us are more interested in the juicy flight attendant secrets that pull back the curtain on the profession.

So we asked several seasoned vets who’ve worked for major U.S. airlines (and have seen it all) to share their best flight attendant secrets. (They want to keep their jobs, so they withheld their surnames to protect their privacy.) Going beyond the strange rules flight attendants have to follow, these flight attendants spilled pet peeves, insider secrets and tips to make your next flight even better.

People in line boarding their airplane at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu Hawaii.UCG/Getty Images

All they want in life is for you to follow the boarding directions

Those announcements about boarding, checking luggage at the gate, stowing luggage on board, finding your seat and other things may not seem like a big deal to you, but they’re designed to streamline the boarding process. And you can cause a delay if you’re not paying attention to them, says Yaika B. The cabin crew may not call you on it, but they do notice—nobody is above the rules.

Two flight attendants on the way to their planeHinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

They’re not looking for a fling in every city

Thanks mostly to Hollywood, flight attendants have gotten a wild reputation, but the truth is, most of them don’t hook up in every city. “I’m married, but honestly, I’m too exhausted to go swiping through Tinder anyhow,” says Ashley M. “After I land, all I want is sleep.” If you’re looking to snooze during your flight, find out what to wear on a plane for optimal comfort and convenience.

flight attendant annoyed by passengerRobert Alexander/Getty Images

They’re not looking for a fling with passengers either

News flash: Flight attendants aren’t looking to sleep with you, so don’t hit on them. Being hit on by passengers isn’t one of those funny stories airline veterans tell their pals—it’s annoying. “We are being friendly to you because it’s part of our job, not because we’re flirting with you,” says Evan R. “Also, we hate ‘mile-high club’ jokes. Having sex in the lavatory is going to be cramped, uncomfortable, and it’s gross. Your friend who said they did it? They lied.”

Delta Airlines Highlights Its Covid Safety Measures At National AirportMichael A. McCoy/Getty Images

They really don’t want to go viral

Every airline has a strict social media policy that is part of the rules flight attendants must follow. While crew members are forbidden from posting anything controversial or obscene (or anything that might make the best airlines look worse) on their own socials, passengers can do as they like. But that doesn’t mean flight attendants want to end up in those posts. “We don’t want to be on your social media, at all, not ever, not on accident, not on purpose,” says Evan, adding that it’s worse if you’re secretly recording them. “One of my worst flight experiences ever was when a ‘famous’ YouTuber filmed himself ‘pranking’ me.”

Man Sleeping On Bed Wearing EyemaskAndreyPopov/Getty Images

They use sleep aids too

Air travel can really mess up your circadian rhythm, throwing off your sleep for days after you land. “I keep a bottle of melatonin gummies in my flight bag,” says Evan, who also swears by an eye mask and headphones playing white noise. Flight attendants don’t use these things while on the job, but you can steal this tip for your next cross-country flight. By the way, those items also make great flight attendant gifts.

Social networkingmihailomilovanovic/Getty Images

The airline’s app has the fastest and most accurate info

If an airline has an app, install it and use it. It’ll have the most current and accurate information about your flight, including gate info, seat numbers, checked luggage and time changes or flight delays. Sometimes the app even gets updates before airline employees at the desk do, says Nicole J. Airline apps will also remind you of any travel restrictions or weather alerts and will walk you through the boarding process.

cranberry juice on an airplane5m3photos/Getty Images

Don’t make them recite the drink list for every single passenger

In general, flight attendants have to repeat themselves a lot, but you can make it a little easier for them (and faster for you!) by paying attention the first time they say something. That goes double for the drink list, says Emily C. If you can’t remember it, no sweat; just ask if they have something. If they don’t, it’s a simple “no.” And instead of asking the flight attendant to repeat the list so you can buy time to decide on your order, simply say, “Just a second, please.”

from airplane windowTommaso Tuzj/Getty Images

Turbulence can freak them out too

Normal turbulence is expected and usually not jarring for most seasoned crew members. But here’s one of the flight attendant secrets you’ve probably never heard: There are times when it feels severe enough that even veteran fliers get anxious and scared. “It’s OK to feel scared, but you can’t let the passengers see it,” says Olga P. “We are trained to stay calm, even if we don’t feel calm.” It’s helpful for you, too, to stay calm and keep your feelings in check, she adds. “It only takes one person screaming to set off a whole plane in panic,” she says.

Cropped shot of a woman sanitising her hands in the aeroplaneRowan Jordan/Getty Images

They get tired of the rules too

There are rules you need to follow when you fly, but there are also some pretty strict flight attendant rules that the cabin crew must abide by. And sometimes they’re as thrilled about following them as you are. “Especially during COVID-19, I wanted to scream over all of the cabin-sanitizing requirements because some of them were ridiculously time-consuming and really didn’t do anything other than put [on] a safety show,” says Carol L. But regardless of how they’re feeling, they still need to follow them—and so do you.

Naughty boy travelling by planeArtMarie/Getty Images

You are not the main character

Social media has led many people to suffer from “main character syndrome.” You know the deal: These people feel like they’re the star of a show, must film or snap their every move and assume their needs take precedence over everyone else’s. “This drives me absolutely crazy,” says LynnDee F. “Don’t jam the aisle trying to film your TikTok dance, talk loudly into the camera as you narrate your whole trip or force the entire plane to become the audience for your singing solo. I will make you stop.”

Young man putting luggage into overhead locker on airplane. Traveler placing carry on bag in overhead compartmentSpace_Cat/Getty Images

They see you overstuffing the overhead bin, and they’re not fans

Your boarding behaviors are among the first things flight attendants notice about you, so try to make a good impression. “Want to start off on the wrong foot with me?” says Beth B. “Put your carry-on in a full overhead bin, leave it sticking out 6 inches, then take your seat at the window and wait for someone else—me!—to come along and solve the physics problem you just created.” If you’re having trouble with your carry-on luggage, ask for assistance or choose an overhead bin with more room.

Denver International Airport scenesRobert Alexander/Getty Images

The pay can be pretty terrible

One of the harshest realities of being a flight attendant is the pay. Not only do they have a low hourly wage—it starts at between $11 and $20 an hour—but they’re not even considered on the clock until the boarding door is closed and the plane starts moving. (Delta announced in 2021, however, that it would pay certain cabin crews during boarding, and hopefully other airlines will follow suit.) This means the majority of flight attendants aren’t getting paid to help you put your luggage in the overhead compartment or find your connecting flight. “By the time I count all the hours I spend doing stuff that is necessary for my job but isn’t ‘official,’ I make less than minimum wage,” says Emily. “Think about that the next time you want to demand we do something extra for you.”

flight attendant greeting passengersERIC BARADAT/Getty Images

It helps to say “hello”

Chances are high that you’ll end up next to a stranger at some point in your journey, and it’s best for everyone to be friendly. Start with an easy “hello,” doable for even the most introverted of travelers. “I get it,” says Carol. “I have social anxiety too, but I’ve learned through my two decades as a flight attendant that you may need that stranger to help you, and that goes a lot better if you were friendly from the beginning.” You don’t have to become best friends or keep talking, but if you need to borrow a charger, swap seats or use the armrest, the request will go a lot smoother if you’re already on good terms. “A little kindness really goes a long way in air travel,” she says.

San Antonio International AirportRobert Alexander/Getty Images

They’re not above getting other passengers to take their side

We’ve all seen the viral airline videos of flight attendants who snap and steal a beer, curse out passengers or even jump out of a plane (on the tarmac). Most flight attendants don’t take things that far, but they are willing to get other passengers on their side when calming unruly travelers. “You disarm an unruly passenger by introducing yourself, asking his name and saying something like, ‘I’ve been incredibly nice to you for three hours. Why are you treating me like this?'” says Beth. “That also gets the other passengers on your side—and sometimes they’ll even applaud.”

airline passengersPATRICK T. FALLON/Getty Images

They “crop dust” the cabin sometimes

Everyone has to pass gas sometimes, and that includes flight attendants. But where and how they do it can be strategic, says Evan. “I’ve never done it, obviously, but I know flight attendants who will ‘crop dust’ a section of the cabin as they walk down the aisle if they feel like a particular group is being rude—or if they just can’t hold it in,” he says. (In their defense, holding in a fart can be bad for your health.) “Usually we go into the lavatory to pass gas,” he says, “and I recommend you do that too instead of grossing out your neighbors.”

Miami International Airport, American Airlines flight 1711 to Santo DomingoJeff Greenberg/Getty Images

They’re more diverse and mature than you think

Another stereotype flight attendants are constantly fighting is the idea that they’re all young, single, white women, says Ashley—who is married, 39 and Hispanic. The average age for flight attendants is 46 for women and 44 for men.

Orlando Airport, Delta commuter jet, flight attendantJeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Safety always comes before comfort

“We are there for your safety first. Service comes second to us,” says Alisha R. “We aren’t even trained in service while we go through initial training; it is six to eight weeks of drills, tests and safety equipment knowledge only.” So if you ask to do something that violates a safety policy—like bring your own alcohol on board—the answer will be an automatic “no.” Airline pilots need you to know that they, too, put safety above all.

Baby boy looking fascinated out of airplane windowKlaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Don’t expect them to fix an emergency you could have prevented

If you have a baby, bring diapers. If you have diabetes, bring syringes. If you have high blood pressure, don’t forget your medication. “If you ask nicely, I will try to make a diaper out of a sanitary pad and a pillowcase or ask over the intercom if someone has a spare inhaler,” says Alisha. But be as prepared as you can be. “Lack of preparedness on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on our part,” says Carol.

woman boarding plane SolStock/Getty Images

No, you can’t sit wherever you want

One of Alisha’s pet peeves is passengers who see their seat assignment as a suggestion, not a rule. It’s never open seating, so just sit in your assigned airplane seat, she says. Swapping after everyone is seated—say, if you’re a parent and want to sit next to your child—can be OK, though. At that point, you can politely ask a flight attendant to assist you for a smoother transition.

Passenger disinfecting airplane seats after boarding flightJoel Carillet/Getty Images

Airplanes are grosser than you think

Dirty feet up on head or armrests. Babies getting their poop-filled diapers changed right on a seat. Gum stuck to tray tables. Spilled food. Vomit. Blood. “You name it, I’ve seen someone do it on an airplane,” says Carol. It’s one of the biggest flight attendant secrets: Practicing good hygiene isn’t just about preventing COVID-19; it can protect you from myriad yucky things on airplanes. “And for the love of all that is holy, stop taking off your shoes and socks,” she adds.

Reusable water bottles on a tableTatiana Sidorova/Getty Images

Just bring a reusable water bottle

Stop buying $8 bottled water in the airport terminal. A reusable water bottle is one of the best investments Nicole says she’s made, and toting it on each flight is one of her top flight attendant secrets. Make sure it’s empty before going through security so it doesn’t get confiscated by the TSA. After that, you’re welcome to refill it as many times as you like. Having your own supply of water not only keeps you hydrated—which can help your immune system fight off germy airplane air—it’ll come in handy if there’s a delay or if cabin service can’t operate as normal.

Additional reporting by Michelle Crouch and Meghan Jones.

Sources:

  • Data USA: “Flight Attendants”
  • Daily Mail: “Steven Slater slides from JetBlue plane after quitting in 2010”
Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.