They (graciously) serve us cold drinks and packages of pretzels, and have mastered the art of navigating a tiny aisle full of travellers who choose to ignore the "fasten seatbelt" light. But what's it really like to be a flight attendant? And is there a secret to getting your ears to pop on a plane? A flight attendant who works for a major US airline recently did an IamA on Reddit, and shed some light on the job, as well as tips and secrets for flying.
1. Is there a "good" way to make your ears pop on ascent/descent? Pressure sometimes drives me crazy.
"Look up scuba diving equalisation techniques. One of those is probably your best bet."
2. Is it true that cabin crews use tap water to obtain hot water and they use it for tea and coffee?
"Yep. If you didn't see it come out of a bottle, it could've been from the portable water tanks. Tea and coffee always come from those tanks. Some of us drink it, some don't . . . Those tanks are filled at many airports by many different people, and cleaning them is hard. And when you're on three or four planes in a day, it increases our exposure that much more, so we don't [drink from them]."
3. Do you get any kids flying unaccompanied? Is it a lot of work for you when you have young passengers to keep an eye on?
"Yeah, especially during school breaks and summertime. It's not a lot of extra work, and I like to have fun with them if they're cool. Even the most jaded flight attendants perk up at UNAMs (unaccompanied minors)."
4. Is it acceptable/ normal to tip FAs for drink purchases?
"We're supposed to politely decline once before accepting. It's not common, but it is appreciated! Just keep in mind there's more than one of us on the plane, so I'd only do it if you received exceptional service from one of us in particular."
5. What was the worst customer interaction you have had to deal with?
"I had to take a drunk former NFL player (looked him up after) out of my galley when he wouldn't get the hint that my co-worker didn't want to sleep with him. That was rough, and I would've been screwed if he had gotten any more violent."
6. I have a close friend that would like to explore a career as a flight attendant since she enjoys travelling. Would you have any advice for her? How can she prepare to become an extraordinary candidate when it comes to interviews or just the hiring process as a whole?
"First, make sure that she wants the job and not the glamour. It's easy to love travel when you're in Paris or Lima or Toronto. Less so when you're in Omaha, Bozeman, McAllen.
To prepare, get as much customer service experience on her resume as possible. Bonus points for supervisor roles. Be nice and personable. Learn a new language if it's possible.
There's a great Facebook group called Flight Attendant Career Connection. Some woman runs it and tries to sell things to people (skip the non-free stuff), but the group itself is a good group.
And finally, do your research. Don't apply for American if you want to be based in Houston. Or United if you want Atlanta. Or Delta if you wanted Chicago. Understand the individual carrier's tattoo, commuting, and pay policies."
7. Have you ever caught anyone having sex in the plane bathroom? If so, how did you deal with the situation? What would typically happen if someone gets caught having sex? Is it usually a charge right off the bat?
"Not yet. If they're being quiet and discreet, I'd probably let them finish on a longer flight. We're supposed to stop them, though."
8. What would typically happen if someone gets caught having sex? Is it usually a charge right off the bat?
"Typically? No. If you get caught, you're told to stop. If you do, and you weren't going at it in your seat in front of everyone, most flight attendants would drop it then (we hate paperwork like everyone else).
If you cause a scene, then we'll have to write it up and tell the flight deck, and then things are out of our hands."
9. Was there ever a moment where you felt like you were certainly going to be in a crash?
"Yeah, I've prepped for an emergency landing twice. It's not fun, but we just fall back to our training and by the time it's over, it's like you were on autopilot and didn't really have time to freak out. Both landings ended up going okay."
10. Which kinds of airline passengers are the most annoying to you?
"The ones who are so wrapped up in their own world they forget that they're travelling with 200 other human beings, and are being attended to by other humans.
Quick story: I had a medical situation on my flight. As I'm attending to it, as a second, more serious situation happens.
I leave the first passenger with one crew member and go to help the other two in the back by grabbing supplies (I thought we were gonna have to use the AED). I heard a call bell go off, but it didn't look important (no one was slumped down or laid out in the aisle like the other two) so I kept going. As I finish up the situation, the call bell rings twice. I run over, and this woman has the nerve to go off on me and yell that I haven't attended to her this whole time (we must've been in the air for 45 minutes out of a three-hour flight) and she 'needs a god damned diet coke.' No care for the two people on the floor, or the flight attendants and EMTs that happened to be onboard. No, no, this woman needed her Diet Cola."
11. I'm about to take my almost two year old on a six-hour flight for the first time. What are some things parents in my position do that totally piss off the crew? And what isn't always done but makes your lives easier?
"Do: Be completely self sufficient. Remember that babies have a hard time adjusting to the pressurization and can't clear their ears like adults. Get them something to chew on before takeoff and landing, that generally helps. Ask for help if you need it. take your time. board early if the airline lets you, and deplane later than others.
Don't: Ask us for milk (you don't want ours, trust me), cooling (I don't have fridges), or heating (I'm not putting your bottles in our ovens). Expect us to have entertainment for a baby for six hours. Honestly, most flight attendants are fine with babies. The other passengers might raise more of a stink than we ever would."
12. Is retaining flight attendant employees/career an issue?
"No, not really. At our airline, five years in is still considered to be fairly junior. At some bases, the reserve cutoff (meaning you get ta set schedule instead of being on call) is more than 10 years of seniority. That's usually the junior-most 20 percent or so. Furthermore, when we hire, we get flooded with applications. It's not hard to find excellent candidates.
In this profession, seniority is everything. The reason you see the older folks on the long haul international is because that's what they want, and since they've been here the longest, that's what they get to work. The short, less productive, trips are worked by a newer staff."
13. What should I do about safely travelling with my guitar in cabin on a crowded flight?
"Get on the plane as early as possible. Get in as early of a group as possible, depending on the airline, you might have to sign up for a credit card or pay for early access. If you ask nicely, we have closets that we sometimes have room in."
14. Have you ever seen someone downgraded to coach or bumped off the flight entirely to seat someone the airline deems to be a VIP?
"Doesn't happen with VIPs. I have a way to look up the VIPs flying with us, they're almost always in first days before the flight. Sometimes though, flights are oversold. That gets tricky and props to the GAs who deal with that. Can also happen for security reasons. Can't say more about that though."
15. How often do you or your peers hook up on trips?
"Depends on the crew. The older crew, not often, sometimes internationally. Some of them have been doing this 20+ years, so I guess at some point the novelty wears off.
The younger ones . . . speaking from experience, on an international widebody crew (staffed with 8+ FAs) with a junior crew, there's usually at least one person hooking up on a layover, be it with another crew member, local, or (rarely) a passenger. Domestically, it happens, but not as often.
As the only straight guy sometimes, it's nice, but hard to toe the line and not come across as a sleezeball. There's 25,000 of us, but in this job, your reputation precedes you anywhere you go. I know of at least two guys who aren't told of plans on layovers because of their reputation."
17. How do you get over the fear that the plane can crash at any time?
"You almost don't. Five weeks of training are dedicated to emergency procedures. We just hope to never have to use that training. But if something happens, I have a worse chance of surviving than you do. It's why we're so cranky about seemingly benign things (laptops away, tray tables up, things unplugged, etc) sometimes.
If the job was all serving cokes and meals, they'd've replaced us with vending machines years ago."
18. Is it true that I couldn't be a FA, because I'm 6'6"? Also do you get to spend much time at destinations abroad or domestic?
"Depends on the airline. Too tall for ours but they go off your drivers license and don't measure you themselves.
Domestic can be as short as 8 hours (which is a joke but it happens). International is usually at least 24 hours, but most of the time you really only get about 10 hours to explore and you've got to sleep twice in that time frame."
19. I'm absolutely terrified of flying. I take medication for anxiety attacks before the plane, and attempt to let flight attendants know about it, but honestly have no idea how to handle it. How would you like someone to tell you? And are there any tips for flying for someone who is scared?
"Absolutely tell us! We'll check on you during the flight. Most of us have friends or family that are nervous fliers too, we understand.
As to how/when, if it's a long flight and you have a chance to get up and walk to a galley, come find us and chit chat for a bit once the service is done. If it's not a super long flight and you can't really get up, try to catch one of us standing during boarding or during the service.
Don't worry about the other people around you, that's my job.
Tips, unfortunately, I don't have any flying specific ones, sorry! General anxiety ones I've picked up though include making sure your diet is balanced (and you're not changing it too much before a flight), avoid caffeine, sugars, and alcohol. Find a good breathing app for your phone and do breathing exercises. Learn to properly meditate. Personally, I like tight clothing when I'm anxious (I like hugs, and tight clothing is close enough sometimes) but if you get claustrophobic, wear loose clothing."
20. When you first became a flight attendant, what were things that disappointed you about the job?
"I don't know that I was disappointed with anything — I'd done my research and I knew most of the downsides going into the job. The biggest thing I wasn't expecting is the lifestyle change. You start and end every trip at your home base, but that doesn't mean you start and end every day at that base. A three day trip might take you through 8 cities, and you may wake up and go to sleep at different cities each of those days. I've woken up and not known what city, state, or even country I'm in."
21. What types of flight benefits do you guys get?
"I fly for free domestically (taxes only), and have heavily reduced rates overseas. I get one friend or spouse that flies at my level, at my cost. My parents have benefits as well. My kids (if I had them) would have benefits. And then there's buddy passes for friends, which I try to never use (too much hassle. If they're an idiot, I get in trouble. If they get stuck, they get mad at me. Easier to just tell people no)."