Long gone are the days of glamorous air travel, like when our grandparents wore suits and hats onboard and flying felt like a dignified experience. Today’s air travel feels more like a cattle call — cramped spaces, airports that feel like ant hills, the stressful hustle and bustle of getting from point A to point B. No one knows the frustration of air travel more than flight attendants.
I love my job. I’m so grateful that flying is how I get to spend my days, but being a flight attendant is a lot more than what it looks like. We work 10-12 hour days, with multiple flights per day for months on end — and we don’t get paid for a lot of what we do. We experience every delay, every operational hiccup, every angry passenger, and every possible disappointment you can imagine when traveling every time we go to work. This job is amazing, but it definitely takes a toll on your physical and mental health.
As much as we try to take everything in stride, there are things we wish we could beg our passengers to stop doing on airplanes. Gross things, inconsiderate and rude things, and just downright annoying behaviors that make already long and stressful days that much harder on other passengers and ourselves.
If you’re planning on flying for the first time or you’ve got some serious miles clocked on a mainline carrier, here’s a list of things you need to know in order to be the best passenger a flight attendant could ever ask for.
Keep your shoes on
If you’re under the impression that airplanes undergo any sort of routine cleaning and disinfection, I’ve got some incredibly bad news for you. That water on the floor of the lavatory? Yeah… that’s definitely not water.
Nothing turns a flight attendant’s stomach like seeing a barefooted individual waltz into an airplane lavatory or getting a whiff of the inside of someone’s sweaty shoes that they’ve kicked off under their seat.
Airplanes are disgusting and we’re all breathing recycled air, so please keep your shoes on your feet where they belong.
Go to the bathroom before boarding
Little known fact about the aviation industry: a delayed flight can be blamed on a flight crew and we can be penalized if boarding takes too long, even if we can’t do anything to make it go faster. We totally understand that sometimes connection times are short and maybe you didn’t give yourself enough time to get through security, but please use the restroom in the terminals when you can help it. The congestion caused by multiple people having to use the restroom during boarding makes getting the process done in a timely fashion really difficult and stressful for us.
Continuing on with the aforementioned point about timely boarding, please go through a mental checklist of the things you’ll need in your seat and get them situated before your boarding group number is called. The best time to realize your phone charger is in the bottom of your carry-on is when you’re still in the terminal, not when you’re in the window seat of a completely full flight in the middle of boarding.
Do you know what seat you’re going to? Make sure your boarding pass is in hand. Some mainline carriers have seatback monitors on their planes for movies, so be sure to bring your own headphones with an aux plug-in. Visualize everything you’ll need to have readily available for your flight and be sure they are packed into your purse or backpack that will be under the seat in front of you.
Read your menu and take out your headphones
When we’re working a domestic leg on a wide-body aircraft with less than two hours to complete a full service for 300+ passengers, there is no more aggravating response to the question “What would you like to drink” than “What do you have”? Not a lot of time is what I have. There’s almost always going to be a menu in your seatback pocket and if there isn’t, consider what you’d like to drink and ask for something similar.
When you see us approaching your row for service, please pause your entertainment and take out your headphones. Having to repeat a question to a passenger fives times before they pause their movie and make eye contact with you is so frustrating. Not only does this slow us down, it’s pretty disheartening after a while to feel invisible to our passengers.
Close your window shade
While you might be bright eyed, full of iced coffee, and super excited for your 6am flight, that dude in the middle seat next to you might have just come off a 15-hour flight from Hong Kong with an infant who never stopped screaming. There’s nothing worse than hoping for a good nap on a flight only to end up being seated next to someone who leaves the window shade wide open the entire time.
By all means, open them for take off and landing — but I promise you there is nothing interesting to see once you’re at 35,000 ft. It all looks the exact same. If you need to do work, use your reading light. It’s way less imposing than outside sunlight and won’t disturb your travel weary seatmates nearly as much.
Hand us your trash
Unless an airplane is moving, flight attendants are not getting paid. We don’t get paid for boarding, deplaning, ground time in between flights, or delays at the gate. Some carriers also require flight attendants to pick up trash on their airplanes in between flights when they’re not being paid to do so.
We walk through the cabin several times during a flight collecting trash, so please hand over your Starbucks cup rather than shoving it in your seatback pocket. The last thing a flight attendant wants to do with their 30-minute break in between flights is pick up trash that could have been given to them during the flight.
Keep your personal grooming personal
I sometimes liken an airplane to the lobby of a bank. If you wouldn’t be comfortable clipping your toenails or Q-tipping your ears in the lobby of a bank, then why are you comfortable doing it on an airplane? I’ve seen enough eyebrows getting plucked, hair being brushed over neighboring tray tables, dirt removal from underneath fingernails, and tooth-picking on airplanes to last me a lifetime.
We’ve already gone over how frequently airplanes receive a deep cleaning, so please hold off on doing anything that might leave behind traceable DNA until you have arrived at the airport.
Don’t fly sick
We know that no one ever plans to get sick and that it never comes at a convenient time, but please don’t get on board an airplane if you are ill. The potential for complications with illness increase tenfold once you’re in a pressurized cabin and there is unfortunately very little we can do for you inflight. Also consider that airplanes are full of passengers with compromised or underdeveloped immune systems, like small children or elderly adults.
Similarly, if you’re exhibiting symptoms of a communicable or highly-contagious infectious disease, you could inadvertently cause a diversion. Do yourself and your fellow passengers a favor and re-book when you’re not feeling well — and especially if you’re running a fever.
Give yourself time
There are few things more stressful for a flight attendant to deal with than a passenger who might not make their connection. Never give yourself less than an hour in between flights. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and your flight crew cannot call ahead to your next gate and ask them to wait on you, that’s unfortunately not a thing.
Similarly, please don’t wait until the last minute to fly out for an important event. If you’re the maid of honor in your sister’s wedding tomorrow, please don’t book the very last flight the night before to get to the other side of the country. Weather, maintenance delays, air traffic control delays, and ground delays happen all the time and cannot be predicted. Take an extra day to fly for the important stuff.
A flight attendant’s actual job is to ensure that you arrive to your destination safely. The realm of things that we have control over is limited to the confines of the aircraft itself. I can’t do anything about a cancelled connection, a lost bag, etc.
While we have very little control, we’re the most convenient punching bag for upset passengers because we’re often the only uniformed personnel they encounter in their travel day. Any customer service job comes with its share of this type of treatment, but I’ve worked in enough of them to know that the aviation industry can be especially cruel.
A smile while boarding, a simple “how are you,” or a compliment about the service or the flight can really go a long way for an exhausted and homesick flight attendant. If you really feel like generating some good karma points, send a tweet to the airline complimenting the crew on your flight. It really makes rough days worth it.