Learn from the professionals
No matter how many times you’ve flown the friendly skies, you haven’t done it as much as a flight attendant. And that means you likely have something to learn. The flight attendants we spoke with know a thing or two about what it takes to stay healthy, rested, and happy on a flight – as well as how to be a considerate traveller. If you’re engaging in any of the following behaviours, it’s time to change things up so you can have a better travel experience every time you fly.
Staying glued to your seat
“When the seat belt sign is off, walk throughout the cabin to get the circulation going in your legs,” says Emirates cabin crew member Lauren Guilfoyle. “And remember to stretch a few times throughout the flight to get your muscles loosened up and the blood circulation going.” Not only might you start to get stiff and/or stir-crazy if you don’t get up, but you could also be endangering your health. On a long flight, in particular, a lack of movement can put you at an increased risk for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a potentially deadly blood clot, according to the CDC. Simply getting up and moving around can reduce that risk.
Stuck against the window with a sleeping seatmate on the aisle? No worries. “When seated, motion each letter of the alphabet with your foot to get the blood flowing and avoid ankle swelling,” Guilfoyle suggests. “Circulatory exercises will keep your cheeks looking rosy and make you look more awake when you de-board.”
Falling asleep unbuckled
A domestic flight attendant we’ll call Suzanne says that neither she nor her colleagues would ever “fall asleep with our seat belts off.” Why? She poses this rhetorical question: “Do you want to hit the ceiling?!” before noting her frustration at passengers who get mad at her for “having to poke them to wake them up and make sure their seat belt is on.” You never know when the plane will hit turbulence or experience some other unexpected emergency, so it’s always best to be safe while you snooze.
Drinking too much alcohol
“When you’re flying long-haul, the number one rule is to drink plenty of water because the air circulation can dry out your skin,” says Guilfoyle. Flight attendants obviously don’t drink while on the job, but they tend to steer clear of adult beverages when flying as passengers, too. In addition to keeping their skin hydrated, they also want to avoid a restless struggle to fall sleep on board. Plus, “a plane hangover is more merciless than one on land.” Guilfoyle also suggests avoiding caffeinated drinks and instead sticking to water and fruit juices.
Drinking coffee or hot tea
You probably won’t see a flight attendant drinking the coffee or tea on board a flight, no matter how tired they are, says an international flight attendant using the pseudonym Rebecca for this interview. “We really don’t know how good or clean the filter system is in the plane, therefore I don’t know where exactly that hot water is coming from to make the coffee and tea,” she explains.
Walking barefoot around the cabin
While the cabin of each plane is cleaned before every flight, germs can still linger on the floor. And while Guilfoyle says that’s a big reason flight attendants would never walk around the cabin without shoes, it’s not the only reason. “Sometimes glasses are dropped and broken, or our youngest travellers leave crumbs, so there could be sharp objects and food on the floor,” she says.
Flight attendants would never ignore the repeated trips their colleagues make up and down the aisle with garbage bags, especially as the plane approaches its destination. They are there and ready to collect all your protein-bar wrappers, breakfast-sandwich packaging, and folded-up newspapers. All you have to do is hand them over. First of all, it’s the polite thing to do, since otherwise, it will create more work for the cabin crew. Second, flight attendants know that turning over the plane must be done swiftly to ensure the next flight departs on time. One way to make this process smoother is to not have passengers leaving their seat, floor area, and seat-back pocket littered with garbage.
Asking for multiple beverages
Rebecca says that there’s no way a flight attendant, when flying as a passenger, would ever ask for multiple drinks – or worse, ask what there is to drink on board. In Rebecca’s words: “We have over 200 passengers to get to, so the last thing we want to hear when we finally get to your row is: ‘What do you have?’ Or, ‘Can I have three different drinks – one with ice, one without ice, and a coffee?’” Remember that they are flight attendants with multiple important responsibilities, not your personal bartenders.
Engaging in bad bathroom habits
According to Rebecca, no one who spends their professional life on airplanes would ever exhibit the bad bathroom habits some passengers do. This includes not flushing the toilet, not washing hands (gross), and – possibly worse of all, especially on a night flight – leaving the bathroom door open upon exiting.
Forgetting your manners
Common courtesies aren’t as common as you might think. So don’t forget to say simple things like, “May I…,” “Please,” and “Thank you,” during in-flight beverage service and whenever else the situation calls for it. One flight attendant remarked that she rarely hears passengers using their manners, so you can be sure that flight attendants are not forgetting theirs when flying.
Tucking snotty tissues into the seat backs
So you had a sneezing fit during a flight – no big deal, says Rebecca. It happens to airline professionals, too. What is a big deal is when you tuck those used tissues into the seat-back pocket. That’s something flight attendants would never do because chances are, at some point in their careers, they’ve had to fish out a pile of wet, gross, snotty tissues after landing.
Asking where you are
Flight attendants are not programmed with their own personal GPS system, but somehow passengers seem to forget that mid-flight. Flight attendants wouldn’t, however. “Passengers will often randomly point out the window at something 35,000 below and ask, ‘What’s that?’ or ‘Do you know where we are right now?’” says Suzanne. When she says she doesn’t know, the passenger sometimes follows up with: “Can you ask the captain?” Of course, that’s not going to happen since he or she is busy flying the plane.
Taking off your clothes
Yes, sometimes it gets too warm on an airplane, but you have to keep your clothes on. This is non-negotiable. Does this really need to be said? Apparently! Rebecca says that passengers occasionally disrobe “because they are uncomfortable – like the guy sleeping on a red-eye flight who decided he was hot and took off his shirt.” She had to politely let him know he couldn’t do that, and of course, he complained. This is just common sense, but there is actually an airline dress code and following it may actually get you an upgrade.
Giving yourself a pedicure at 30,000 feet
Rebecca has seen it all on a plane, including passengers cutting their toenails and fingernails in their seats. “I can’t tell you how many people have decided that the plane is a great place to get a mani/pedi!” she says. Not only is that rude and messy, but it also isn’t hygienic. Flight attendants deserve to be pampered after being on their feet all day, but there’s no way you will see them cutting their toenails on a plane.
Doing yoga in the galley
While stretching and even walking around during a flight is important, doing yoga on board – especially in the galley – is not recommended. For starters, there isn’t enough room for a makeshift yoga studio there. Plus, says Rebecca, “the galley is our work space, and these particular passengers don’t understand that in any normal circumstance you wouldn’t just walk into someone’s office and start stretching or doing yoga!” Apparently this happens more frequently than you might think.
Not planning ahead for special dietary needs
Flight attendants know that not every flight will have food and meals that cater to every passenger’s dietary needs, so they bring their own food with them, just in case. Some vegetarian or gluten-free passengers, however, will come on the plane without their own food and be shocked to learn there’s nothing they can eat on board, says Rebecca.
Crowding the boarding area
For Suzanne, the differences between how passengers and flight attendants behave while flying begins before takeoff – in the boarding area at the airport. “Flight attendants would never line up in the boarding area,” she says, especially before the plane is even on the ground. She’ll often wonder, “Why are you standing there? You’ve got an assigned seat!”
Treating everything like an ottoman
Rebecca points out that flight attendants never turn the plane into their own personal ottoman, yet she has observed passengers “putting their feet on seats, tray tables, and on other passengers’ armrests.” She doesn’t understand how passengers fail to realise “that they are not in their own home and other people have to sit where they have put their feet.”
Touching the beverage cart
Got the munchies or need a napkin? Flight attendants have two words for you: Be patient. Unfortunately, some passengers don’t want to wait and can’t keep their hands to themselves. “Some passengers feel they can just grab, touch, or help themselves to anything on our cart,” says Rebecca. Not only is this kind of entitlement rude, but it’s also potentially unsanitary. The problem is compounded, she says, when the guilty passengers become very offended when called out on their inappropriate behaviour.
Handing over a dirty nappy
Never hand your baby’s pooey nappy to a flight attendant to dispose of on your behalf. Either throw it away in the lavatory garbage can or wait until garbage bags are circulated after meal and beverage service. But above all, put it into the bag yourself. No matter how cute your baby is, his or her dirty nappy is not.
Showing off your status
If you’ve got a frequent-flier status, that’s great. It’s a lot less great when you flaunt it or otherwise attempt to pull rank in order to switch to economy class plus, for example, without paying for the privilege. Rebecca says that this isn’t only frustrating but also obnoxious – and definitely something that flight attendants would never do.
Next, check out these 13 things smart travellers always do before a flight.
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