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Originally published September 17, 2012 at 12:08 PM | Page modified September 18, 2012 at 1:08 PM

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Flight-attendant confessions: a Q&A

Whenever I fly, I make an effort to chat with flight attendants, especially on long flights, when they're not busy taking care of customers...

Airfarewatchdog.com

7 secret tricks of flight attendants

Double-bagging coffee: Despite airline marketing departments competing to offer the tastiest blends of coffee, even Starbucks can sometimes taste watered down. It all depends on the coffee maker on the airplane. Sometimes the brew basket can leak, leading to weaker coffee, while other times grounds can clog the drip basin (which is rarely cleaned anyway). Many flight attendants have learned to double-bag the coffee to produce a more flavorful pot for their passengers, and they like to do it on early morning flights or red-eyes to serve before landing to help people wake up.

Warming plates and mugs: While food service is limited these days on many flights, passengers sitting in first and business class on longer flights are rarely spared a meal. A common trick of crew members is to warm empty plates and coffee mugs in the oven before serving them. Catering trucks often pack these items in the same chilled carts as other items, which can cause food or coffee to get cold faster when being used. Of course, this requires you to have a flight attendant who actually cares enough about how their passengers enjoy the service. But feel free to ask to have your coffee mug warmed in the oven or at least filled with hot water once before drinking your coffee or tea in it. It makes a difference in keeping it hot longer.

Ignoring the drunks: Flight attendants are used to dealing with over-served passengers, who may think they can handle a few more drinks before landing. While most FAs will not cut someone off right away, they do have a few tricks up their sleeves. These include making no eye contact with the passenger or avoiding walking by his or her seat entirely. This can result in less service to other passengers nearby, though.

Stuffing the bins: An airline's fleet is made up of a variety of different aircraft types, each with varying overhead bin capacity. Boarding is often noted as the least favorite part of a flight by crew members because of the carry-on baggage logic puzzle that always takes place. Even if a bin is fully stuffed, the door may not close all the way. A popular trick of flight attendants is to place a pillow, blanket, or other small item underneath the top of a bag to angle it so that it fits more easily within the curvature of the door. This trick might just help save you from checking your bag at the last minute on your next flight!

Neutralizing the odor: Airplane lavatories see a lot of use (especially on long flights), and deodorizing devices are not always capable of keeping up with the odor. Many flight attendants place coffee ground bags in bathrooms to neutralize the smell since the grounds absorb some of the odor. If you find a smelly lav on your next flight, ask a flight attendant for a coffee bag to quell the smell.

Collecting the goods: When flight attendants are collecting trash, they are really filtering the trash. Many American carriers these days recycle, but you will often hear flight attendants request that you hand magazines and newspapers to them. The main reason is because these are heavy and bulky and take up a lot of space, but most will tell you they want to stash up on the latest publications they do not receive at home. Want to make flight attendants smile? Give them a stack of the latest gossip or news magazines.

Hoarding the leftovers: On long flights, many airlines allow flight attendants to enjoy the leftover business or first class meals. If you choose not to eat at the beginning of the flight, be sure to let a flight attendant know your menu choice. If not, hungry FAs later in the flight may think you do not want to eat and can gobble it up themselves. In addition, customs regulations do not allow airlines to enter a country with half-full bottles of wine or alcohol, which is why you often see some flight attendants pouring them down the drain before landing. If you are the only one enjoying a certain vintage, you are more likely to be served to your heart's content or even prance home with a nice bottle yourself. Flight attendants hate dumping it out, and some daring crew members will make their own "crew juice," mixing red and white wines into an empty water bottle for their own enjoyment at the layover hotel.

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Whenever I fly, I make an effort to chat with flight attendants, especially on long flights, when they're not busy taking care of customers. Here's a roundup of my latest queries, answered by a variety of the men and women who are primarily there for your safety.

I've always wanted to know why, for example, they require window shades to be in the up position for takeoff and landing. What questions have you always wanted to ask a flight attendant?

Q: Do you treat customers differently if they are dressed nicely vs. dressed like slobs?

A: I don't make a concerted effort to treat them differently, but instinctively I find myself serving them in a more deferential manner. You just know that the suit-and-tie traveler probably paid more for their ticket than the flip-flop-and-shorts-wearing flyer. Courtesy is important to all passengers, but our airline would not be flying were it not for the premium travelers who subsidize the leisure travelers' low fares.

Q: Do you ever try to read what passengers are writing on their laptop or take a peek at what they are reading on their iPad?

A: Yes, all the time. Most of the time it is boring business work, but I have caught people looking at pornography before. Having wireless Internet on board really opens up a whole new world for passengers to pass their time. I never interfere unless it is disturbing other passengers. Most of the time, I will peek over their shoulder if they are looking at family photos or something more interesting. Many people love when you ask them about it.

Q: Do you have secret trips for dealing with drunk passengers?

A: If they are in economy, we will simply stop serving them. Up front, we often try to be more discreet. One trick we use is that if they order a mixed drink, we will dip the rim of their glass in the liquor but fill most of the glass with mixer to weaken the drink. Most of the time, they don't notice. If they order wine or beer, we fill it only half way and don't provide the can of beer. It is very true that altitude can heighten the effects of alcohol, and we notice it more than you think we do.

Q: What annoys you most about the way passengers store their carry-on baggage?

A: One of the biggest irritations for us is watching people reorganize their bag when they get to their row. At least, step into the row so that other people can board. Then there are the people that place their small backpack or jacket in the overhead, taking up valuable space. People rarely think about their fellow passengers, which is what often leads to us having to check bags at the boarding door. Most wheeled carry-on bags are best placed in with the handle first. For some reason, it makes it easier to close the overhead bins that way.

Q: Why is it so important to have window shades open for takeoff and landing and closed midflight during a long flight?

A: That's an interesting question. It is important to have them open during takeoff and landing because if there is an emergency passengers need to see the situation outside as it can help in an evacuation. To be honest, we try to keep window shades closed on long flights because it helps people to fall asleep. Sleeping passengers have fewer requests, giving us more time to rest.

Q: Do you get special treatment when flying on other airlines?

A: If we are in uniform, we are almost always relinquished to flying in the back. Even so, cabin crew empathize with us and treat us well, giving us extra drinks and even free food if we wish. If we are traveling on a pass wearing regular clothes, the cabin crew still knows we are airline crew. It shows on the flight manifest. More often than not, they are interested in hearing how we do things at our own airline. So we end up swapping trade jargon and industry tips.

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