Behind-the-scenes tips from a real flight attendant
Just like at a restaurant, your flight attendant on an airline can make or break your experience. Ever wonder how to get your way — maybe even some special treatment or upgrades — when you’re flying the friendly skies?
We wanted to know some behind-the-scenes tips from a real flight attendant, so we asked Colleen Quick, who worked as a flight attendant on a major airline for almost a decade. Here’s her advice:
What is the best way to get help from a flight attendant?
The easiest way to receive the attention of a flight attendant is your call button. Many of the comments from passengers I’ve received are due to the wait they encounter after pressing.
A great thing to keep in mind: Flights, like in many careers right now, are almost always minimally staffed. If flight attendants are trying to get a beverage or snack/meal service ready, be prepared to wait — unless you come to the galley with an easy-to-fulfill request or emergency.
Also, it can be hard to hear the call button ring when preparing the beverage carts. If the seat belt sign is on, try ringing the button again after a few minutes.
Is there anything people can do to get extra good treatment? Is there anything a flight attendant can give to or do for flyers if they’re extra polite and nice?
If a medical staff member helps on a flight or something as important like this, we can ask a gate agent to reward them when we land. It will all depend on what that gate agent has at their desk for rewards. Normally it is discounted flights.
Otherwise, free drinks, a snack or a movie are the main ones, depending on the airline and policy for people who do extra special things, like move out of first-class to go to coach for someone who had a seizure. They might be rewarded with extra flyer miles if we have a voucher for that. Their name and information is given to the airlines, as well, for the airline to follow up with something free if they choose.
And if there is a first-class seat open and you are asked to move in order to accommodate family member’s that want to sit together, there is no harm in asking if you can be upgraded. What is the worst you can be told? But if you aren’t doing something nice, just asking will get a flat reply of “No.”
If you even want a slight chance of getting upgraded at all, watch how you are dressed. When non-rev flying — when a flight attendant flies for free or at a discounted rate — it was a must to always look nice. This included no blue jeans. The same goes with anyone hoping for an upgrade.
What is something flyers often want a flight attendant to do that she or he cannot do?
Countless requests for mixed drinks. Sorry this isn’t a bar. We are very limited.
Flight attendants can’t change flights. No, we do not know your gate number. No, we do not know if your flight is on time or if you are going to make it. Sometimes flight information is given to us by pilots and we can ask sometimes, but if the flight deck is busy, then there really isn’t anything we can do for you.
If your child seat is facing backward, I’m sorry you will have to check it. The person in front of you paid for their seat just like you did, and he or she should be able to recline his or her seat. If your carseat isn’t airline-approved, then again you have to check it.
What about being a flight attendant do flyers not realize or understand?
Flight attendants are not paid until the boarding door is closed and the airplane is pushed back from the gate. Any delay and/or cancellations affects the flight attendants maybe even more than passengers.
The flight attendant greeting you is not getting paid. Neither is the flight attendant assisting passengers to find a spot for luggage, or the one in first-class handing out drinks and picking up coats.
The time clock will not officially start ticking until the airplane backs away from the gate. In fact, if you get hurt “on the job” helping with luggage during boarding, it might not be covered by workman’s comp, as you are not on the clock yet.
Flight attendants can work six days in a row before FAA law requires a 24-hour break. Also it’s possible to work 12-to-14 hour days, but only get paid for five hours because we are only paid for flight time. Our job is listed as being in the top-10 worst careers this year.
The longer you are there, the better the career, but it is quite possible your next flight attendant is on her sixth flight that day of a six-day trip.
What else do you wish flyers knew or would do when they’re flying?
The training for flight attendants isn’t one that happens overnight. You are tested and have to pass with high scores; you are not given second chances to pass either, in most cases. Yearly, there is re-training to make sure you know each airplane’s safety features.
In each case that I have had problems in flight, people are always confused, and ask again, “Where is the light leading to the exits?” And in fear or anxiety, people forget seat belts are not car seat belts. I have had people yell “Get me out” because they forgot and anxiety sat in.
We may be like a server in a flying limited-bar, but remember in an emergency, we are the yelling voice with directions to come this way, move quickly, leave everything, or even to remain and yell the door is blocked. We will do our best to prepare you for bracing, opening doors, getting down slides and away from the airplane and our training includes keeping every one calm.
So tell me how you like your coffee, don’t make me ask. Be polite and wait your turn for trash pick-up.
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