The good, the bad and the drunk: real stories of airline passengers
By Aimee Heckel
Previously, we featured helpful tips from Colleen Quick, a former flight attendant, on how to get what you need from the flight attendants on an airplane.
But no behind-the-scenes story would be complete without a few real life stories about the people who fly. Take this as a not-so-subtle hint to “do this, not that.”
Did you ever encounter any particularly polite people during your experience as a flight attendant?
There is no way to express or thank some of the polite and giving passengers I have flown with. With flight emergencies, the passengers with medical training are literally life-savers! They put aside their risk of being sued, in a sue-happy country, to save a life.
It can be difficult to ask passengers to give up their seat for one less desirable to put a truly sick passenger in an easy-to-access seat. Saying that, I never had to beg or bribe anyone to make this happen.
DON’T DO THIS
Do you recall any particularly awful passengers?
To my embarrassment, I can, of course, remember a lot more negative passengers than good ones. I would love to say that I didn’t, but regretfully, that isn’t true.
What I will never understand is how you can mention several times “no smoking,” yet people do not listen.
How I used to dread the flights to Asia. I do not know what is missed in the interpreting of “FAA regulations require no smoking,” but someone always tries pull a quickie smoke in the toilets. I really do not want to open the door to the restroom to see you on the pot smoking, or bending over the toilet blowing smoke down the hole.
You will be warned and arrested on arrival.
Another thing I do not comprehend is some people’s belief that they are not American, so they can’t be arrested. Or that they are paying for the drinks, so we can’t cut them off — because on the ground, they drink a lot more than that.
Also, showing up drunk is also one of the No. 1 ways to get kicked off a flight. No one wants a drunk on board, and it is a law that you must be kicked off, because in an emergency a drunk person might not be able to help themselves or others around them.
Our rule of thumb: One drink while flying will affect you the same way that two or even three drinks do on the ground. So what you can usually on the ground is not what you can tolerate in the air.
Also touching a flight attendant, just like any stranger in a public place, is not appropriate. Being drunk is not an excuse, and rude advances or inappropriate touching in air gets you arrested upon landing. It seems so black and white and logical, yet it seems flying makes some passengers a little airheaded.
Another rude passenger I remember: I had a flight where we were circling for more than an hour, because traffic control couldn’t see our landing gear. It was finally decided to land the plane with rescue crew waiting. I start to prepare for an emergency landing by asking passengers to remove sharp objects, so they wouldn’t rupture the slides, and by handing out coats, as it was freezing in Detroit. I had a first-class passenger very upset, telling me how this was interrupting his entire week and that nothing was going to happen so he didn’t need his coat.
Upon landing, our landing gear, to my relief, did work. As passengers deplaned to go to another airplane, the same first-class passenger shoved his coat at me and said, “I was right, nothing happened; carry my coat to the replacement aircraft.” I was able to share with him that we are not allowed bring anything on board given to us or that we did not pack ourselves, which only continued his anger.
Do people ever leave tips or give you gifts?
In answer to this, yes. But we aren’t supposed to take things (gifts) from unknown people, so it is risky.
“Senior mamas,” the flight attendants who have set schedules and normally on the same routes, will sometimes get to know business travels a little bit better. I’ve heard but never experienced, some flight attendants receiving a Christmas gift, etc.
As for tips, well, younger flight attendants will most often accept them. I am not sure with all airlines, but as far as I know, airlines do not approve. Flight attendants are not paid well, but they are not paid waitress wages, or rely on tips. It can be a kind gesture in paying for alcohol, which is when I normally see the offers. It is really up to the individual if she or he wants or can accept.
What is the best part of being a flight attendant?
I would say free/inexpensive flying is the key reason for choosing this career. For myself, I know that was the draw. I wanted to see the world, and I didn’t want to have to plan ahead. “I’m free this weekend; OK, which flights have a lot of open seats?”
The schedule is bad when you are junior, but rewarding the longer you stay. “Senior mamas” work about nine days a month, making about $60,000 and up. Not bad if you continue to fly around 30 years.
My choice schedule was 18 days off 21 to 22 days on, as with 9/11, it made for longer years of flying on reserve. This means that I was away for that long. FAA regulates a 24-hour rest every six days, but they do not say it has to be at home, or at your base.
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