True Tales of Bad Behavior: Flight Attendants Tell All


They’re smiling now but you wouldn’t believe the stuff they’ve seen. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Most travel days are long and tedious, so it makes sense that when people board a plane, they want to settle in quickly and get comfortable. But some passengers take that a bit too far: The ones who kick off their shoes and socks and then rest their feet up on the seat in front of them. The ones who start demanding drinks before the plane has even taxied down the runway. The ones who transform the aisle into a playground for their toddlers.

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And if the actions of inconsiderate travelers annoy you, imagine how irritating they are for flight attendants who have to deal with them all day, every day. (Need we remind you of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who got so fed up with rude passengers that he grabbed two beers and exited the plane by deploying the evacuation slide?) While most passengers are respectful and polite, flight attendants still have to put up with some seriously bad behavior. We talked to slew of stews who shared irritating situations that top the list.

Exit (row) strategy


With great legroom comes great responsibility. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Most travelers get to select where they sit on a flight. Those who choose an exit row seat have to agree that they can handle the safety responsibilities that come with it. Not surprisingly, most are just in it for the legroom. “I am required to ask, ‘Are you willing and able to operate this exit?’” says Nick Stracener, a flight attendant with American. “I had one passenger answer back, ‘Um, I don’t know, am I?’ And that’s good; some don’t answer at all.” Problem is, the FAA requires these passengers to provide a verbal affirmation. “It’s really irritating because they don’t take it seriously,” Stracener says. “And these are the people everyone will have to rely on in case of an emergency.”

Connection conversations


Sorry, but this is more important than you making your connection. (Photo: Thinkstock)

“I had someone die on one of my flights,” says Stracener, who had been on the job for only three months at the time of the incident. “The man had an aneurysm, and his wife found him in the bathroom, unconscious. When we landed, the paramedics brought him to the jet bridge to do CPR. We asked the passengers to stay seated while they tried to save his life. During it, I had passengers yelling at me about how they were going to miss their connections. It’s amazing how selfish people can be. A man died, but yes, we’ll make sure you get to your vacation.”

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Make yourself at home — not really

Airlines and their crews want to make sure your flight is comfortable and relaxing. But there are limits to how comfy you should get. Passengers who walk to the bathroom without socks on, clip their nails, and trim their nose hairs (yes, this happens) need to stop immediately. “It’s just so gross,” says Stracener. “And people in first class are even worse — they think it’s their house. I’m like, this isn’t your house. This is our house. You’re our guest. Behave that way. We have to live on the plane even after you leave and don’t want to clean up after you.”

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Go to the bathroom before boarding is complete


Please go before you board. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Waiting to board a plane can take hours, leaving passengers plenty of time to tinkle in the terminal. And that’s exactly what flight attendants want you to do. “My main pet peeve is when people get on the plane and immediately go to the bathroom all the way in the back,” says one flight attendant who agreed to speak to us off the record. “When they are done, they have to fight their way upstream to get back to their seat. They hold up other passengers who are still boarding and get in the way of us loading the beverage carts by blocking the aisle. It’s tight quarters to begin with, and hindering the boarding process doesn’t help.”

Diaper disasters

Babies need to have their diapers changed. We get it. But where you change your baby is a big deal when traveling in such close quarters. “A lot of passengers change their babies’ diapers on the seats. I’ve actually seen a woman lay her baby down and change it on the tray table,” says one grossed-out flight attendant. “We have changing tables in the bathroom. They fold down off of the wall. Use them. Please.”

Getting your drink on


Beverage service can be an especially irritating time. (Photo: Thinkstock)

A day of travel can create quite a thirst, and passengers can be a bit demanding when it comes to getting quenched. “There is nothing more irritating than when a passenger comes straight onto the plane and asks for a soda. I’m like, ‘Seriously?’” says Stracener. “There’s a laundry list of safety-related things that I need to get done before I can get someone their Diet Coke.” Equally irritating: food hoarders. “There was one woman who was with her two small children. They had already had their beverage and snack when she asked for more. I thought it was for the kids, so I brought her extra ones. She took them from me and put them in her purse to go. She was basically stocking up for later.”

Talkin’ trash

The call button is a handy feature. It summons a flight attendant when there are urgent matters or pressing needs. But it can be beyond irritating when passengers use it to discard an old newspaper or a chewed piece of gum. “We walk up and down the aisle throughout the flight with a trash bag to collect trash,” says veteran flight attendant Abbie Unger, founder of Flight Attendant Career Connection and the popular Facebook page by the same name. “Also, it is a health issue to hand trash to a flight attendant who is serving food or drinks. They don’t want to touch your dirty trash and then touch a clean cup and serve it to someone else.” Also annoying? “It’s very frustrating to crawl around on the floor to collect trash from adults that just didn’t want to hand it to the flight attendant.” Message to passengers: Be courteous by being clean.

The lavatory


Careful: these doors can be tricky. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Even though the bathrooms’ bifold doors are clearly marked with a sign that says “Push Here,” they seem to be very tricky for many passengers to open. “I cannot even tell you how many times I have to say, ‘Push here,’ during a flight,” says Unger, who flew for Continental and US Airways Express. “One time during boarding, I had a mother ring the flight attendant call button. When I got to her seat, she told me that her 8-year-old had thrown up on the floor just outside the lavatory bathroom because she couldn’t figure out how to get the door open. The mother’s reason was that her daughter got airsick. That may be true, but we were still on the ground at the time.”

Touchy Touchy

Since flight attendants tower over seated passengers, it can be tricky to make eye contact to get their attention. “We understand that because our rear ends are at face level, it can make you feel like it would be appropriate to poke or lay hands on our hip or leg or tap on the back of our dress to get our attention,” says Unger. “Maybe the height difference makes everyone revert back to feeling like a 6-year-old trying to get their mama’s attention. But please don’t touch, poke, or tug on a flight attendant. You could say ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Sir.’ You can say ‘Miss,’ ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Pardon me’ — or just wait until I make eye contact with you. But please don’t touch my rear end again!”

“Is there a yogi on board?”


Do this in a gym, not during your flight. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Personal space is a big thing when you are, well, in space. And most flight attendants need a little when working so hard and standing on their feet for hours. So it’s pretty annoying to them when passengers decide to sneak in a quick yoga session in their galley space. “The worst case I had was a man wearing too-tight ’80s Dockers. He said he had to do some stretching because the blood was pooling around his ankles and his doctor said it could be very dangerous to fly without stretching,” says Unger. “That’s kind of funny because I never stretch when I fly, and I’ve survived every single one of my flights.”

Dumb questions

Contrary to popular belief, flight attendants do not have a built-in GPS. And while they know the general route that a plane takes, they are not in the cabin charting the course with the captain. “When asked what we are flying over, some flight attendants say, ‘I’m not sure.’ Others say, ‘Denver’ — no matter where they are. And some flight attendants say, ‘Mount’ or ‘Lake Dilligaff,” says Unger. (For those of you who don’t know, the meaning of “Dilligaff” is “Do I look like I give a flying f—-?”)

Getting an upgrade

Before 9/11, it used to be a cinch to get an upgrade. These days, it’s not so easy. “Passengers know they have to speak with a gate agent, but most don’t want to because they know they won’t be able to get the upgrade without a fee,” says Melissa Steagall, a 16-year flight attendant for American. “I’ve had passengers come to me and ask for the upgrade and then get upset and frustrated when I tell them it’s out of my control. But if we upgraded one person, not only would we get in trouble, but it would also be unfair to all the other passengers.”

Having baggage


Don’t ask your flight attendant to do this. (Photo: Thinkstock)

According to FAA rules, flight attendants are not allowed to lift a passenger’s baggage; the goal is to prevent injuries that could delay a flight. Regardless, says Steagall, “they ask. All. The. Time.” Steagall explains that flight attendants who ignore the protocol are not covered by the airline’s medical insurance if they get injured. But that’s only part of it. What irritates flight attendants has more to do with logistics. “If you’re carrying some heavy-ass bag and you can’t lift it, why the hell do you think I can?” Another anonymous flight attendant adds, “I simply say, ‘Our company policy doesn’t allow us to lift bags. But I would be happy to gate-check it for you at no additional charge.’ It’s so funny how fast they lift it on their own into the overhead bin after that.”

Earphone etiquette


Take these off when you talk to the flight attendant. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Listening to music or watching a movie certainly helps pass the time during a long flight, but passengers who don’t take off their headphones when having a convo really annoy flight attendants. “One time I was at the beverage cart, asking a passenger what they wanted to drink. After a few minutes he finally took off his headphones and was like, ‘Huh?’” says Steagall. “I was like, I’m standing here with a beverage cart. What do you think I’m asking you?’ Adds Stracener: “Some people don’t even make eye contact with us. We are trying to get you to your destination; the least you can do is take your headphones off and look at me for five seconds. It’s so disrespectful.”

The breastfeeding debate


(Photo: Thinkstock)

There are some awkward moments that flight attendants can’t address but would love to. The main one: breastfeeding moms who let it all hang out. “On one flight, we were trying to take off, and a 3-year-old in the front kept screaming, ‘I want booby! I want booby!’” shares a flight attendant off the record. “The mom whipped it out and started feeding him. I mean, I know you’re a mom and it’s hard, but it’s disrespectful to other passengers to not cover up or go someplace more private.”

Safety first

As boring as safety instructions can be, flight attendants take them very seriously. Let’s face it: Knowing what to do during an emergency can mean the difference between life and death. But that doesn’t seem to matter to some travelers. “One time, while I was in the middle of doing a safety demo, a passenger started to hand me her trash and said, ‘Can you take this?’” says one appalled flight attendant. “I was like,’I’ll take it in a second. I’m in the middle of showing you how to save your life right now.’”

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