We can all tick off the things that drive us crazy on flights. Seats that don’t recline (or the one in front of you that does). Armrest violators. Seat-kicking, sugar-addled kids. But if you think you’ve seen it all, your flight attendant has seen more—much more—and a dozen times over.
“Flying is like taking a bus,” says Bobby Laurie, a working flight attendant and host/executive coproducer of the award-winning Savvy Stews travel TV show. “Just like a city bus, you’re going from point A to point B. But for some reason, you get on an airplane and people lose all inhibitions.”
Flight Attendant Don’t Want to See These 10 Things
So what do flight attendants never want to see (or hear) again? We posed the question to a private Facebook group of nearly 3,000 flight attendants who work everything from fly-over puddle jumpers to trans-Atlantic Airbuses. (We’ve used the flight attendants’ initials rather than full names to protect their privacy.) Some of their answers seem like matters of common sense and courtesy (but are good reminders nonetheless). Some, we have to admit, took us by surprise.
Have an urge to get up and stretch your legs, maybe wander to the back of the plane for a few deep knee bends to get the kinks out? Yes, there’s a name for this, and it’s “galley yoga.” Who knew?
“We get it that you need to stretch, but please don’t do it while I’m in the jump seat eating my dinner and your tush is in my face,” says J.C.
Even though you may assume the galley is common space, your flight attendant is apt to feel otherwise. It’s not a gym, and neither is it a self-service cafe. “Don’t help yourself to drinks and food,” says M.B. “You are not bothering me by asking me, but you are rude by going through what are basically my office supplies.” It’s not for exercising your parenting skills, either. “My galley is not a place to put your child in time-out!” says E.B.
Have a Seat—Your Own
It’s happened to all of us. You’ve just boarded, lugging your carry-on back to the fully packed economy cabin, when you spot a couple of vacant seats in first class. “What would it hurt?” you think to yourself. … Well, dream on.
“Don’t keep asking me if you can move up to Business Elite ‘because the seat is empty anyway.’ Huffing and puffing won’t get you an upgrade, only the ticket agent can do that,” says C.M. “Self-upgrading is something we see all the time. Assigned seat in assigned class of service!” adds T.M.
Hands to Yourself
Just because the attendant is within arm’s reach does not mean you should reach for your attendant. After all, if you were working at your desk, would you want people walking by and grabbing at you?
“‘Excuse me!’ ‘Oh, Ms./Mr. …,’ or even ‘Hey you,’ is astronomically better than you reaching up and tugging on my uniform,” says S.R. Many of the flight attendants we spoke to made it clear that the hands-off policy is non-negotiable. “Don’t touch me, poke me, or tap me on the arm or leg,” says L.A. “I’m a person, not a pin cushion.”
Worst of all: poking a flight attendant with trash.
Put a Sock on It
It’s just not a good idea to go barefoot on a plane, for a number of reasons—how do you know what’s been on that floor?
But whatever you do, don’t place those unfettered phalanges on the bulkhead wall. Or the seatback. Or anywhere else. “Do you put your feet on the wall at home? At a restaurant or a friend’s house?” asks R.G.
Besides, it’s just gross.
A Word About Bathrooms
Judging by the number of comments on this particular topic, flight attendants see this on a regular basis, and they want you to know: That’s not water on the floor.
“Watching people and their children go into the lav barefoot (or with their socks on) is the nastiest thing ever—on the earth or in the sky,” says M.P. “Men barely pee straight when they’re on the ground, never mind in the air!”
And while you’re in there—with your shoes on—don’t forget to lock the door behind you. “The worst is when they forget to lock the lav door and we fling open the door to dump coffee and walk in on them.”
You Pack It, You Rack It
With airlines pinching every dime they can for baggage fees these days, there’s more competition than ever for precious real estate in the overhead bin. Not surprisingly, passengers are trying to squeeze as much as they can into their carry-ons, resulting in bags so heavy they take three people to lift. This was one of the most common refrains we heard: Lighten up, already!
“No, I will not risk back injury to stow your bag,” says L.A. “And make sure your overhead bin will close and latch before you walk away. You want an unhappy flight attendant? Leave a bag hanging over the lip of the bin when we are trying to get the cabin ready for departure, and we now have to check your bag, causing a delay.”
And don’t be that person who boards early and then spends 10 minutes rummaging through your bags while there are 200 people behind you, waiting to get to their seats.
Keep Personal Hygiene … Personal
This one kept popping up in the responses and, frankly, we’re speechless: Clipping toenails. On a plane? Like, that’s a thing? Apparently so, judging by the number of attendants who cited this as something they never want to see again. And the same goes for fingernails.
They’d also prefer not to see you flossing your teeth. Or cleaning out your hairbrush in the aisle.
Last but not least, the number-one hygiene request from your flight attendants: Do not change your child’s diaper on the tray table or the seat next to you. There’s a changing tray in the bathroom.
Can You Hear Me Now?
These days, almost everyone travels with at least one personal electronic device to pass the hours listening to music or watching a movie. But your flight attendants have a favor to ask: Can you please take those umbilical cords earphones out of your ears when they come around?
“Don’t ask me to repeat the food and beverage choices with your iPad or iPod headphones on,” says L.M. “Be courteous enough to take them off when you see me with the food and beverage cart in your row.”
And it’s not just a matter of etiquette, either. “Take your headphones off during the emergency briefing!” says D.W. “Have some respect! Someday it could be your plane landing in the ocean and you need to know what to do!”
You’re the Adult
Kids on planes are one of the touchiest topics in the sky. The reality is that children will keep on flying with their parents. And your flight attendants want to remind you that you’re the one in charge.
“Do us all a favor and sit with them, Mom and Dad,” says T.L. “We are not their babysitters. Children five years and younger can’t put on their own oxygen masks in the event something were to occur. And that’s why I make parents think before they put those two-, three-, four-year-olds together while Mom and Dad either sit across the aisle or one row behind!”
M.C. says that she has seen parents letting their kids rip up the safety cards in the seatback pocket. “Bring toys for the children!” she says.
Please and Thank You
It’s really that easy. But for some reason, these fundamental points of etiquette are woefully neglected, and this is actually what your flight attendants would like to see more of.
As an experiment, Laurie and his fellow flight attendants decided that they would give a free bottle of wine to the first person on their flights who said those three simple words: “please” and “thank you.” He said the bottle went unclaimed for four days.
“Also, say hello. It doesn’t kill you, and it’s nice to acknowledge that person who may save your life,” says J.D.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 New Rules for Traveling Without Being a Jerk
- 10 Signs You’re the Worst Person on Your Flight
- 7 Things You Should Never Do in an Airplane Bathroom
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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