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Confessions of Flight Attendants: The Worst People on the Plane

For elementary school teachers, dealing with selfishness, entitled brats and just plain rude behavior is part of the job. Same thing with flight attendants. But at least elementary school teachers are dealing with children who, hopefully, will one day grow out of their bad behavior; flight attendants sometimes have to deal with adults who never improve.

Take what happened recently. A Southwest Airlines passenger allegedly thought an acceptable response to the woman in front of him reclining her seat was to try to choke her, forcing an emergency landing (no one has been charged in the incident).

“Bad behavior is a common occurrence nowadays,” Southwest flight attendant Emily Witkop tells Yahoo Travel. “I swear people leave their common sense and good judgment at home or lose it at security when they decide to travel.”

Some of Yahoo Travel’s favorite flight attendants shared with us their tales of passengers behaving badly. If you exhibit these bad behaviors on a flight, you might not get a time-out or detention like you did in elementary school. But you just might get the in-flight equivalent: a one-way ticket off the airplane.

Mile-High Drunks

The genesis of many bad decisions can be found in the bottom of a bottle, and a flight is no different. As any flight attendant will tell you, tales of passenger malfeasance tend to begin with, “So the passenger got drunk and then … ” Take a passenger Witkop recalls from her early flying days. “When I was fairly new, I had one guy mistake the aft galley door for the lavatory,” she tells Yahoo Travel. “When I heard him unzip his pants, I quickly steered him into the actual lavatory. While in there he proceeded to light up a cigarette. All very bad behaviors due to lack of judgement from intoxicating substances.” And that’s why airlines deny boarding to visibly wasted people. “Altitude and substances do not go well together,” says Witkop. “You will become a burden to your crew, fellow passengers and your airsick bag.”

Sneaking Booze Aboard

Something else Witkop has noticed: people bringing aboard mini liquor bottles to save money on drinks during a flight. “Some genius at TSA made a video showing people how to bring the minis through security,” Witkop says. “So now folks think it’s okay to sneak it and tie one on inflight.” By the way, it’s not okay; the FAA forbids the in-flight consumption of alcohol that wasn’t served by a crew member. “If we are not serving and monitoring the alcohol consumed, there is a chance people can get drunk and out of control,” says Witkop. “A metal tube going 500 miles-an-hour through the air is not the best place for drunken behavior

RELATED: Here’s How to Get on Your Flight Attendant’s Good Side

Clipping Your Nails

You’d be surprised how many flight attendants have stories about messy passengers taking care of their personal hygiene right there on the plane. “I caught a business passenger clipping his toe nails,” says Sydney Pearl, author of “Diary of a Pissed-Off Flight Attendant.” “I was sitting on the jump seat and kept hearing ‘click, click!’,” she tells Yahoo Travel. “When I went to investigate, I noticed that a business passenger was sitting in the front row, clipping toe nails and then leaving the nails on the floor! I gave him a bag and told him to clean up his nails and to stop clipping because it was a health code violation.” Also a major violation of etiquette.

RELATED: True Tales of Bad Behavior: Flight Attendants Tell All

Speaking of Nails …

It’s not just clipping nails that can get you the side-eye from a flight attendant. Ex-flight attendant Keith McAndrew tells of a passenger he not-so-affectionately remembers as “Nail Polish Lady.” “She was using acetone nail polish remover with NO regard for anyone, including the crew, who couldn’t stand the fumes,” he says. “It was getting a little too much. We finally told her to stop and she thought we were the rudest. Then she got up, ran to the lavatory, and continued to use it! Like we were stupid and couldn’t smell it in there! She was the worst. Let alone those fumes are intoxicating and flammable!” With all of these people wanting to take care of their nails, maybe airlines can establish another potential revenue source: in-flight manicures and pedicures.

RELATED: Secrets of the Skies: Flight Attendants and Pilots Tell All

Poor Parenting

As if flight attendants don’t have enough to do: sometimes they’re called upon to act as surrogate parents. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by parents, ‘Will you get my child to put on their seatbelt?'” says Emily Witkop. “Who is the parent here, really?!?” And don’t get Witkop started on overly-permissive parents who let their children turn a crowded passenger plane into their own personal playpens. “If you bring markers and/or stickers, do not allow [your kids] to decorate the plane—windows, trays, seats, etc.—with them,” Witkop says. “I would not come into your house and spit my gum on your carpet, smash Play-Doh into your furniture, put my Winnie the Pooh stickers on your sliding glass doors or take permanent marker to your table and chairs!”

Medical Emergency

“My biggest pet peeve is when we are having a medical emergency and have to divert and someone asks about their connection,” says flight attendant Michelle Lazzaro. “Or when you’re dealing with a medical situation and someone wants a drink or wants me to throw away their garbage. I’m a little busy here!” But she remembers another flight where passengers sensed an opportunity in another’s misfortune. “This one flight, we were having a medical emergency,” she says. “So I left my partner on the beverage cart so that I could assist. When I looked up, a few passengers were helping themselves to minis from the liquor drawer.” Let’s hope they were toasting to their ailing fellow passenger’s health.

Throwing Bags at a Flight Attendant

Yes, this happens. Ex-flight attendant Tami Gayikian recalls a flight from Houston to Calgary when she got an unexpected greeting from a passenger boarding first class. “I was standing at the row of seats across from the closet,” she remembers. “A first class passenger boarded and I was greeting people. He THREW his heavy garment bag at me and said, ‘Here hang it up.’ Nothing else; no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or anything. It was so heavy it knocked me down into the seat I was standing next to.” Gayikian says she immediately reported the incident to the plane’s captain, whom she’d flown with frequently. She says the response was swift and certain: “He went up to the man’s seat and said, ‘You, get your stuff and get off the plane.’ The passenger acted confused and innocent and the captain repeated it again. He had called security prior to going up to the passenger and they were waiting for him at the plane’s exit. I smiled at him on his way out.”

RELATED: Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Flight Attendants


It almost seems weird to have to say this, but don’t poke your flight attendant. “Stop with the poking,” says Emily Witkop. “Poking is not a nice behavior. Emergency trash is not a good reason to jab your finger into my backside or ribcage. ‘Excuse me’ works, or if not, there is a call light. Just keep your hands to yourself.

Touched By a Passenger

Of course, there are things worse than being poked. Try having your belly rubbed, which happened to Witkop so frequently when she was pregnant, she had to start flying in the back of the plane. “When I was up front greeting people, it was a constant parade of strangers rubbing my belly,” she says. “I know this is good luck and not a negative thing. But it’s really weird when 100-plus strangers touch you all day. It’s over-stimulating and bizarre.”

Headphone Headcases

There are some people who apparently think the movie they’re watching on their own personal devices should be the in-flight movie that everyone has to watch. “I had a guy on a flight watching a movie on his iPad and NO headphones!” recalls McAndrew, who says passengers were complaining about the cursing in the movie. Making the story even more unbelievable, McAndrew says when he asked the passenger to put on headphones or turn off the movie, the passenger reacted as if he was the one being inconvenienced. “People think that they ‘own’ their personal space on a plane and usually can find a way to piss off everyone around them,” McAndrew says.

WATCH: Behind the Scenes at a Flight Attendant Emergency Evacuation Drill

No “Love” for Rude Tennis-Playing Passengers

On a flight from Los Angeles, ex-flight attendant Tami Gayikian had some badly behaved teens attempting to fly to Houston for a tennis match (spoiler alert: note the use of the word “attempting”). Tami recalls a male flight attendant telling her that the teens had hurled anti-gay slurs at him and the other male flight attendant. “I told the captain who then made an unscheduled landing in San Diego to remove the troublemakers and their coach, who was also causing trouble in the back,” she recalls. Never a good idea to insult your flight attendants!

—Sid Lipsey

More from Yahoo! Travel:

This article was originally published by Yahoo Travel! under the headline Confessions of Flight Attendants: the Worst People on the Plane. It is reprinted here with permission.

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