We sat down with a flight attendant at a major passenger airline to learn what it's like being part of the cabin crew -- from her passenger pet peeves to the perks of inter-country commuting.
What does it take to become a flight attendant?
You wouldn't think that a lot of people would be willing to take significant pay cuts, relocate to a new city, remain on call and be away from home for extended periods of time just to fly the friendly skies. However, when a flight attendant position opens up for a major airline, the applications come in droves. The numbers are incredible; it is upwards of 50,000 from what I have heard. Out of that, only about 1,200 are hired and invited to start initial training.
The training varies from airline to airline, but you must complete standards that are set by the Federal Aviation Administration and the company. Specifically, we learn how to arm doors so the emergency door slides are ready for deployment during a flight and disarm them upon arrival. We learn how to handle various emergency and medical situations, and we complete yearly training to stay certified.
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?
My answer would have to be the people and ... the people. You make lifelong friends with coworkers and meet amazing people in airports, in the plane and on your layover. People meet boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses and new friends all the time simply by going to work. That's what I truly love about my job -- you never know who is going to come along in your life.
On the flip side, I have encountered more selfishness on the airplane than anywhere else. I do realize many are out of their element so not all behavior is intentional, but that is no excuse for being rude! Sometimes I will greet a passenger as they board and they just walk right past me or start blurting out requests. These passengers ignore pleases and thank yous during service and blame flight attendants for delays or other unforeseen circumstances. I know not every flight attendant is an angel -- believe me, I have had my bad days -- so it can go both ways. I think the best approach for both parties is to step back and think about what the other person has been through to get to this point in their day. Traveling isn't always easy.
What are people surprised to learn about your job?
The lifestyle: Lots of flight attendants commute to their routes by flying in from different states. Some even live in other countries! Some live local and will only fly a route that lets them drop their kids off at school in the morning and be back home in time for dinner. This job can work for virtually any lifestyle, but it's just that: a lifestyle.
What sort of travel benefits do you get?
All employees at most airlines travel for free, except for international departure taxes. When I first started flying, I was always taking off to a different place on my days off, but since then the novelty has worn off. Now that I have settled into my city, I have more going on at home -- friends, classes, hobbies, volunteer work -- and being inside an airplane any more than I have to be isn't as appealing as it once was. But some of the people who started with me are still jet-setting every chance they get.
Do flight attendants eat the airline food?
Some do and some don't. I gained about 20 pounds when I started flying internationally because of all the good foods we offer in first class -- mindless snacking, really. I finally said enough is enough and try to stay away as much as I can. Ninety percent of the time I pack enough food for as long as my trip is.
What's the best way to annoy a flight attendant?
Ask a thousand flight attendants this question and you'll get a thousand different answers. Here are just a few of mine: Expect the airline to cater to your special food needs (gluten free, vegetarian, nut allergy, and so on) and then get mad at the flight attendant for not having access to anything at 30,000 feet above ground. Ring your call button when you're sitting on the aisle and ask me to pick up your empty cup.
My biggest suggestions to passengers are to bring a bottle of water with you on the airplane (fill up a canteen or buy one past security) and to bring snacks for your children.
What are some difficult passenger situations you've faced?
Most of the crazy situations I have encountered have a common link: alcohol. Once a man who had "already had a few" came back in the galley and requested more alcohol. He said he wouldn't leave until I gave him a kiss. Another time a man got so mad that I wouldn't serve him any more alcohol, he shoved a guy and started a fight in the middle of the aisle when we landed because he wanted to be the first off the plane. Yet another time, a woman bought a bottle of gin in duty free and secretly drank half of it on her way from the U.S. to the UK. She had to be carried off the airplane.
What flexibility do you have as far as giving out free drinks and seat upgrades?
We have a little flexibility when it comes to drinks, but whenever we land, we must submit an inventory that has to match the sales. Seat upgrades are a little trickier. The agents handle upgrades because they have access to how many miles passengers have, their frequent flyer status and other information. Flight attendants are not involved in those decisions.
What's the best way to get on a flight attendant's good side?
I think every flight attendant appreciates good ol' common courtesy. I know I do, and I try to start every flight with a smile and a positive attitude.
-- Kelsey Rexroat is an editor at Travelzoo and based in New York. Travelzoo has 450 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.