Seamlessly dressed and impeccably groomed, flight attendants travel around the world bringing their lives to different corners of the planet. They convey an image of class and consistency as they walk through airports around the world, and retain a certain mystique that accompanies those in the industry.
Part of that mystique may come from the mystery of what these crew members bring along with them to various layover destinations around the globe. We've all seen the cabin crew wheeling their seemingly-too-small black suitcases, with handles longer than the storage area itself.
It makes us wonder, for those who travel for a living, what are the essentials? Is that inflatable neck pillow a necessity, or do the pros have a more effective option? Is there any truth to the hundreds of pieces of advice we hear from aunt Jane, who 'saw it on the tele'? With bags so small (compared to the oversized ones many passengers take), surely they've mastered the yesses and the nos of air travel.
While the answers to the mystery of what lies in a flight attendant's bag can vary greatly depending on person to person, here are twenty surprising items flight attendants don't leave home without.
20 Universal Power Adapter
This one is a given. Flight Attendants and savvy travellers never leave home without a travel adapter. This can be one of the easiest items to forget yet one of the most essential for your trip. Any travel adapter will usually do the job, however a universal adapter is the most appreciated by Flight Attendants due to its versatility and compatibility with changing schedules and destinations, despite its generally larger size. (Pro tip: if you forget your adapter for your next trip, check behind the television in your hotel room for a USB outlet to charge essential devices).
19 Extra Necessities
Ever run out of clean underwear? According to those in the industry, it does happen and its clearly not the most pleasant experience. Flight attendants have to deal with the reality of rapidly changing schedules and extended working days, where a two-day shift can easily turn into eight if scheduling permits. Many learn this lesson early in their career and it's easy to imagine why flight attendants generally pack a few extra pairs of undergarments, even for a short layover!
18 Washing Powder
In relation to the previous post, a small emergency ziplock bag of washing powder can really save the day in some situations. Flight attendants have had to become creative with the limitations they've been given.
From washing undergarments in the hotel sink to removing a tomato juice stain on their uniform shirt, carrying around a small bag of washing powder can help refresh most pieces and carry them through to the end of the work week.
It's a real lifesaver when you're not in most places long enough to make a trip to the laundry room.
17 International Currencies
Some flight attendants have no knowledge of where they will be flying until up to an hour before a particular flight. That doesn't leave much time for a trip to the bank or currency exchange to take out some cash for a certain destination. And despite the accessibility and ease of using credit cards abroad, cash is still king in some parts of the world and in some destinations, you'll be hard pressed to find an establishment that accepts plastic.
Most flight attendants keep small amounts of global currencies in their carry-on, just so they aren't stranded when they arrive in a particular destination.
16 Safety Manual
This is one of the most important items in a flight attendant's carry-on luggage. These manuals are essential to the safety aspect of a flight attendant's job, and outline the standard operating procedures and actions for incidents on board an aircraft.
Every flight attendant must update these manuals regularly and have access to them on every flight that they are operating, and they are particularly important in emergency situations. The next time you see a crew carry-on in "your" overhead bin, think twice before moving it elsewhere.
15 Spare Watch
Flight Attendants are required to wear watches while on duty. While handy for simply keeping track of time, the purpose of wearing a watch is also related to emergency management. When minutes make the difference in certain scenarios they are an invaluable tool to help stay on top of their duties. They also help you keep track of what time zone you're in!
Having a spare watch packed in their carry-on can save flight attendants from the stress of having to buy a cheap last-minute watch at the airport if the original gets misplaced.
As mentioned, flight attendants never really know where they might end up! That could mean layovers in beach destinations like Hawaii or Australia. A pair of sandals and swimwear don't take up much space in a suitcase and give flight attendants the opportunity to fully enjoy certain destinations if you're lucky enough to end up somewhere warm.
Even then, most hotels have pools or a jacuzzi which can really make an evening after a long workday, even in the middle of winter!
13 Prepared Meals
Airplane food gets old quickly and we all know it. Imagine what the flight attendants think of the onboard options! When possible, most flight attendants pack extra snacks or prepared meals before departing on their trips.
Not only does this allow for some culinary variety in the workplace, it usually provides the crew with a healthier option as well. Packing snacks and meals also help for those early morning check-ins or late check-outs when most establishments are closed. Most airplane food is loaded with sodium to enhance taste at higher altitudes as well as other preservatives, so it's probably better for the flight crew to avoid the in-house dining most of the time.
12 Instant Coffee
Another secret weapon in the flight attendants cache: instant coffee packets. Helpful for both those early morning check-ins or when they don't want to bother with the onboard coffee for once.
These handy packets are light-weight and easy to pack into a carry-on, offering the perfect solution for a quick cup of coffee. They can be quite convenient as well when a passenger asks for a cup of coffee and it's not necessary to brew a full pot. This happens quite often with decaf, so don't be alarmed if your coffee looks a little different than your neighbours!
11 Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is another handy item that is packed with relative ease but many forget to bring along. Flight attendants always have a small bottle of the stuff nearby, with it coming in handy both onboard and during layovers.
Flight attendants travel between numerous regions and meet passengers from around the world, exposing them to varying illnesses that hand sanitizer may protect against when washing hands with soap and water may not be an option.
10 Packing Cubes
Space is a priority on everyone's carry-on baggage and flight attendants' are no exception. Packing cubes are small fabric cases that you can put clothes in and zip up, keeping things together and compressed. They are an efficient way to save space in your bag to be able to fit more inside, on top of providing a degree of organization for your items.
They can be bought for relatively cheap yet make a noticeable difference when packing a carry-on for numerous working days.
9 Portable Battery
Packing a portable battery pack can be a lifesaver if you forget to bring a wall adapter for your trip. Most flight attendants travel with one of these as an essential item for their layover. They can be quite lightweight and easy to bring along on a day trip in whichever destination they fly to. That little bit of extra juice at the end of a long day to charge your smartphone will make the difference so that you miss out on that last photo op or get lost on the way back to the hotel.
Another essential item flight attendants pack in their carry-on is a camera. Be that a smartphone or something larger, all flight attendants bring a device capable of recording special or spectacular moments in their travels during their layovers or personal trips.
Flight attendants get the chance to see a huge amount of places around the world, and you wouldn't want them missing out on the opportunity to capture the stunning destinations they visit.
7 Travel Mug
Some travellers might think that a travel mug takes up unnecessary space. However, a big portion of flight attendants bring them to work every day. They come in handy both on board, where the coffee cups are notoriously small, and on layovers where you can take your coffee out exploring with you to combat the jetlag.
They're also perfect for the commute to and from the airport, and offer an environmentally friendly alternative to consistently using paper to-go coffee cups.
You'll always find a daypack or bag in a flight attendant's carry-on. They are extremely convenient during layovers when they are outside of the hotel for most of the day, whether they are going to the beach to relax and just need to carry a few personal belongings or planning a big day tour at their destination.
They also come in handy when some intriguing souvenirs catch your eye and you buy a couple too many to carry in your hands!
5 Extra Pair Of Shoes
Just in case a flight attendant doesn't want to wear their work shoes at their layover destination. Most cabin crew are going to be bringing a spare pair or two depending on what their plan is for their layover, or to prepare for what the weather conditions might be.
Sturdy walking shoes are always going to be a good idea. Running shoes can come in handy if certain crew members plan on scheduling a workout on their downtime, or perhaps warmer shoes for layovers in colder destinations during winter.
4 Mini Pharmacy
Most flight attendants are prepared with a personal arsenal of over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Tylenol and Pepto-Bismol, along with essential first aid items like sanitizing wipes and band-aids.
Flight attendants can get sick too and these items have become an essential part of most cabin crew's carry-on baggage. Unfortunately for the passengers, these medications are generally a personal stash and you'll most likely be receiving the airline-provided generic meds when asking for medication from a crew member.
3 Personal Mementos
Most flight attendants pack along a personal memento for their travels, be that a photograph of their family or a small personal item to remind them of home. Their job can be quite demanding in that some crew members may not be home for days on end, and on opposite sides of the planet.
Some layovers can become quite lonely and these little pieces of home can provide comfort when the feeling of homesickness strikes just a little too hard on.
2 Passport Photocopy
This is an important one that both travellers and cabin crew sometimes forget. No one ever plans on losing their passport, however if it happens a printed photocopy or photograph of the identification page can make the following process much less stressful.
Although a photocopy does not constitute a valid travel document, it will help in confirming your identity and streamline the process to receive a temporary passport or alternative identification document.
1 Extra Space For Shopping
One of the most common things for cabin crew to do is leave some room in their carry-on. Leaving extra space in their crew bag before a trip is common among flight attendants wishing to do a little shopping at their layover destination, filling their carry-on bag to the seams for the return trip with mementos from night markets in Asia or goodies from Europe.
This practice may seem a little excessive, but if we had the opportunity I'm sure we would do it too!