Flight attendants are the real deal. They protect people’s safety from thousands of feet above the ground, like stylish and modern superheroes. They’re also responsible for giving aircrafts a positive chilled-out vibe. Keeping you safe AND serving you food? These professionals deserve our praise.
You might think you’ve got their job duties all figured out (how hard is it to be a sky-high waitress?). But if that’s your attitude, you’re in for some surprises. Flight attendants’ job descriptions might include serving meals and passing out pillows, but in order to land one of these coveted jobs, they also need to be trained in a range of special skills. They need to know their airline’s rule book cover to cover, as well as insider tips and tricks, broader industry standards, and the solutions to every single worst case scenario possible. Underneath those slicked-back hairstyles are brains FULL of knowledge that the average person doesn’t have access to.
With a little research and feedback from real working flight attendants, we’ve compiled a list of 22 unusual things that these professionals need to know. From secret code words to the most unlikely emergency procedures and beyond, see which of these facts surprises you most. With inside knowledge about how these pros do their jobs, you just might end up with some new cabin crew friends on your next flight.
22 Beverages Are Different At 35,000 Feet Up
Flight attendants need to know special rules about serving alcohol on an aircraft, and for good reason. According to Annette Long, a flight attendant with more than a decade of experience, serving alcohol to passengers can get tricky because of high plane elevation's effects on the brain.
"We need to know how much you've had to drink so we're not overserving you," she explains to The Oyster, "... because the higher you fly and the longer you go, the more the alcohol affects your brain."
The crew has to keep track of the amount of alcohol on board and how/by whom it's being consumed. On a plane, it takes less time for a passenger's blood alcohol content (BAC) to change and for the alcohol to start affecting their body. It travels through the bloodstream into the brain, where it acts as a sedative and slows down the brain's functioning. In short, on planes, it takes much less time for a glass of wine to go to your head. That's why you aren’t allowed to BYOB aboard an aircraft.
"Some people will go to the local liquor store and bring their mini bottles of booze on the plane," Long says. "We always know who you are, and we always find it."
21 Not To Smoke For 6 MONTHS Before Starting The Job
Smoking is against the rules on all airlines (fresh air on a plane is precious cargo!), but some airlines go the extra mile in ensuring that their cabin crew is cigarette-free. Today's flight attendants need to know how to live free from all kinds of smoke/vape consumption in order to land and keep their coveted jobs.
“We require applicants to be free from all nicotine use for at least 6 months prior to submitting an application,” reports Alaska Airlines.
All the way back in flight attendant school, these career hopefuls need to be preparing their bodies for #FlightAttendantLife. Talk about commitment! If they know they want to become a member of a cabin crew in the future, they need to curb their smoking habits ASAP. It's not often that jobs have requirements that extend long before their applicants have even submitted their resumes. That's just one of the ways that flight attendant pros need to go the extra mile to access their dream jobs.
It makes sense on several levels that airlines would want their staff to have broken their smoking habits pre-hiring. If you've ever encountered somebody going through nicotine withdrawal, you'll know that these poor souls are MISERABLE. They're irritable, short-tempered, and generally suffering while they work hard to break this tough habit. Does that sound like someone you'd like to be responsible for your safety and happiness? Us neither.
20 Why Not To Mess With The Emergency Slide
A few years back, a United Airlines flight attendant was beyond ready to get off a plane that was taking forever after landing safely at its terminal post-flight. She made the decision to deploy the emergency slide to get passengers (and mostly herself) off the plane quicker. This was a huge mistake.
Some serious conversations and a whole lot of physical labor later, the slide was repackaged into its container and the flight attendant was in massive trouble. Her bad choice cost the airline between $6,000 and $12,000 and cost the flight attendant her job. Thankfully, the slide was undamaged in the process. (Remember to remove your heels, everybody!)
In 2014, a passenger on a China Eastern Airlines flight pulled the exact same stunt, but his plane's slide sustained much more serious damage. To repair it cost $16,000! Even though the passenger was experiencing major anxiety, his move was expensive and unforgivable. This story was big in the flight attendant world and warned everyone about how stupid it can be to deploy that massive piece of airplane equipment in any non-emergency moment. No flight attendant these days would dare to do it and expect to keep their job.
19 How To Get Passengers Detained
Did you know it's ILLEGAL to disobey a crew member's instructions on a plane? Flight attendants do, and they're willing to use the full force of the law to sort you out. You literally need to do everything they ask of you. Refusing to settle down, using hate speech, and even joining the mile high club can be grounds for flight attendants to come down hard on their passengers.
Every flight cabin is equipped with thick plastic zip tie handcuffs (or actual handcuffs) to be used on passengers who get the flight attendants upset. They have the power to cuff you, buckle you into a seat separate from the rest of the passengers, and request that the pilots make an emergency landing to drop you off and leave you in the hands of ground security and the actual police.
"Most of the pilots say to us, 'If you've got a problem with them, I've got a problem with them,' and they will back us up 100%," explains Long.
If you remember Bridesmaids, you'll remember how easy it is for a plane on its way to fabulous Las Vegas to drop disobedient passengers in the far-from-fabulous Casper, Wyoming. Think twice before you test a flight attendant's patience.
18 Why Some Drinks Taste Gross On Planes
We've already mentioned how alcohol is different in the air, but have you ever noticed how weird some of the other plane beverages taste? Flight attendants know which drinks to completely avoid and which ones actually taste fine. The trick? It's all about the water.
Water on planes is, to be honest, nasty. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 15% of aircrafts tested had water systems that contained potentially harmful bacteria, as reported by Business Insider. This is okay for flushing down the toilet, but much less good for drinking. It's not uncommon for flight attendants to cringe when they notice passengers filling up their water bottles from the bathroom sink.
Boiling the water eliminates most bacteria, but the plane's altitude changes the boiling point of the water which, in turn, changes the taste of the coffee and tea. Some crew members even find that after boiling, they can still taste evidence that the water has been sitting in the aircraft's water tank for weeks.
"Flight attendants will not drink hot water on the plane," one of Long's colleagues reports, anonymously. "They will not drink plain coffee, and they will not drink plain tea."
Next time you fly, be like a flight attendant and have something from a can. Just don't make it diet coke. It gets so fizzy up in the air that flight attendants hate pouring it.
17 How To Beat Out The Competition
Is it harder to get accepted into Harvard or get hired as a flight attendant? According to some statistics, the flight attendant's struggle is more real. When Delta announced 1,000 openings for flight attendants in 2010, it received over 100,000 applications. That's a lower acceptance rate than Harvard, with applicants having only a 1% chance of getting accepted.
It makes sense that so many people want to land a flight attendant gig. Traveling the world, looking glamorous, getting lots of perks from the airline—it's a dream. But only the fiercest flight attendant hopefuls make it all the way through to the contract-signing phase.
You can trust that when you're on a plane, the happy, friendly people serving you have actually fought past hundreds of other candidates for their job. How do they do it? It helps to have a college degree, speak a second language, and of course, to look the part.
Jet Airways requires cabin crew to have a "pleasing personality, clear complexion (scars, pimples, and blemishes not accepted), and good eyesight."
Once these tough professionals beat out their competitors to become flight attendants, they can lose their jobs extremely easily and be replaced by one of their rivals in no time. According to one flight attendant, one of her colleagues got fired for tying her uniform sweater around her waist. To last in this profession, you can never let yourself slip up.
16 How To Lift Weight(s)
It's part of the job! Even though passengers are warned not to bring overly heavy carry-on luggage aboard an aircraft, there's always something too big for flight attendants to wrangle with on a flight. They need to be able to put things safely in overhead compartments when passengers can't and to push heavy carts/materials up and down the aisles and runways.
Arm strength isn't just an asset in this career; it's a requirement. The standard rule across most airlines is that flight attendants need to be able to carry about 10kg to a height of 170cm (the height of the base of overhead compartments in most aircrafts). They also need to have a good "arm reach" measurement. Etihad Air requires them to be able to have an "arm reach of 212cm while standing on tip toes."
Thinking of a typical flight attendant's build, what comes to mind? We bet that even after learning all this information, you don't picture a bodybuilder or muscle-clad mama. Flight attendants are still required to be fairly small, with heights that are usually between about 5'1" and 6'1", even for males. Striking the perfect balance between strong and slim is part of the flight attendant's role. Under those sleeves are some majorly toned biceps.
15 What Bad Turbulence Is REALLY Like
If you're a frequent travelista, you might think you've been through some tough turbulence. Flight attendance need to know the difference between average bumpy flight scenarios and serious "extreme turbulence."
In order to claim that a plane is going through "extreme turbulence," a flight attendant must know that their pilots have either lost control of the plane because of it (yikes) or that the aircraft has sustained physical damage because of it (also yikes). If a cabin crew recognizes that their plane is actually experiencing extreme turbulence, it has to make the decision to do an emergency landing.
Since pilots are generally reluctant to risk an emergency landing and since it's pretty rare for them to lose control or for the plane to sustain physical damage, the label of "extreme turbulence" is rarely used. To put it plainly, extreme turbulence almost never officially happens.
According to Business Insider, more than 2 million people fly in the United States every single day, but turbulence has only resulted in three deaths since 1980. Three! Of those three deaths, two of them involved passengers not wearing their seat belts.
The next time you hit a turbulent patch in the air, just think about how rare it is for the turbulence to be considered "extreme" and for it to actually kill people. That's what the flight attendants are thinking!
14 Where The Worst Germs Are
You might know by now that planes are full of germs. No matter how thorough the cabin crew is while cleaning, the reality of sharing close quarters in a small amount of enclosed space with a wide variety of human bodies is just a bacteria fest. This being said, it's a "fireable" offense for flight attendants to fly while they're sick, even if they're off-duty and just flying as passengers. Since these professionals want to get paid and keep their jobs, they are experts at avoiding the worst germs on their aircraft as much as possible.
The washroom (duh) and the tray tables are the germiest spots on most planes. Even though flight attendants wipe the tray tables down thoroughly between flights, there are some germs that can stick around.
It's not uncommon for parents to sneakily change their babies' diapers on the tray tables. We are not joking. People wipe their babies' you-know-whats on the same surfaces others use to eat their airplane food! A rag can't quite sterilize that.
"They're using a rag to start row one, and when they end up in row 35, that rag has wiped a lot of tables," explains Long. And as for the washrooms, "Just so you know, when you go to the bathroom and you're barefoot or you're in your socks, that's not water on the floor."
13 How To Use A Taser
Zap! Another reason to respect the heck out of your airline staff. In worst case scenarios when passengers are flipping out, breaking laws, and ignoring every attempt made by the airline staff to chill them out, the flight attendants have legal permission to tase 'em.
Does this sound a tad frightening to you? Maybe a bit excessive? In recent years, some airlines have actually been criticized for not using their tasers MORE. Ultimately, when the safety of the entire cabin's worth of passengers is threatened by the behavior of one rogue troublemaker, tasing is one of the most effective ways for flight crew to immobilize the offender. Remember, the flight attendants may be strong, but they are also generally short and light. To overpower large and aggressive passengers, a little shock is often their best option.
One of Korea's main airlines recently revamped its taser training practices, ensuring that every flight crew member would feel comfortable using tasers on passengers (and nobody would be squeamish).
"We have decided to improve our conditions and procedure on using Taser guns to cope with violent acts and disturbances on board in a fast and efficient manner," Korean Air wrote in a statement to Reuters. Their new policy is designed to give cabin crew more leeway in the decision to use tasers, making it possible for their crews to use their tasers more quickly and frequently. Watch out for them on your next trip to Seoul.
12 How To Stay Slim Long-Term
Most airlines have body weight restrictions, which these days mainly require flight attendants to have healthy results on a Body Mass Index (BMI) test. As an anonymous flight attendant admits: "the reality is that you're weighed once a year and must have a healthy BMI."
This means that for the entirety of their careers, flight attendants must be prepared to be weighed every year. They must be conscious of maintaining their figures in order to maintain their jobs.
It's hard for the average person not to gain weight when they travel, so imagine how difficult it is for flight attendants! They're always in transit, grabbing meals at odd hours with hectic schedules that don't comply with a local gym membership. They each have to make conscious decisions every day to eat healthy, exercise as much as they can, and keep their weight steady.
In the age of body positivity and acceptance, weight monitoring seems a little bit uncool. The reasons for strict body-monitoring policies are mainly practical - or at least that's what the airlines say. If a flight attendants can't sit in a jump seat (the seat by the emergency exits, where they have a view of their whole section of the cabin) without an extended seat belt aren't allowed to keep their jobs. The same goes for flight attendants who can't fit comfortably through an emergency exit window.
11 When To Break Uniform Rules
As in many other kinds of work, flight attendants earn certain perks as they put their time in and rise through the ranks of their profession. It's all about seniority! One of the places where they can start to bend the rules as they gain seniority is how strictly they adhere to their airline's hair, makeup, and fashion rules.
Rules about how flight attendants have to look are famously tough. There are detailed specifications about what makeup they wear, how much jewelry they can wear, what their hair colors should be, and much more. For example, most airlines require flight attendants to have clean, pulled back hair of a natural color, no trendy blues or purples. There are even strict rules about how they can style it.
"When leaning forward, restrained hair should remain neat and off the face. A single ponytail may be secured behind the ears and centered on the back of the head," reads JetBlue's flight attendant uniform standards. "The ponytail should be no higher than the tops of the ears and no longer than the tops of the shoulders."
Flight attendants with seniority get to shorten the hems on their skirts, wear more rings (often because they get married) and shorten the heels on their shoes without facing major repercussions. It's basically common practice for flight attendants to relax their uniforms a bit as they get further away from the rookie probation periods of their careers.
10 Secret Codes About Passengers
If you ever wondered whether flight attendants talk about their passengers behind their backs, the answer is yes. Sometimes they'll even talk about them in front of their faces with the help of special insider code terms.
These codes are different from the number codes they're required to learn in training (7500 means the plane is hijacked, etc.). For example, a former flight attendant visited an Australian radio show and explained how flight attendants will share which passengers they think are attractive:
"Obviously when we are in the cabin and we are doing the drinks we can't just be like 'Oh doll check him out. You have to be subtle about it. Because everyone knows their seat numbers, so we’re on the cart and he’ll be like, 'I’m thinking of doing seven days in America… being 'seat 7A'. And I’ll be like, 'yeah, I could do seven days in America!'"
That's the most flattering thing you could decode from a flight attendant's conversation. The least flattering one involves, well... farts. If a passenger is especially mean to a flight attendant, they might encourage their crew to "cropdust" a certain seat. That means the (rude) flight attendants can choose to fart while they walk past the specific passenger's seat. Pass the barf bag.
9 Which Tattoos They Can Get Away With
Most airlines don't let flight attendants have any visible tattoos or piercings (besides earlobes) while they're on the job. Even stricter airlines like British Airways, Emirates, and Etihad require the tattoos to be located in places that the flight attendant's uniform will always cover. For example, a back tattoo is fine, but a wrist tattoo is not. These airlines don't even let their employees cover the tattoos up with concealer, bandaids, or jewelry. When their uniforms involve sheer nylons, the only safe places for flight attendants to get tattoos are from their shoulders to their thighs. This is even stricter if their uniforms are white.
As British Airways puts it: "All our uniform shirts are white, so you will be required to wear an appropriate white undergarment if you have a tattoo on your upper body so that your tattoo is in no way visible through the uniform shirt."
Tattoos on feet are also usually prohibited. You might expect them to be generally discreet, but for careers in flight attending, footwear often involves heels and open-topped shoes that show a whole lot of your feet. You might want to give your body a once-over and hold back on any trendy tattoos if you're ever hoping to become a flight attendant.
8 How To Keep Teeth (Not Too) White
A bright smile is kind of a big part of the flight attendant's appearance. Smiling is essential to making it in this field! That means bright, white, healthy teeth framed in neatly-applied lipstick or gloss. But some airlines are actually strict about their flight attendants having teeth that are TOO white. Is that even possible?
Apparently yes. According to Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, "Good oral hygiene should be practiced to ensure that the teeth present a clean, natural appearance." No Ross-from-Friends teeth bleaching mishaps allowed.
Flight attendant Jay Robert says "I keep my smile beaming with activated charcoal tooth polish by Carbon Coco." Natural whiteners are better at getting teeth to that pearly, shiny, but not obviously bleached look.
Another way flight attendants trick employers and passengers into thinking they have the perfect shade of white teeth is to make strategic lipstick choices. To make teeth look less artificially white, they can choose lipsticks with yellow undertones. The opposite applies for anyone wanting to boost their tooth brightness, with blue undertones working wonders. They also choose red shades for a reason.
"It helps you look rested and ready to go," says Elizabeth Upshaw from JetBlue. "Red lipstick makes your smile dazzle."
7 How To Deal With Trauma
Even though the chances of encountering terrifying things from 35,000 feet in the air is slim, modern flight attendants still need to be mentally prepared to handle every possibility. That's why not only is their physical strength called into question when they apply for a flight attendant job, but their mental toughness is, too.
You need to be pretty tough not to let your smile falter when a passenger swears at your team, throws garbage at you instead of into the garbage bag you're holding, and other (unfortunately common) situations. But keeping your cool when real medical emergencies happen on board takes mental strength to a whole new level. Everything from a mild nose-bleed to a full-on heart attack can happen, so dealing with blood, stress, and passengers' tears without having a mental breakdown can be a lot to ask.
Airlines know that they need mentally and emotionally stable people in their cabin crews. To find the ones most likely able to cope with the traumas experienced on airplanes, many airlines run their flight attendant candidates through special tests.
Brazil's TAM Airlines puts its flight attendants through a maze-like test set up inside a “totally dark” building “filled with smoke”, according to Airlinereporter.com. The flight attendants must try to get through the maze and take out a mannequin (meant to represent a passenger) by communicating with each other and keeping cool. These skills all contribute to your airline crew's totally relaxed vibes and ability to keep calm, no matter what.
6 Where The Best Seats Are
Flight attendants spend their workdays walking up and down aircraft aisles, interacting with people in every single seat. Who better to know the secrets about where it's best to sit? Before booking your next flight, find out what kind of seat is right for you depending on what kind of experience you're looking for.
If you're a nervous flyer who freaks out about every turbulent bump, the front of the plane is best for you. If you aren't flying first class, it's smart to choose the seats that are as close as possible to the front of your section of the plane. The plane's front third experiences much less of the effects of turbulence than the back.
If you don't mind the bumps, flight attendant Annie Kingston tells The Oyster that passengers in the back get much more attentive service - and it's not just because of their proximity to flight attendants at the back of the plane.
"We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way," Kingston explains. "This can cause a problem since planes often don't have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes. For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it's much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine."
5 How To Deliver A Baby
Births are one of the extreme circumstances that today's flight attendants need to be prepared for. They're even trained to ask how far along a woman's pregnancy is when they notice her tummy during boarding, just so they can prepare themselves.
While heavily pregnant women shouldn't be flying anyway, many try to hide their condition so that they can fly closer to family shortly before their due dates. This is less common than premature births in the air, though. Much more frequently, a pregnant woman who is flying goes into early labor, meaning that the cabin crew has to deal with extra risky early births.
Flight attendants don't train as doctors, obviously, but they do have a portion of their training that involves midwifery skills. These are the practical, roll-up-your-sleeves ways to get a baby safely delivered without immediate medical intervention. In several recent cases, the pilots of planes with emergency deliveries on board have made emergency landings after the births so that the moms and babies can get proper medical attention as soon as possible.
Births on planes are such rare and tricky things then when they do occur, moms and babies are often rewarded by the airlines! Some babies born in-flight have been granted free flights for life! A baby born on a Thai plane in 1995 was even given a special scholarship from the airline.
4 How To Recognize Sketchy Behavior
When it comes to traveling people across the world, there's a right way and a few absolute wrong ways. When something's not right, flight attendants are often the ones who notice first. They are in a uniquely useful position, responsible for watching over each and every passenger as they travel from place to place. They also have the responsibility to report any suspicious behavior and to go directly to the police.
For example, imagine being a flight attendant and noticing that a child seems scared of their guardian. The child might not be dressed properly, or being roughly handled by their guardian, or just giving you the feeling that something is off. What would you do?
A good flight attendant would report a 'Code Adam' to their team, alerting the rest of the crew that there's a potential kidnapping in progress on board. Then they would work together to look over the passengers' paperwork, contact officials on the ground, and determine how to proceed with the child's safety as a top priority.
The organization Innocents at Risk helps flight attendants to learn the telltale signs of dodgy behavior. It also supports them if they ever need to testify before a court about an abduction they have witnessed. Flight attendants saving the day yet again!
3 What Their Civil Rights Are
In the early days of commercial air travel, flight attendants' civil rights were walked all over by the people who hired them. Think Mad Men era sexism. Not only were their appearances harshly judged for reasons that were completely irrelevant to their jobs, they were also dismissed from their positions after they aged out of their 20s, and they weren't allowed to get married and have children while working as flight attendants.
Could you imagine training for a job, getting hired, and then getting fired because your nose was too big, you had your 30th birthday, or you wanted to marry your boyfriend? This SCREAMS illegal practices to us, but flight attendants have been part of the long, hard fight to earn the civil rights we so often take for granted.
In the 1970s, the organization Stewardesses for Women’s Rights fought for fair treatment for all flight attendants, and the ageism was the first to go. By the 1980s, mandatory retirement age had been raised to match that of similar professions, and the restriction on marriage and kids was gone, too. It's horrible to think that those rules were in place less than 30 short years ago!
Modern flight attendants haven't forgotten, and are quick to learn which of their civil rights are still at risk in this woman-dominated profession. Power to the cabin crew!
2 How to Survive After a Crash
Airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel! Odds of a plane crashing are 1 in 11 MILLION, while car crash odds are just 1 in 5000. An airplane crash on a deserted landscape is super rare, but as with everything else on this list, flight attendants need to know all about it anyway.
Chinese flight attendants are given particularly grueling survival training. They need to know how to rescue passengers from water, lift heavy objects through rough terrain, and use First Aid skills in the wilderness to treat things like exposure and frostbite.
Brazilian airlines have similarly tough emergency training practices. The Brazilian government requires all cabin crew for Brazilian-based airlines to receive "jungle survival training," to learn "how to survive in the jungle in case a plane goes down." This involves gathering pieces of a crashed plane together to build a shelter, and coming up with ways to signal for help.
If your plane ever DOES go down (don't worry, it won't), you can trust that the same perky flight attendant who gave you an extra blanket will turn on the Bear Grylls -level survival skills and help keep you safe in the wild. These pros are so much tougher than they look.
1 How to Fly With People Who Have Passed Away
Honestly, it happens more often than you would think. As one anonymous flight attendant posted to Reddit, flying with a body can be as easy as letting some passengers wheel their grandmother on and pretend she's sleeping:
"The granddaughters would not leave her (not so weird) but the grandma was asleep so she couldn't answer questions. Turns out, halfway through the flight, we discover the woman is dead. When the plane landed everyone got interrogated to make sure she died 'naturally,' and it turned out the granddaughters knew the whole time."
Why would anyone do something like that? Well, in that case, the granddaughters were trying to avoid the cost of moving a body internationally. It IS expensive to have a body flown from one country to another. But if a person actually passes while in mid-air, different airlines have different policies about how flight attendants should handle it.
Flight attendants know that they should try to move the person to a secluded seat, a private galley, or - in the absolute most desperate cases - use the so-called 'corpse cupboard' at the back of the aircraft. Annette Long adds that she would "put a blanket over the person so it would become less of something to look at." Is there anything a flight attendant can't handle?
Sources: The Independent, Mental Floss, The Oyster, Huffington Post, Flight Attendant Life, Business Insider