Gone are the days when flying was a glamorous, courteous and relaxing experience marked more by the anticipated thrill of adventure, than the cramped confinement of your seat. Be it due to delays, budget cuts, or security threats, air travel these days seems to be fraught with tension for everyone involved.
At the forefront of it all: Your lovely, poised cabin crew. With thousands of passengers in their care every day, jet-lagged, well-coiffed flight attendants have seen it all. And while they may possess a special perspective when it comes to your flying experience – one that ranges from the hilarious to the horrifying – for years, that perspective was rarely shared. Until now.
From veteran air hostesses, to senior crew members with years of experience working for major carriers, flights attendants are spilling the pretzels, and it ain't pretty. And while many of them love their life in the skies, there's a long list of things they wish they could tell you, but can't. For reasons that range from your safety, to convenience, to avoiding panic, to preserving their own sanity, flight attendants are well aware of a large number of events and occurrences that take place daily in an enclosed aluminum tube carrying hundreds of passengers at a cruising altitude of 40,000 feet.
From the most annoying passenger habits, to alarming impacts on your health and hygiene, we're sharing a list of 25 things flight attendants wish they could tell you to your face, but won't ever want to. So, brace yourself and fasten your seat belts. You're about to get an inside look that just might change the way you travel – forever.
25 "I Wouldn't Eat The Food We're Serving, If I Was You."
Have you ever seen flight attendants eating the same meal that passengers are eating? That’s right: No. And who can blame them?
From goopy lasagna, to soggy stews, to inedible mystery meats, airline food on most American airline carriers these days seems to bear a close resemblance to store-bought frozen TV dinners. Granted, at high altitudes, our taste buds are probably out of whack, not to mention the dry cabin air, and other considerations like tight budgets, logistics and all the various dietary restrictions that have to be catered to. But with skyrocketing ticket prices being what they are these days, there is just no excuse for bland-tasting, overcooked or undercooked meals.
So why is airplane food so bad? For starters, in case you haven’t noticed, for safety reasons, airplanes don’t have kitchens. So food is prepared on the ground, often in junky conditions, then blast chilled prior to a flight — sometimes days before they’re supposed to be eaten. This means that meat is often not fully cooked. Chicken is only 60 percent cooked and beef only about 30 percent.
In fact, airline meals aren't actually fully cooked through until they're boarded onto the aircraft.
Often they're cooked with terrible, inconsistent, little convection ovens operating on an increasingly tight energy budget, which blow dry air over the meals, usually crammed in with about 450 others.
24 "The Drinking Water Offered To You On An Aircraft Usually Comes From A Bacteria-Infested Tank."
It’s tough to maintain the cardinal rule of flying – "stay hydrated" – when asking for a glass of water on a flight is, well, something you should totally avoid doing.
In fact, ever wonder where the tap water that's served to customers on a plane actually comes from? Flight attendants can tell you. It's pumped from portable water tanks that are rarely, if ever, cleaned. That means, the water you're drinking on a plane is not only stale and dirty, but can even sometimes contain E.Coli, according to some reports.
While the water is indeed changed between each flight, with so many different people from different airports filling these tanks a day, cleaning them, as you can imagine, is not only hard, but no one's top priority. This might explain why 12 percent of commercial planes tested positive for fecal bacteria. Eight American airplanes are reported to have failed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's standards for water safety.
If that weren't enough, the drinking water that's served on planes also comes from the very same tank that's holding – brace yourself – the water used for the plane’s toilets.
So unless it's bottled water (though even then, it’s the same galley water you’re drinking, according to some crew members), skip the H2O.
23 "The Coffee We Serve You Isn't Any Better."
Most passengers assume that coffee and tea are safe bets — after all, how can microorganisms and bacteria from the water tanks survive the heating and boiling process, right? Wrong, dear friend.
While the heating does indeed kill some bacteria, it won't kill all of them. With dubiously sanitized water tanks, not to mention those damning findings by the Environmental Protection Agency, you may want to opt for a canned beverage instead.
To make matters worse, the coffee machines themselves are also rarely cleaned. They're simply rinsed out without proper cleaning supplies. Much like the water tanks, this is no one's top priority. Plus, the low cabin pressure actually prevents water from boiling at 100°C. It can only boil up to 90°C, which, in turn, impacts the coffee's flavour.
To top it off, if you do decide to bite the bullet and give in to your caffeine craving, chances are that all you're really enjoying is the aroma. What flight attendants won't tell you is that the coffee they usually serve on planes is decaf in an effort to help minimize the fidgety, high-strung behaviour of over-caffeinated passengers, and maximize their preferred type of passenger – asleep. Then again, we're probably all better off avoiding caffeine in such a tight space.
22 "That Tray You’re Laying Your Beer And Roasted Peanuts On Is Sometimes Used To Change Diapers."
Listen up, germaphobes! On second thought, you might want to skip this one.
Flights attendants will never want to tell you this, but bringing sanitary wipes with you on your flight and wiping down your pull-out tray like nobody's business as soon as you take your seat, is something you'll certainly want to do.
They won't want to tell you the number of times they've seen dirty diapers on that very same tray (even though it's discouraged, obviously!), or the number of times they've had to look the other way while one was actually being changed on them.
Granted, these notoriously unhygienic instances are more likely to occur in the midst of a seatbelt-fastened sign being on. However, the fact that there's rarely, if ever, a changing table in airplane bathrooms, certainly doesn't help things either.
To top it off, these trays are rarely cleaned or sanitized by the crew. Did you really think they have time to clean each one of these suckers between maintenance checks, constant delays and the generally hectic schedule that is the airline industry? Sure, being in such close proximity to the filthiest, most germ-infested, bacteria-ridden area of a plane for hours at a time, certainly isn't a comforting thought, but hey, just avoid the food, water and coffee, and it's practically a non-issue, right?
21 "The Pillows And Blankets You’re Napping On Were Used By Dozens Of Passengers Before You."
If you find yourself tired, cold and uncomfortable on a plane, don't look to its pillows and blankets to bring you comfort. That is, of course, unless you don't mind snuggling up on with the same ones drooled on and sweated on by dozens of passengers before you.
While you may assume – and hey, don't we all – that the neatly folded blankets and pillows we're handed out on a plane are at the very least freshly washed, flight attendants won't want to tell you that they most certainly aren't.
Unless you're lucky enough to be on the first flight of the day originating from the very city that's providing them, blankets and pillows, unless visibly spoiled, are actually reused all day long. They are simply refolded and stuffed back into the bins between each flight. What about those plastic wrapped and sealed blankets, greeting you on each seat as you board the plate at the start of your flight? Surely, those are new, right? Wrong again. Those are only hermetically sealed, and are rarely cleaned properly, according to cabin crew members.
So unless you want to sleep with the enemy, you'll certainly want to avoid these germ-infested sleep mates on your next flight.
20 "Those Freebie Headsets We Hand Out Aren't New."
Perhaps (okay, who are we kidding – most definitely) what's more disgusting than resting your head on the same pillow used by countless others on a flight, is unknowingly sticking used earbuds into your ear.
Flight attendants won't want to tell you when they're passing by, offering them during your flight, of course, but those freebie handout earbuds aren't in any way new, either.
In fact, much like a flight's blankets and pillows, the headsets that are handed out on a plane are the very same ones from previous flights, and only superficially cleaned or sanitized before they're once again neatly wrapped or placed in a sealed piece of plastic, ready for distribution to passengers.
When it comes to used earphones, though, the issue can be particularly serious because it walks the fine line between what's gross and what's downright dangerous. Germs, while bad enough on their own, can wreak havoc on those prone to ear infections, due to the extra air pressure of a flight's main cabin. Ultimately, these airlines are placing many passengers in an especially vulnerable position.
So if you really want to catch that in-flight movie, or drown out that screaming baby in the seat next to you, be sure to bring your own supersonic buds along for the ride.
19 "Yes, You Can Still Request To See The Cockpit."
Remember the good 'ol days when getting to see the cockpit was a special treat?
Well, one thing that many passengers might not know, nor will flight attendants necessarily want to announce to everyone coming on board, is that the little thrill from those squeaky-clean childhood days is still very much alive and well.
While it may be surprising to many, especially in light of the major security concerns that have overtaken most of the travel industry in recent years, passengers are still allowed to enter the cockpit cabin.
Well, sort of, this is within certain limits of course. The trick is to know when to ask and when you do, to do so politely. You certainly don't want to ask when it's busy, or when pilots are rushing to get ready for takeoff.
Ideally, and if you can spare the time and aren't sprinting off to catch your connection like everyone else, the best time to ask the crew for an insider tour is when the plane has landed, or perhaps, according to some flight attendants, when the plane is delayed on the runway.
While neither of those times might be ideal for most, isn't it somehow nice to know that even with today's lower airline service standards, getting the courtesy of a proper look at the crew captain's headquarters isn't out of bounds?
18 "Snacks Are Actually Unlimited"
Got the munchies? Few passengers are aware that snacks on a flight are, in fact, unlimited. Then again, which exhausted, underpaid, sleep deprived flight attendant would want to tell you that? If anything, this delicious little insider fact probably tops the list of what airline flight attendants don't want you to know.
Sure, airline marketing tactics might make you believe unlimited snacks are a special perk for passengers of that particular carrier, but the fact is, most airlines do this anyway, even if they might not necessarily want to announce it.
Still, while there's no real restriction on the amount of snacks a passenger can request, again, how and when you make that request can make all the difference between being told to bugger off, or getting yourself a copious handful. You'll also want to make sure everyone's had their fair share before asking for thirds and fourths.
And with often less than appetizing airplane food on offer, peanuts and pretzels might be your only sustenance, so be sure to ask nicely. You can also, little did you know, ask for a full can of pop, in lieu of the usual pour in a little ice-packed glass? Though, according to some flight attendants, pouring from an already-opened can of pop usually indicates that rations are running low.
17 "Your Pet Is Going Through Hell Right Now Down In Cargo."
While airline crews certainly do their best to make sure animals are well taken care of, the sad fact is, most pets in cargo are going through hell, due in large part to factors that are outside of anyone's control.
The noise level on the ramp, for example, can be so loud and intense that loading crews themselves can't do without ear protection. Dogs and other animals, however, don't have this option, so you can only imagine what they're being exposed to while waiting to be loaded onto the plane.
With checked animals often terrified during takeoff, and in worse condition, if that's even possible, during the actual flight, it's no wonder many of these pets have to be heavily sedated. On an even more somber note, extreme temperatures and poor ventilation in the cargo area can also occur, even though they're often regulated, resulting in multiple pet deaths on planes every year.
If you can, of course, you'll want to shell out a few extra dollars (after all, isn't your best friend worth at least that?) to be allowed to carry your pet onto the flight with you. Or better yet, opt to drive to your destination instead.
16 "You Can Tell Who's New On The Crew From The Length Of Their Skirt."
How can you tell if the air hostess serving you is a newbie? By the length of her skirt, if you can believe it. That's right. Female flight attendants, no news on their male counterparts for this one, have special dress code guidelines that reveal their level of seniority based on how long or short their skirt is. Yes, this is happening even in today's day and age.
The shorter the skirt, the more seniority a flight attendant has, the longer the skirt the newer she is on the crew.
That's because newly hired flight attendants aren't allowed to hem their skirts as part of those guidelines, while older ones, who will almost always want to exercise the liberty, can and often do. This often has to do with probation periods.
It's probably not something airline flight attendants will want to tell you, nor of course are skirted uniform guidelines and fashions necessarily applicable to all carriers. This otherwise seemingly ubiquitous little factoid might come in handy – or, at the very least, help you take it a little easier on those who are still in their probationary period when they're a little late with those extra snacks for which you asked.
15 "Please Stop Using The Call Button For Every Little Thing."
Flight attendants won't want to tell you this to your face but, frankly, you're annoying.
Well, not all of you, of course – just those of you who seem to think that using the call button for every waking need is perfectly alright. Because it's perfectly not, as far as airline flight attendants waiting on 200 other passengers are concerned.
The sentiment especially applies to those of you who seem to be of the conviction that flight attendants should somehow instantly appear as soon as the call button is pressed, and often proceed to then press it, repeatedly, until someone arrives.
While you may not realize it from the (dis)comfort of your own seat, the sound of in-flight pings, at least according to flight attendants, is quite loud and piercing.
And this might come as news to you, but the flight attendant-to-passenger ratio, unless you're in first or business class, is generally 50:1, and that can easily become a 100:1 ratio by mid-flight when hostesses are taking their break. So unless you're experiencing a minor (coffee spilled all over yourself) or major catastrophe, you might want to exercise just a little bit of self-restraint before pushing that call button again. Opt instead to wait until an flight attendant walks by the aisle, if you feel you need something. Which brings us to the next thing your flight attendant won't want to tell you.
14 "I'm Not Your Waitress."
Shaking your glass of ice in the air, snapping your fingers, and starting your sentence with anything remotely resembling “fetch me…” when addressing a flight attendant is a big no-no.
While it may come as a surprise to some of you, the primary responsibility of flight attendants is not to tend to your every whim at 40,000 feet above sea level. Instead, it is to ensure your safety, and, yes, to a certain extent, your well-being as a passenger while on the flight.
Neglecting to take a moment to read the provided menu, for example, and instead casually asking, when your hostess arrives with the drink cart, "What do you have?" not only neglects the fact that there are 200 other passengers waiting to be served, but also points to the widespread perception that flight attendants are simply waiters and waitresses in the sky.
This might be a challenge to process for those of you who can't quite seem to see the difference between great customer service and being a servant. So, if all else fails, at the very least, try to remember to be nice. Addressing flight attendants with a lack of respect, rudeness or a generally bad attitude and ignoring the fact that they're keeping it remarkably together while being severely jet lagged and in the midst of handling a multitude of passenger ordeals, is simply not cool.
13 "(But) I Will Accept Tips."
On the other side of the spectrum, for those of you lovely passengers who so appreciate the quality of service of your flight attendants, you wish you could offer them a tip, well, guess what? You can, sort of.
Few flight attendants wouldn't dare tell you, of course, but tipping is in fact welcome and appreciated. After all, unbeknownst to most, the salaries of most flight attendants are far from glamorous, compounded by the fact that that they're only paid for actual flight hours once the aircraft doors are shut. Time spent during flight delays, cancellations and layovers get little more than a small expense allowance.
The Association of Flight Attendants seems to discourage it and consequently, you'll often see flight attendants politely decline your thoughtful gesture. However, the truth is, as many of them confess, if you offer to tip them again a second time, or even slip a few bills into their hands, it will often be acknowledged with a free snack or an extra ounce of gin in your club soda.
You may also opt to give them a small gift from your destination, or, if you really want to thank them and boost their career in the process, an email or letter to the airline praising that flight attendant's quality of service will go a long way.
12 "I Do Have The Power To Upgrade You."
These days, with leg room, taxes and service being what they are, getting an upgrade is a passenger perk in high demand. But while some of us can't always, if ever, afford to fly first class or business, our charm, when played just right, could score us one.
Most flight attendants won't tell you this, but they actually do have the power to upgrade you if a seat in a better class is available. You won't see them doing this very often. However, it's not because they don't like you, though, as established above in this list, some of you are admittedly a little annoying, but because it involves quite a bit of a process. A process they might not always have the time nor the energy left to carry out because an upgrade involves having to fill out a report that explains why the upgrade was made. In the midst of caring for 200 passengers, it might simply not be worth the effort.
And while the decision can sometimes be an inevitable one (not enough meals in a cabin, for example), those who do get selected for an upgrade tend to usually be rather clean cut and well dressed, pregnant, or, as can be expected, extremely nice.
11 "You Don't Really Have To Turn Your Cell Phone Off."
In today's always-on, hyper-connected world, having to turn your cell phone off and "stow away all your electronic devices" has to be one of the single most resented air crew requests for passengers.
Most flight attendants wouldn't tell you this of course, but you don't really have to turn your cell phone off. Many, in fact, admit that they continue to use theirs even when the aircraft is taking off or landing. After all, it's an opportune time when passengers and crew must remain seated, right?
Often we're often under the impression that checking our cell phone during takeoff and landing will "bring the plane down". Most flight attendants will confess, however, that the real reason for the request is simply to prevent everyone's gadgets from becoming projectiles, which, yup, would indeed hurt quite a bit.
The other reason, even further from the common perception, is because cell phone signals during takeoff and landing annoy the heck out of pilots. The interference of hundreds of cell phones trying to pick up a signal, while the pilots are trying to pick up their radio signals, which are admittedly important, won't take a plane down. Yet, it is definitely to be avoided.
10 "This Plane Rarely Gets A Deep Clean."
In case you haven't figured this one out already, the deep aircraft cleaning you would come to expect in such a highly trafficked, germ-ridden area is just not happening.
That's right. Despite what you might think would be an essential and high priority with hundreds of passengers sitting in these planes every day, the truth is,
they are not deep cleaned between flights. Sometimes, actually, often, they're not properly cleaned for weeks at a time. As surprising as it seems, the truth is, airline cleaning is often a rushed affair. Spray a bit of disinfectant here, vacuum a little bit over there, throw out the garbage and onto the next flight!
But with sometimes even less than an hour between flights, can you really blame the maintenance crew? As gross, and even scary, as it may sound, planes are only deep cleaned once they're taken to the hangar — about once a month, on average.
From the tray tables (see above) to the lavatories (not even going there!), to the seat back pockets and aisle seats, germ zones are literally everywhere on an aircraft. So, you'll want sanitize every possible area you can before plopping yourself down for your long-haul flight. Sure, you'll catch a few glares and maybe even look like a freak, but with the facts being what they are, better safe than sorry, right?
9 "Diet Coke Is A Pain To Pour."
Ever wonder how flight attendants keep themselves so calm, cool, and collected under extreme pressure? We're going to guess that the practice gained from waiting for the fizz to settle each time a passenger has ordered a Diet Coke might have something to do with it.
As funny as it may sound, rumour has it that, of all drinks a passenger can possibly choose on a flight, Diet Coke just happens to take the longest to pour due to its higher level of carbonation which takes a long time to settle at high altitudes.
While a few Diet Coke-drinking flight attendants will assure you this is nothing more than a huge misconception, many flight attendants confess that the fizz does indeed take a few seconds longer to settle than you're average soft drink. Though, they do concede that it may in reality only seem that way because there are so many other passengers waiting to be served and tasks to be tended to.
The verdict may still be out on this one, but with some reports indicating that Diet Coke often makes up an airline's largest soft drink order (apparently they're always running out), it's certainly understandable why flight attendants might not want to to tell you.
8 "There Are Human Organs In The Main Cabin."
On a domestic flight? Chances are there are human organs tagging along with you for the ride. Sure, it may be an uncomfortable thought, hence why you may have never heard flight attendants mentioning it, but organs needed for transplants are often carried on commercial flights. Sometimes, they are even brought on international charter planes.
In fact, while few passengers might be aware of it, air cargo happens to make up a substantial part of how airlines make their money, with some bins carrying up to 150 bags of different organs, according to some reports.
And while having the gift of life aboard might be something you can stomach, after all, it's nice knowing that a life just might be saved with one of them, finding out that these very same organs are right up there in the main cabin with you, next to your carry-on luggage, (not down below in cargo, like you would expect) might not be.
But don't get too freaked out. Transplant organs generally require short travel times. So medical flight crews will, more often than not, opt for the use of medical helicopters over larger carriers. Cold comfort, we know, but hey, it's all we could cough up.
7 "You Actually Only Have 15 Seconds To Get Your Oxygen Mask On."
The next time your flight attendant stands before you with the routine spiel outlining the instructions for properly putting on your oxygen masks, we strongly suggest you pay close attention. Because what flight attendants won't tell you is that, in actuality,
you only have 15 seconds from the moment the cabin looses pressure to get those suckers on your head, before you the effects of oxygen loss take to your brain. And yes, dear, that is from the moment when those masks actually drop down.
And if you have your child on board with you, that's 15 seconds to get it on both of you. Scary stuff, huh? Sure, now you'll pay attention. Of course, you have to wonder why this incredibly important detail is not mentioned by flight attendants as part of their lovely little presentation. On second thought, with so many passengers on the flight already trying to manage their fear of flying, maybe its not such a good idea. Noted.
And stressful factoids like this are even harder to assimilate during an actual event. Case in point, the recent incident on a Southwest flight this April, when a debris from an engine caused cabin depressurization and just about everyone on the flight was found to be putting on the mask incorrectly.
6 "If The Guy Sitting Next To You Passes On In His Sleep Mid-Flight, You Have To Keep Sitting Next To Him For The Remainder Of The Flight."
Oh, dear. How do we break this one to you?
It can happen to anyone and, according flight attendants, it happens more often than you think. Say you're flying at a cruising altitude of 45,000 feet when, suddenly, someone dies mid-flight, what happens?
While the plane is usually diverted to the nearest city, what takes place until that plane reaches that nearest city is where things can range from the horrifically morbid to the can't-help-but-laugh comical.
Depending on the carrier, the deceased passenger is either placed in a special room, or, and this is more often the case, belted in their seat right where they passed away, and covered with a blanket with a good stiff drink strategically placed on the tray before them. This is to give passengers the illusion that he's just drunk out of his mind. Other carriers, like British Airways, are reported to move the cadaver to a seat in First Class, though it feels kind of late for the royal treatment in our eyes, and have night shades placed on them.
Regardless of the procedure or the carrier, flight attendants, for obvious reasons, will generally make sure that none of the passengers know about the deceased person until they deboard the plane.
Their seat mate, however, isn't so lucky. Not only must they be informed of the incident, but they have to sit next to the corpse for the remainder of the flight as well.