5 Secrets From Ex-Delta Employees

Former flight attendants and other workers reveal behind-the-scenes facts about the airline.

There are a number of airlines for people to choose from in the U.S., but for most, Delta Air Lines is the top pick. According to a 2021 ranking from USA Today, Delta was voted the best airline by American travelers due to its "on-time record, extensive routes, robust frequent flyer program, and excellent lounges at airports" throughout the country. But even the nation's most popular airline has its fair share of secrets. From how you can fly for free to whether you should tip your flight attendants, we've rounded up some of the juiciest tidbits former Delta employees have revealed about the airline and air travel in general. Read on for a peek behind the scenes.

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1
You may be able to fly for free if a friend or family member has worked for Delta.

Delta airplane airplane interior with person deplaning.
Shutterstock

If you're close to someone who works for Delta Air Lines, it could work out in your favor. In a Quora forum, Jane Dockstader, an ex-Delta employee who worked in international sales, revealed that airline staff are issued a total of eight buddy passes each year, even after they retire. According to USA Today, these passes allow family members and friends of the airline's employees to fly standby for free or at a reduced rate

But don't expect to sweet talk a Delta employee into giving or selling you a pass if you're not actually friend or family. "Buddy passes are not for sale," Rosa Benn, a former ticket agent for the airline, explained in a separate Quora forum. "Any employee present or retired who receives renumeration for them is subject to termination/loss of privilege."

2
Most flight attendants don't actually like working in first class.

Glass of champagne in first class during sunset.
iStock

For airline passengers, first class is a luxury unlike any other. But Kat Kamalani, who previously worked as a Delta Air Lines flight attendant according to The Daily Mirror, revealed in two Jan. 2022 TikTok videos that the same can't be said for workers. In the videos, which were posted on her @katkamalani account and now have a combined total of more than 584,000 views, Kamalani explained that working in first class is not typically seen as desirable. "Let me tell you, most flight attendants don't like that position," she said.

Despite the potential for extra pay, flight attendants rarely volunteer for the role because of the added pressures, which can include separate training and pre-flight briefing sessions, according to Kamalani. "Most of the time, the person who is working first class is the flight leader and they call the shots—after the pilots of course," she said.

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3
You don't need to tip Delta flight attendants.

hand holding hundred dollar bills of US currency
Shutterstock / thansak253700

Although the U.S. does have a strong tipping culture, Larisa Bolyard, an ex-Delta employee who worked as a flight attendant from 2007 to 2017, said it's "not necessary" to tip flight attendants from the airline. In fact, "the legacy carriers do pay their flight attendants a decent, living wage," she explained in a Quora forum.

Bolyard said she would and could accept a tip "if it was insisted upon" but added that it would just get passed down to another employee. "I would then pay my co-worker's van driver tips. You see, we have to tip the hotel van drivers because they lift and stow our heavy baggage in their vans and retrieve them for us upon arrival at the hotel," she said.

4
But small gifts could enhance your flight experience.

Delta airplane airplane interior with person deplaning.
Shutterstock

While tipping your flight attendants isn't necessary, Kamalani revealed that giving small gifts to crew can get you "royal treatment" while on board. According to the former flight attendant, something as small as a $5 Starbucks gift card, a candy bar, or even lip balm from a passenger "means the world" to airline workers, per iDiva.

"Being a flight attendant is exhausting. You're always in different time zones, waking up crazy hours, dealing with angry customers," Kamalani explained in a TikTok video. "We will know where you're sitting, we'll know what you look like, and the whole crew will make sure you are taken care of."

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5
Delta flight attendant training is harder to get into than Harvard.

delta flight attendant standing in front of check-in at the airport
Sorbis / Shutterstock

This one doesn't come from a former Delta employee—but it's still something even the most frequent flyers probably don't know. Flight attendant Danny Elkins told Insider that it's easier to get into Harvard than Delta's flight attendant training program, and the outlet confirmed that wasn't an exaggeration. Per the airline, of the 150,000 people who applied to be a Delta flight attendant, just 1 percent made the cut.

The rigorous two-month training program includes swimming tests, learning how to do CPR (including on infants), and simulated evacuation. Legally, Delta flight attendants must be able to evacuate the plane with two exits blocked within 90 seconds, Insider reported. While you may have already known that flight attendants don't have it easy, you probably didn't realize how much work it took just to get onto the plane.

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