Skip to content

20 Shocking Secrets Your Flight Attendants Won't Tell You

If those aisles could talk.

Flying can be a nightmare for passengers. But imagine what a nightmare it can be for the flight attendants. While you're sitting there in the cramped comfort of your airplane seat, there's a team of flight attendants hard at work keeping everyone safe, cleaning up messes, and making sure that the mile-high club isn't getting any new members.

Even frequent travelers don't realize everything that goes into making their flight a success. From dealing with difficult passengers to budgeting paltry paychecks, here are all of the behind-the-scenes secrets on those 747s.

They hate it when you treat them like waiters.

flight attendant giving food to a passenger

Think flight attendants are just glorified waiters? Think again. "FAs go through rigorous training at my airline; five weeks, six days a week for about 10 hours a day. It's pretty intense," says one flight attendant. "If you score less than 90 percent on a written test, you are sent home. My five weeks I spent at FA training were more difficult than the four years I spent getting my Bachelor's degree."

Flight attendant training not only includes learning technical details of the plane you'll be flying on, there's also heavy safety training, with flight attendants learning how to safely evacuate the aircraft and even extinguish onboard fires. Point being: it's a tough job.

They're not rolling in dough.

A person budgeting money at a desk.

While there are plenty of perks to a job based around travel, flight attendants aren't living the jet-setting life of a celebrity. "I get paid approximately $38,000," says one flight attendant. "It is variable, but my company pays some of the highest wages."

They pay attention to your clothes.

people boarding the plane

Sweats may be comfortable to fly in, but if you want better treatment aboard a plane, it doesn't hurt to put some effort into your outfit. "I first notice how passengers are dressed. Some people dress as if they made an effort to put forth a positive impression. Others look as if they grabbed clothes off the floor and ran out of the house," says Steffanie Rivers, a flight attendant and author of The Do's and Don'ts of Flying: A Flight Attendant's Guide to Airline Travel Secrets, who says that acknowledging your flight attendants as you board and looking presentable are the first steps toward getting the crew to like you.

They can confirm how unhealthy airplane food is.

woman getting ready to eat her airplane food

That airplane food isn't any better for you than it looks. "It is really, really bad for you," says a flight attendant for a major airline. "Even in training, we are told [airplane meals] are nutritionally useless because of the salt, sugar, fat, and simple carb content. Once in a while is fine, but if you are a frequent traveler, look into other options."

They don't like it when you ring the call bell too much.

call button on airplane things that horrify flight attendants

If you need something on the plane, feel free to ask your flight attendant, but don't assume they're your personal butler. "My biggest pet peeve is when people are too needy—the ones who act as if they need their own chartered plane, because everything is all about them," says Rivers. "They want instantaneous service despite the fact that there are 100 other people on board the aircraft."

They know how gross the plane really is.

Airplane aisle, which is dirty and disgusting.

If you're thinking of walking down the airplane aisle without your shoes and socks on, you may want to reconsider. "DO NOT WALK AROUND BAREFOOT. Pee and poop happens, all over," says one flight attendant. "I feel like I witness an 'accident' regularly; in their seat or in the lav. People get nose bleeds, or their wounds open. Obviously when we land, it is thoroughly cleaned. But in-flight, our resources are limited."

They seriously need you to turn off your electronics.

asian woman using her phone on the plane

When the flight attendant asks you to turn off your electronics, they're not messing around. "Because communication between air traffic control and the cockpit can be interrupted due to electronics—not just from one person, but from a joint effort of all the electronics passengers have—it matters a great deal that passengers should place electronics in airplane mode during taxi takeoff and landing," says Rivers. "Their safety is at stake."

They have a special sleeping cabin on international flights.

the cabin crew rest area on an airbus

If you've ever wondered how flight attendants stay so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on 14-hour flights, it's not just because they're used to long hours. "There is a secret cabin for us upstairs where we take a nap for sleep," says one flight attendant.

They can't get you drunk.

man pouring more beer into his cup on the plane

When you're feeling tipsy, it's time to stop ringing your flight attendant for more mini bottles. Your flight attendant may be bound by their contract when it comes to serving passengers.

"We were told one in the air for two on the ground," says one flight attendant, referencing how alcohol tends to hit passengers harder on the plane than it might in their local bar." Also, it is illegal to be intoxicated on a plane and it is illegal for us to get you drunk. So, if we cut you off, don't argue; we may serve you later if you're nice."

They get hit on a lot.

flight attendant helping a first class flyer

Save your corny lines; you're probably not the first, fifth, or even hundredth person to hit on your flight attendant today. Many industry professionals say that compliments and sexual harassment are par for the course. "Passengers compliment me frequently. They tell me I'm beautiful or I have a pretty smile. I thank them and that's the end of it," says Rivers.

They would advise you not to drink that airplane coffee.

woman holding coffee cup on plane

If you're ordering a drink on board, it's probably best to skip anything that doesn't come from a bottle or can. "I personally would not drink the potable water from the aircraft. So, the tea, coffee… I would avoid," says one flight attendant. "The water isn't so bad, but how often do you really think those tanks are cleaned?"

They work intense hours.

Woman in bed with her phone.

Being a flight attendant is more than just hopping from the airport to home; flight attendants regularly work long hours and take multiple trips each day. "We don't have a working week, per se, but we can work up to eight days in a row if they're all two-sector short haul routes," says one flight attendant. "We can also work up to four flights a day, or operate two 15-hour flights in four days. Regulation is that we have 20 minutes of break every 12 hours."

They can't get you an upgrade.

man enjoying his business class seat

Your polite treatment of your flight attendant is certainly appreciated, but the flight attendant won't actually offer you an upgrade because of it. "I'm not the person who makes the decision to upgrade someone—that's the gate agent and other determining factors," says Rivers.

However, she says that making a good impression could help put you in the running for a better seat. "I would guess that someone who dresses professionally is more likely to get upgraded than someone who has on jeans and sneakers," she says. Although you might not get a first class seat, you can still enjoy A-list treatment and some serious savings if you know the secret of how to get your hotel room comped.

They rarely have to kick passengers off a flight.

woman walking at the airport

While you should definitely be on your best behavior aboard a plane, people aren't actually kicked off flights as frequently as the news might have you think. "People are removed from flights rarely," says Rivers. "Personally, I try to be as accommodating as possible. Even when I catch passengers on their cell phones (making calls, texting, etc., when we have asked them to go into airplane mode), I give them another request to comply. I've never kicked anybody off a flight. I've never had a passenger confront me. I think it's because I give respect and my demeanor dictates that I get respect."

They have to deal with rude passengers on private planes.

flight attendant waiting for the passengers private jet

If you think the intimate atmosphere of a corporate or private jet would prompt better behavior, you're mistaken. "I once had a passenger stick his finger up his nose and pick it while I was asking him a question! He also happens to be a celebrity in the news right now for making advances at women in the film industry," says Stefany Di Manno Ceccato, a corporate flight attendant and founder of DMC Travel Tailor.

Their job isn't exactly glamorous.

flight attendant looking exhausted

While TV shows and movies may make the life of a flight attendant seem like a non-stop party, the actual job is rarely that exciting, and involves early wake-ups and long periods of time away from home. "It's not as glamorous as it seems," says one flight attendant. "People think a lot of our job is traveling to amazing places all the time and having long layovers, but a lot of the time, it's a flight to Newark with a 10-hour layover, or a redeye flight to Hawaii just to turn right around."

Their schedules can make it difficult to have a personal life.

Couple having a fight

Those long hours and all that time spent away from home can make having a normal life difficult. When asked about the hardest parts of the job, Di Manno Ceccato says, "Not being in control of your schedule and your life, working with people you don't want to be around, having a temperamental passenger, and getting the calls for last-minute trips that pop up."

They're not allowed to accept your tip.

Tipping on an airplane.

While Rivers says that many flight attendants aren't allowed to accept tips, there is a way you can show your appreciation after a standout flight. "If your experience was so great that you want to tip, please take the time to write a complimentary letter to the airline about the flight attendant and your experience. Companies have incentive programs that employees qualify for when they are singled out for giving great customer service."

They don't have as many personal appearance restrictions as they did before.

flight attendants from Emirates smiling

While flight attendants once had to meet strict criteria regarding their age, weight, and grooming habits, most of today's FA's aren't confined by such rigid and sexist rules. "Airlines used to have weight restrictions for flight attendants. That's no longer the case," says Rivers. "But during flight attendant training there is emphasis put on appearance and professional presentation. Some flight attendants try harder than others."

They don't catch many people joining the mile-high club.

single airplane bathroom slightly open

Your friend's story about joining the mile-high club on that work trip to Tampa is likely exaggerated. Not only is it physically difficult to have an enjoyable romp in an airplane bathroom, most flight attendants have a clear line of view to the restrooms and would notice if you were heading in two-at-a-time.

"I've never caught anybody. Most of the lavatories on the narrow body planes are so small one person barely can fit in them, let alone two," says Rivers. And to up your comfort factor for your next trip, make sure you know the 10 Airlines with the Best In-Flight Entertainment.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
Filed Under