20 Years at 30,000 Feet: A Flight Attendant Answers Readers' Questions

As a working flight attendant for 20 years, it’s easy to take my travel ideas for granted – the little tips and tricks that make travel ...

As a working flight attendant for 20 years, it’s easy to take my travel ideas for granted – the little tips and tricks that make travel smoother.

But after seeing so many passengers miss important events this summer due to airline cancellations and delays, I knew I had to start sharing this knowledge. Last month I offered nine tips for surviving the trip nowand I was surprised by the positive response – and the thousands of comments.

After the story was published, I invited readers to ask more questions, of which I have received hundreds. I know, for some of you, that I have a curious and mysterious job. It was fun to learn what you wonder about, from how we look so fresh after long flights (dim lighting) to whether or not you should drink the coffee on board (I don’t don’t, but most flight attendants do).

Here are my responses to a selection of your questions, some of which have been slightly edited for length and clarity. I hope you enjoy them.

We want you to talk. You have a very important job in this row, and we need to be able to trust everyone who sits there. We ask everyone in the row if they are willing and able to help with an evacuation, and not wanting is perfectly understandable. Nothing bad happens; you can move to any other open seat, or we have someone swap seats with you. There is always someone who would prefer the exit row for the extra legroom.

Acknowledging ourselves as people and not treating ourselves as part of the airplane furniture goes a long way. It’s demoralizing to welcome people on board flights who stare at us without answering. Smiling and saying little things like “please” and “thank you” always helps lift your spirits. That perfect flight attendant smile is hard to keep when everyone around us is staring at us.

Don’t touch the flight attendants. That should be common sense, but it’s not. We don’t like to be pushed, slapped or grabbed.

The lack of earbuds label is driving me crazy. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to talk to someone who looks me straight in the eye and doesn’t care enough to pause their movie or take their headphones off. The funny thing is that I usually ask them what they want to eat or drink. I give the courtesy to ask three times. If I don’t get an answer, I move on to the next passenger. Here’s the worst: about three rows later, that same person will ring their call button and ask why they didn’t have a drink.

Yes! There’s no secret handshake, we just say hello and tell them where we’re seated. We don’t get any special treatment, other than maybe making a new friend or getting a whole can of soda. We inform the crew as a courtesy in the event of an emergency on board, so that they know where to go for an extra helping hand to help them.

First, and most important: your child will feel your nerves. If you’re stressed, they’ll be stressed. Make the flight as exciting as possible for them in advance. Dress them up in a special new airplane outfit, or buy a new book or box of pencils. Let them have all the screen time they want. Download and watch a new movie or series. Practice with headphones before the flight so they know how they work. Allow them to carry their own little “on-the-go” bag, with new airplane activities inside. Let them eat or drink something on the plane that they are not always allowed to have, such as a cookie, chips or a little soda. We don’t always have them, but you can always ask the crew for those little plastic wings and let us know if it’s their first flight.

Keep your hand luggage as light as possible and check the rest. Pack a few diapers, a change of clothes, snacks and medications. We also love when you bring car seats. I know they’re heavy and hard to manage, but most of the time little kids feel more comfortable because it’s familiar and propels them high enough to see out the window. We like them because they are safer. It also doesn’t hurt to let them burn off their energy at the airport before the flight.

There’s nothing I can say to calm your nerves after losing friends that day. We all lost something, but for you it was personal. It’s so much deeper than an irrational fear of running away. We all have fears about flying, even if we are not really afraid. You’re not alone.

Other passengers can add to all that, but, for the most part, if you’re minding your own business, other people shouldn’t bother you. Legitimate problems with passengers are actually rare. I don’t like flying as a passenger anymore either; being around people on my day off causes mild anxiety. So I feel you. When I travel as a passenger, I started bringing noise canceling headphones and my tablet loaded with movies or shows. I start watching something as soon as I sit down and pretend to be in my living room. I am immediately absorbed by my show.

If you are seated next to someone who is causing you anxiety, an attendant may be able to move you if the flight is not full. It’s also perfectly reasonable to ask a gate agent if you can sit near a window or aisle before boarding. A glass of wine can also help you relax and enjoy the flight.

No, I’m not used to being scared. Every once in a while, something startles me, though. I know all the sounds and sensations my plane makes, and when I hear something wrong, I get nervous. If I need to, I call the pilots and let them know what I heard, and they check things out.

I would always rather fly than drive. Driving to and from work is the scariest part of my week. I like to be in the sky looking down. The world looks so peaceful from above. My office window is a nice respite from a crazy world of traffic and chaos. Try thinking about it instead. Part of our flying fear is lack of control: we have to trust two people we don’t know and can’t see. They go through a lot of training to earn this responsibility. We take it for granted, but flying is truly a wonder. Try to ignore the rest and enjoy being able to travel somewhere in hours, compared to the weeks or months it would have taken our ancestors.

That we’re on planes for customer service. We are actually here for safety. Prior to World War II, flight attendants were registered nurses. The requirement to be a nurse ended during the war because nurses stopped flying to join the war effort. Now we go through intense training to learn how to use all the safety equipment on board and where it is on each aircraft. We train in basic lifesaving skills, such as CPR. We learn how to evacuate an airplane in 90 seconds or less in the event of an emergency landing on land or in water. We also learn how to fight fires and deal with security threats and unruly passengers.

The second biggest misconception is that our work is glamorous. Our days are very long and our nights short. Sometimes we are so tired that instead of enjoying our long layovers for sightseeing, we spend them in our hotel rooms in our pajamas watching movies. Some nights are amazing, though. The craziest thing is that one night I can be sitting by the ocean, sipping prosecco with fresh seafood, and the next day I can be eating a four-day-old sandwich in my kitchen, next to the toilet, while someone does yoga in my face. Being a flight attendant is more than just a job; it changes your whole lifestyle. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Newsrust - US Top News: 20 Years at 30,000 Feet: A Flight Attendant Answers Readers' Questions
20 Years at 30,000 Feet: A Flight Attendant Answers Readers' Questions
Newsrust - US Top News
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