Flight attendants share their air travel secrets

How do you deal with nervous fliers?

For some passengers, it’s the fact they’re not in control. Other travelers hate the unidentified noises that soundtrack the flight.

“When I find someone who’s scared of flying, I try to find out what’s the driver behind it,” says Major. “If you can talk to people and find out why they’re frightened, then you can alleviate their fears, because the chances of anything mechanical creating a situation where the plane would crash — it’s beyond remote.”

Some people find learning more about the mechanics and logistics helpful. Other passengers just need distraction, and speaking to flight attendants might help.

“The crew, that’s down to their skills to find out what it is that person needs to get them through the flight,” says Major.

If Major is speaking to an anxious passenger before the aircraft takes off, there’s also another layer at play — flight attendants want to avoid someone deciding to deplane at the last minute, which could delay the flight and mean the aircraft misses its takeoff slot.

Major and his team have to decide as quickly as possible whether the passenger is able to fly that day.

“That again, comes down to the skills of the crew,” says Major, who will always strive to remain calm in those moments. “I don’t want the passengers to think my primary concern is, ‘Are you going to delay me closing the doors and getting this thing up in the air?'”

Malis advises that anxious fliers make themselves known to air crew. If she knows a passenger is nervous, she’ll try to keep tabs on them for the duration of the flight. She recommends breathing techniques, and also advises bringing along an engrossing book, or losing yourself in a TV show or movie.

Major also advises bringing an iPad, coloring books or toys to entertain children and keep them as calm as possible during the flight.

Do you worry about bad turbulence?

When she’s working a flight, Malis views turbulence as “more of a nuisance and inconvenience.”

“But it’s kind of funny, when I’m a passenger and I hit turbulence, I feel like I’m just like every other passenger, which doesn’t make any sense. I’m always like, ‘What was that bump? Is everything okay?'”

It’s a reminder that a bumpy flight isn’t pleasant for anyone — even if it’s usually nothing to worry about.

What do you do in an inflight medical situation?

Major says that how crew approach an inflight medical situation depends on several factors, including the nature of the situation and the preferences of the crew.

He doesn’t generally opt for the classic “is there a doctor on board?” callout.

“In the UK, you’ll find that most crews won’t ask for a doctor, they’ll do it themselves. We wouldn’t want someone involved that doesn’t know our environment.”

Flight attendants have medical supplies on board in case of emergencies, although they can only administer certain drugs under the direction of a radio call to the ground.

“They can talk us through what we need to know if we need to,” says Major, who says he’s never delivered a baby on board, but has come close.

“If someone’s having a cardiac arrest, we’ve got the defib, we can do it. If a doctor wants to help us they can, but it depends what they’re a doctor in.”

Malis says on her US-based flights, cabin crew will also put in calls to physicians on the ground in the case of a medical emergency. But unlike Major, she says “having a doctor or a nurse on the flight is definitely preferable or helpful.

“Personally, I would prefer to page a doctor on a plane. I think they’re obviously the best trained for those types of circumstances. But we do have resources on the ground and our own basic training that covers a lot of things.”

What’s it like when there’s a celebrity on the flight?

Everyone has to find a way to get from point A to point B, even celebrities. In fact, Major says that on pretty much every transatlantic flight, there’s likely to be someone at least moderately famous among the hundreds of passengers.

Generally speaking, the cabin crew aren’t given any warning that a celebrity is going to be on board — they’ll usually only realize when they see their name on the passenger list.

There are a few exceptions though.

“Sometimes you will be notified that there is a VIP on board — that tends to be royal families,” says Major.

And yes, some celebrities have a reputation for being rude, and that reputation will spread among flight attendants.

Equally, some celebrities are known among cabin crew for being friendly and charming.

Malis says other passengers often have no idea they’re rubbing shoulders with A-listers.

“If you’re sitting in the back of a plane, there’s a very good chance there’s a celebrity in first class that you never even knew about,” she says.

Do you have codes you use to refer to passengers?

Major says when he first started flying two decades ago, flight attendants would sometimes use the code “BOB” AKA “best on board,” to refer to the passenger they deemed most good-looking.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” he says, adding it’s not as commonplace now. “We’re talking years ago.”

What do you think when passengers applaud when the plane lands?

Major suggests this is a regional thing and it’s more common on European flights.

“Italians do it every single flight, every single time. Sometimes after bad turbulence you’ll get it. You understand that one — people are just relieved to get there because they don’t really understand turbulence,” he says.

Malis says in the US, passengers usually only clap after a very bumpy flight.

“I guess people are surprised the plane landed, I’m not sure? Most planes do land,” she says. “Personally, I think it’s kind of cheesy. I think a lot of flight attendants would agree with me on that.”

What strange things do people leave behind in the cabin?

It’s best not to go there.

“Everything your imagination can drum up, we’ll have found it,” says Major.

Have you ever befriended a passenger?

Major once gave a stranded passenger a lift in his car and they’re still connected on social media today.

As for Malis, she says whether or not flight attendants connect with passengers depends on their personal comfort level, and boundaries should always be respected.

“There’s been instances of passengers stalking flight attendants and stuff like that. So it’s important that we do keep somewhat of a professional line drawn,” she says.

But one time she ended up flying with her fifth grade basketball coach, by pure coincidence, which was fun.

And both Malis and Major know stories of flight attendants who’ve married passengers.

Can you accept gifts from passengers?

Major says flight attendants can only accept sealed packages, due to the security implications.

Malis says the crew genuinely appreciate tokens of appreciation.

“It really does brighten our days when people have the forefront to recognize us like that,” she says.

“We are the recipients of chocolate, a lot. Starbucks gift cards are great.”

Malis isn’t sure of the current policy, but recalls at one time flight attendants were told to decline cash three times, but that they could accept it on the fourth try.

While it’s lovely when crew are acknowledged with gifts on the holidays, Malis says even just a smile makes a big difference and can change the atmosphere on board.

“You’d actually be surprised how many people just ignore you, as you say hello, and they don’t even look at you or say anything to you,” she says.

“I don’t know if anyone’s first choice is to be flying on the holidays. But we’re all kind of all in it together.”


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