Nothing brings people together like complaining about air travel. The cramped spaces. The overpriced airport drinks. The shared, deep-seated fear of sudden death.
Whether you’re commiserating with the stranger sitting next to you about the hours-long flight ahead or commenting on your friend Jenny’s Facebook post that you, too, are terrible at abiding by the baggage guidelines, you can rest assured that empathy is available to you even if solutions aren’t.
But what if they are? What if you’ve been so blinded by your own suffering that you’ve failed to see how you might make things go a bit more smoothly for everyone involved if only you followed the instructions of those people whose job it is to oversee your plane ride, cater to your plane desires, and field your plane complaints?
We searched out a few flight attendants to talk about the annoying things passengers do on airplanes. Some of them are pretty obvious; others, not so much.
Flight attendants really wish their passengers would stop…
1. Ordering Hot Drinks on a Short Flight
“I hate it when passengers order hot tea or hot chocolate on a flight less than an hour,” says one flight attendant with several years of experience who asked to remain anonymous (we’ll call her Tammy). “Flight attendants must wait about 15 minutes to start service, and must take away all drinks and service items about 15 minutes prior to landing.”
“That leaves 30 minutes to set up and serve over 100 people, assuming we don’t have to sit even longer for turbulence. Waiting for that hot water spigot to slowly pour your hot water for your mixed hot beverage seems like an eternity. And that drink that takes three [times] as long to make than anyone else’s will not even be cool enough to drink before it has to be collected for landing. It is often returned full.”
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s not always a great idea to order hot drinks on an airplane in the first place.
2. Getting Way Too Comfortable
On Dec. 28, 2016, Los Angeles–based comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani went to Twitter to deliver a “Tweet storm” outlining the story of his five-and-a-half-hour-long flight a couple days before, during which one passenger decided to remove his pants and sit in his boxers with his feet propped up on either side of the in-flight television screen installed in front of him.
Nanjiani tweeted, “After 4 hours, a flight attendant finally said ‘Could you please put your feet down? People are walking through here.’ 40 second stare down.” Five minutes later, the man “thrusts one foot back up like a fist raised against an unjust sky.” Nanjiani also noted that the passenger would “slam his fist on the armrest” any time he didn’t immediately get a flight attendant’s attention.
These actions, understandably, were met with disapproval from the attendants—and probably most of the humanity—on board Nanjiani’s flight.
According to our flight attendants, that’s not so unusual. Of particular annoyance: Passengers who prop their feet up on the wall in the bulkhead.
“Do you put your feet on the wall when you are a guest in someone’s home?” one flight attendant asks. “You shouldn’t. It’s tacky.”
3. Using The Plane Like Their Personal Space
One post on the Instagram account passenger shaming made this abundantly clear. The picture features a tired young baby lying in the aisle.
A flight attendant captioned the photo: “Oopsie! I swear I didn’t mean to run over your baby with the 250lb beverage cart – my bad. Let me comp you a free drink!”
And while you should never let your kids play in the aisle of the plane, you really shouldn’t encroach on the galley (the area where flight attendants take their breaks, organize drinks, and perform other essential tasks).
“The galley is our office,” our flight attendant says. “It’s our tiny cubicle. It is not only where we have to do most of our work, but it is also where we eat our lunch, and try to take our 15 minute union break. We spend most of our time serving the public. Please be considerate of our personal space, because we don’t have very much of it to begin with.”
4. Taking Their Shoes Off
Sure, passengers have to take their shoes off during security screenings, but there’s no reason to expose your feet once you’re in the air.
If you’re rude enough to share your foot odor with other passengers, at least put your socks on before you head to the bathroom.
“Just a tip: That water on the floor is not water,” one flight attendant says. “The lavatory is not thoroughly disinfected throughout the day. That’s gross.”
5. Pretending That They’re at Whole Foods
On most shorter flights, your options for complimentary food and drink are pretty clear, mainly because they’re listed clearly in the in-flight menu. Typically the flight attendant will come around asking what you want to drink and offering a snack (or two!). If it’s a longer trek, like an international flight, those options may expand to full meals, of which you’ll have a couple of options to choose from. (Vegetarians, you may only have one.)
If you’re willing to actually shell out some cash money for your fare, your options will expand, but even then, they’re still limited to what’s available on the plane.
Apparently it’s these restrictions that cause some passengers some real bafflement.
“Don’t get picky with airplane food,” advises one flight attendant, who said we could refer to him in this article as JumpseatPhilosopher (“in case I go back to my blogging,” he explained). “It’s not a buffet. We can’t run around the corner and get you something else.” Sounds fair.
6. Treating Flight Attendants Like Servants
This might come as a surprise, but when you walk onto a plane and a flight attendant says, “Hello,” you should probably return the greeting.
“At least make eye contact,” Tammy says. “A smile and acknowledgement would be better. Anything else is just plain rude.”
Oh, and when your flight team gives you a safety briefing, pay attention.
“Most people who sit in the exit row do it intentionally, because they are frequent flyers and know that is where they can get extra legroom,” Tammy says. “They know flight attendants are required to brief them on every flight. Don’t act like the rules don’t apply to you, [just] because you’ve done it before. It takes a few seconds out of your day to do what you’re supposed to.”
7. Wasting Time While Ordering
If you’ve been on a flight even once, specifically a morning flight, you already know one of the most important questions that will be asked of you: Would you like cream or sugar in your coffee?
You probably know that because the question has been seared into your brain through constant repetition, like the chorus of a song you’re not really into but can’t quit singing: “Would you like cream or sugar?” Pause. “Would you like cream or sugar?” Pause. “Would you like cream or sugar?” And so on.
We get it. We are but fragile humans, creatures of habit and conformity. It’s how we were socialized—follow the rules! If the person ahead of you (and the person in front of that person) waited patiently to be asked both, “What would you like to drink?” and then, after saying coffee, “Would you like cream or sugar?” isn’t it proper that you should also wait?
No, gentle reader. “Know how you take your coffee,” JumpSeatPhilosopher says, “and tell us that when you order.”
8. Ignoring The Rules
Of all of the possible flight faux pas, this is the big one.
“Rules are in place for safety, not to inconvenience you,” Tammy says. “Everyone must abide by them, and being noncompliant is selfish and makes everything more difficult for everyone.”
“Don’t illegally obtain documentation saying little Fido is an ’emotional assist’ animal because you don’t want to pay the pet fee, and then act surprised when he bites the unaccompanied minor. Don’t continue talking on your phone when we are all waiting for you to take off. Don’t insist on using the lavatory during turbulence, and expect to be compensated when you are injured.”
“Just follow the rules! It’s simple. They are there to protect you, and it is easier and more pleasant when everyone just does what they are supposed to. And don’t be a jerk. Everyone has bad days, but flight attendants are expected to never take theirs out on you. Return the courtesy. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
And while we’re letting flight attendants vent their frustrations, don’t get it twisted—in general, they love their jobs, and they’re happy to provide their passengers with anything they need.
“Despite all the bad behavior we may encounter on a daily basis, flight attendants also have a chance to connect with really wonderful people as well,” Tammy insists. “The really good ones make our day. Most people are just trying to get from point A to point B, and do so without incident. The bad apples are actually the minority.”
By R.J Wilson