Flight Attendants Share The Most Negative Aspects Of Their Job
For many people, the idea of earning money while traveling around the world sounds like an absolute dream. But like any job, there are certainly downsides. Flight attendants, in particular, have quite a few obstacles to endure, as they interact directly with strangers every day.
The next time you travel, try to keep in mind that, despite the free flights, flight attendants still deserve respect like any caretaker of the public. Read on to learn about the negative aspects of their jobs, as told by real workers of the industry:
Good Old Smile
Planes are expensive machines, so naturally, the industry tries to employ them for as long as possible in order to save money. Which is why when you fly, you’re often doing so on a 20-year-old machine, or even older. What’s a negative aspect of being a flight attendant? Having to smile while knowing you’re on a 20-year-old machine.
Pyramid Scheme That Works
As a flight attendant, we know if there are maintenance issues or if something is out of order most of the time. The pilots give us a briefing before the start of the day or when we meet for the first time. They go over the flight, the weather, plane issues, approach, and everything really. If you ask for a can, I will give you a can of whatever drink, but I won’t do three or so.
We get tired of the question, “Do you like being a flight attendant?” Yes, we do, or we wouldn’t do it. I can be away from home six nights a week if I wanted to be. I don’t see my son as much as a person who works a 9-5. I don’t really have a set schedule; maybe someday when I’m a senior. I always tell people it’s a pyramid scheme that actually works. I can make as much as I want or not. And I get to travel. I love my job. Companies can be dumb sometimes, but I have a golden ticket.
The Tipping Point
We accept tips! And you should tip! Company policy says that we initially should reject monetary compensation, but if the passenger “insists” we can accept it, as not to cause embarrassment. Most of us will save you the charade and discreetly palm your kind gesture. A couple of singles if we serve you a $10 cocktail is great, or, a $5 to $20 tip is appropriate if we provide continuous call bell service or are just exceptionally hospitable.
Did we give you and your bachelor posse a free round of drinks? How nice! How about a dub for your $60 savings? The more senior flight attendants make a lot of money and don’t necessarily need the tips, but if you’re pleased by the service provided by a millennial junior flight attendant, please tip. We make half as much as topped-out flight attendants, bust our butt working the worst trips, and have student loans.
Free Snacks And Angry Customers
I am a flight attendant for a low-cost carrier, and I truly wish we gave out free snacks and beverages. I try to do so as much as possible; please don’t scream at me when I have to enforce company policy. Also, when you say “I’m never flying this airline again,” we laugh at you in the galley and expect to see you back the following week.
Turbulence sucks. At higher intensities, it is an injury risk to passengers and crew, which is why we’ll ask the flight attendants to remain seated if we expect greater than “light” turbulence. It’s uncommon but not terribly unusual to have a flight that is impacted by turbulence for the duration. Weather systems are very large and the crew always has to balance comfort concerns with other factors like fuel economy, air traffic, etc. Usually, we can at least find an improved rise but it simply isn’t always possible. But from a safety standpoint, I’d make sure you’re fastened in your seatbelt, as the danger to you is virtually zero.
The Golden Rule
One thing that passengers don’t know is that there’s a lot of variation and freedom in the level of service that flight attendants can give on a plane. There are service standards for the airline, yes, but at least in the US, we don’t have supervisors onboard to make sure we’re as nice as can be and doing everything we’re supposed to. Sometimes, your flight attendant might just be having a bad day and isn’t as accommodating as usual, or sometimes they can be the nicest person ever.
Usually, when passengers are nice and polite to me, I’ll be much more nice and polite to them back. Just simple things like if they look me in the eyes when I’m asking for drink orders, or saying please and thank you. Flight attendants also hate passengers who act entitled. If you just bring us a bag of candy or some chocolate, we’ll be over the moon for you the entire flight, you can have anything you want, food or drink wise.
In The Dark While In The Sky
Flight Attendants work in-flight! I don’t know what carousel your luggage is on, or if you can make it through security while running a little late, etc. If there is a delay, the pilots will make an announcement. That’s usually all the information we will have as well. We’re there for safety first and service second. My biggest pet peeve is travelers assuming I’m a “waitress in the sky,” when in reality I endured extensive training to save your lives!
If someone passes away during a flight, you are supposed to assume they are asleep and cover them up… It’s not considered a medical emergency since they’re dead. It is extremely rare for a flight to be diverted due to a deceased passenger. If the flight isn’t full, the body will be put in a row toward the back of the plane.
Careful With Your Hands
If your crew is late from inbound delay or pulled off of their original flight to work yours, for the love of God, please DO NOT CLAP when your crew arrives. It’s a huge slap in the face. If I ask you to bring your seat forward, it’s for the safety of the person behind you. Please do not touch or poke me on my arm, shoulder, side, or pull on my uniform. I will respond better to a simple “Excuse me.” Raising your empty cup and shaking it in the air will only make me take my time to either refill it or take it as garbage. I am a human, not a walking trash can.
Safety First, Service Second
My wife is a flight attendant and she definitely makes sure I know the negative aspects of her job. The very first and foremost thing you should understand about a flight attendant: they aren’t there to serve you. Their only job is to make sure that you don’t get hurt in the event of an emergency. The drinks and snacks are an ancillary part of the flight and if you get upset over having to get Coke over a Pepsi, or aren’t given your $0.35 package of pretzels for a 1-hour flight, then drive!
What’s Up, Doc
This is one that is not obvious: flight attendants will have aspirin or generic drugs on their personal trolleys. In some companies, there are even medicines in the first aid kits in the cabin, except flight attendants are not allowed to give you one! The company doesn’t care how many times you had paracetamol, they don’t want to be held liable in case you get sick from the medicine that has been given to you by one of their employees. So why are there medicines in the first aid kits? Well, the only time flight attendants are allowed to provide you medicines is if there’s a doctor on board who says it’s okay to do so.
Decaf And Call Buttons
My partner works for a major airline in Canada and she shares lots of interesting tidbits about the in-flight experience. I’m on the ramp, so we both know quite a bit about airlines in general. A few things to keep in mind: If you ever thought your coffee wasn’t helping you stay up on that red eye, it’s cause it was purposefully decaf. They can’t help you lift your luggage, they’re not covered by the company insurance if they get hurt doing it.
If you are sweet to them, they will take care of you, but if you’re short-tempered or unkind, you are trapped with them and they will not hesitate to make you suffer the consequences. They don’t like to be touched. They’re the only service that people seem to grab when they want their attention. It’s okay to say “excuse me” or press the call button, ONCE. IF YOU PRESS THE CALL BUTTON MULTIPLE TIMES, THEY WILL IMAGINE THROWING YOU OUT OF THE AIRCRAFT.
Keep The Kids In Check
My aunt was a flight attendant for years. Her pet peeve was dealing with unruly children on the flight and having to tell the parents to do something about it. The one she always said she wished flyers would remember? “You love your kids. You might not realize it, but we don’t. Don’t make us hate them.” It always made me laugh!
Take off your headphones when we’re talking to you! There’s probably something really important that we have to tell you. And even if it’s not that important, you should still listen because it might be something that can help you down the road. If you’re a frequent flyer and you’ve “heard the safety procedure several times before,” it doesn’t matter—you should still listen, out of respect.
My friend who is a flight attendant says she gets really annoyed when people just ask for “coffee,” without specifying if they want cream or sugar. Also responding to “What would you like?” with “What do you have?” She has a lot of people to get through in 20 minutes, and every extra question she has to go through during service makes it harder to get to everyone else.
Uncomfortable And Inconsistent Stay
We are not “on vacation.” It’s a job just like any other. Only, you get to sleep in your own bed at the end of the night, and we do not. Ever have a hard time sleeping in an unfamiliar place? Yeah, try that 17 nights in a row.
Passenger And Pilot Harassment
There is a disgusting amount of harassment that female flight attendants receive, from passengers, pilots, and other crew. I’ve heard the most disgusting things from pilots when they are alone in the cockpit or when they swap to have a bathroom break. Passengers will also sometimes Facebook stalk flight attendants.
On one flight, I was working lead and a passenger grabbed one female flight attendant by the waist and tried to pull them close. I’ve had another where a passenger said something was broken in the lavatory, then they blocked the doorway when the flight attendant went in to try to see what the problem was. The worst thing about the harassment is that there is zero accountability. Even if it is reported, nothing is done about it. It infuriates me to no end.
My sister is a flight attendant and told me that someone has likely changed their baby on your tray table.
Paying For Delay
The whole airline industry is still governed by the ancient Railroads Act from like 100 years ago or something. I only get paid when the door is closed. So for all that time during boarding or deplaning, I don’t get paid. Also, when we are delayed at the gate for hours and the door is open, I don’t get paid for that. But I still have to take care of everyone.
You Need Us
My mom’s been flying for 30+ years. Her response: If there is a medical emergency, you need us. If there is an aircraft emergency, you need us. If there is a fire, you need us. We are there for safety first. We have to be re-certified every year in order to keep our jobs.
There are a lot of dead bodies we transport underneath the plane that no one ever knows about and we’ll never admit.
Constantly Jet Lagged
My dad is a flight attendant, which means I’ve been a passenger on a plane billions of times. The rule was always to never ask for just water. Ask for bottled water. The water in the storage tank of the plane is disgusting… They don’t empty it or refill it regularly. Neither he nor any of his coworkers drink from it.
Also, I think the worst part of being a flight attendant is how tired you constantly are. My dad comes home exhausted, and when he finally gets a week or so off, he’s jet-lagged for most of it. His internal clock is also off because of the fact that he’s on another continent for most of his time, or in the air, so it takes him a couple of days to start sleeping with the rest of us.
Not The Next Viral Video
Most passengers are lovely, but when you get a bad one they are ten times worse than in any other industry I have worked. A lot of people want to film and take pictures any second an issue arises so they can be the next viral hit. We don’t want to be the next viral hit. We just want to do our jobs and keep everyone safe during their flight.
A Tall Order
My dad has been a flight attendant for at Delta for almost 30 years, so I’m pretty familiar with their struggles. His biggest complaint is when he has to list off the entire drink menu to each passenger in a row because they don’t pay attention and take out their headphones when he lists them the first time. He’s told me service could take 8-10 minutes, but because he has to list the entire menu, sometimes six times per row, sometimes he doesn’t even get through the whole plane.
No, we can’t “call” anyone to hold your connecting flight while you sprint to the gate.
Taking Its Toll
Flight attendants are largely exempt from many of the workplace protections covered by OSHA (or at least that was true a few years ago; I’ve been retired for a few years). Duty days can stretch up to 18 hours, and while there are crew rest periods, there is no rule governing them. They can be too short, rocked by turbulence, etc., and depending on the aircraft, they’re taken in the passenger cabin with only a thin curtain separating them from a long, loud, flatulence-filled line of people waiting for the lavatory.
There are no rules for limiting noise exposure (many older flight attendants have hearing loss after decades spent on noisy aircraft), no rules for watching radiation exposure (some routes fly at very high altitudes and very close to the poles, and those bring more radiation exposure). Flight attendants have higher rates of many cancers, but causative factors haven’t been determined. The constant hopping of time zones and climates with vastly different weather and allergens, sleep deprivation, constant exposure to people carrying viruses from all over the world… It takes a toll.
Delays, Drinks, And Deprivation
One thing that I can think of is that a lot of passengers don’t realize isn’t allowed is flying intoxicated. There are two negative aspects for me: Sleep deprivation and food deprivation. When we fly and there are delays, etc. it usually cuts into our rest and our opportunity to eat. We often work on empty stomachs.
I know some flight attendants who told me how intensive the training is. During the training, they have a simulated water landing so they know how to save as many people in a worst-case scenario. People failed because they wouldn’t jump into the water. They also have to memorize loads of airport codes and safety stuff. Flight attendants are there for passenger safety first and service second.
Be Mindful Of Beverages
If you ask for a black coffee then for some cream and sugar, we will hate you. We don’t like serving Diet Coke or Coke Zero either. For some reason, once in the air, it foams a lot and the foam stays for a long time, delaying service. Nothing personal against Diet Doke though, that’s what I drink too when I want some sweetness.
Discrimination Amidst A Disaster
I flew a route from Chicago (ORD) to Hong Kong (HKG) for 10 years. I’m an African American woman who flew during 9/11, and while I’ve had to deal with my fair share of incidents through the years, I can say that was the hardest week of my life. We were airborne when the first tower was hit and we had to ground in Honolulu. The procedure was to keep passengers as calm as possible, but I had people cursing me out because a global disaster was inconveniencing their business trip.
I tried to reassure them that I had no control over flight routing, and that customer safety was our first priority. Unfortunately, Honolulu has a high cost of living, and customers were not happy they had to spend several days in a hotel. While I understand their frustration, I have never been discriminated against more in my life for something that was out of my hands. I was ostracized by my customers, and by my peers. It was truly a defining moment in my life.
Mental Illness Illuminated
Mental health issues in this industry run rampant and the incredibly taxing 10-14 hour shifts only exacerbate whatever anxiety, depression, homesickness, loneliness and whatever else we’re going through. We miss holidays, birthdays, doctor and therapist appointments, and we don’t make that much money for it all. That being said, be nice to us. You don’t know what we’re feeling and more than likely we’re more exhausted than you could possibly imagine. We may not like people, but if you’re cool, we’ll be cool and maybe we can be friends.
Every blue moon, we have a possible emergency situation that the pilots try to rectify before we land and we don’t notify the passengers until we’re absolutely sure it can’t be rectified. Flight attendants can be cutthroat with each other. The lifestyle can catch up with you and you will either gain crazy weight or lose it from not eating. We can’t help you with travel benefits most of the time. It’s insanely difficult to get a job in the industry.
I can’t ask the person in front of you to stop reclining their seat. They paid for that little comfort and so did you. How dare you even ask?
Dry Skin And Poor Diets
The worst part of the job: Limited access to healthy food. You can’t pack your own meals because not every hotel has a fridge and you’re often gone for 3-4 days at a time. You can try to use the dry ice from the plane but this is limited and a big inconvenience. You can try packing healthy snacks but as far as meals, good luck. Your skin gets extremely dry from being in the plane so much and using water from different parts of the world regularly.
Far From Home
For me personally, being away from home is extremely difficult. The loneliness is hard to deal with. I usually breakdown quite often from it. Yet the job is so rewarding, I’ve grown a lot from it. That’s why I’ve had a hard time separating myself from it. Also, because I worked really hard to get it.
I work for a major airline and got hired at 20 (I’m now almost 22) and I still really haven’t felt much of a difference in my anxiety. I hear it’s normal in your first couple years so really trying to stick it out. I’ve had a hard time connecting with the east coast as I moved from Arizona; that was the hardest part for me.
As far as what passengers don’t know, it really just depends on the flight and the crowd. Our goal is to always keep everybody settled down no matter what happens, although that’s not always achieved. Also…the pay is not as great as people make it out to be. It’s an exhausting job a lot of the time.
People pass away on planes all the time. Often people wake up early, in a rush, forget important things like medication or assistance they may need or put it in their luggage which they then can’t access for hours. Lots of people forget to take these things into consideration, and when you’re traveling through the air on a metal tube, there’s only so much we can do until we find a place to land and then get you to a hospital.
We can only wear certain makeup, nail polish and hair ties. Mine all has to be natural looking, no red lipstick, and baby blue nails or natural nails. I have been sent home for coming into work with black nails on.
Fear Of Radiation
Radiation from flying is real for both flight attendants and pilots. The potential to develop skin cancer is very real for us so I hope to not fly as much when I become more senior to reduce the possibility of radiation exposure.
Always On Call
It’s seniority based. So if you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, you’re going to be on call for a few years, at least. Being on call means a minimum two-hour deadline from getting the call to getting your butt to the airport through TSA and into the crew room for check-in. You can leave on a day trip then have to call crew scheduling to be released from duty. They can then send you on another trip so long as it doesn’t exceed six days of flying in a row. Your work life is completely unpredictable in that time.
Angry Over Chicken
A flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline here. Negative aspect: The number of times I’ve seen people lose their temper over not getting their first meal choice is mind-boggling. Sure, it’s not ideal, but I’ve had passengers screaming at my colleagues and threatening to write to the CEO, etc.for not having the chicken option.
One time a passenger got so irate that a crew member was forced to give up their own company-provided crew meal in order to appease the red-faced guy in row 36K. As flight attendants, we couldn’t argue back with a paying customer, so for the rest of the flight, all we could do was give the passenger our worst passive-aggressive service to make it difficult for him. If flying with one of the Middle Eastern airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar), 75% of the time we won’t even know our colleagues names because there are thousands of flight attendants in the company from all over the world and I’ve probably only just met that crew for the very first time an hour before you walked onto the aircraft.
I’ve been flying for almost five years and still see a new crew on every flight. We’re trained to deal with scenarios such as fire fighting, first aid including CPR and AED use, as well as inflight childbirth. We have authority to restrain a disruptive passenger (physically or verbally abusive) and have them met by local authorities at the airport upon landing.
No-Go For Donation
We can’t donate blood or organs. Apparently, blood cells grow abnormally due to different air pressure and it’s not safe for donation. I think this is not worldwide but in the EU. Over several years flying, you are restricted to do so.
Rise And Shine
The negative aspect of my job has to be the long hours and sometimes the very early showtimes. A lot of my friends think the job is glamorous and a constant vacation, but you don’t really wake up at 3 a.m. every day when you go on vacation.
Breaking On The Job
I’m going through a break up as of today while I’m in the middle of a trip. It’s so incredibly hard to try to keep myself composed, especially on super long flights. I’ve been locking myself in the bathroom to wipe my tears up and make myself look presentable. It’s worse when you get to the hotel room at the end of the day and you’re alone, thousands of miles away from any friends or family, and you cry into your pillow aching to hug the person who’s leaving you.
The unpredictable schedule while on reserve or on call is rough. The company literally has control over your entire month of schedule, they can call you anytime, to go anywhere. It might sound exciting but never knowing what plans you can make, then needing to cancel them because of the job, sucks.
I don’t like being away from home these days, but sometimes it’s good to be away for a couple of days. I love that on scheduled months, I only have to work nine days, I love how flexible the job is — I can drop all my trips and not work for a whole month, or I can work twice my scheduled hours if I need the money. I actually work full time and go to university full time because the job is flexible enough to allow me to do so.
Lack Of Sleep And Temperature Control
If it’s a red-eye flight and we are close to landing, I might be hallucinating from lack of sleep. Not enough to be dangerous, just enough to see weird things. Oh, and when you ask us to change the temperature, we pretend to do it. Planes are generally colder because if we hit turbulence, warm temps will make the chances of someone puking much higher. No idea why. Lastly, it’s normally not a thing but the second you curse at me I can kick you off. We have flex-restraints and are trained on how to use them should you get disorderly.