Whenever I fly, I make an effort to chat with flight attendants, especially on long flights, when they’re not busy taking care of customers.
Here’s a round-up of my latest queries, answered by a variety of the men and women who are primarily there for your safety. I’ve always wanted to know why, for example, they require window shades to be in the up position for take off and landing. What questions have you always wanted to ask a flight attendant?
Q: Do you treat customers differently if they are dressed nicely vs. dressed like a slob?
A: I don't make a concerted effort to treat them differently, but instinctively I find myself serving them in a more deferent manner. You just know that the suit-and-tie traveler probably paid more for their ticket than the flip-flop-and-shorts-wearing flyer. Courtesy is important to all passengers, but our airline would not be flying were it not for the premium travelers who subsidize the leisure travelers' low fares.
Q: Do you ever try to read what passengers are writing on their laptop or take a peek at what they are reading on their iPad?
A: Yes, all the time. Most of the time it is boring business work, but I have caught people looking at pornography before. Having wireless Internet on board really opens up a whole new world for passengers to pass their time. I never interfere unless it is disturbing other passengers. Most of the time, I will peek over their shoulder if they are looking at family photos or something more interesting. Many people love when you ask them about it.
Q: Do you have secret tips for dealing with drunk passengers?
A: If they are in economy, we will simply stop serving them. Up front, we often try to be more discreet. One trick we use is that if they order a mixed drink, we will dip the rim of their glass in the liquor but fill most of the glass with mixer to weaken the drink. Most of the time, they don’t notice. If they order wine or beer, we fill it only half way and don’t provide the can of beer. It is very true that altitude can heighten the effects of alcohol, and we notice it more than you think we do.
Q: What annoys you most about the way passengers store their carryon baggage?
A: One of the biggest irritations for us is watching people reorganize their bag when they get to their row. At least, step into the row so that other people can board. Then there are the people that place their small backpack or jacket in the overhead taking up valuable space. People rarely think about their fellow passengers, which is what often leads to us having to check bags at the boarding door. Most wheeled carryon bags are best placed in with the handle first. For some reason, it makes it easier to close the overhead bins that way.
Q: Why is it so important to have window shades open for take off and landing and closed midflight during a long flight?
A: That's an interesting question. It is important to have them open during takeoff and landing because if there is an emergency passengers need to see the situation outside as it can help in an evacuation. To be honest, we try to keep window shades closed on long flights because it helps people to fall asleep. Sleeping passengers have fewer requests giving us more time to rest.
Q: Do you get special treatment when flying on other airlines?
A: If we are in uniform, we are almost always relinquished to flying in the back. Even so, cabin crew empathize with us and treat us well giving us extra drinks and even free food if we wish. If we are traveling on a pass wearing regular clothes, the cabin crew still knows we are airline crew. It shows on the flight manifest. More often than not, they are interested in hearing how we do things at our own airline. So we end up swapping trade jargon and industry tips.
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.