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17 things your flight attendant won’t tell you

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Ever wonder what your flight attendant really thinks of you? What they’d tell you if they had the nerve? Or weren’t afraid of being fired? What deep, dark secrets would they reveal about their jobs?

I have a number of friends who work as flight attendants. One of them recently retired after 20 years flying for the most storied name in commercial aviation, while others work for less glamorous domestic U.S. airlines. I asked them what they’d tell their passengers if they could tell them anything at all, or what secrets they’d reveal only if granted complete anonymity. All I can say is that these people do not represent every single flight attendant in the skies, so if you’re a flight attendant yourself, please hold your fire and don’t shoot the messenger. But I didn’t make this stuff up. What you read here may shock you, or make you laugh, I’m not sure which.

1. You know that coffee you ordered? It’s actually decaf even though you asked for regular. We’d rather that you sit back, relax and fall asleep so you don’t bother us too much. Our airline sent around a memo wondering why the decaf supplies were going so fast, noting that decaf costs more than regular coffee.

2. When we “arm” the doors on your aircraft, each flight attendant checks the work of his colleague at the opposite door. You’ve heard it a million times: “arm doors and cross check.” Did you hear “crotch check?” It wasn’t your imagination. We get silly sometimes. And yes, despite all the cross checking—maybe because we’re checking crotches instead—once in a great while we screw up and we forget to arm the doors, which means the emergency slides won’t automatically deploy if needed in an emergency. We can get fired for that.

3. Our airline used to pay us when we showed up for duty at the airport. That was eons ago. Then we got paid our measly hourly wage when the cabin doors closed.  Then it was when the plane’s brakes were released. Now we get paid only when the wheels leave the ground (“wheels up” in airline parlance). We don’t even get paid when we’re taxiing! There can sometimes be hours of delay between the time we show up for work and when we’re airborne. Different airlines have different policies, but it’s a way for them to save money. So when we greet you at the door, we do that for free. When we serve you your pre-flight drink, we do that for free, too. No wonder our smiles are so fake.

4. If a flight is late, the airline might have to pay us overtime. If the flight is going to be late anyway, we’ve been known to delay it even further in order make sure overtime kicks in, which on our airline means up to double the hourly pay. We might find some minor defect in the aircraft or use some other ruse to make up for the money we don’t get paid waiting for take off.

5. Yes, we can upgrade you to business class or first class after the airplane’s doors close. No, we don’t do it very often, partly because on some airlines we have to file a report explaining why we did it, partly because there has to be a meal for you, and partly because the forward cabins are often full. Who do we upgrade? Not the slob who’s dressed in a dirty tank top. It helps if you’re extremely nice, well dressed, pregnant, very tall, good looking, one of our friends, or all of the above.

6. Please don’t take your computer and a newspaper into the lav. It’s gross and it means you’re going to be occupying it longer than you should.

7. Please don’t ask me what we’re flying over. I’m as clueless as you are. I am not flying the plane.

8. Please don’t do deep knee bends in my galley while I’m trying to work. You won’t get deep vein thrombosis on a flight between Houston and Austin.

9. Jiggling you’re your glass of ice at me won’t make me dash to the galley for a refill. In fact, it makes me want to scream.

10. When I ask you what you’d like to drink and you ask me “Well, what do you have?” I want to answer “Not a lot of time.” But you wouldn’t like that.

11. I want to yank your headphones off your head after I’ve asked you what you want to drink and you’ve responded “huh?” three times. After the fourth time I just move on or give you a Coke.

12. Yes, we do ask the captain to leave the seatbelt on long after the turbulence has ended so we can serve in the aisles.

13. On night flights, we sometimes hold off on meal service as long as we can so that you’ll be asleep and we’ll have less to do.

14. All male flight attendants are not gay, even if they might look like they are.

15. We really don’t like children. Not just your children, children period. Why do you think we chose a career where we spend half our lives away from home?

16. If you poke me, I’m going to poke you back. Harder!

17. Don’t ask me where you can shove your bag. I’ve been waiting 12 years to tell you where you can shove it.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.