Airlines

Surprising secrets about flying

Not to make you all “There’s a man on the wing” paranoid, but there’s a lot that goes on aboard airplanes that we just don’t know about. In our travelers’ haze of in-flight movies, naps, and conversations with seat mates, we miss some intriguing (and sometimes unpleasant) parts of the flying experience.

But flight attendants and pilots see all and know all. And now, Yahoo Travel takes you behind the galleys and cockpits to reveal some of what really goes on on airplanes. How do flight attendants entertain themselves? How do they handle passengers they like and the ones they don’t? And is it really possible to join the Mile-High Club without them noticing? (Hint: No.)

  • 1. The real reason flight attendants rush you to take your seat.

    The real reason flight attendants rush you to take your seat.

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    During boarding, flight attendants often sound like drill instructors on an obstacle course: “Let’s go! Stow your bags! Take your seats! Buckle up! MOVE IT, PEOPLE!!!” (But flight attendants are a lot nicer and more subtle about it.) Turns out there’s a reason for that urgency, and it’s not just about preserving the airline’s on-time departure rate.

    “We don’t get paid until the doors close and the plane gets moving,” former flight attendant Shawn Kathleen, creator of Passenger Shaming, tells Yahoo Travel. She says many flight attendants are paid by the flight hour, and that clock doesn’t start running until the doors close and the flight is underway. “We’re just as motivated to get going as the passengers,” Shawn Kathleen says.

  • 2. Flight crews don’t party during layovers (well, maybe a little).

    Flight crews don’t party during layovers (well, maybe a little).

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    Thankfully for us passengers, life on the road for pilots and flight attendants isn’t anything like the sex, drugs, and booze orgy we saw in the first five minutes of the Denzel Washington movie "Flight." "On domestic flights, the layover is only ten or so hours," says Tom Bunn, a former airline pilot and licensed counselor who helps people get over their fear of flying. "Most crew members get a bite to eat, watch some TV and get a good nights sleep."

    “Of course, parties happen,” Shawn Kathleen says. But she notes that federal “bottle to throttle” rules barring flight crew members from drinking within eight hours of a flight (airline policies are sometimes even stricter) do a good job of keeping the vast majority of flight crews honest. “You can arrive for a flight and someone is there to give you a Breathalyzer or drug test,” Shawn Kathleen says. “Nobody f***s around with that.”

  • 3. Empty flight shenanigans.

    Empty flight shenanigans.

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    Yahoo Travel recently interviewed a lucky guy who had a flight to New York that was empty except for himself and another passenger. “Betty,” the anonymous flight attendant who writes the Yahoo Travel column “Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant," says that happens quite a bit. “Every once in a blue moon we will ferry a flight,” she says, “which is when we deliver the plane, and ourselves, to a destination. So there are no passengers onboard, only crew members.”

    And when the passengers are away, the flight attendants will play. One popular empty flight pastime is called “aisle surfing.” Betty describes it as such: “You grab a meal tray, put it on the floor in the aisle at the front of the plane, stand on it, hold on to something solid for dear life, and wait for the moment the plane lifts off from the runway. At that point — when the plane is traveling 140 mph — you let go and slide clear to the back of the plane on the carpeting.” Betty says she’s never tried this dangerous activity because, “It almost always ends badly.”

  • 4. Yes, the flight attendants are talking about you.

    Yes, the flight attendants are talking about you.

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    “I will neither confirm nor deny whether crew members talk about passengers,” jokes flight attendant Emily Witkop. Fortunately, ex-flight attendant Shawn Kathleen is willing to dish on flight attendants' dishing. “You might say, ‘That guy’s hot,’ and, ‘Oh, she’s hot,” Shawn Kathleen says.

    Witkop (reluctantly) confirms that. “I recall for a few years there was a ‘hot coffee’ code among flight attendants,” she concedes. “You would say, ‘I’ve got hot coffee in 3B!’ Which meant there was an extremely attractive passenger in that particular seat who the other flight attendants should check out.”

  • 5. The flight attendant can probably kick your ass

    The flight attendant can probably kick your ass

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    In addition to training in CPR, first-aid, fire safety, and even delivering babies, Shawn Kathleen says flight attendants are taught something else that might come in handy: self-defense.

    “[The training] is probably like what a woman would learn at a normal self-defense class,” she says, noting that they practice with each other and with dummies. The self-defense training is mainly to deal with security threats, such as someone rushing the cockpit. So your flight attendant likely won’t open up a can of you-know-what on the average difficult passenger who makes rude comments and keeps pushing the call button. Or will they? “We don’t want to, but … yeah, sometimes we want to,” Shawn Kathleen says, laughing.

  • 6. If you’re being a jerk, flight attendants will mess with your drink.

    If you’re being a jerk, flight attendants will mess with your drink.

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    No, we’re not talking about … THAT. “I would never spit in [someone’s] cup,” Shawn Kathleen says emphatically. But that doesn’t mean she or her fellow flight attendants are above exacting some liquid revenge against a rude passenger. Shawn Kathleen had one favorite, and harmless, tactic when serving up some payback to mean passengers: “I’ll take a cup and scoop in a lot of ice, and when I pour the soda or juice in, there’s, like, two tablespoons!” she laughs. Shawn Kathleen called her cocktail “The ‘A**hole Special,” and she’s certain other flight attendants do it, too. As they say: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

  • 7. Don’t think your flight attendant doesn’t notice you trying to join the Mile-High Club.

    Don’t think your flight attendant doesn’t notice you trying to join the Mile-High Club.

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    Amorous couples often think they’re being more subtle than they really are, and that’s definitely the case when they sneak off to the lavatory for some in-flight entertainment. Sorry, guys, but flight attendants can spot you a mile away. “We usually can shake our heads at people attempting to populate the lavatory together and give them the ‘No, no’ sign,” Witkop says. But while flight attendants may notice your naughty intentions, that doesn’t mean they’ll always stop you. “They’re adults,” says ex-flight attendant Shawn Kathleen, who admits that if there was a light crowd onboard, no one waiting for the bathroom, and no safety risk, she was more than willing to look the other way. That doesn’t mean she won’t judge aspiring Mile-High Club members. “Why would anyone want to?” she wonders. “You know what those lavatories are like. They’re disgusting!” Speaking of which…

  • 8. Lavatories really are disgusting (and don’t get us started on the tray tables).

    Lavatories really are disgusting (and don’t get us started on the tray tables).

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    “For some reason people fail to realize that the onboard lavatories are just glorified port-a-potties,” says flight attendant Sydney Pearl, creator of the website Diary of a Pissed Off Flight Attendant and author of a book of the same name. “We are always reminding people to put their shoes on because the wetness on the floor is not water!

    “The tray tables are a close second to the lavatories. People sometimes change their kids' diapers on the tray tables, and, yes, sometimes they are soiled! The worst part is that they just close it back up, and then I see someone on the next flight either allowing their kids to eat their snacks off of the tray table or someone asleep with their bare face on the table. Gross!!”

    Find out more secrets you need to know before your next flight.

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