True confessions of a flight attendant

The story of Dr. David Dao being physically forced off a United flight has a lot of people talking about how unhappy passengers are with airlines these days.

But have you ever considered that it goes both ways? You may have a problem with how you’re treated by carriers, but sometimes, we-- the crew onboard-- get a little annoyed with you.

I am a flight attendant, and have flown for nine years, so I’ve seen it all.  Or at least enough.  I speak for myself, but I know that most of my coworkers would tell you the same thing.

Because we’re on the front line of the battle, we’re faced with hundreds of passengers, plenty of whom are unhappy about the flight for one reason or another-- and some of whom are downright nasty.

We do like most passengers, but just a few bad apples can really spoil the whole trip.


Sometimes the problems start even before we take off. Take the the overhead bins, for example. People shove in more luggage than will fit, and expect us to get them shut.  We’re pretty good at stacking things, but we can’t defy the laws of physics.

Once the flight is airborne, some passengers really go to work.

The main problem is general rudeness.  Insisting a little too loudly on special service-- but of course there are a lot of others on the plane, all just as important as you.  And don’t remind us that you’re a frequent flyer. That doesn’t make you the birthday boy, plenty of passengers are frequent flyers.

Then there are those who grab or poke at us to get our attention—use words, we can hear you just fine.  Some of us even speak more than one language.

Certain passengers are a bit too informal.  They act like they’re at home, taking off their shoes, doing whatever they want (including some things I might not even try at home). Sometimes they come over to the galley and hang out, like we’re old pals.


Some try to get around the food cart as we wheel it down the aisle.  Sorry, you won’t fit. If you need to use the lavatory, you’ll just have to wait a few minutes.  (And please do wait—which reminds me of a few stories I’d rather not get into.)

Then there are the complaints. The seats are too small. Well, I can’t argue with that, but I can’t do anything about it, either.  The flight is too hot, too cold, too noisy, too problem, I’ll call the pilot and have him fly more smoothly.

I’ve had people get angry at me when I tell them it's time to put their laptop away. Don’t blame me, blame the FAA, who’d fine me if I don’t do it.  I’ve had people get annoyed when I didn’t wake them for the beverage service—believe me, it’d be a lot worse if I went up and down the aisle shouting at sleepyheads to wake up for some ginger ale.

And I’ve had people swear at me-- a lot. I once had a deaf person ask for a pen so he could cuss me out on paper.

Then there are some who get a little too...romantic. It may be a vacation to you, but it’s work to us.  A nice conversation is okay, but leering and cheap suggestions don’t make our day.


Another good rule to remember, your children are your responsibility. Watch them, keep them entertained but don’t let them run around the cabin.  And don’t try to hand them over to me, I’m not paid to babysit.

And, believe it or not, we’re disgusted by the same things that disgust you, so why do you try to hand us your used tissues—and worse, used diapers?

Finally, when we’re landing, we couldn’t be clearer—just put the tray table up, put on your seatbelt, and make sure your seat is in an upright and locked position.  Passengers have heard it a thousand times, so why do some think they’re the exception to the rule?

As you deboard, one row at a time, please. Trust us, it really is easier and more efficient that way.

Finally, we smile and say goodbye as you exit the plane.  Would it kill you to smile back?

The author of this piece has worked as a flight attendant for a U.S. legacy carrier for nine years.