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Flight Attendants

A Primer on Flight Attendants for Infrequent Fliers

A Primer on Flight Attendants for Infrequent Fliers
Taylor Rains

Welcome to FlyerTalk 101, a guide to traveling like an expert from the experts. For more guides like this, check out our FlyerTalk 101 tag or head to the forum links in this article to have any of your questions answered.

Do you understand the primary responsibilities of flight attendants? It seems that many don’t. Contrary to popular belief, flight attendants are not solely on board to serve drinks, pass out snacks, deal with passenger complaints, or cater to everyone’s demands. Yes, that may be a part of their job description but their number one responsibility is your safety. Furthermore, they are required to prioritize that over everything else, including your comfort.

Flight Attendants as Safety Professionals

A common misconception about flight attendants is that they are non-educated individuals pulled off the street to serve pretzels on a flight. This could not be further from the truth. Flight attendants go through a rigorous, competitive hiring process followed by months of safety training. Aspects of this training include:

  • Emergency evacuations: remaining calm, giving instruction, and evacuating an aircraft in 90 seconds or less
  • Handling security threats: identifying and managing violent passengers and dangerous individuals
  • Enforcing safety regulations: ensuring you fasten your seatbelt, stow your luggage, do not use any type of cigarette, and understand any other safety precaution
  • Understanding how to use emergency equipment: life rafts, evacuation slides, oxygen masks, life vests, medical equipment, and exit doors

Flight attendants are certified safety professionals, not just customer services agents. They are expected to treat every flight the same, regardless of their level of exhaustion or personal problems. So when they ask you to fasten your seatbelt or put your purse under the seat in front of you, they are really ensuring you do not get ejected from your seat during turbulence or swallowed by flames because you tripped over your bag during an evacuation.

The Safety Presentation

Many would argue that the most boring part of any flight is the safety presentation given by flight attendants (although some airlines have started spicing theirs up with humor – looking at you Southwest and Frontier). However, even if you think you have it memorized, it is still important to pay attention. Frankly, most of the flying public will never be involved in an aircraft accident or incident, but that does not mean they do not happen.

One of the most notorious air crash survival stories is when US Airways ditched a perfectly airworthy Airbus into the Hudson River after a bird strike caused dual engine failure. Miraculously everyone lived–not only because the pilots successfully crash-landed the jet, but also because the flight attendants rapidly evacuated over 150 passengers before the aircraft sank. None of the passengers that day thought they would need to know where their closest emergency exit was or how to put on a life vest.

Bottom line: even if it pains you to take out your headphones or put down your Nintendo Switch to listen to a 5-minute presentation, do it. It is not only respectful to the flight attendants, but has the potential to save your life.

Flight Attendant Rules and Regulations

I work with the rules and regulations surrounding flight attendants every day. Many of the rules that seem like common are widely misunderstood by the general public, and for fair reason. Passengers paid for their ticket and have certain expectations when flying, so when they are denied another alcoholic drink or asked to sit in a seat that they did not choose, it can be understandably frustrating. Hopefully, I can clear up some of this confusion by answering a few common questions I’ve gotten in the past.

Why must I abide by the fasten seatbelt sign?

The seatbelt sign indicates you are in the takeoff or landing phase of flight or there may be turbulence in the area. Keeping your seatbelt fastened while you are seated prevents you from getting thrown around the cabin during rough air. I understand that you may want to get up to use the restroom or retrieve something from the overhead bin, but standing may cause injury to you and the people around you.

Why did my flight attendant deny me alcohol?

The flight attendants are responsible for the safety of the cabin during a flight. If they think you are showing signs of drunkenness or erratic behavior, they are in their right to refuse alcohol. To be honest, you should thank them, not fight them for this, or your vacation may be cut short by law enforcement upon your arrival.

Why can I not have my purse on my lap during takeoff and landing?

Items at your feet or in your arms pose a hazard during evacuation as they may get in the way of people trying to escape. They must go under the seat in front of you to keep the aisles and rows clear.

Why can’t I use an e-cigarette on a plane?

It’s common sense why cigarettes are banned from aircraft, but not being able to use e-cigs is something that some passengers cannot seem to wrap their head around. The main reason for banning e-cigarettes is the threat to air-quality as many flight attendants and passengers prefer to breathe air that isn’t polluted by tobacco. If you do try to get away with using an e-cigarette in the bathroom, there are smoke detectors that will catch you. If caught, you can face fines, arrest, and even jail time.

I paid for this specific seat, why am I being forced to move?

For safety reasons, airlines must follow strict weight and balance rules. In some circumstances, pilots may ask flight attendants to move passengers around so they can stay within aircraft limitations. If you are asked to move, it can be annoying but fear not–in most cases once you’re in the air, you can go back to your original seat.

How to Get on Your Flight Attendant’s Good Side

Flight attendants may be required to follow certain regulations and policies, but that does not mean they are robots programmed to make your flying experience difficult. For the most part, they want to make your flight enjoyable and are known to go out of their way to please customers. Try these few tips if you want to test your luck at snagging a free drink or maybe getting that first class upgrade:

  • Bring goodie bags. To show my gratitude to flight crews, especially those who work on holidays, I bring little gifts with hand sanitizer and snacks to hand to them as I board. They love the gesture and it puts them in a better mood for my flight. If you decide to do this, please remember that any food or drinks must be unopened and in their original packaging to be accepted.
  • Make conversation. Flight attendants sometimes have free time during flights, so making small talk with them can make a difference in their day.
  • Offer assistance. In some cases, passengers are just difficult and refuse to comply with flight attendant requests. If you notice someone refusing to move to a different seat or gate-check their bag, offer to do it yourself if you can. The flight attendant will be forever grateful and the flight can avoid a delay.
  • Just be kind. Please and thank you goes a long way as flight attendants put up with a lot of stuff from rude, entitled passengers all day. I’m in no way suggesting that you should not ask your flight attendant for assistance when needed, but just remember to be kind and courteous and do not feel like you should be waited on hand and foot.

Flight attendants are obligated to follow specific safety regulations for every flight and are highly trained to make quick decisions in emergency situations. I may seem dramatic, but I cannot stress enough the importance of simply knowing your basic safety procedures before takeoff and understanding that flight attendants are only doing their job when they give you instruction. On the very rare occasion that a fire breaks out on takeoff or the pilot has to make an emergency landing in a cornfield, the flight attendants are the only individuals equipped with the skills and knowledge to get every soul off that aircraft alive.


[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (9)


  1. fotographer

    September 18, 2019 at 6:59 am

    ok… bring goodie bags? most FA could probably throw that away.. who knows if the passenger giving the goodie bag did something to the contents inside.
    making conversation? are you kidding.. most FA disappear once they serve the cabin.. every heard of candy crush
    I could go on, but why… most of us on this board could help you with the real life of a FA

  2. ConnieDee

    September 18, 2019 at 7:19 am

    On Southwest I once got a free drink because I asked a question about the safety card. As a FF, I always read them: right now my motivation is to see whether you would need to remember to attach the raft to the plane before inflating it, and to see if the plane I’m on has those big rafts in the ceiling. It’s also interesting to search for something new that you didn’t know before on safety cards, or to learn new vocabulary in a foreign language.

  3. SamirD

    September 18, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Another tip to get on an FA’s good side–don’t move seats until the passenger count is done. It’s not fun to see that a passenger is missing because they just decided to move without asking right in the middle of a count. And always ask if it is okay to move as it just makes their job easier. Please and thank you are musts and a response to their greeting and smile is always important. If you haven’t had to greet before, saying hello to hundreds of people a day without an acknowledgement can feel thankless.

  4. nearlysober

    September 18, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I fly a lot, I’d say the only time I read the safety card is when I’m in the exit row. Usually it’s to review the door instructions (since many doors are different) but that’s a good point ConnieDee raised about if the slide/raft needs to be hooked while deployed.

    I do always try to take off my headphones and pay attention to the FA, making eye contact. Mostly I do this out of respect as it must be a bit demoralizing to give the presentation to a bunch of people staring at their phones and it just takes 2 minutes of my time.

    I do always make a point to check how far the exit row behind me is when they point it out. Even though 90% of the time I’m flying on an aircraft and seat location that I am very familiar with. It’s just a good habit.

  5. pagophilus

    September 19, 2019 at 2:00 am

    If an FA’s primary responsibility is my safety, a few of them in certain countries need to learn to make announcements (ie safety briefings) more clearly rather than rushing or mumbling through it. Yes, English may not be their first language, but their job demands it.

  6. k5xs

    September 19, 2019 at 10:11 am

    A good article, and as a weekly flyer, I’d like to think I’m fairly cooperative and compliant as are, in my experience, all but a tiny sliver of passengers.

    Now, kindly write a companion primer for flight attendants describing how they ought to treat passengers. The vast majority do well. But I’m so weary of that tiny sliver of flight attendants who are arrogant and condescending.

  7. MRM

    September 20, 2019 at 7:24 am

    Hey fotographer – why so glum, chum?

  8. cebootsw

    September 20, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    When FAs have been helpful, I make a point of noting their names and writing a complimentary email to the airline, or adding it in when I am surveyed about my flight. I think that would be preferable to a goodie bag which they may or may not be able to accept.

  9. Jamier45

    September 21, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Since when is an aircraft perfectly airworthy after suffering a dual engine failure?

    At that point it’s nothing more than a very heavy, glorified glider.

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