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When Is It Ok to Press the Call Button?

When Is It Ok to Press the Call Button?
Ariana Arghandewal

There’s so much airplane “etiquette” nowadays that I’m not really surprised when complete novices find themselves breaking the rules. Whether it’s who gets the armrest or who is allowed to recline and how far, there are lots of rules meant to moderate behavior on planes. More so, than on public transportation. Between the cramped cabins and the added “etiquette” we’re supposed to observe, it’s damn near impossible to get comfortable in an economy class cabin.

I’m not talking drying your underwear under the air vent comfortable, but not feeling like a hostage in a basement dungeon, comfortable. No doubt, infrequent travelers might feel confused about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior on airplanes. One of those questions that often comes up is when it’s ok to press the call button. I’m going to tackle this and be really unpopular in a minute (#highschoolflashback)….

What Constitutes An Emergency?

A lot of times, the call button is referred to as an “emergency call button.” But what constitutes an emergency? If the plane door flies open? If someone has a heart attack? If you’re seated next to Harvey Weinstein? Because I’m pretty sure the appropriate reaction to all three scenarios would be to stand up and shout, “Somebody help!!!!” in panic. There are hardly ever emergencies in-flight, so to assert that that’s the only purpose all of those call buttons are constructed is a little ridiculous.

I’m not advocating for the opposite approach either: The call button should be used appropriately. Flight attendants are not “waitresses.” Yes, they serve us food but they’re also supposed to help keep us safe during flights. Do I recommend pressing the call button incessantly when you’re hungry, thirsty, or need an extra blankie? Absolutely – if you want to end up in a viral video. But is it bad to press the call button if the cabin lights are off, you’re sitting by the window, and wake up from a nap completely starving? Or if you need some water to take your medication No. In those cases, I think the considerate thing to do would be to inconvenience one person (the flight attendant) rather than two (the passengers sitting in your row).

My Conclusion?

All this “emergency call button” stuff is overblown. Yes, economy class cabins are huge, especially on international flights, and the flight attendants can’t spend the entire flight responding to call button requests. But within reason, I think it’s fine to use the call button in order to get the FAs’ attention. In fact, it’s less intrusive than barging into the galley where they may be talking amongst themselves or eating. For most of the flight, passengers’ needs are addressed within structured timeframes. With so many people on board, there are bound to be moments when a few passengers need something outside of those timeframes. It shouldn’t be taboo for those passengers to press the conveniently located button above their seats in order to get what they need.


What do you all think? When do you think it’s appropriate to press the call button?

[Image: Shutterstock]


View Comments (17)


  1. shadesofgrey1x

    March 4, 2018 at 4:24 am

    I push it every time I want the flight attendant to bring me a drink on a tray,just like the icon on the button shows. If they want to keep pushing this button for emergencies BS then change the icon!

  2. Robbie0129

    March 4, 2018 at 6:26 am

    Totally wrong FA prefer you go to their galley and take what u need instead of letting them walk all the way to your seat and walk back and walk to your seat again with what you need, during those walks theres gona be more request. so next time just GO TO THEIR GALLEY!

  3. rtpflyer

    March 4, 2018 at 7:57 am

    When the plane is taxiing for takeoff and the flight attendant has not yet arrived with the requested seat belt extender.

  4. jonsg

    March 4, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    There’s quite a big East-West divide here. I hadn’t been aware of it myself, until I read one particular flight attendant’s memoirs. He was based in Australia, and served customers on both North-South and East-West routes.

    He claimed that Western travellers tend to get up, rather than use the call button, for mundane things. South-East Asian travellers expect to use the call button to ask for water and so on. I thought that was rather interesting.

  5. PHL

    March 4, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Well, since it’s a “call” button, I’ll use it when I need something from the FA. The days of coming through the cabin on a regular basis to tend to passengers needs are mostly gone. You get a few memorable flights wheree the FA’s are very attentive and on top of their game.

    In most cases I’ve seen, however, they come through for the initial service and that’s it. So if I want another drink of water or liquor, I’m going to ring the button whether I’m on the aisle or not. I’ve been on flights in recent years where the crew is very attentive and will come through often to pick up trash and ask if there’s anything else a passenger needs. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been on flights where the crew hides in the galley for 3 hours of the 4 hour flight once they’ve done the bare minimum cart service.

    I’ve also seen call buttons pressed with no response for well over 10 minutes. So I question it’s real usefulness.

  6. htb

    March 4, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Emergency call button? Never heard that before. Considering how many times the call gets ignored that premise seems ridiculous…
    I use the call button if it’s otherwise too much of a hassle to get the flight attendant’s attention (window seat, attendants not walking the cabin, or attendants rushing through the cabin without noticing there are passengers…


  7. Diplomatico

    March 4, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    It’s not an “emergency call button”. It’s a call button to ask the flight attendant for service.

  8. cynicAAl

    March 4, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    the call button literally has a picture of a person offering a beverage. It seems that Boeing and Airbus are pretty clear on the purpose of the button.

  9. LimaFoxtrotRomeo

    March 5, 2018 at 2:13 am

    What a truly inane article! Flint attendants are there to look after passengers and provide service and hospitality as well as performing safety duties. It’s not either or!

  10. seigex

    March 6, 2018 at 12:15 am

    On a recent AA flight, someone rang the call button after passing through 10k’. The flight attendant promptly got on the PA and announced, “The button is an emergency button. if you have an emergency, then press the button again and we’ll come help you. If you meant to hit the light, it’s the button next to the call button. Thanks.”

  11. geminidreams

    March 6, 2018 at 4:28 am

    I use it when I want service whichever cabin I am in. Usually I will wait 5 – 10 min to see if a flight attendant walks by and i will just grab them but if they are not then I call. If I am desperate or feel energetic I go to the galley.

  12. vsevolod4


    March 6, 2018 at 5:03 am

    It is not an “emergency call button” … it is a “flight attendant call button.”

    However, it has morphed over the years. Long ago, it was a woman in a skirt bringing a tray. At that time, it might have been a “stewardess call button.” This got changed to a more generic figure, more masculine than feminine, wearing trousers, carrying a tray with a drink. That’s the common one, but note that some newer planes either clip the drink, or replace the fight attendant entirely with a completely genderless “cactus.” Is this PC at work, or is it an insidious plan to remove the “serving drinks” role?






  13. johnwooz

    March 6, 2018 at 5:05 am

    It is simply a call button instead of emergency button! stop spreading wrong msg!

  14. TheFlyingBrick

    March 6, 2018 at 5:26 am

    One of the most ridiculous and clueless articles I have ever read. It is actually so clueless that I read it twice and it sounds even worse on the 2nd read.

    Well – if my service call button has been reassigned as an “emergency” call button I expect the pilot to be broadcasting BRACE, BRACE, BRACE over the p.a.

    That is an emergency but I don’t really think an “emergency” call button is going to solve that problem.

    Every airline in the world that I have flown (19 at last count) has a service button that I use to call the F.A. if I would like to ask for another drink, a snack, an arrivals card or maybe even to discuss a tight connection at the point of arrival.

    In short it is perfectly fine, and should be expected that your service button is pressed when you require service if the crew have not already proactively provided it.

  15. flyairhost

    March 6, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Here is the deal (from a cabin crew) and what we consider when to use the call light:

    1. When there is an emergency… this means a passenger next or around you is having a medical issue or when you see something outside the window that does not seems right (which under 10k feet -as crews are requested to remain seated- it is appropriate to say, if it is an ’emergency please ring your call light again’. Getting up to answer a call light while climbing puts the crew member at risk as it is a very dangerous phase of flight.

    2. When the passenger is seated at a window or middle seat with passengers next to him and needs a beverage or assistance. Most crews understand that.

    3. In seat video has issues and we need to re-set it.

    4. When the crew either skipped you during the service (by mistake as 99.9% of the time was an oversight – so no need to yell at the crew member for being human) or you fell asleep during the service and need your meal/drink.

    5. Use common sense when using it… That’s all that the crew members ask.

    The problem is that many of us have been called for little silly sings that the passenger could have done so him/herself. I’ve been called to retrieve a dirty diaper (hello! Go to the lav and dispose of it yourself), to hand the crew member trash or because they made a ‘mistake’. If you did not know, the button is switch off by pressing it again.

    However, with new electronic entertainment systems, the call light has been added to it (as well as the reading light) and many people still do not know how to use it, which have led to a huge decrease of call lights used during the flight.

    And by the way, call me old fashion, but I am one of those crew members who enjoy talking to very interesting pasengers and in fact, have met some that have become personal friends for many years. I even got offered a job by the CEO of a company in San Diego on the spot after talking to him for a while about sales and marketing programs and developments (my bachelor’s degree specialty from a big 10 university).

    My two cents…

  16. skidaddy74012

    March 6, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Sometimes on 3 hour flights we see the FA more than once. On one recent flight from the West coast to east, a male flight attendant stood midway in the isle in coach for most of the flight. He was there to attend anyone who needed anything. Talk about first class service in coach! When we never see them, i will walk back to the galley and find them asleep or gabbing away. Response varies. Usually positive.

  17. troyfilson

    March 7, 2018 at 12:18 am

    In all my years (nearly all my life) of travelling on and working for commercial airlines, I have never heard it referred to as an “emergency” call button. I think this is a creation of the author’s imagination. Similarly, the author claims to know that FAs prefer to come to your seat rather than you going to their galley. I can’t imagine every cabin crew member feels this way and it’s why I don’t care for opinions that paint with such broad strokes.

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