Flight Attendants Reveal What They Hate Most About Their Jobs

Snacks Flight Attendants
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

The answer may shock, and mildly offend, you. But hopefully it will also enlighten.

We can all agree that flying is less than pleasant. Sneaky fees, glacial lines, overpriced food, delays and cancellations: they suck, and the airline industry is almost always to blame. But these aren’t the reasons why flight attendants are emotionally jetlagged. Turns out, dear passenger, the number one reason flying can be downright dismal is actually... you.

When we asked flight attendants what they would do to fix the airline industry, one thing on their long wish list stuck out to us: passengers should stop acting like rude, irrational garbage people. And they, on a whole, would appreciate if the entire flying community could kindly take a chill pill. We asked them to elaborate.

If your carry-on doesn't fit in the overhead, it is no one's fault but your own

I travel six months out of the year, and hyperbole be damned, overhead bin space is one of the biggest sources of anxiety in my life. Most airplanes do not have enough overhead space to accommodate every single passenger’s carry-on. But since most airlines now charge for checked bags, more and more people are bringing carry-on luggage. Madness is bound to ensue.

People who try to bend the rules and board early before their zone is called or, worse, try to squeeze more above their seat than is allotted, fills both your fellow passengers and your flight attendants with unending distress.

“If you have to use the expander on your suitcase, do not bring it on as a carry on,” a Delta flight attendant tells Thrillist. “It will not fit no matter how hard you body slam it, and no, we will not try to make it fit for you. I guarantee you won’t be footing the medical bill when we get hurt.”

Here’s a flight attendant-approved loophole to get around both cramped overhead space and pesky checked baggage fees: Use a carry-on size suitcase and, if you have to expand it, bring it to the gate. Most airlines will check it to your final destination free of charge. And they will be glad to do so.

Flight Attendants
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Lying to get a free upgrade is never cool, no matter how sly you are

As of 2015, the average first-class ticket costs nearly $600 more than its economy counterpart. And that’s even a modest markup, considering airlines like Emirates often charge upwards of $10,000 for a first-class ticket. So it’s understandable why you might want to get in on the action -- we’ve even written stories to help you score a free upgrade. But lying, or attempting to game the system, isn’t an acceptable tactic.

“The worst type of passengers are the ones who walk on the plane and inform us they have an ailment or a disability and demand an upgrade,” says an American Airline FA. “Folks, your flight attendant can smell this ploy from 5 miles away. If you have an injury or disability that demands you be super comfy, then please, BUY the seat that will make you happy, or upgrade before boarding.”

That isn’t to say flight attendants have no sympathy for you. They know how sweet those seats are and if they could give it to you, they would. But they are not authorized to do so. It puts your crew in the uncomfortable position of having to say no -- especially if it’s in front of other passengers: “If you go to Macy’s just before closing, do you ask them for those jeans or a blouse for free because it did not sell that day? I think not.”

Punching Snack Cart on airplane
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

To be fair, the airline industry is fraught with issues

In 2016, 823 million people hopped aboard planes in the United States. That’s a LOT of people, and a lot of opportunities for airlines to fuck up. More people means more traffic, more delays, more jackasses who break the sacred unwritten rules of flying. Flight attendants get why you’re so pissed off: a stressful experience leads to a stressed out traveler.

But why passengers feel that flight attendants are their rightful punching bags is lost on FAs themselves. “Passengers inherently aren’t terrible,” a JetBlue flight attendant tells us. “But they get themselves so worked up over traveling and security and delays that as soon as they sit down in their seat, they push out every bit of stress they’ve balled up onto the working crew.”

Don't blame delays on a flight attendant. They only get paid when the plane is moving.

Flight attendants, unless they are actively stepping in front of the plane, pocketing your checked baggage fees, or gobbling down all of your preferred meal options, are quite undeserving of much of what is tossed their way.

“People are pretty consistently rude, unfortunately,” says another JetBlue FA. “In general it tends to come from inexperienced travelers who think air travel is something different than it is or than it should be. I’d rather not tell grown adults to fasten their seat belts or that it’s unsafe to use the bathroom. But I have to. At no point does it need to escalate to animosity.”

Flight attendants are not your servants

Flight attendants are not housekeepers, and they are not your maids. They are your bodyguards, waitstaff, law enforcement officials, and hosts all rolled into one. And they do it all while standing for sometimes eight hours at a time.

“Passengers expect the world from us,” says a Virgin America FA. “When we can’t deliver, say, for example, like when we run out of the meat entree, they are angry, mean, and belittle us -- because it’s their world and we’re just serving them. Passengers don’t look at us. They throw up in bags and just hand it to us.” Her list goes on.

“The words 'please' and 'thank you' have disappeared from our vocabulary,” says an FA from American Airlines. “Now it’s just, ‘gimme Coke.’”

Flight attendants are not airline management, either

Don’t blame delays on a flight attendant. I cannot stress this enough: Flight attendants only get paid when the plane is moving. They want that plane to get going just as much as you do.

Pricing or rebooking your ticket, and giving you refunds, are not among a flight attendant’s responsibilities. Even if a plane takes off late and you’re going to miss your connection, FA’s can’t do much more besides serve you free soda or, you know, save your life in the event of an emergency.

“We have had people complaining from their seats demanding we get answers about compensation and rebooking,” a Delta Air Lines flight attendant says. “All we can do is make sure they get on the ground safely and direct them to the right people.”

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Meagan is a travel writer living and breathing in NYC. But if you give her a plane ticket today, she will be somewhere else tomorrow.