Talk to enough flight attendants, and you'll figure out that all passengers are pretty much awful. Much like servers, bartenders, or any other profession that deals with the masses, the unpleasant few always drown out the considerate many -- and what you're left with are FA tales of bad pickup artists, stupid questions, and outlandish requests.
But within those magical flying tubes are distinct levels of passenger: coach, first class, and, thanks to the airlines trying to squeeze as many dollars out of the public as possible, that strange middle ground known as Economy Plus. Or Main Cabin Select. Or whatever name means "coach seat with actual legroom."
This raises the question: do passengers behave differently based on what section they are sitting in? Are first-class folks really the entitled a-holes everyone assumes them to be, or are the hoi polloi in the back so cramped and irritable that they become downright unbearable? And who's the worst of the worst? We talked to a bunch of flight attendants, and the consensus was clear.
First-class passengers are surprisingly not awful
Any time you get a bunch of wealthy people demanding service, it’s a recipe for poodles run amok and requests for Grey Poupon, right? Turns out, not so.
According to our FAs, first-class passengers are, for the most part, very civilized. As you’d expect when you’re not crammed in like a herd of cattle. And the ones who fly often are surprisingly undemanding.
"I love working fist class because even though everyone thinks they are snobby, it's not the case," said one. "They're experienced travelers, so I don't have to worry about them having their seat belt on or getting up when they are not supposed to."
Sure, you get the odd super-entitled person who does stuff like dropping a roll of toilet paper on the lavatory floor, and then instead of grabbing it, walking out and saying: "There’s toilet paper on the floor, you should pick it up." Or people who hand the FA their coat when they can see he or she is holding a drink in each hand. Both apparently not-uncommon occurrences. But aside from those folks, first-class passengers aren’t too bad.
Except for the upgrades. According to our FAs, not enough people who find themselves suddenly living large take the words of Joe Paterno to heart, and act like they've been there before. We'll let the quotes speak for themselves:
"There is always that one asshole who just got an upgrade and thinks first class is like being at a wedding with an open bar."
"Free upgrades have a false sense of entitlement. And if there’s a business class, it's even worse."
Coach complains about everything, but they're not the worst
Since the vast majority of people in the air are flying what the airlines call "economy class," you’d think the worst passengers would be back here. The combination of no food and no legroom has to make for some horrendously terrible people, no?
Well, we're getting closer.
"Coach complains about everything," said one domestic flight attendant. "The size of the seat, the food, the lack of food. And they always stand when you tell everyone to sit down."
"If ONLY they’d go to the bathroom before boarding, order ONE drink, and know that they need to tell me if they want peanuts, pretzels, or cookies," added another veteran, "why, I'd give each one a hug."
And now that some airlines are giving their "elite 'flyers free food and drinks IN coach, it's apparently created a new type of unpleasantness.
"They become complete assholes when they don’t get recognized. [The airline] gives us a list, but when you have 150 people to serve and you have to cross-check the entire list for, maybe, three people, you don't always check it."
The real jackasses are in Economy Plus
Yes, the undisputed heavy-weight champions of awful are the people who pay for the "luxe" section of the main cabin, Economy Plus.
"They are the nouveau riche of air travel," said one flight attendant. "Hands down, the worst," added another. "Their neediness is ridiculous. They all require non-stop service throughout the entire flight, and are more demanding than first class and coach combined."
Our group speculated as to why the people in these seats are particularly unsavory, and came up with a couple of reasons. First, many are often upset that they didn't make it up to first class, but still feel the need to act like they're better than the people in coach. So they take it out on the flight attendants. Second, much like those who scored first-class upgrades, they want to take full advantage of perks like free drinks and unlimited pretzels, and thus feel the need to press the call button with every hankering for a Biscoff cookie.
"Their entitled attitude is confusing," concluded one long-haul FA. "And they’re ever-so-lacking in the fine art of being gracious."