- Insider asked five current and former flight attendants what people don’t know about their jobs.
- Their answers included everything from why they can’t accept tips to why they rush boarding.
- “Passengers have offered $100-plus bills for a better seat,” one told us. “But if it gets noticed, the flight attendant will have to speak with their manager.”
On a recent cross country trip, I found myself studying the flight attendants on my flight. At first glance, it seems like their job is simple. They pour drinks, hand out snacks, and deal with passenger requests.
But during the six-hour flight, I noticed so much more. One flight attendant had to deal with a mid-flight health emergency, another spent a few hours doing paperwork, and a third worked hard to keep the aircraft — and the bathrooms — clean during the long flight.
This made me realize that there’s so much we don’t notice, or even know, when it comes to the job of a flight attendant. To learn more, I asked five current and former flight attendants to share some unknowns about the job. Here’s what they had to say.
1. The senior flight attendants get the best routes
Some people are fascinated by the job of being a flight attendant because they hope it will take them around the world. That was the case for Ryen Williams, who was a flight attendant for two years before leaving to start her own production company. She hoped the job would take her to new countries, but she realized that the more senior flight attendants get the best routes.
“I ended up having all local trips, and rarely would I get an international flight,” Williams said.
2. Payment usually doesn’t start until the doors close
Even though flight attendants arrive way before the flight actually takes off, Williams said, the job often doesn’t become “on-the-clock” until boarding is complete and doors are closed.
“That’s why gate agents and flight attendants are always rushing to get everyone boarded and seated,” Williams said. “This is the reason why you may be met with an attitude when you’re trying to run to the bathroom or holding up the boarding process by being too slow. Put yourself in their shoes. How’d you feel if you were working for free?”
3. Flight attendants sometimes live together in crash pads
For some flight attendants, always being on the go doesn’t warrant wanting to pay rent at an apartment that you’ll hardly use.
Williams said there’s such a thing as flight attendant crash pads, where you split rent with a group of other flight attendants near the airport.
Sometimes, these crash pads are converted hotel rooms with bunk beds, where five people can stay per room. One flight attendant told Insider that she pays $350 every month to spend 11 nights in her NYC crash pad.
4. You can’t become a flight attendant overnight
Unlike some jobs where you can submit your resume, go through minimal training, and start immediately, being a flight attendant requires a decent amount of training.
Jonathan Johnson, a certified flight attendant for 11 years and Aero’s Director of In-Flight Experience, told Insider that flight attendant trainees spend more than 30 hours studying for the job and 160 hours in various training environments just to receive certification. Not only are there written exams, but there are also drills.
“During these drills trainees must show proficiency by giving commands, evacuating the cabin, and using emergency equipment properly,” Johnson said.
He also added that trainees also go through training and timed proficiency evaluations on CPR, AED usage, and first aid application. They are trained to handle medical and emergencies quickly and safely, which is why at his current airline, Aero, flight-attendant trainees are trained on many different realistic in-flight scenarios and have to pass annual and quarterly examinations to remain a Certified Flight Attendant.
Additional things that flight attendants are trained on, Johnson said, include how to: create a tourniquet for onboard injuries, survive harsh conditions at sea and on land in the event of an emergency, identify early signs of hypoxia amongst guests and crew members, and identify and report signs of human trafficking.
5. The job makes you a resourceful, comfortable, and smart traveler
When you think about who some of the best travel experts are, you might not realize that flight attendants know just about everything about how to be both resourceful and comfortable during travel.
Hilary Clark, director of inflight services for private jet company Planet 9 and flight attendant for more than a decade, told Insider that when you’re a flight attendant, you get used to working with limited space and resources.
Planes have a tiny gallery area, where flight attendants have just a small worktop space and a tiny microwave and oven. That makes planning, preparation, and organization a key part of the job and how you get so good at traveling.
Clark said through her time as a flight attendant, she’s learned how to travel smart, from using Google Translate app to speak different languages to making sure when you stay at a hotel, you: never stay on the first floor, never say your room number out loud to anyone, and stay hyper aware when you’re in an elevator.
When it comes to what’s in her bag, Clarks said dry shampoo is a traveler’s best friend, since it saves you the trouble of having to pack hair styling tools (and an adapter, if you’re traveling internationally).
Finally, for comfort, Clark said some airlines require flight attendants to wear high heels while boarding. But one trick she’s learned on-the-job is that once the door closes, it’s time to change into flat shoes.
6. Flight attendants have to behave a certain way when in their uniform
When flight attendants are in uniform, or have their badges on, they still have to follow the guidelines of the airline — even if they’re off the plane.
Josephine Remo, a flight attendant who worked for Scandinavia Airlines for seven years, said she paid close attention to her behavior once the flight ended and she was still in her uniform.
“For instance, I would never drink alcohol in uniform or pop by a bar to meet friends,” Remo said. “This is, to me, strongly tied with people’s sense of security on a plane. You don’t want airline staff drinking alcohol while on duty, and people can’t tell if you came from work or you are heading there.”
Also, Remo said staff weren’t supposed to go into stores of any kind — clothing stores, supermarkets, etc. — and complain while in uniform.
“The airline believes that we represent the company while in uniform,” she said. “Therefore, the complaint could mistakenly seem like it comes from the airline as well as the individual.”
7. Flight attendants can’t load up on snacks and drinks
While you might think a perk of being a flight attendant is that you can stuff your pockets with mini bottles of alcohol and endless snacks, Sarah McWilliams-Guerra, who was a flight attendant for seven years before launching her own travel website, Airplane Mode, said her former airline didn’t allow flight attendants to take anything off the plane except a bottle of water on international flights.
“While I noticed it was a fairly common practice for flight attendants to grab a mini bottle (or two or three) of a beverage, I’ve seen crew members getting fired for getting caught,” said McWilliams-Guerra. “It’s not worth the risk for most people.”
8. Flight attendants can’t accept tips to upgrade passengers
When passengers are onboard, they might be eager to snatch a first-class seat for free. But McWilliams-Guerra said flight attendants aren’t allowed to upgrade anyone, including dead-heading crew members on the plane.
“Passengers have offered $100-plus bills to flight attendants for a better seat,” McWilliams-Guerra said. “But if it gets noticed, the flight attendant will have to speak with their manager.”
McWilliams-Guerra said only gate agents are allowed to upgrade a passenger, because they have the official list of the correct order of upgrades.