Flight Attendant Pet Peeves
From the “Mile High Club” to unconventional service animals to unreasonable requests, flight attendants have seen it all — and then some.
People traipsing through the cabin in their bare feet? They've borne witness to it. Having to break up a fistfight because of overcramped overhead bin space? They've had to do it. Escorting a fetid pig and their owner off a flight? It's happened.
We asked flight attendants to share their biggest pet peeves and most shocking horror stories, and uncovered some seriously unsettling behavior.
In a word: Yikes.
Ready to feel queasy? “I can’t tell you how many times people go to the bathroom without shoes or socks on,” flight attendant Eric Jones says*. “One lady once told me, ‘Well, pee is sterile so it’s fine, right?’"
While most flight attendants agree that it’s fine to remove your shoes while seated, keeping them off while roaming the cabin is most definitely not ok.
Another rather horrifying thing Jones has seen? Passengers putting their bare feet on the armrest of the person sitting next to them. “I will call people out on that now,” Jones says. “It’s rude and just irritates me.” Well, sure.
*The flight attendants we spoke with for this story chose to use pseudonyms for professional reasons.
While crying babies often top the list of passenger complaints, flight attendants say they’re generally understanding of new parents’ woes. “Babies are babies,” flight attendant Janet Brown says. “We get it, and we’ll totally let them come back to the galley if they need to.” (One gentle word of advice from both Brown and Jones, though? If you're worried about fussiness, bring extra earplugs for surrounding passengers.)
But some parents take things too far.
“I’ve been asked to take a vomit bag, put hot water in it and warm up a bottle on numerous occasions,” Brown says. “I’ve done it, but it’s definitely not in the job description.”
Moreover, many parents allow behavior that is totally unacceptable, like letting little ones color on the back of tray tables or climb over seats.
So yes, flight attendants are understanding. But they’re not babysitters, and they certainly don't want to deal with unruly children let loose on a rampage.
This just in: It’s never, ever cool to get sloppy-drunk on a plane.
If flight attendants don’t want to babysit kids, they definitely don’t want to babysit inebriated full-grown adults. Yet too often, this is exactly what they're forced to deal with.
In the first few months of 2019 alone, drunken passengers were responsible for yelling obscenities at and brawling with other passengers, trying to open the plane doors mid-flight and even breaking a flight attendant’s leg.
For some anxiety-prone fliers, booze can feel like the ideal coping mechanism. But drinking too much is never acceptable, even under those circumstances. “Just remembering the world doesn’t revolve around you is huge,” Brown says. “Your anxiety is no one’s problem but your own.”
While the Mile High Club may be slightly less pervasive than it once was, Brown says she still experiences canoodling couples with some regularity.
“I once had a couple where I had to keep banging on the bathroom door and they would come out and go right back in,” she says. “They thought they were so clever. It was actually pretty funny.”
Some people don’t even wait to make it to the restroom. Last year, a couple on a flight to Mexico recorded a man and woman getting it on in the seat behind them.
Noted one commenter to a Twitter post about the recorded tryst: “Ain’t no rules in the sky.” Actually, there are. And flight attendants and passengers agree: Save it for the hotel room, folks.
Listen, we get it: It’s extremely frustrating to lug a suitcase on board, only to discover that the overhead bin space is completely full. And it’s especially annoying considering how much airlines charge to check baggage these days.
But none of that justifies harassing a flight attendant.
Brown says she’s had to deal with some pretty, shall we say, emotional responses to a lack of overhead space on flights. “If you get on and there’s no room [for your luggage] above your seat, I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do about it,” she says. “You should have paid for priority boarding.”
And she hasn’t experienced the worst of it; last year, a Southwest Airlines flight was delayed after a man argued with a flight attendant over a lack of overhead space. Eventually, the incident escalated to the point where two passengers got into a fistfight and spat at each other.
Pushing It (Literally)
The flight attendants we spoke to say way too many passengers use the call button not to signal actual emergencies, but to treat crew members as their personal servants.
“Unless you’re dying, unless you’re choking or out of breath, don’t ever, under any circumstances, ring your call button,” Jones says. “I don’t care if the guy next to you is sleeping and you want a Coke. For the love of God, don’t ring your call button.”
Other flight attendants have groused about passengers ringing the call button to have their trash picked up...literally minutes after the crew just walked the aisle to collect garbage.
Brown doesn’t mince words: “I’m here for your safety, not for your service.”
Hovering near the gate before it’s time to board is understandable, especially when boarding times have been delayed. Maybe you’ve even done this yourself in a moment of pre-boarding weakness.
But flight attendants say this behavior is a major annoyance — especially when the timeline is tight or the crew is trying to turn a flight around quickly.
Brown even has a name for these hoverers: “gate fleas.” And no one likes fleas.
You’re on a flight when turbulence strikes, and the seatbelt light turns on. The pilot comes over the loudspeaker to announce, in no uncertain terms, that all passengers must stay seated.
Inevitably, within minutes, someone gets up and makes a beeline for the restroom.
This is annoying to fellow passengers and, yes, it’s aggravating for flight attendants too.
“If the pilot says, ‘Flight attendants please be seated’ and I’m in the jumpseat with my harness on, and you’re trying to go to the bathroom, you have a death wish,” Jones says. “But I’ve seen so many people do that.”
Even even if there are wiggly toddlers to contend with, Jones emphasizes the importance of respecting the fasten-seatbelt sign.
“If the seatbelt sign is on, your kid really does need to be in a seat with a seatbelt on,” he says. “I shouldn’t have to be the bad guy and parent them for you.”
Travelling is undoubtedly exciting, and it’s natural to be enthusiastic about a flight’s final destination. But many passengers head into obnoxious-blowhard territory by talking their flight attendant’s ear off about their frequent-flier status or most recent lavish getaway.
“Particularly men in First Class love to tell you that they’ve flown more than you that month, or brag about how many hours they’ve flown and how many flights they’ve taken,” Brown says.
Jones also cites passengers who boast about their vacations as a pet peeve: “It’s not that hard. Just don’t be pretentious,” he says.
Sounds simple enough...
From beverage service to seating assignments, there are lots of in-flight opportunities to ask for a little bit extra. And according to flight attendants, many passengers jump on these opportunities every chance they get.
Both Jones and Brown say they’ve had passengers request as many as three and four non-alcoholic drinks at a time, which is not only an in-flight faux paux, but also too much for the tiny tray tables to comfortably fit. (Not to mention it all but ensures needing a couple in-flight restroom breaks!)
This kind of behavior is especially frustrating considering many questions can be answered by simply reading the brochure in the seatback pocket. And it happens far too frequently, they say, during short connecting flights.
Acting unreasonable may even push flight attendants to respond with some sass.
“I flew with [a fellow flight attendant] when I first started working and we were on a really short flight from Boston to Newark. We were walking down the aisle with the beverage cart, and this lady goes ‘What do you have?’ and my co-worker responds ‘Not enough time!’ and kept walking. I’ll never forget that,” Jones laughs.
For many, service animals are a necessity. But at times, flight attendants have had to deal with pet-owner behavior that egregiously crosses the line — like people who've let their animal drink from serving dishes or bark like mad the entire flight.
And some people seriously test the boundaries of what kind of animal is acceptable to fly with. Take, for example, the case of the woman who tried to casually board with a giant smelly pig, as shown here (thankfully, the owner and her pig were escorted off the plane before it departed).
Nobody wants to deal with this. Not other passengers, not the flight attendants, nobody.
As coach seats have become more cramped, and service more limited, passenger anger has escalated. One 2016 study found that the people who most frequently experience “air rage” sit in economy class. (And incidents are even more common when those coach-class passengers are on a flight with a first-class cabin.)
So it should come as no surprise that flight attendants often confront economy-class passengers incensed about their dismal seating situation.
Is this ire understandable? Yes. Should this rage be taken out on hapless crew members? Absolutely not.
With rare exceptions, flight attendants can’t do anything about someone’s crappy seats; Jones says passengers will have better odds if they check with a gate agent or the airline desk before boarding.
Moreover, people need to understand that they get what they pay for.
“The worst possible idea you can have when traveling as a family would be to buy Basic Economy tickets,” Jones says. “Basic Economy is truly the last of the last, and they can split up your family with no remorse whatsoever.”
Again, this is understandably frustrating (not to mention unfair). But it isn’t the fault of the flight attendants.
You know how flight attendants have zero control over seating arrangements? Well, they also don't have any sway over flight schedules.
It may seem harsh, but Jones says he has little sympathy for passengers when it comes to connecting flights. “Lately if a passenger asks if they’re going to make their flight my answer is ‘No, you’re not,’” he says. “They get huffy and go ‘What do you mean?’ I tell them that if they look at it this way, they’re already mentally prepared that they’re not going to make it so if they do — bonus!”
Missing a connecting flight is undoubtedly a pain. But acting huffy about it to crew members is not only impolite, it's pointless; everyone is doing their best to help things run smoothly, and ultimately, flight attendants can't control when a plane shows up to a gate. (As awesome as it would be if they could...)
Keeping Flight Attendants Happy
Of course, not everyone who flies is rude to flight attendants. The majority of travelers are considerate and thoughtful — and pro tip, a little extra kindness can go a long way.
For instance: Typically flight attendants don’t come to mind when people think of professions that are part of tipping culture. But while it’s technically against many airline’s policies and procedures for flight attendants to accept tips, there is a loophole of sorts.
“[Sometimes] if you don’t accept [the tip] it would cause embarrassment to the passenger,” Jones says. “So if you insist and honestly tip me two dollars, you won’t be paying for a drink the rest of the flight.”
Even just general niceness can be beneficial. “I know you’ve potentially been through a lot so when I’m working I’ll always give you a little benefit of the doubt,” Jones says. “Honestly, if you’re nice to me, you’ve got whatever you want. You’re having a rough day, but you’re nice to me? I’m going to make sure you’re taken care of.”
The bottom line? Being a jerk is never acceptable...even when you're crammed into a tin can and flung 30,000 feet into the sky.