- I worked as a flight attendant on domestic and international flights for four years.
- Passengers often made bad, and sometimes dangerous, choices in the air.
- People should never smoke on board, nor should they walk around the cabin barefoot.
When I worked as a flight attendant, I always wanted the airlines to play a video about mandatory onboard etiquette as a prelude to the flight safety demonstration.
Because the pandemic has exacerbated many people’s social anxiety and violent behavior on airplanes, I think a general reminder about how to behave on airplanes is long overdue.
After four years of working on domestic and international flights, I strongly advise passengers not to do the following while in the air.
Stand up when the plane is taking off, landing or experiencing turbulence
Flight attendants’ instructions can seem redundant over time, causing some passengers to ignore them.
However, they keep reminding fliers that the seat belt sign is illuminated, meaning people should be seated and buckled in, to keep them safe.
The sign is usually on during unpredictable or sensitive periods of a flight, such as take-off, landing and turbulence.
Please note that the flight attendants will likely refuse your requests to stand during these periods for your own safety.
Attacking crew members or other passengers
In recent years, it seems that respect for crew members’ instructions can be as hard to find as lost luggage.
When I began my flying career in 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration reported 102 investigations of unruly passengers that year. In 2021, when more normal operations resumed amid the pandemic, there were over 1,000 investigations of unruly passengers.
Some onboard incidents included punching flight attendants, fighting with other passengers and refusing to follow crew instructions.
In response to the increase in disruptive and violent behavior, the FAA adopted stricter policies with a zero-tolerance approach for passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or disturb crew members. The guidelines bypass warnings and advisories and give the FAA the option to pursue law enforcement instead.
So, treat the crew members and your fellow passengers with respect.
Attempt to disrupt the flight or damage the aircraft
I’ve seen some nervous fliers tap the plane door for good luck, but keep in mind that getting physically violent with any part of the plane will raise concerns.
Once, on a flight to Cancun, Mexico, I saw a passenger hit the ceiling vents to try to quiet the people behind him.
I warned him that any serious attempt to damage the aircraft is a federal offense and that further interference could result in legal action.
Bring bigotry and prejudice on board
Tolerating entitled passengers is bad enough, but bigots won’t fly.
If there’s one unspoken fact that people should understand, it’s that airlines, pilots and passengers depend on flight attendants to be the cabin’s eyes, ears and moral compass.
Passengers must practice tolerance and understand that they will be occupying a small space with people from all walks of life. They should do it with respect.
If the crew feels that bigotry or discrimination is going on, there can be significant consequences.
Smoke cigarettes or e-cigarettes on the plane
In the air, my biggest fear is not hijacking or crashing. There is smoke and fire. Even sneaking a puff of an e-cigarette can set off the toilet’s fire alarm.
When I worked as an international flight attendant, passengers often ignored the smoking rules on long flights. It was a weekly occurrence that served as a gut check for the crew and sent us scurrying down the halls.
Our extensive training informed us that if a fire does occur, the air in the cabin can quickly turn to toxic fumes, or worse, the fire can be uncontrollable. Crew members have only seconds to contain the flames using the onboard equipment.
Most oxygen masks provide up to 14 minutes of protection. However, an uncontrollable fire can completely consume the entire aircraft within minutes depending on the size of the aircraft and the location of the fire.
If a crew member catches a rule breaker smoking, they should not be surprised if they are fined or reported to the authorities.
Boarding a plane drunk or consuming alcohol from home
If a passenger smelled of alcohol or seemed unable to control their engine functions on one of the planes I worked on, crew members had the option of turning them away upon boarding.
According to FAA regulations, the crew must also keep an eye on who is sneaking shots from their duty-free packages. Opened bottles not served by the airline will likely be confiscated until landing, no questions asked.
Mix prescription drugs with cocktails
Mixing medication with alcohol or other drugs can be dangerous, and I’ve seen many people do it, especially on long international flights.
Ideally, flight attendants can remove an unruly passenger from the plane before takeoff. However, the effects of a mixture of drugs may not appear until a few hours after a long-haul flight.
This exact situation came up when I saw a drunken woman sitting on the lap of another passenger’s husband. The couple were confused and laughed at the moment when I escorted the woman to the last row of the plane.
For several hours, the intoxicated woman was incoherent and asked to call her mother. I had to say “Yes, of course, in a few minutes” over and over again just to calm her down.
By her seat I discovered a stash of orange pill bottles and empty wine containers that did not belong to the airline.
In the end I had to watch her as if she were a toddler on the loose and even buckled her into her seat belt several times during the 11 hour flight.
I confiscated the rest of her alcohol and told her not to use the toilet without help. After putting on a movie and forcing her to drink water, she finally fell asleep,
Forget important things that make the trip more comfortable
When I worked on planes, I usually kept the cabin cold, not only because I was constantly moving around the plane, but also because I wanted to combat the intense odors in the cabin. On top of the plane’s chilly temperatures, the cabin air is sometimes dry, and the people around you are sometimes loud.
This means that passengers’ necessities on flights actually go beyond identification documents, medicines and mobile phones. Flying without warm clothes, moisturizer and entertainment can leave people underprepared and uncomfortable during the journey.
Make sure your hand luggage contains essential items such as a jacket, scarf and socks. Bring hand cream, chapstick and a water bottle too. And of course don’t forget snacks, a book and headphones to ensure a pleasant and peaceful experience in the air.
Walk around the cabin without shoes or socks
Toilet floors are less clean than you might think.
The stains on the carpeted corridors are probably not dried coke, and the galley floors have seen various forms of waste and the bottoms of thousands of dirty shoes.
At least wear socks, and bring hotel slippers if necessary to walk around the cabin.
Fly while showing signs of being ill
Flight attendants are trained to look for passengers showing general signs of viral pathogens.
In addition to complying with all of the unique international COVID-19 regulations, please take all necessary precautions to stay safe and healthy before flying to avoid the spread of harmful germs.
Use tray tables as nappy changing stations
Folding tables are designated areas for people to eat and work, not for wiping babies.
If you are traveling with several children and do not want to leave them alone to help one in the bathroom, I recommend asking a crew member for help. It is our pleasure to take a break, hold babies or hang out with children for a few minutes.
Flight attendants are caretakers, spouses and family members who understand what it means to be away from home. Expecting passengers to have proper flying etiquette and listen to instructions is not about a power play. Rather, our instructions comply with federal regulations and promote peace on airplanes.