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10 Tips On Being a Better Passenger- From a Flight Attendant

June 12, 2014
15 min read
10 Tips On Being a Better Passenger- From a Flight Attendant
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Ever wonder what you can do to endear yourself to your flight crew? Want to know why some people get upgrades and preferential treatment and others don't? Curious about how your in flight etiquette is perceived? Meet Carrie A. Trey, an anonymous flight attendant for a major US carrier flying mostly international routes, here to set the record straight on what makes a good airplane passenger--and what doesn't. This is her first contribution for TPG, but expect more!

Enjoy flying? Yeah, right. In today’s world of TSA patdowns, mergers, cost-cutting, paying for bags (and everything else) and the highest passenger to crew ratios ever, how on earth is anyone supposed to enjoy the experience anymore? Long gone are the days of chateaubriand sliced in the aisle, people dressing up to fly and passengers idly chatting with each other while a piano is being played softly in the background in the upper deck lounge on the 747. None of that is coming back anytime soon (or ever…). The following list may well help you maintain some sanity by endearing yourself to your crew and thus ensuring that you receive some of that old world service that we all thought disappeared along with Pan Am. Follow these tips, and not only will your crew love you, but you’ll be treated like the VIP that so many of you think you are.

1. Pack only what you can carry (and lift!)

As airlines diminish their free checked luggage allowances and increase checked bag fees, the size of the carry-ons we see coming on the planes is also increasing. How many times have you been told by a surly, overworked gate agent that you need to check your bag because there’s no space left? One too many, I’m sure. And if you do manage to get the bag on the plane, half of you turn to your crew to lift your 75-pound behemoth of a bag into the overhead because it’s too heavy for you. I suggest the fridge test. After packing your bag, lift it up and stick it on top of your fridge. If you can’t do that, check it.

And better yet, get the credit card associated with your airline of choice. The $95 annual fee equals four checked bags, not even. You’ll get priority boarding and thus avoid being told that there’s no space left, and you can check your heavy bag that you couldn’t put on top of your fridge for free. Best of all, you won’t have to ask the crew to do the heavy lifting for you and thus avoid making them dislike you before the boarding door has even been shut.

2. Come prepared

Nobody knows you better than you, so anticipate your own needs. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Can you give me water? I have to take a pill,” I would be on an island somewhere doing something other than writing this column. First, just ask me for water. After all, part of my job is to provide these things when you ask for them.

Second, no need to tell me what the pill is for. Honestly, I’m not interested in your grapefruit-sized kidney stones, your depression brought on by your puppy drowning in the washing machine, your terrible seasonal allergies you inherited from your grandma in Boise– just ask me for water. But also remember that if you ask me during boarding, there are 185 other people who also need to take a pill for something or other.

So better yet, anticipate that you have to take a pill and grab a bottle of water. When traveling with babies and toddlers, remember that just like adults, they poop too, so bring diapers. Coming to the back galley and asking for diapers, bottles, toys, etc. will not only not impress your crew, it makes you look like an incredibly irresponsible parent.

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You’ve been a vegetarian going on 10 years now, you know that you’re in the second to last row of the plane and you forgot to order a veggie meal, rather than give me the stink eye when I tell you I only have chicken left, tell me ahead of time that you forgot to order and I’ll be happy to put aside a pasta for you. Better yet, stop at Shake Shack before you get onboard and grab a mushroom burger, which I suspect will be far better than then pasta-ala-sodium that I’ll save for you.

3. Amuse your children

We’ve all been there – you’ve just drifted off to sleep (despite being contorted into a position that would impress the most seasoned Cirque-du-Soleil acrobat) when a shrill cry goes up and continues for the next three hours. Nobody likes unruly children on an airplane and 99% of the time it’s the parents’ fault. Know what makes your children tick.

That cartoon show that you hate (and they love) and you forbid at home? That’s exactly what you need to download on your iPad. That’s something they don’t get at home and it will keep them amused for hours. Then you need Plan B - Crayons and paper, Plan C - The other show you can’t stand on the iPad, Plan D - Snacks they like that don’t contain enough sugar to make them go postal, etc. etc. etc. As you well know, children’s attention spans are shorter than most of Elizabeth Taylor’s marriages and you need to plan accordingly.

Not only will the passengers around you thank you, but your crew will love you and might even offer to chip in keeping little Tom, Dick or Harriet amused. Unless they start behaving like dicks, in which case we’re out. You should have trained them better. When plans A-D fail, reach into your purse and pull out the Benadryl. If you’re not comfortable drugging your child, offer it to the passengers around you and the crew. Voilá, you’re back in our good graces.

4. Listen to announcements

I know, you travel more than I do and you know them all. So then why do you not comply with any of them? Every time (yes, 100% of the time) I say “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Coca Cola-ville. Please remain seated with you seatbelts fastened…” I see and hear about half of the seatbelts in the cabin come undone. Do you take your seatbelt off when you get off the highway in your car? No. Do you want to be like the woman last summer who broke her nose when she went face first into the bulkhead because we stopped short and she wasn’t belted in? No. Do you want to put the people around you at risk because you’re not belted in and now your 190 pounds of mass is at risk of flying through the cabin and hurting someone? No. So just leave your seatbelt on!

We make the announcements because we have to, yes, but also because we are trying to convey information to you that is useful to both you, the people around you and us. So listen up! I know I’m getting paid, but I really don’t want to say “Beef stroganoff with sautéed vegetables and gnocchi or spicy chicken with paella rice” 265 times. So when I make the announcement, just listen. Your movie is paused anyway, so what else do you have to do? The seat belt sign coming on is not a cue for you to get up and parade about the cabin, as many of you seem to think. So if you really want to wow your crew, show off those listening skills and respond accordingly when we ever so politely ask you to please do something at this time. Thank you.

5. You are not the exception to the rule. Really.

I know you are Silver Elite. That said, waving your elite card at me as you board and throwing your coat in my face with a “hang this” isn’t going to impress me. It also won’t get your coat hung. I will hang everyone’s coats in First Class and then if I have room for yours, and you ask nicely, I’ll hang your coat. What if every Silver Elite on the plane did the same thing you did? A) I wouldn’t have room for any First Class coats and B) It would take me the entire flight to hand them all back.

When we say, “We are on our final descent, so please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened,” this is not your cue to get up. If everyone got up to use the bathroom, we’d land with half the plane standing. When I we say, “Please turn your phones into airplane mode,” and you keep Facebooking and texting, guess what? You haven’t turned your phone into airplane mode.

Nothing will turn your crew against you faster than ignoring what they have to say. (This harks back to #4.) So please, when we ask you to do something, remember that rules apply to everyone, including you. Because there are still so many people that think they are the exception to the rule, by complying you will actually stand out and your crew will love you all the more. Then, after the service when you ask if you could maybe have a few more cookies and could we charge your phone up front (all exceptions to the rules) we’re much more likely to say yes. Ironic, isn’t it?

6. You’ll catch more flies with honey (or chocolates) than with vinegar

Actually, who has ever caught any flies with vinegar? Your flight from Washington, D.C. to Chicago was delayed because of a mechanical fault with the aircraft. Airline’s fault. You see on the app that your bags were not loaded onto the first flight despite the delay. Also, the airline’s fault. You then make your connecting flight by the skin of your teeth only to see that your Elite upgrade has been cancelled and you’re back in cattle class because the gate agent didn’t count on you being an Olympic sprinter. Again, airline’s fault. You’re now worked up into a rage that would make Stalin himself cower, and rightly so.

That said, if you come back to the galley and start screaming and cussing, guess what? I won’t help you. I am fully aware that when in uniform, I represent my company and right now, that is the company that so far today has screwed you like you were the new inmate on cellblock D. However, I personally would very much like to help you. That’s why I was hired to spend eight hours with you instead of loading bags (or not loading them) down on the ramp. So if you come to me, and calmly express that you are angry and here is why, the chances of my helping you increase exponentially.

With the sheer volume of people travelling, bags being loaded and flights taking off, things are bound to go wrong. Ninety-nine percent of my colleagues and I genuinely do care about you and want to help you. (See #7 to discuss the other one percent.) So when the proverbial shit hits the fan, do your best to keep your cool. Take a deep breath. Remember that despite everything that has happened, you are still alive and, in fact, breathing. Then come talk to me and explain your situation. I will be delighted to help rectify things anyway possible.

7. You are only human (and so am I)

After everything that happened in #6, you go back to the galley and calmly explain to Ellie Eastern what happened. Ellie is indifferent and tells you to sit down and deal with it. Already, the battle is lost. Getting angry with her, despite everything that has happened, will only result in air rage charges and a marked decline in the already admittedly horrendous state of your affairs today. So go sit down and wait for someone else to come along and try again.

We all have bad days, both you and I. Ellie has been flying for 40 years, is 82 and still can’t retire. She’s lost her pension, has to fly twice as much as she used to in order to make half the money, and that pilot she had an affair with in 1964 still hasn’t called her back. So yes, she’s a little bitter. Or maybe she’s just having a bad day much like yours. (We all have bad days, no?) Either way, if you see that you’re not getting somewhere with one crewmember, wait until you can discreetly speak with someone else and try again. My mother always told me that timing is everything and that especially applies here. Talk to Ellie’s colleague with Ellie right there and you’re back to square one.

Also, do what you can to eliminate the chance of running into these sorts of situations. There’s nothing you can do to avoid old, surly flight attendants working your flight, but you can book the two-hour connection in Atlanta instead of the 40-minute connection. Yes, you’ll get in later. But you are only human, remember? You are not Haile Gebrselassie and booking a 40-minute connection in the world’s biggest airport is not only a dumb idea, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You are human - give yourself time to walk calmly from one gate to the next with a stop at Starbucks (and a wait on line at Starbucks) along the way. Maybe you can even pick up some chocolates for Ellie. Even the hardened old bags can smile from time to time, it just takes a little box of Ferrero Rocher.

8. Don’t leave garbage on the counters!

This is a big one. You’ve been served your meal, you’ve enjoyed the Michelin star cuisine that we’ve offered you and now you have to pee. So you get up, walk to the galley and dump your tray on the counter. No! This is feral behavior. Do you leave garbage on your kitchen counters at home? No. Would you ever eat at your favorite restaurant again if you saw food being prepared on the same counter dirty dishes were being bussed to? No. Please, just get up, plop your tray back down and go off to do what you must. But for the love of Juan Trippe, don’t leave your trays on the counters.

Trust me, we don’t want to drag the service out any longer than we have to. That said, sometimes serving 300 people takes a little while. As soon as we can pick your garbage up, I promise we will. Leaving trash on the counters where food is prepared will neither endear you to your crew nor to your fellow passengers who see you behaving like the Queen of Sheba. (I’m too good to have my tray in front of me for as long as the rest of you...) If you’re really in a pinch (and you’ve followed the rest of my advice so far) I promise we can find somewhere to put your dirty tray where trash actually belongs if you ask nicely. But please, don’t leave it on the counters. (Or on someone else’s tray – and yes, I’ve seen that happen. It makes no one happy.)

9. Remember that you’re not at home

This is another really big one. All too often, when one of us complains about a passenger or decides we no longer like them, it’s because said passenger forgot they were not at home. Don’t take off your shoes and socks and put your feet up on the walls/bulkheads/seats or armrests in front of you. You don’t think your feet smell, but they do. You’re in 17B and I can smell them from my jump seat back at 32. Picking your nose is fine at home. Not on an airplane. I know you’re in your own little world, watching Game of Thrones and curled up under your blanket, but you’re not on your couch and we can still see you.

At home when you work, you throw papers on the ground and make a mess and that’s okay. On an airplane, you’re making a mess on the floor of my office and it’s a tripping hazard to your fellow passengers and your crew. How about clipping your nails or flossing your teeth? (And both happen all the time) Absolutely not! Please, remember that you are on an airplane surrounded by 300 other passengers and five to 17 cabin crew who aren’t interested in your personal habits.

10. Chocolates

Nothing endears you to the crew quite like a box of chocolates. It’s a great way to say, “Thanks for being responsible for my safety and wellbeing for the next one to 14 hours” and also, “I really appreciate that in addition to serving me my choice of peanuts, pretzels and/or cookies, you’ll also restart my heart and/or haul my unconscious, panic-stricken body off the airplane should it start to burn.” It’s what we do for each other usually, and it is just generally a nice gesture – who doesn’t like chocolates? That passenger you saw across the aisle getting spoiled with champagne and desserts from business class? They brought chocolates. The guy next to you who had a flight attendant offer to hang his coat? Chocolates. Most of the people around you that you see being spoiled and treated like rock stars probably brought chocolates. (Or they’re cute and we’re flirting. Either is a good bet.)

Have questions for Cary? Ask away in the Comments below.

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