“Thank you for flying with us today!” “Would you like coffee or tea?” “Can I get you another pillow?” These are all things we’ve heard flight attendants say during our adventures in the sky, usually with a friendly smile covering their faces.
To be sure, courtesy is key for flight attendants, but don’t let their facade fool you! These plucky men and women have more than their fair share of secrets to reveal about what really is going on during your flights, and what they’re hiding will change the way you fly forever.
1. Greetings: “OMG hi, welcome to our airplane!” The enthusiastic meet-and-greet when the passengers board the plane is not just to make you feel welcome; the crew is assessing whether anyone is sick, intoxicated, disabled, suspicious, or fit in case of an emergency.
2. Cleanliness: Planes get cleaned between most flights, but not always as vigorously as we hope. The garbage gets collected and the floor gets vacuumed, but individual tray tables and windows almost never get a wipe down. Your blanket may not even be washed!
3. The water: When you’re on a plane, you might think you’re saving money if you fill up your water bottle in the bathroom on board. Don’t do it. The water in airport bathrooms is fine for toilet flushing and hand washing, but it’s 100 percent not safe to drink.
4. Air-quality: When you’re stuck in a closed space with dozens of people for hours, you may worry about getting sick. The bad news is, touching the bathroom door or sitting next to someone with a cold can get you a nasty virus; the good news is, the air is clean, so you’re at no greater risk than you’d be at a school or office.
5. Air Marshals: If you’ve seen Non-Stop, Bridesmaids, or the movie Air Marshal, you might be thinking: do Air Marshals really exist? They do, and they protect us against onboard criminal/terrorist activity. While some airlines have one on every flight, U.S. Air Marshal’s are a rare find, and you wouldn’t know how to spot them anyway.
6. Diet Coke: This may sound a bit silly, but flight attendants dread any orders of Diet Coke. It’s more carbonated than any other drink, and the fizz takes forever and a day to settle. Choose a different beverage!
7. Crew snooze: If flying is exhausting for you, imagine what it’s like for the flight crew! The good news is, on long flights, they do get to take a little nap in between services so they can keep a fresh mind. Windowless sleeping pods exist on most Boeing 777s and 787s. Don’t let the plane bugs bite!
8. Door open? They aren’t getting paid: That’s right, while your flight attendants are usually already hard at work when the plane is boarding, they only get paid for “in-flight hours” which means anything that happens before the plane takes off is basically free labor!
9. Planes’ sturdiness: When you see someone duct taping a plane before departure, you probably get a little nervous. But don’t work up a sweat! Planes are thoroughly inspected before you even enter the tarmac. Planes can handle thunderstorms, so the small stuff won’t bring it down.
10. Romance: Oddly enough, most airlines don’t have rules against the crew fraternizing with passengers. However, consent must be given from both sides. There have been stories about people meeting the love of their life while high up in the sky.
11. If you see something, say something: While you can’t tip flight attendants on most airplanes, if you receive excellent service, do write a letter to the airline. Most have incentivizing programs for excellent customer service, so this is kind of even better than tipping.
12. Medical emergencies: Flight crews are trained in both CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, and there’s an emergency kit and defibrillator on board. They can also ask if anybody is a doctor, or even make an emergency landing. If you’re unwell, try not to fly. No one wants to make an emergency landing in Iceland for you.
13. Baggage: We’ve probably all wondered where our luggage goes while we’re enjoying our seats. The luggage compartment is nothing special, but what it contains is: aside from regular suitcases, you can find important packages, bags of sand, and human remains in the bottom of the plane. Spooky, huh?
14. Your phone CAN cause a problem: Airplane mode schmairplane mode! If your phone is on during takeoff it can cause a disturbance between the plane’s radio and the ground team trying to help get you off the ground.
15. Pilot authority: We tend to have great respect for pilots. After all, they take us safely through the air in a giant metal machine. What most don’t know though is how much authority they have. The pilot has ultimate authority on a plane, including command decisions, leading the crew, handling emergencies, and troublesome passengers.
16. Beauty standards: When we think of flight attendants, we often imagine thin, attractive, model-like women with perfect hair and a touch of light make-up. However, that idea is outdated. Most modern airlines don’t mind a funky hairdo, a bigger size, or a unique style!
17. Free upgrades: What economy class passenger doesn’t want a free upgrade? This occurrence is less common than you might think, but when a plane has extra first-class seats it helps to be polite and a frequent flyer to get that unexpected move to the front of the plane.
18. They would NEVER walk around barefoot on a plane: Sure, everyone wants to be comfortable for their long fight, but at least keep your socks on. Most flight attendants will tell you that those floors have seen their fair share of human waste.
19. In the dark: The cabin lights don’t dim during takeoff and landing just to create a soothing atmosphere. By dimming the lights, you can more easily spot the exits in case of an emergency, and your eyes will adjust to the dark. Don’t worry though, you’ll land safely soon enough!
20. They don’t eat the food: As soon as a flight attendant starts training they are taught that the food on planes is not recommended for them to eat since it’s “nutritionally useless”. If they aren’t eating it, should you be?
21. They’re judging you: Think no one cares what you wear when you’re traveling? Wrong. The better dressed you are the more likely you are to befriend your crew.
22. Automatic upgrades to a higher class don’t happen very frequently. However, according to one flight attendant, they’re pretty much done at the crew’s discretion and can happen for a number of reasons. Passengers might be upgraded if they’re kind, obviously pregnant, good-looking, or even a friend of a crew member.
23. Couples who are feeling particularly frisky might try to escape to the bathroom to join the “Mile High Club,” but here’s something a lot of people don’t know: the bathrooms can be unlocked from the outside! It’s an emergency precaution.
24. There’s a myth that passengers should tuck their heads between their legs during a crash landing for a quicker and painless death. However, this position is actually meant to protect vital organs and increase the chances for survival. Big difference!
25. The flight attendants and the pilots don’t eat the same food as the passengers. The reasoning behind this is to avoid potential food poisoning; you don’t want the people controlling the plane to have to run to the restroom every few minutes!
26. Indulging in an alcoholic beverage on a plane is perfectly legal. That said, if you overdo it and an attendant finds you acting up, not only will they cut you off, but you can also face criminal charges, as well.
27. Even if both engines fail, aircrafts are designed to glide approximately one and a half miles for every 1,000 feet of air—and pilots are specially trained to land a gliding aircraft.
28. The drop-down oxygen masks above each seat have about 15 minutes of air built into them. That may not sound like a lot, but 15 minutes is more than enough time for the pilot to reach an altitude where cabin pressure will equalize and the masks are no longer necessary.
29. In case of a crash landing, do you know which area of the plane is the safest to sit in? There are plenty of variables that go into that answer—including seat belts and proximity to the exits—but statistically, the rear third of the plane offers the best chance of surviving a crash.
30. Throughout a flight, you might hear a lot of electronic beeps and chimes coming from the equipment. Although the passengers wouldn’t know it, many of these sounds are actually telling the flight attendants different bits of information throughout the flight.
31. Have you ever had a flight attendant ask you to raise your window shade just as the plane is about to land? That’s because the crew will need everyone’s eyes to already be adjusted to the light in case the plane has an emergency.
32. A plane is similar to a seesaw in that the front and rear ends experience the most bumpiness throughout a ride, even if the plane encounters little turbulence throughout its trip. Grab a seat near the wings in the center for the smoothest ride possible.
33. Sometimes when you purchase a ticket online for a specific airline, you’ll end up on a plane with a similar name painted on it, but in fact, it’s actually the regional airline instead. Even though they’ll get you to your destination as safely as possible, they aren’t held to the same safety standards as the major names.
34. If you’re the kind of person who gets nervous while flying, pilots will tell you to book a morning flight as opposed to an afternoon or evening one. Throughout the day, the ground heats up, and that causes more turbulent air and a greater chance of thunderstorms.
35. Pilots use code phrases to indicate to the passengers what’s happening with the plane or weather. These phrases are carefully selected to avoid inducing fear. For example, a pilot will never say, “The visibility out there is zero,” which can be a terrifying thought. Instead, they’ll say, “There’s some fog in the area.” That sounds much more manageable!
36. For all those people who attempt to land themselves in the elite “mile-high club,” you might want to watch out. The bathrooms can actually be opened from the outside even if they’re locked from the inside. It’s a safety precaution, so all those passengers feeling “frisky” might want to hold off until landing.
37. There’s a very specific reason cell phones aren’t supposed to be used during a flight. They can actually cause false readings in the cockpit that give the pilots the illusion they’re flying at a higher elevation than they actually are, and that’s a huge problem when trying to coordinate a landing!
38. Many pilots find it strange that so many people are afraid of turbulence. According to them, it’s nearly impossible for turbulence to cause a crash. Pilots don’t avoid turbulence because it’s dangerous; they steer clear of it because it’s just flat-out annoying.
39. In recent years, the Department of Transportation has placed such importance on arriving on time that, unless a life-or-death situation is occurring onboard, flights are rarely ever delayed anymore. In fact, many airlines adjust their flight arrival times so they can have a better record of on-time arrivals.
40. When you think of safety equipment on a plane, you might imagine large, complex devices meant to support the engines and the fuselage. However, many airports find simple duct tape to be a perfectly acceptable way to patch up any small breaks or seal up any visible gaps in the metal.
41. Flying through thunderstorms can be a frightening experience for everyone onboard, passengers and crew alike. What most pilots don’t tell you is during a thunderstorm, lightening usually strikes the plane at least once! However, planes are built to take the impact, and they won’t suddenly fall out of the sky if struck.
42. In movies, television shows, and comics, pilots are always shown wearing their iconic hats with their headsets arching over them. According to several commercial airline pilots, however, they’re rarely ever worn, seeing as they don’t really serve a purpose.
43. Pilots have a grueling schedule, and sometimes they work for as long as 16 hours at a time. That’s longer than most truck drivers work in a single run! The difference is that truck drivers can simply pull over at a highway stop and catch up on sleep; pilots have to wait it out until they land.
44. Many people think if they get sick after a flight, it’s because of the time-zone or the cabin pressure changes throughout the journey. However, it’s usually because of the germs on the tray tables and reclining buttons they come into contact with.
45. The seat belt light will almost always remain on for the passengers as a safety precaution, but not everyone follows suit. However, if you hear the pilot ask the staff to buckle up, it means serious turbulence is ahead.
46. Flying a plane takes plenty of skill; pilots go through intense training to ensure they can get people from one place to another safely. However, a true test of a pilot’s skills is in the landing. A super-smooth landing is always the result of an exceptional pilot.
47. There are certain airports where pilots hate landing. Jackson Hole in Wyoming; John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California; and Chicago Midway in Chicago are difficult because the runways are so short, so landings are almost always bumpy.
48. It might seem like a career in the aviation industry would be lucrative considering the insane amount of responsibility it carries, but most pilots don’t make anywhere near exorbitant salaries. On average, pilots pull in about $75,000 a year. Their salaries can increase over time, however.
49. One pilot said that, often, airlines will pressure pilots into carrying the least amount of fuel they can to save money. This often means that when a plane hits a thunderstorm and faces delays, pilots have to land at alternate airports to refuel.
50. There have been some situations where planes have landed on bodies of water due to engine malfunctions. Many people think the term for this emergency procedure is a “water landing.” In reality, there’s no such thing as a water landing; it’s actually just called “crashing into the ocean,” but pilots won’t tell the public that.
51. Laptops are one of the pieces of technology many people bring onto planes, but the crew encourages you, if not mandates you, to stow them away during the flight. This isn’t because the devices interfere with the pilot’s cockpit readings, though. It’s because in the event of extreme turbulence, laptops suddenly become projectiles!