Coffee, Tea or Me? A lot has changed since the cornball 1960’s book of that title, which allegedly spilled the beans about glamorous, flirtatious flight attendants (or stewardesses in the parlance of the era). Here are five myths about flight attendants that we’re happy to dispel before your next flight.
1. Layovers are one big party.
The truth is that “not a lot of partying is happening at airport hotels. That’s where we usually lay over these days because layovers are so short,” says Heather Poole, an 18-year veteran of the skies and author of Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 30,000 Feet. Poole says that most of her layovers range between eight and 10 hours and that anything over 12 hours is considered a long layover, adding that “I barely have time to eat, sleep and shower.”
Only the most senior flight attendants get to work dream trips with long layovers, to destinations like London, Paris and Buenos Aires. The trend these days is for cocooning in your hotel room, which even has a nickname.
“It’s called ‘slam clicking,’ ” says flight attendant Sara Keagle, who’s been flying for 20 years and writes the The Flying Pinto blog.
“We call them slam clickers, because when they get to the crew hotel, they slam their hotel door and immediately click the lock.”
You can hardly blame flight attendants for slam clicking, given their workload and their family and personal responsibilities. Those such as Kari Walsh, who’s been working for a major airline for 22 years, treasures the alone time, and says, “Where do I get the opportunity as mother of two to be in a hotel room by myself?”
That said, crews still do get together but these veterans say that there usually isn’t a big party going on. Flight attendants are subject to random tests for alcohol, just as pilots are.
“If you do see me at the airport hotel bar with my coworkers, it’s probably because the hotel offers a crew discount,” says Poole. “All I’ve probably had all day is Diet Coke and whatever was left over in First Class.”
2. You should tip flight attendants for good service.
Keep your money in your wallet. The fact is that most airlines don’t allow flight attendants to accept tips.
“I always blush when someone offers me a tip,” says Poole. “It’s nice to be appreciated. But I never take it. I thank them and hand it back. But if someone shoves it in my apron or won’t take no for an answer, well, then it’s just sort of rude not to accept it.”
Most flight attendants will politely rebuff a tip and as a rule, tipping seems to happen a lot on flights to and from Las Vegas, says Keagle, and usually in coach. But aside from a few extra bills, Walsh points out that there’s a new way to reward flight attendants for exceptional service and that’s via Twitter.
“Someone recently posted a tweet thanking us for having enough granola bars to hand out on a long ground delay,” she says.
3. Flight attendants are in it for the free travel.
Ask a veteran flight attendant and job flexibility is usually the leading reason they love their job, especially if they have families. Everyone loves the free travel, but times have changed and it’s not as “free” as one might think. Flights are often very full and there’s rarely an open seat. Most flight attendants say that they can pretty much forget about traveling on holidays and weekends.
“Free travel is great,” says Walsh, “but nowadays, it means trying to get my family of four onto a packed aircraft.”
Single flight attendants with freedom in their schedule and those with pre-school kids not subject to a school regimen are the ones most likely to enjoy this perk. Keagle has, saying that “I really did want the adventure of travel and I flew internationally for 10 years. My 7-year-old has been so many places, like London and Paris, especially in the off season.”
4. Flight attendants are basically waitresses/waiters in the sky.
The most important role for flight attendants is passenger safety and getting them from point A to point B. Serving them snacks and drinks is much further down their list of responsibilities. Poole notes that a waiter or waitress has one job, which is to serve food. Meanwhile, “I’m expected to wait on a 160-seat ‘table.’ At the same time I’m to attend to my primary duty, which is the safety and security of the flight. If anything goes wrong at 30,000 feet, it’s just me and my coworkers. I can’t just untie my apron and leave.”
The most common event for flight attendants are medical emergencies, especially passengers who pass out, says Walsh. There might be doctors, nurses or EMT’s on a given flight, but often, it’s up to the flight attendants to help a distressed passenger.
“I was walking down the aisle recently and saw this guy’s feet sticking out of the galley on a morning flight,” she says. “It’s usually about dehydration on morning flights and they faint. They haven’t eaten or drunk anything before the flight, or they might be diabetic.”
There’s also the occasional incident where an argument between passengers threatens to escalate into something more. Don’t count on an Air Marshall to help, since they are not on every flight.
“I was working a flight where two guys were about to start a fight and a female flight attendant went over and told them to sit down,” Walsh says, noting that “she treated them like they were children, which is what we’re trained to do, and no one threw any punches.”
5. A flight attendant is supposed to help me stow my carry on bag.
If you pack a heavy carry-on bag, better do some weightlifting reps before your flight, because a flight attendant is unlikely to run down the aisle to help you.
“If we pick up the bag and get hurt, we’re not covered by the airline,” says Walsh. “But if it’s a little old lady with a heavy bag, of course I’m going to help her out.” Walsh might suggest stowing a heavy bag in the front closet of the plane or even gate checking it. But the credo for most flight attendants, says Walsh, is “You pack it, you put it up.”