(File Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
By George Hobica, special for USA TODAY
I've been flying a lot lately, and since I'm an inquisitive sort, I've been chatting with flight attendants. Here are excerpts from their candid responses about doing the job in these trying times for the airline industry.
Question: What annoys you most about your job?
Answer: When passengers don't pay attention to us during the safety demo, it's both annoying and insulting. We know people fly a lot, but planes vary. When you have a newspaper in front of your face, it signals that you do not think this is important. Also, when passengers wear headphones while we're asking you what you want to drink and we have to repeat the question. Plus, if you keep them on, you end up screaming at us without realizing it. And you'd be shocked at how many people barely even look at me when I'm serving them. Did their parents not teach them to say please and thank you? And it never ceases to amaze me the number of passengers that prop their feet up on the bulkhead as if it were their ottoman at home. Your scuffed shoe marks and dirt from your shoes remain after you deplane. Oh, and why would people ever think it's OK to cut their fingernails or toenails on board an airplane?
Q: What can passengers do to make the boarding process faster?
A: One of the biggest irritations for us is watching people reorganize their bag when they get to their row. We're constantly reminding people to step into the row so that other people can board but it falls on deaf ears. Then there are the people that place their small backpack or jacket in the overhead bin, taking up valuable space. People rarely think about their fellow passengers, which often results in gate-checked bags. And please place your wheeled carryon bag with the handle first, not sideways.
Q: More and more, it seems that passengers traveling with children, special-needs fliers, or with elderly parents, or just with friends, end up sitting in different rows because of airline seating policies. Do you attempt to ask passengers to trade seats so these people can sit together?
A: I do, but it doesn't always work. If a passenger has a coveted window or aisle seat, or has paid for a premium economy seat with extra legroom, they're reluctant to move to a less desirable seat. I'll sometimes give them a free drink or two if they switch, or an extra meal or bottle of wine from first class, but even that doesn't work every time. If there's an empty seat in business or first class and I'm desperate, I might even reward the passenger with an in-flight upgrade.
Q: What complaints do you hear from passengers about annoying things other passengers do?
A: Oh we hear it all, from smelly people to talkative passengers who think everyone wants to hear every word they say. Passengers sometimes ask to move seats because their seatmate is overly talkative. Almost every flight has someone who thinks everyone on board is there to be a part of his or her personal talk show.
Q: Do you treat customers differently if they are dressed nicely?
A: I don't make a concerted effort to treat them differently, but instinctively I find myself serving them in a more respectful manner. You just know that the well-dressed passenger probably paid more for his ticket than the flip-flop-and-shorts-wearing flyer. Courtesy is important to all passengers, but our airline would not be flying were it not for the premium travelers who subsidize the leisure travelers' low fares. And if I have to upgrade someone, either just before takeoff or once we're airborne, everything else being equal (frequent flier status, etc.) of course I'm going to choose the well-dressed passenger over the one who's dressed in a tank top.
Q: How do you deal with drunk passengers?
A: If they're in economy, we stop serving them. Up front, we try to be more discreet. If they order a mixed drink, we fill most of the glass with mixer to weaken it. Most of the time, they don't notice. If they order wine or beer, we'll fill it only halfway and don't provide the can of beer. It's true that altitude can heighten the effects of alcohol, and we notice it more than you think we do.
Q: Hey, is that you in this advertisement in the travel magazine I'm reading?
A: Yes, it's really me. I'm a part-time print model. I don't make enough money as a flight attendant, so this is my side job. Many flight attendants have to work two jobs in order to survive.