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True confessions of a flight attendant

There are lots of online forums where the public give feedback on airlines…but what do the staff of those airlines think about us, the ones who file aboard their planes every day?

I spoke to a veteran flight attendant who worked for 18 years with several major international airlines to spill the beans on what life is really like when you spend most of it at 39,000 feet.

Were there any routes you used to dread?

Night flights to Ibiza with Club 18-30 passengers, which were just insane. We used to have to stop serving alcohol…on one of my flights, someone tried to wee into the mouthpiece of a life jacket. Another time drunk a passenger flashed one of the cabin crew so he was arrested on arrival. Someone poo’ed on the floor and there were punch ups…it was mental. I’m so glad I don’t do it anymore!

What was your best way to deal with drunk passengers?

Really it was the threat of calling the police at the other end. If someone was being completely out of order, I’d lean over and gently whisper in their ear “I’m going to make sure you get cavity searched when we land.” That usually did the trick.

Did you notice many changes over the course of your career?

Yes, the growth of compensation culture. In the beginning, people used to just be super happy to be travelling and going on holiday but now it’s…“my chair won’t recline, what are you going to offer me?”…“my TV’s not working, my holiday’s ruined”, that kind of thing. And I think crew have been treated with less and less respect by the companies they work for.

Did you ever steal anything from duty-free?

No, but I know plenty of crew who did, especially when they were on one of the last flights of an airline that was going bust. A friend of mine practically wheeled an entire trolley off a plane when they learned the company they worked for had ceased trading.

Did you ever have to intervene with passengers joining the mile-high club?

Honestly, I used to ignore them. But I remember an occasion when a Scottish purser was banging on the toilet door shouting “come out you dirty rascals”. It does happen but less than you think. I worked with a crew member once who straddled the captain in the cockpit during a flight…the first officer had to come out on the pretext of getting a cup of tea so as not to be in the way and let them get on with it. Many years ago, I hasten to add.

Do crew like to party when they get to a destination or is the reality more mundane?

Many airlines tend to be on very short turnarounds these days so they just want to sleep. But if you had a longer stopover, then definitely yes, especially if your layover was in an all-inclusive hotel then you could drink around the clock!

Room parties do happen. I remember hearing of one UK crew who trashed their hotel room at Stansted, there was red wine all over the place, and they were really worried they’d get found out – it was a sackable offence. So, they put a do-not-disturb sign on the door and did their round trip to Scotland, came back via Homebase with tins of emulsion and repainted all the walls. No one was any the wiser.

Did you sometimes not tell passengers the full story if something bad happened in mid-air?

Yes, we would “shield” passengers in some situations, say if there was a technical problem or we thought we might have to divert. But I’ve never been on a flight where I was actually scared. I had complete trust in my colleagues. The captains, first officers and engineers all take their job incredibly seriously. You can have a good laugh with them down route but once they were in the cockpit, it was a different story, they were very professional.

Does “crop dusting*” really happen?

Yes, and we all laughed about it. You can’t help it.

(* When crew walk up and down the aisle, farting)

How do crew keep themselves fit and fresh with all the dry air, jet lag, lack of sleep etc?

We all love Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream – you can use it for everything: you can use it on dry skin, sunburn, a burn from the galley oven, on your cuticles, as hand cream, to smooth your hair down. Everything!

What’s the quickest way for a passenger to annoy you?

Press the call bell fifteen times! But we don’t ignore it. You have to answer. After all, it could be someone having a heart attack. I know one crew member – who was sacked for this because he boasted about it to the wrong person – who took a passenger’s meal and wiped it around a toilet bowl.

On the other hand, what’s the quickest way for someone to endear themselves to you?

Honestly, just be nice. So many people complain, someone who’s enjoying the flight and says so really stands out. Now when I fly, I take chocolates for the crew and they’re so thrilled – I’ve had an upgrade out of a box of chocolates!

Is “cabin creeping*” common?

It’s not common but it does happen. People will feign illness to try and upgrade themselves or sometimes they’re just sneaky and will try it when they think no one’s looking.

(*When a passenger in economy tries to sneak in and take a seat in business class.)

Can cabin crew upgrade passengers on board?

Some passengers used to flirt and think that was enough to get an upgrade. (It sometimes worked!) In theory, yes cabin managers have that power but to be honest, there’s so much paperwork and there has to be a really good reason, it doesn’t often happen.

Why do crew pack such a big suitcase on even the shortest trip?

We need a lot of stuff! We’d have to take tongs and oven gloves for the galley, a calculator, a torch…and then makeup….half that suitcase is makeup!

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(c) Will Hide 2021

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