Flight attendants reveal facts about flying that airlines don’t tell passengers.
By Chloe Pantazi
A flight attendant’s job is more than serving drinks with a smile. They’re responsible for passengers’ safety and, of course, they know a lot about flying — more than any frequent flier ever could. To find out more about the world of flying, one Quora user asked: “What are some things that airline cabin crews know, but won’t tell you?”
A number of seasoned flight attendants responded to share some unexpected truths about their industry and reveal what goes on behind the scenes at 38,000-feet.
9 terrifying things that happen on a plane but passengers know nothing about:
You’ll be told if the plane is going to crash
If you’re a nervous flier, chances are you watch the flight attendant for signs of panic during bouts of turbulence to figure out whether or not the plane will crash. But the captain and cabin staff will tell you if the plane is in trouble, according to a crew member.
“The captain will give you the same information that we know if there is time and then we will begin emergency landing procedures,” the anonymous flight attendant said. “My job is to make sure we all get out alive, so of course I would want you to be as prepared as possible.”
Flight attendants don’t get paid until the plane door closes
Flight attendants are paid for the duration of a flight only, according to one cabin crew member. “We are not paid during boarding or until the door to the aircraft is shut. This means it’s mandatory to show up to work about 2 hours early but not be paid for it,” the anonymous user wrote in a Quora post that was upvoted by a retired US Air Force pilot.
“We can work a 13-hour day and only be paid 5,” the post reads. “Some of us end up with crappy trips where it is 5 flights all about an hour long each. So while we are boarding, deplaning, etc all of that is unpaid since that aircraft door is technically open. If you add in delays, that’s an even longer day all without pay.”
Airlines often reuse blankets and pillows
Yes, that blanket you’re sleeping under may not be so fresh. Some airlines re-use blankets and pillows on flights, according to Quora user Tony Busko and ex-flight attendant Fatihah Sudewo.
“The blankets and pillows get reused over and over again. They just fold em [sic] up and put them away for the next flight,” Busko said.
Sudewo agrees: “It depends on how cheap the airline is, but I’ve had my share seeing them [the cleaning team] refolding the blankets for the passengers on the next flight to use,” she wrote. “At least they were generous enough to replace the pillow covers and the headrest covers.”
The best solution, according to Busko, is to ask for a new blanket in a plastic bag.
Plane water is gross
If you do get a drink, make sure it’s not tea or coffee. The water used to make your beverage likely comes from the plane’s water tank, which is located under the plane — and it probably isn’t very clean.
“The water from the plane is disgusting,” an anonymous flight attendant said. “I feel truly sorry for our coffee and hot water drinkers. That water is in a tank under the plane and I’ve never seen that tank be cleaned out.”
You might be better off sticking to bottled water.
The bathrooms are even worse
It’s hardly a secret that the plane toilet isn’t very clean, though it may come as a surprise to learn that some flight attendants rarely use them.
“I only use the lavatories on the airplane if I need to wash my hands or if I absolutely have to go to the bathroom,” an anonymous cabin crew member said. “If it’s a short flight and I can leave the plane, I’m definitely waiting until I can use the bathroom in the airport.” Flight attendant Kelly Goodnuff agrees and thinks that “it’s disgusting” when passengers go to the bathroom without their shoes on.
That’s why it helps when passengers make an effort to clean up after themselves in the bathroom. It certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by the cabin crew. Former flight attendant Sudewo said staff “greatly appreciate” fliers who ensure toilet paper has been thrown way, the toilet has flushed, and water (and even phlegm) from the sink and floor has been cleaned up.
Your bathroom breaks could hold up the entire plane
A poorly timed visit to the bathroom when the seatbelt sign is illuminated could mean a landing delay.
“If somebody gets up to use the restroom, we have to tell the cockpit, and they have to stop the plane and wait until the person is back in his or her seat and buckled up. During that time we could lose our spot in line,” one flight attendant was cited telling Woman’s Day.
There are back-up flight attendants at the airport
When passengers see a flight attendant rushing to get onto the plane, they aren’t usually late, but covering for another cabin crew member.
In case a crew member can’t make it to work, there are one or two standby flight attendants ready and waiting to step into their colleague’s place at the airport, with their uniform on and their luggage packed.
“I have been called to work a flight because the flight attendant who was supposed to work it got into a bad car accident on his way to work,” an unnamed flight attendant wrote. “I got to the gate within 5 minutes of my notification and met with glares from the passengers.”
The cabin crew gets better meals than you
Plane food may be a disappointment to most passengers but flight attendants are treated to better-quality meals, according to Sudewo.
“Our meals are slightly better than the passenger meals,” she wrote. While the quality of food varies by airline, she said that there’s “at least a trolley dedicated for the crews” with fresh fruit, bread rolls, desserts, drinks and more.
Flight attendants don’t sleep much — especially if there’s a delay
A delay might set back passengers’ plans to get to the beach by a few hours, but it’s far worse for flight attendants. For cabin crew, a delay means missing out on valuable sleep time before their next shift.
“We hate delays just as much as you do, if not more,” the same flight attendant said. “If I was going to originally have 10 hours of rest at the hotel before having to fly the next morning, now it is 8 hours,” the user said, giving an example of a delay. “This 8 hours includes having a meal, showering, getting ready for bed, getting ready in the morning and travel time to the airport.”
Consider this on your next early morning flight, and maybe throw in a “please” and “thank you” to the exhausted flight attendant handing you a drink.