Be nice to flight attendants. For the love of all that is good, please be nice to them. They have to put up with cocky fliers, turbulence, crying babies, terrorist threats, and ascots. They have to smile cheerfully through it all and pretend everything is fine and dandy.
Newsflash: everything is not fine and dandy. However, it does make for an entertaining read, as service jobs often do. Heather Poole, a flight attendant with a 15-year career under her belt, recently wrote for Mental Floss about 10 secrets the average person doesn’t know regarding the attendant life.
1. If the plane door is open, attendants don’t get paid.
Even though this is the period where the most physical labor comes in, attendants are not paid for the time the plane is at the gate. That also includes delayed flights, cancelled flights, and layovers. If the plane is not moving, they don’t get paid. They do get an allowance for all the non-flying time, but it adds up to $1.50 per hour.
2. Becoming a flight attendant is not easy.
Despite the cramped quarters, long hours, and the uniforms, this is a competitive position. In 2010, Delta announced 1,000 positions and received more than 100,000 applications. College graduates are preferred, but not required for the positions. Airlines look for people with experience in the airline industry, or in the service and hospitality industry (especially in fine dining). The job is tough, so applicants have to be able to “cut their hair and go anywhere,” as the saying goes. And the starting salary? Around $18,000 annually.
3. Height matters.
During the 60s, airlines like Pan Am were notorious for setting physical standards for their flight attendants. Much of the requirements—taller than 5’2″, less than 130 lbs, under age 32, unmarried and childless—were more for the male gaze than anything else. During the 70s, flight attendants lobbied to be treated like people. By the 90s, pretty much all the restrictions were abolished, and attendants can fly for as long as they like, as long as they pass a yearly training course. Some physical requirements are still enforced. If you can’t sit in a jump seat without an extended belt, or fit through the emergency hatch, you can’t fly. Height-wise, you have to be tall enough to reach the overhead bins, but not so tall that you might bump your head.
4. But they can still get fired for weird reasons.
Depending on the airline, small infractions like wearing a sweater tied around your waist can get you the boot. New hires are put on a probation period, during which certain limitations apply (such as travel benefits). If an attendant flies while sick, even as a passenger on another airline, it’s grounds for termination.
5. Probation also has its weird rules.
There’s a solid hierarchy with flight attendants, and seniority means a lot. One of the rules for newbies is that they have to wear longer skirts. When off probation, they can hem them to show a bit more leg. This means that the newer hires are easier to spot, and sometimes pilots and other personnel will aim for the less experienced. Older attendants will sometimes keep their skirts longer to attract the attention.
6. Don’t order the Diet Coke.
Altitude will affect the way molecules behave, and Diet Coke is no exception. It’s the fizziest, and at 35,000 feet, the fizz takes a really long time to settle. Poole estimates than in the time it takes to pour one Diet Coke, she can serve three other passengers drinks.
7. Don’t try to sneak things past them.
No one officially dies in-flight unless there is a doctor on board to pronounce it. But it can happen. Thrifty grievers will also try to sneak dead bodies onto planes to avoid the high shipping fees that go with transporting dead people. Dead people are not the most subtle people, and the crew will figure it out. They’ll have to make an emergency landing due to biohazards, and you’ll probably get slapped with a pretty hefty fine. So just don’t do it, okay? Singapore Airlines really has this on lockdown; their planes feature a “corpse cabin,” should the situation arise.
8. Really don’t try to sneak things past them.
While sneaking in dead relatives seems like an obvious choice to avoid, there’s another, more popular activity that flight attendants, and everyone else on the plane, will also know about immediately. It’s known as joining the “Mile High Club.” In case the idea of gettin’ it on in an airborne port-o-potty doesn’t immediately turn you off, the fact that it’s really, really obvious what you’re doing should. Usually, it’s the long line of passengers outside the head that tips attendants off, and usually it’s a passenger who will alert an attendant. Because they have to pee now. And while technically, Mile High activities are not illegal, it is illegal to disregard direct orders from an aircraft’s crew. So just avoid that scenario entirely, okay?
9. Flight attendants are the first people to spot human trafficking
Because human trafficking is an international scourge, flight attendants wind up being some of the first people to spot suspicious behavior and people on planes. Since 2007, after a case involving a trafficked newborn that was never resolved, flight attendants are trained in things to look for that could potentially bust traffickers. This is still a growing initiative, but it may be a major step in reducing human trafficking.
10. Your turbulence is nothing
When you fly as much as they do, it’s not surprising to learn that flight attendants experience the worst turbulence. Since 1980, only three people have been killed from turbulence-related injuries, and two of the three were not wearing their seatbelts. However, of the 300 serious injuries reported by the FAA during that time, two-thirds of the victims were flight attendants.
Via Mental Floss
So now you know: flight attendants are a knowledgeable, tough crowd. If you ever get nervous during a flight, just look to them. They can guide you through all of the bad turbulence and back to a calm flight (and they may even give you free vodka).