20 Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Flight Attendant
After six years as a flight attendant for a leading British airline, Christina Galvidite, 30, has amassed a wealth of knowledge about an industry that still arouses curiosity among many. Here she answers 20 questions you’ve probably always wanted to ask.
“I have never seen British drinking culture anywhere else.”
1. What type of passenger annoys you the most?
There are quite a few of them: those who spend most of the flight blocking the passage, or letting their children run back and forth, as well as those who need to be told to fasten their seat belt several times. But people who are too drunk will always be the worst.
2. Are the British more rude and noisy than any other nationality?
Too bad the stereotype is true. Brits tend to start drinking or even having drinks at the airport, no matter what time of day it is, so many people already board the plane drunk or at least tipsy and then continue on their way. As a person from Eastern Europe, I have never seen such a culture anywhere else.
There are strict rules about how much alcohol we can sell to passengers on a flight (two drinks per person per service), but people still smuggle their drinks and often get completely out of control. Consequently, the British are the worst passengers to deal with in terms of disruptive behaviour.
As for the best behaved nation, I would say that most passengers from continental Europe, but especially from Scandinavia, tend to be quite tame.
“I saw boys sniffing cocaine and fighting”
3. How do you feel about drunk passengers?
Drunk behavior is the biggest problem on a flight and it happens frequently, which is why we provide training every year on how to deal with passengers who break the rules and how to sell alcohol responsibly. It is almost unbelievable how radically people’s behavior can change when they are under the influence. When the situation escalates, we issue a final warning to passengers who violate the rules, take away any drinks from them for the rest of the flight and continue to monitor the situation. If they continue to behave antisocially, we take their passport details so that the airline can ban them permanently. Usually, when they understand that their actions may have real consequences – like not being able to catch a flight home – it helps.
I have never had to personally restrain anyone (we are taught self-defense, but not how to restrain someone), but many times I have had to involve the police. One incident that comes to mind was an Alicante flight with three separate stag parties. Two groups ended in a physical fight that had to be broken up, and one boy was snorting cocaine in the toilet. I don’t know how they got home as they were all banned by the airline for life.
4. Have you ever seen a passenger trying to join the Mile High Club?
No wonder this was the first question I was asked in online dating! Fortunately, no. This would be absolutely disgusting as the toilets are not cleaned until the end of the day. If you don’t want to catch anything and everything, don’t try. The water on the floor is not water.
5. Do you ever get drunk at work?
I know airlines that are more tolerant of drinking at work, but it never occurred to anyone in my mind to do something like that. Most of our flights are very busy, but to pass the time on quiet days, we usually just chat about random topics and get to know our colleagues, go into the cockpit to chat with the pilots (they are really boring), read books or play an old school game , such as Stop The Bus.
“No one seems to know how to open the toilet doors”
6. What is the dumbest question a passenger has asked you?
This happens every day: no one seems to know how to open the toilet doors, although there is a sign right in front of them explaining this.
7. Was anything else missing from the plane?
I would not say that this happens often, but some parents take children’s life jackets with them. I like to believe in the goodness of mankind, so let’s assume it’s because they just put it in their purse and forgot to take it out.
“My colleague smashed her cheek on the ceiling of the plane”
8. What is the strongest turbulence you have ever experienced?
Luckily, I’ve never had an emergency landing, but the worst turbulence I’ve experienced was upon arrival at Madeira – one of the toughest airports in the world – with drinks flying in the air. My colleagues have seen worse – one of them even broke her cheek, hitting her face on the ceiling. But even in these cases, none of us thought that we would break.
9. What happens if someone dies in flight?
Only a doctor can officially announce that someone has died, so in the event of a major medical emergency, we are taught to continue doing CPR until the plane lands and paramedics arrive, even if the person is clearly dead. If the death is correctly determined on board, there are many paperwork to fill out, the plane will go to the nearest airport, and we will try to give the deceased and their fellow travelers as much privacy and dignity as possible in such a small space.
I’ve dealt with many medical emergencies over the years, and every time an insensitive person complains that they’re still waiting for their Diet Coke.
“You can earn an extra £1,000 a month if you sell enough drinks”
10. How much does a flight attendant earn?
In my airline, as a mid-level stewardess, I earn about £35,000 a year because we get good commissions from in-flight sales. However, not all airlines have such good salaries. We have to work on public holidays, but we have 40 days off a year, and being a short-haul airline, our shifts include flying and returning home, so we sleep in our own beds every night.
11. Do you get a bonus for selling more in-flight snacks and drinks?
Yes. Staff receive between 1% and 5% of total sales per flight, depending on how much is sold. This means we can withdraw between £300 and £1,000 per month in commissions alone. This means that sometimes we will ignore the two drinks per person rule, but only if the passenger is clearly sober.
12. How bad was the delay and cancellation situation last summer?
Due to our lack of staff, there were many sudden changes to our schedules, making it difficult to plan our lives. You would just change your whole week at any moment. Delays were also frequent, which meant that our long days (10-16 hours) became even longer. Everyone was working very hard to make people happy, and by August we were in the worst of times.
“Many pilots and flight attendants end up dating”
13. How often do flight attendants meet with pilots?
Yes, it happens a lot. There are two couples in my friendship group – pilots and flight attendants.
14. Is sexism still a problem among airline employees?
Unfortunately yes. Sometimes it has a slight undertone of sexism, but I have heard some pilots say blatantly predatory things about flight attendants. According to my friends, the conversations that take place behind the closed doors of the cockpit are extremely sexist, but if someone talks, they will be called a snowflake. It has become unacceptable to be openly sexist, so hopefully attitudes will change over time, but there is still a long way to go.
15. Are there any unusual requirements for flight attendants?
There is a minimum and maximum height, and you need long enough arms to open the plane door in an emergency. In terms of appearance, tattoos must be covered, visible piercings are also not allowed, hair must be tied back in either a neat bun or short ponytail, and nails are only allowed in red, nude, clear or French manicure. They used to require us to change into heels when we weren’t on a plane, but luckily the Equality Act of 2010 finally caught up with them – 10 years later.
“If you’re afraid to fly, sit in front”
16. Where is the best place to sit on an airplane?
If you are afraid to fly, sit closer to the nose – the rear of the aircraft is subject to the most turbulence. And if you’re flying over the sea for an extended period of time, sit on the wings as this is the main exit if you need to land on the water.
17. Which airline do you prefer to fly with and why?
I enjoy flying as a SAS passenger – the service is always pleasant, the passengers are quiet. I don’t have my least favorite airlines – I have my least favorite routes based on which passengers fly to those destinations. Alicante, Antalya, Palma and Ibiza come to mind.
18. Do you eat airplane food?
Yes, I love a full-fat breakfast all day long!
“No, we don’t clean toilets”
19. What are the best and worst parts of the job?
Both money and free time were good. When you take a fast and easy flight to Italy with great passengers, it might seem like the best job in the world.
Rude or disruptive passengers are the worst to deal with and in case you’re wondering, we don’t clean the toilets, only the cabin. Even if a really serious accident happens, we will just close the door for the rest of the flight and wait for the cleaners to arrive when the plane lands.
20. What questions do people always ask when you tell them you are a flight attendant?
Often this is not a question, but an assumption: “You must have seen so many places!” Then I have to explain that short haul airlines like mine fly to many places but return back. It’s not so glamorous after all.