Economy

What Flight Attendants and Airport Workers Really Think Of You

July 11th 2015

By:
Laura Donovan

If you're lucky enough to fly somewhere fun this summer, then you are probably excited about the adventures (and Instragram opportunities) the trip will present.

Given the unpleasant experience airline travel has become, however, the whole "getting there" part likely fills you with some level of anxiety and dread. Security measures are more invasive (and apparently ineffective), it always seems everyone gets to board the plane before you, seats are smaller and crammed, and flight crews can be vague about delays.

As challenging as air travel can be, it's important not to dump negativity on airport workers and flight attendants who almost always have zero control over the problem at hand. I have been an air traveler since infancy, and over the past two and half decades, I've witnessed many passengers ignore and demean airline employees for a number of reasons, so I decided to reach out to a few air travel workers to learn what the experience is like from their end. Here's what one guest services agent and three flight attendants had to say about their line of work.

Editor's note: these interviews have been condensed for clarity.

How and why did you get involved in the airline business?

"I have a friend who had been working in the aviation agency and I'd heard really good things about it, so I went to the website and applied. I work at the ticket counter, with the baggage handling, and boarding of flights, those are just a couple of things that I do." -Shanyn, 27, guest services agent at Austin airport

"I have a parent who works for the airline and it wasn't ever something that I wanted to do per se, I have my degree in writing and communications. I was just doing the job search that every new grad does and wasn't really coming across anything I was that interested in. My mom let me know that [the airline] was hiring for the first time since 9/11, and at the time I kind of said, 'I don't know if that's what I want to do ... I need to use my degree.' She told me to apply, so I did and kind of forgot about it. Then they called me and interviewed me and within two weeks, I was in Dallas ... My apartment is in Dallas and that's kind of where I start and end every trip. This month, I do three days on and three days off, so I do a trip for three days and then I come home for three days.

A lot of flight attendants say that once you get it in your blood, it's hard to let it go, which is so true because being a flight attendant is a lifestyle, which I've come to realize after being there for two years. You're just so used to always being on the go and seeing new places all the time. It's just been in me since I was young, seeing my parents in it. The benefits are just so great that it's hard to leave, but I think one day I'll probably crave something that's a little more normal ... but right now I'm content with what I'm doing and just being able to go wherever I want anytime is pretty nice." -Kasondra, 24, flight attendant for a major airline

"At the time I was working at Hooters for 8 years and I had graduated from UCLA with a masters degree in Business Management. [W]ith no job options available, I looked for something that grabbed my heart. My best friend Melissa had been a flight attendant for Delta for about a year and she got me on the in. I attended the flight attendant academy in Atlanta, from there I got a job through LAX. I've been a flight attendant for 3+ years now. It's a career I love and respect. I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. I make good money, I'm happy, and it keeps me motivated everyday." - Rachel, Delta flight employee

"I actually first applied to another airline back in February 2014. I went through the entire interview process and got down to the top 10 or 15 people out of a few hundred people, and ended up not getting the job. One of the other applicants, however, said another airline was hiring. I'd never really heard of this airline because it's not that big where I grew up. She pushed me to apply, so I did. I ended up getting a job offer in April and started training in May ... You basically go through every possible scenario that could happen on a plane [in training]." -Anonymous Flight Attendant, 25

What are passengers/travelers like?

"From day one, it's always been great. I have not had an issue with a guest, and we prefer to call them guests because that's what they are. It sounds crazy to say and to hear from an airport employee, but I have a really great time with our guests. I had my preconceptions about [airport life] before when I worked in the hotel business, and I used to tell myself I would never work in an airport because I was afraid of what customer service exchanges would be like, but it's completely different. I really love my job. I know it sounds crazy, but I really love it." -Shanyn

"In the summertime, you get a lot of summer travelers, a lot of people who aren't used to traveling a lot, so you tend to come to a lot of tendencies and behaviors that make you think to yourself, 'What is going on?' They don't travel enough, so they don't know a lot of the rules ... For the most part, people are pretty nice but you do have some days where weather happens or there's a delay and you come across people who are so inconsiderate, name-calling, but for the most part people are pretty good. I think the biggest thing is just behaviors in public that people think are acceptable that really aren't, like people clipping their nails or just doing really weird things that you wouldn't normally do in public. You get people clipping their toenails or just going into the lavatories barefoot. It's very gross in the lavatories. The floor is wet and it's not water. I've had people pee on an exit door.

"When you're on an airplane all the time, you kind of know acceptable etiquette, but when you're not and you don't travel, I think you don't realize the things you are doing [are weird] ... I think a lot of people who don't fly very often think 'You know, I paid $400 for this ticket, so I should be getting so much with my seat.' So people tend to expect this drink, and that for free, a blanket, a pillow, etc. There are no more peanuts because we deal with a lot of peanut allergies, you just have so many more things to worry about now that a lot of times airlines have just done away with the free peanuts and nuts and all that stuff. Air travel isn't what it used to be. I've grown up with it, so I've seen the [changes], but now it's like we don't have blankets and pillows and all of those things because more and more people are able to travel and so you kind of have to get from A to B in the quickest and cheapest way possible. People want to keep it fair, but they want the best service, so people have to realize you can't necessarily have everything, especially when the airline is so huge and they have thousands of flights a day. Not everything is going to go accordingly. It takes the flight attendants, the mechanics, the cleaners, the pilots, the caterers, and the gate agents all to just make one flight happen. I think a lot of people who don't see the behind the scenes work don't know that's going on." -Kasondra

"For the most part the passengers I tend to are honest, respectful ... and considerate ... I get complimented all the time not to toot my own horn. I live by the motto of the energy you put into this world is what you take out of it, I put nothing but positive respectful humble vibes into the world and seemingly it's what I get out of it. Sometimes you get the rude, disrespectful passengers but it's nothing I can't handle with a smile on my face until the end. I let them say what they need to say then try to accommodate them the best I can. Sometimes nerves can cause people to be stressed, which can cause uptight or edgy manners when the person may not really be like that, so it's something I take into consideration which keeps me calm and collected. The basic goal of every flight attendant is to make sure everyone on the flight is at ease and relaxed to make their trip as comfortable as possible even when things seem difficult." -Rachel

"You have happy and appreciative people who are thankful to be able to fly to wherever they're going, you get the really grumpy and irritable ones who are just like 'this whole thing sucks' because a lot of traveling now can be a pain. I also get a lot of commuters, businessmen who fly all the time, so it's just like getting in a car for them. I really appreciate those passengers because they know what they want, they're quick and to the point, and they like to make small talk because in a way it's like we're their cab driver ... I also love the kids, they're always so fun because it's a magical experience for them [to fly]. I have nervous flyers, so I have to talk people down sometimes because they're freaking out about everything. For the most part, I really like hanging out with them and meeting people from different places and seeing the lifestyles from all walks of life and cultures. I've met people all over the world and it's really cool to see where all these people come from and how life is outside my bubble." -Anonymous Flight Attendant

What has been your best experience on the job?

"The guests are the best part of the job because they are so much fun to talk to and interact with. I would probably say my favorite part about the different jobs I get switched around to is boarding. I really love to board the flights. It's a lot of fun to have a really fun interaction with [guests] on the way to the plane, whether it's 'Good morning' or 'Have a good flight.' When someone looks them in the eye and gives them a smile, I think it really makes their day and I feel good about that." -Shanyn

"[E]very time I'm in the air and get to help people stay relaxed and as happy as possible to keep the morale of the plane up. To be able to help someone brings a smile to my face. The best experience I've had flying was being a flight attendant for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Major League Soccer team on a flight from L.A. to New York for a game they had. The players are super respectful, honest, good people. It was really fun hearing stories during the flights while tending to them. I really enjoy those flights." -Rachel

"I think it was last month that I had a long Puerto Vallarta layover and the crew and I just got a lounge by the pool. And you know, we're getting paid for it, so things like that. Cancun, laying by the pool. And then the friends I've gained through the job [have been great]. They understand the lifestyle and we've gone on layovers together. You're with friends who are working but you get your hotel paid for, your flight paid for, your transportation paid for, so it's kind of like dealing with the hectic schedule but also getting the benefits of it." -Kasondra

​"I've had multiple flights where it didn't really seem like a day out of the ordinary, I was just kind of doing my job and talking to people, yet passengers walked out saying, 'That was the best flight I've ever had' or 'You just made that such a great experience.' It's the stuff that people say sometimes walking off the plane that make you think, 'Wow, that's awesome. It wasn't a day that was very different for me but I just completely made their day and changed their outlook on flying.' It's experiences like that that I love. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to and it blows their mind." -Anonymous Flight Attendant

What has been your worst experience on the job?

"My worst experiences have really been on me. When I started, I was really nervous because I was still still trying to learn when someone [may have been] standing in front of me for a couple of minutes. I know everybody is in a rush to get to the gate so they can board and get to where they need to go, so those moments were the least favorite of mine because I didn't want people to have to wait too long while I was still trying to learn the system. I wouldn't call these things the worst, it's just that they've not always been my favorite times. Cancelations are not fun though because it's always unfortunate to let people know that their flight has been canceled completely, and you know, everyone has a different reason for traveling, so sometimes it's a really serious event that they need to attend and it's really unfortunate that we have to tell them that they can't get there in time." -Shanyn

"I don't think people realize how lonely of a job being a flight attendant is because I probably talk to around 300 people a day at least, then you go to your hotel by yourself and you eat meals by yourself and it gets pretty lonely, so it is kind of hard ... but after two years you kind of get used to it. Once you get seniority in the company, you're able to bid weekends off, so when I get weekends off, it's really not that hard to see my friends, but the first year, I would say it was really tough to get used to the schedule.

"I think one of the worst experiences I had was on Super Bowl Sunday. I was on call and there was a big blizzard in Chicago. The departure was at 2:30 p.m. and we didn't land until 12:30 a.m., so we were on that airplane for over 10 hours and it was only supposed to be a two and a half hour flight. As a passenger, I would be completely upset to be on this small plane with all those people. We didn't have a meal or anything for that long, but as a flight attendant, there's nothing I can do because of the weather. You get people who say 'I understand it's not your fault,' but for the most part people get pretty upset at me when it's just the weather, you know? I totally get it, a lot of times people just want a punching bag, but there are some days when you can only take so much of people saying things like 'This is the worst airline in the world' to you. I've come across passengers going to the Mayo Clinic because they've been diagnosed with cancer. You come across passengers who are going through so much, it kind of puts things into perspective, but sometimes you realize why a lot of flight attendants who have been in the industry for 30 years have become really bitter and apathetic because you deal with over 300 people on a daily basis, and air travel isn't what it used to be and it's not a comfortable thing anymore unless you fly first class, and I totally get that." -Kasondra

"I really haven't had a 'worst' experience because I try to find reason and optimism in everything and it helps me keep things from being at their worst." -Rachel

"There was a first class passenger who was a Medallion member, basically he was one of the high flying customers who flew all the time for work. He comes in, and I don't know if he had been drinking or not, but he was very irritable and hard to understand. I guess people had their own drinks they'd bought on the concourse, and he asked me why they were able to have drinks. I couldn't understand what he was asking, but long story short, he was wondering why he wasn't getting his drink on the ground and I told him that we were still being catered and couldn't do a beverage service until after. So it kind of escalated after boarding and he got really angry. He was probably drinking for most of the flight, and at one point, he walked into the galley where me and three other girls were. He kept telling the flight leader that we weren't doing our jobs, that he was mad about not getting drinks on the ground, and he was just being a complete jerk the entire flight. He ended up writing a complaint to the company saying that with the exception of the flight leader, the other girls and I should be fired and were a waste of time for the company. It was really upsetting and discouraging because we were doing jobs the whole time and he was just basically upset that he didn't get his drink during pre-departure. It sucked because I'd had such a good trip, was super stoked about the 10K race I'd just done during my layover, and on my last flight of the trip, this guy was being horrible and so mean, so rude.

"Sometimes I think the airlines teach people to be babies because they'll compensate passengers for things I don't necessarily think they should be compensated for. For example, if they have a complaint about a flight attendant, regardless of what happened, the airline will reward them with miles or something, so it's almost like they're rewarding people for bad behavior sometimes." -Anonymous Flight Attendant

What is the one thing you want passengers and travelers to know about your job?

"[T]he tone we set as flight attendants dictates the tone of the whole flight. We are leaders so to speak and the attitude we present ourselves with usually determines if the flight is relaxed and fun, or uptight and edgy. My flights, I can honestly say, have never been on edge... For the most part all of us try to keep a smile on our faces and to serve everyone with respect and honesty to the best of our abilities." -Rachel

"Our job is not just serving drinks. There's a lot that goes on behind it. My ultimate duty is to provide a safe experience. If something goes wrong, it's me there that's going to get passengers from A to B safely. Sometimes I think passengers get caught up with, you know, problems with the baggage, the drinks, delays, stuff like that. At the end of the day, the number one reason we're all there --- pilots, flight attendants, gate agents --- is for safety. People forget that, and it's really frustrating sometimes when people come on just bitching, moaning, and complaining over whatever is going on. Yes, it may be unfortunate but it's not why we're there. When people have delays that they're pissed off about, we're delayed too. We're sitting in the airport for five hours on a mechanical delay just like the passengers are. We have to go through all of this too, and you just have to roll with the punches.

"People will say it's amazing that we go to all these different places. Yeah that's really awesome, but these days are exhausting. Going up and down between zero and 37,000 feet over and over takes a huge toll on your body. It's a lot for your body to get used to that and do it over and over again. By the time I get to my hotel sometimes at night, I am so exhausted and half asleep before my head hits the pillow. It's very rewarding, but it takes a huge toll on your body. Sometimes it makes your personal relationships suffer too. It sucks and gets lonely, but that's the life I chose ... It's not something I can do full-time for the rest of my career because it is very exhausting and it can wear thin and wear out ... I don't want to become that senior, bitter old flight attendant who has been doing this for too long and just hates the world. I know a lot of flight attendants who have been flying for 20, 30 plus years who are way beyond that and need to retire because they hate everybody." -Anonymous Flight Attendant

"We really are there to help [guests] for anything they may need. I know sometimes they may be reluctant to ask us a question or they think that they might bother us, but that's our job and we really don't mind it." -Shanyn

"I think a lot of people get upset with us when we ask them to put their tray tables up, their bags underneath their seat, or their seats in the upright position [before landing]. That's just what we have to enforce because of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and it's not something we want to do to assert power. It's something we have to say, and if we don't say it, we get fined by the FAA personally for thousands of dollars. I guess I would just ask passengers to be understanding of that. We're just following rules that we have to enforce.

"A few days ago, I was on the cart and trying to talk to some people to offer them a drink. Two or three times I asked them if they wanted something, and they were so glued to their iPads and headphones that they didn't even see me talking to them and ignored me. At that point, I just kind of moved on. I wasn't going to shake them or anything to get their attention, they weren't paying attention to me. Then they rang their call light and had a ruckus that we skipped them. It's very frustrating when we have 150 people to serve a drink to and then you come across people who are so glued to their electronics that they don't even notice someone is talking to them. Hardly anyone pays attention to the safety demo. If I sat there and policed everyone, it would just be too much, so at that point, it's like, put your own safety at risk. I just think sometimes it's really rude to do that when someone is talking to you, or you're briefing the exit row about safety and someone is talking on the phone. You wouldn't do that in a business meeting or when talking to a friend ... You're an adult and I'm not going to sit there and embarrass you, but people ignoring us is a daily thing and that makes you feel really small sometimes. My first year, I learned not to take things so personally, and I think [that goes for] any customer service job." -Kasondra