How to Make a Flight Attendant Love You

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

My first job was in an ice cream parlor. I worked at Gap for a while and folded more jeans than I'd ever care to for the rest of my life. I worked at a Starbucks in an affluent neighborhood where people asked for two-thirds decaf triple venti sugar-free-vanilla half-breve half-whole milk 1 splenda no-foam extra hot lattes. I eventually transferred to a store with a drive-thru, and then transitioned into a couple of office jobs answering a million phone calls before landing this AIR WAITRESS job.

All of that to say, I know customer service and I know how hard it can be. It's made me sensitive to how I treat the people that serve me. It really matters to let them know you appreciate what they do. I've experienced the broad spectrum of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to customers.

I've had this opportunity for two years now to welcome people onto an airplane, and lift their spirits. I want them to feel safe, and to know that if anything should happen that I would do everything in my power to get them off the plane. At any given moment we have to be rule followers, nurses, therapists, trash collectors, waitresses, hostesses, and airplane evacuators. I'm happy to do it, because I love people and I want it to be a positive experience.


I will be the first to agree that there are plenty of flight attendants that are militant trolls. They are a rare breed. WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE THAT. Please, let me be the bridge between passengers and flight attendants. I AM TRYING TO BE THE BRIDGE.

Sometimes we'll fly up to four flights in a day. We don't get off the plane. Sometimes the day seems to be coming to a close, but crew scheduling re-routes the crew at the last minute and adds another flight to the day (that just happened to me yesterday). We don't get paid until the boarding door is closed, and ANY flight attendant would tell you that the worst part of the whole flight is boarding.

Since I really can't remember what type of passenger I was, I started thinking about the passengers that make my day. I thought it would be fun to ask some of my other friends/co-workers what made their day better.


DO THESE THINGS, AND YOU MIGHT GET A FREE DRINK.

Without further ado, here's what my co-workers want everyone to know about the passengers they LOVE.

+ COURTESY. The first things my friends told me was how much it meant to them when someone said hello and asked how they were doing. Make eye contact. Take your headphones out and engage with them when they are serving or helping you.

+ OVERHEAD BIN ETIQUETTE. If you can't lift your bag over your head and stow it, check it to your final destination. Flight attendants are not responsible for lifting anyone's bag. That's not something we made up, it's what we're taught in training. Even twisting a bag in the wrong way can wreak havoc on the body. It's aaaactually not in our job description. One of my friends moved someone's bag and then was out on OJI for three months because it did so much damage to her neck. Put your coat on top of your own suitcase, or hold onto it until the end of boarding and ask for one of us to stow it for you. Another passenger boarding after you might not have space for their own bag because the bins look full.

+ HYGIENE. PLEASE DO NOT CLIP YOUR TOENAILS ON THE PLANE, hide a slice of cheese in the safety information card, go into the lavatory barefoot, or take out your teeth and put them on your seat while you leave and go to the bathroom. (All of those things have actually happened). I'm tempted to add that I'd love to not have to walk through people's silently lethal farts, but I understand that beggars can't be choosers.

+ ANNOUNCEMENTS. Listen to them. I know it's hard, because there is a lot going on. I totally get that. They do exist for a reason, though. You'll find out how long the flight is, when you need to turn off your electronics, and other helpful info that ensures a timely departure. I think this is one of the most frustrating for me. It's hard to say the same thing over and over and over and people still completely ignore you.

+ JUST TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. You're right, your iPhone is not going to make the plane crash. We know your iPhone is not going to make the plane crash. I am sure there is much evidence to prove that. I just know that the FAA still considers it a rule and I can be personally fined if I don't say it.  I truly don't care if you want to hide it from me, I just ask that you have the decency to not think me a complete idiot when I walk by and you say it's off while you're playing Temple Run.

THE HOLY GRAIL OF KINDNESS TO A FLIGHT ATTENDANT: If you're finished with a magazine, hand it to her as she walks through collecting trash and say, "I thought you might like this." Seriously, you'll get so many cookies and extra beverages if you do it. TRY IT. Sometimes when I am on the cart and I see someone with a Real Simple, I will look at their seat number and go back and check afterward to see if someone left it. (And by Real Simple I obviously meant People). Recently on a flight from LAX to JFK, I was talking to a woman in first class about the book she was reading, because I've curiously picked it up several times in the book store (this one). She said she loved it, and recommended it. Later in the flight, as she was walking to the restroom and passing me in the galley, she handed it to me and said, "Here, I think you'll enjoy this. I just finished it and you can have it." I was speechless. I almost cried because it was so kind. I thanked her every time I walked by her seat and I am sure she probably regretted it because I acted like I won a pageant or something.

+ BRING TREATS. A few times when I've been working on Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year's OR JUST BECAUSE, I've had passengers bring us chocolates or candies. They say, "thank you for taking care of us" and then I almost pass out from the kindness. Can you imagine if we were thoughtful to each other like this on a regular basis? I hope one day I can teach my kids the importance of being brave enough to notice people well.


All sassiness aside, I don't think these suggestions apply only to flight attendants. It's easy to say, "That's their job to do those things," but I love the idea that I could help a person feel a bit lighter on their feet because I helped make their job easier. Even if it was only for a moment.

Please know that if I ever had you as my passenger, I'd be glad to see you and help you in whatever way I am able. I know traveling isn't easy anymore. I know it's hard to go anywhere now and not be a little bit frightened and untrusting of people. If you're not feeling well, I want you to know that I care and I'll get you some ginger ale and pretzels. I want you to know that if you're afraid of turbulence, I will comfort you the best I can -- even though I am sick and I love turbulence. It's my job to make you feel welcome.


What are some ways you've been blessed by customers at your job?

27 comments:

  1. I don't care what you or science says... I do actually believe that my cell phone will make the plane crash. I've believed this too long to go changing things up now! ; ) Do I understand how this works? No. But I will not have someone crash my plane just so they can slaughter some innocently angry birds.

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    1. AMEN.

      WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO TRY AND FIND OUT IF IT'S TRUE?

      I unfortunately did not include all of the awesomely horrible tricks flight attendants know to be effective in getting people to turn off their phones.

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    2. Oh, please tell us the awesomely horrible tricks.

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  2. While I've never been a flight attendant, obviously, I have worked in customer service, and YES.
    Smile to the cashier/waitress/person helping you. Appreciate when they awkwardly laugh at your not-really-funny small talk jokes. Say thank you. Treat people like you want to be treated, duh!

    I've never thought about giving a magazine/book. When I finish one on a flight I always take it with me, because I want to sternum-punch people who leave their trash all crammed in the seatback pocket. So I make sure to take all of mine with me, then I recycle my magazine/donate my book later. I will keep this flight attendants-need-reads-too idea in mind, though!


    Can I have ginger ale even if I'm not feeling sick? I just like it :)

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    1. The awkward jokes! Like the, "Is there anything else I can help you with?" and someone ALWAYS SAYS, "Sure, do you have the winning lottery numbers?" Without fail.

      Girl, I don't understand what ginger ale does to people on the airplane. It's like everyone thinks it is the sweetest nectar of the world. I can't disagree - I never drink it in real life, but on the plane I think it's scrumptious.

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  3. I am flying next month and I will try out these techniques! I like to think that I'm a pretty good passenger. I've stopped asking for Diet Coke when I read that it was the worst beverage for the elevation, so basically I'm the best, right?
    I do love flying though and have had so many lovely experiences with wonderful flight attendants, especially the man that sang Christmas carols to the passengers over the announcement system.
    I just hope that one day I'm on one of your flights!

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    1. I know you're a great passenger. Diet coke doesn't annoy me as much as it slows me down, but being a lover of the DC I think it goes flat really quickly at a high altitude. I don't even know if that makes sense, but I know that nothing ever beats Diet Coke from the fountain. OR A COKE FREESTYLE MACHINE.

      If I had to guess, was the man caroling a flight attendant for Southwest? They get to have all the fun ;)

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  4. I had a patients mother bring me a Mary Kay satin hands set and proceed to give me a short demonstration/hand massage after her grandbaby was born. It was a little forward and invasive of my personal space but the thought/gesture was very thoughtful. I just like it when I get a sincere thank you and a hug. Love that!!

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    1. Just from talking to Camille about nursing school I can't imagine what interaction you guys have with people since everything is high-intensity in hospitals. I am sure I would have been taken aback by the hand massage but OH MY GOSH I LOVE ANY KIND OF MASSAGE. In a perfect world, you and my sister would be there when I had a baby. Is that allowed? Can I request that?

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  5. Oh, I love these ideas! I will definitely try to bring enough treats to share next time I travel. Now, you've got me thinking about how I can treat other people I interact with throughout my day.

    Sidenote: I have recently (since last fall) had this grody teeth removal procedure as part of my life. However, I would not even imagine leaving them out and about to horrify others. I would die. I usually try to slip mine out into a napkin, put it in my pocket and try to act like I don't have numb, old-lady lip going on. This is my life. You can read more about it on my blog, because, let's be honest, it can be pretty entertaining. What else can you do, but laugh when you sneeze and your teeth fall out in public?

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    1. I was reading about your soup fiasco. HOW MANY TEETH ARE GONE? I am fascinated and enamored by dentistry. And "numb, old-lady lip" is my new favorite saying. Also, my greatest concern for the man was HOW DISGUSTING THE AIRPLANE SEATS ARE AND HE JUST PUT THEM ON THE SEAT WITHOUT A NAPKIN OR ANYTHING. In his defense, something in his brain was a little off. That is an entirely different story, though.

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  6. Keeping for future reference. Do you have tips for traveling with littles? My daughter was teeny tiny when we flew last, so I know we weren't an imposition, but I get nervous when I think about flying with her now. I hate being the pain in the ass with the baby/toddler.

    I work in a cookie factory and I've had suppliers bring me bags of sugar or samples of spices, simply because I mentioned that I like to bake. One supplier even promised me a whole roll of brown craft paper (swoon!) because I always remember his name. It's the little things that count, I think.

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    1. Hey girl I wrote a couple posts a while back about flying with babies (click on the travel tips label on the right side). I definitely think I should condense it and write something more thorough since I learn new tricks every so often. Please email me if you have more specific questions! Just know that if you need to get up and move, IT'S OKAY. And if people are rude to you, you never have to see them ever again ;) But really, email me if you think of anything I didn't address.

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  7. you know what I hate? people who put things like their jackets or small bags in the overhead bin. NO. JUST NO. you are explicitly informed to stick your purses and whatever else under the seat! save the big space for the big bags! it's really not that complicated. and it'll keep ornery passengers like me from wanting to scratch your eyeballs out!

    I think it takes a special kind of person to work as a flight attendant, and I am definitely not that special kind of person. so kudos to you for being able to put with obnoxious people and their horrible habits. also, I hope you enjoyed Beautiful Ruins! I thought it was fantastic.

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    1. That made me laugh because I never realized it annoyed other passengers, too! WITHOUT FAIL someone will fill up an overhead bin with five giant parkas and then shove their fanny pack into the overhead bin. I just want to say, "ARE YOU JOKING." But instead, I will take them out and ask them politely to hold onto them until the end. And then they give me a dirty look or roll their eyes at me. OY.

      I haven't started Beautiful Ruins yet but I am really excited about it! I know you're not supposed to judge a book by the cover, but the cover is so pretty!

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  8. One of my patients (who knew I had a young daughter) bought this really fun glowing snowman for her for Christmas and even a little stocking! It was so sweet and so cute. I was heartbroken when I no longer was privileged to see her anymore!

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    1. That is so thoughtful! Admittedly, I think it always catches me off-guard because I would like to be more of a person that plans out blessings like that for a person. Does that make sense? Sometimes I am thinking so much of myself I forget that I have the opportunity to do something thoughtful for someone else.

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  9. I love your line about being brave enough to notice people well. I worked for years as a medical receptionist - a job where you expect 90% of people to be at their rock bottom worst (I suspect there are great similarities to your work!). It always made my day when people looked you in the eye and said something as simple as 'thank you,' or gave me a knowing smile when somebody else was being difficult, or took the time to learn my name. The occasional gifts were lovely, but it was the day to day kindness that touched me. I try to always do the same when I'm at the other end, but I'll have to remember the tip about the magazines and books!

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    1. That's so true! The part where you said someone would look at you knowingly when another person was being difficult -- that always makes me feel better for some reason. Mostly because I don't know if the person is just being rude and ridiculous and I am just being too sensitive, or if really, they're just being buttheads. And then other passengers are like, "nope, that guy is just a butthead."

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  10. These are great tips! I am that one flier that does watch you do your seatbelt and oxygen mask demo. I also am sure to take the information card in my seatback pocket and identify my closest exit (and yes, it most often is behind me). And I mostly do it solely because I do get the feeling you'd appreciate at least one person who gives some inkling of a shit about your required presentation, even though we all know how to work the seatbelt.

    Also, can throw in the note to say THANK YOU to the crew--including the pilot-- as you deplane? I always make it a point to say that, you know, because, flying aircraft is kind of a big deal, so thanks for making sure we made it up and down without any incident. I am always appalled at how many people walk off the plane without even looking at the pilot or attendant standing there.

    Noted about actually giving the reading material to the attendants. I always leave them in the seat back pocket hoping another passenger may read it.



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    1. Good point! I should have included that -- most people do a pretty good job of thanking the pilots (and for good reason).

      In full disclosure I almost like it better when people ignore me during the safety demo, because even if I've done it a million times I still always feel silly doing it ;)

      After the flights I go digging through the seats for magazines because it feels like a treasure hunt to me.

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  11. I've always learned that kindness and a big smile get you far. Loved the tip about giving the mag to the flight attendant. Never thought of that.

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    1. It's true. It's the simplest and easiest way to acknowledge someone!

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  12. Hi, Fran! I discovered your blog through betsytransatlantically on Instagram. I am really enjoying your posts and sense of humor - love the way you write! I am in London for a year studying for my master's, and during the past few months of travel I've come to appreciate the work that airline personnel do more than ever before!

    I love reading about your adventures, and I look forward to future posts!

    Blessings,
    Charlotte

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  13. The magazine thing! I never would have thought of that. Also, SOMEONE CLIPPED THEIR TOENAILS ON A FLIGHT?? That is the grossest thing ever. And treats... aren't you scared that someone is going to poison you? I'd totally bring treats but I'd be scared that the second I turned around, they'd throw them in the trash.

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  14. Never ever has it occurred to me to pass my magazine or book to a flight attendant. But, I often think if the next person who sits in my seat would be interested in them. Why have I not thought of my flight attendants?

    Also, people should be banned from all bath and body works products on flights, just saying.

    Finally, on long flights we always try to teach Behr the nicest flight attendant's name so he can thank them, BY NAME, on our way off the plane. We hope it makes up for any terrorizing that might have happened in flight (although he is a super star traveler).

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  15. I know this post was forever ago, but tell me how to love turbulence! I always freak out (mostly on the inside-ha) and my husband always laughs at me or is too busy sleeping to notice :) We have a little guy now and I'd rather he not pick up on my nervous-flier vibes

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