Over the years, Budget Travel editors have spoken to plenty of chatty flight attendants—on condition of anonymity—to deliver the 411 on how to enjoy the comfiest, safest, and most delicious flight, not to mention getting extra help when you really need it. (Hint: The “call button” is not your friend.)
CALL BUTTONS: THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO SAY "HATE ME"
What's your biggest job-related peeve? The kind of customer or co-worker behavior that just sends you up the wall no matter how well-meaning? For flight attendants, it's the "call button." You should basically never, ever, ever press it. I mean, like, ever. Some passengers regard the call button as their ticket to snacks and drinks before the rest of the cabin—no. Or a quick way to get rid of their trash while the flight attendants are still serving other passengers—no. Wondering when your plane will land? Or when those boxed lunches will be available for purchase? Your flight attendant passes by your seat about every 10 or 15 minutes (except in cases of serious turbulence), and you can wait your turn like everybody else.
YOU MAY MAKE MORE THAN YOUR FLIGHT ATTENDANT
The flight attendant business is dogged by several myths, the most pervasive being that they are rolling in dough and perks—and getting rich off overtime. Nothing could be further from the truth. Flight attendants are paid for the time spent in flight, and delays just mean that they may work, say, 12 hours for seven hours' pay. Median salaries for flight attendants are about $37,000, with starting salaries around $16,000.
TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP?
Airlines and the Association of Flight Attendants discourage tipping, so when you offer a tip it is very likely your flight attendant will turn you down. But if you offer a second time, or slip a few bills into his or her hand, it will usually be greatly appreciated—and may earn you a free snack or even an extra-stiff Bloody Mary (if you're into that kind of thing). When you receive truly extraordinary service, though, a letter or email to the airline praising the work of a specific flight attendant or crew is most appreciated and can sincerely help a flight attendant's career.
PARENTS: YOUR FLIGHT ATTENDANT IS NOT A DIAPER GENIE
New parents flying with infants are in an admittedly tough spot (my nine-month-old spilled orange juice all over me on our first cross-country flight together—but let's be honest, that was my fault). But just because you've heroically succeeded in changing a poopy diaper on your lap in the middle of an inflight movie amid turbulence at 30,000 feet doesn't make you Wolverine—and doesn't give you the right to hand the folded-up diaper to a flight attendant as if they can wave a wand and send it off to fairyland. Instead, travel with sturdy Ziploc bags that can hold not only Junior's expulsions but also orange rinds, apple cores, and granola bar wrappers until the crew is ready to make one of their frequent trash collection rounds.
NO, THERE IS NO "SECRET" TO GETTING AN OVERSIZE BAG INTO AN OVERHEAD BIN
We get that you don't want to pay $25 to check a bag both ways. But that means you've got to pack smart and, should you happen to sneak past the gatekeepers with a bag that's too big for the overhead bin, fess up and let them check it for you. Turning to an available flight attendant and asking, "What do you suggest I do with this bag?" is only opening up a conversation about what that overworked, underpaid flight attendant might wish you actually would do with that bag. (Tip: One of the best ways to avoid paying for checked bags is to sign up for a rewards credit card that allows you to check bags for free.)
Flight attendants go through careful screening during the hiring process, then comprehensive training before they start working with the public. For a good flight attendant, a smile and a friendly "sir" or "ma'am" is not just a good idea but also a job responsibility. For the best service possible, take a page from their playbook: Make eye contact, smile, address them the way you would a friend or neighbor, and you'll be amazed and how much more likely you are to get that extra blanket, cup of water, or sympathetic ear. (Sure, this precept should be obvious—but take a quick look around the plane to see how little it is observed among busy, cranky fliers!)
KEEP YOUR FEET OFF THE WALLS
Really, people? Ever invited a friend over for coffee only to have them prop their feet against your living room walls? We didn't think so. If you're in a bulkhead seat, keep your feet off the walls. It's not just a pet peeve of flight attendants and pilots (who may call you out in public over it), but it can also be extremely dangerous to you during turbulent takeoffs and landings.
THERE IS NEVER A GOOD REASON TO TIE YOUR CARRYON BAG TO YOUR LEG
This one's a bit of a mystery to most flight attendants, since it only increases the odds that you will trip and fall when you try to get up out of your seat—or in the rare occasion where an emergency evacuation is necessary. But everyone has considered it at one point or another—including yours truly. But this is easy: Your carryon belongs under the seat in front of you (not on your lap, not on the empty seat beside you, and not under anyone else's seat), and your feet belong on the floor, and no mingling of bag and feet is ever, ever, ever a good idea.
YOU CAN HAND OUT SNACKS TOO
Frequent fliers glance at the snack cart and wince at the same-old-same-old. Guess how flight attendants who spend seven or more hours a day onboard feel about those packaged "treats"? If you really want to make your flight attendant's day, board your flight with snacks not only for yourself and your loved ones but also for the crew! We always recommend that you travel with high-quality chocolate, not just because it's a nice surprise for airline staff at check-in and boarding, but also because it can really open up a flight crew to going the extra mile for you should you need it in the event of weather-related travel delays or cancellations.
SPECIAL OCCASION? SPREAD THE LOVE!
If you're flying on a honeymoon, anniversary, or other special occasion, flight attendants love to be looped in. They can help you make a little onboard fuss (the good kind!) and might even congratulate you over the PA system. If you're traveling with kids, it's basically always a special occasion, and the crew will do its best to accommodate a cockpit visit when the plane is on the ground. Just ask—but don't hit that call button!