Confessions of...A Flight Attendant

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"Basically, You Never Want to Push the Call Button"

Our anonymous confessor has been a flight attendant for the past three years.

Smiling is job one

Airlines put would-be flight attendants through four or five interviews before hiring them. The interviewers specifically look to hire people who are sweet and smile as much as possible--and what better testing ground for that than a few rounds of job interviews? After getting hired, I attended five weeks of flight training. It was during the course that I found out a certain amount of makeup is required of female flight attendants, as are high heels when you're in uniform outside the plane. (Flats are recommended on flights.) But no rule is as important as nodding your head, addressing passengers as "sir" and "ma'am," and smiling.

Block time

Passengers always take out their frustrations about delays on the crew, claiming we must be thrilled to receive overtime pay. But 99 percent of flight attendants are paid only for "block time"--from when a plane pushes back from the gate until it opens its doors at the arrival city. When there are delays, flight attendants can work a 13-hour day yet receive only seven hours' pay.

Want a stiff drink?

Tipping is not encouraged by the airlines, but greatly appreciated by the staff. The key is insisting that we take the money; we're not allowed to accept it on the first attempt. I make doubly sure to attend to the needs of anyone who has tipped me, sometimes throwing in a free round--and the drinks are always strong. Another way to the crew's heart is to give them snacks. Day in, day out, we stare at the same dull airline food. So we're overjoyed when a passenger treats us with fancy chocolates or even packaged trail mix. Simply wait until boarding is complete, hand the gift to a flight attendant, and say, "This is a little something for your crew."

Pet peeves

If it's a short flight, please use the airport's restrooms before boarding. On many short flights, we're required to do the full beverage and snack service, which is incredibly difficult when there are people in the aisle. Other ways to get under a flight attendant's skin: asking for beverages and food before we even take off; requesting seconds before the rest of the cabin has been served; ringing the call button so you can give us your trash after we've passed through with a garbage bag half a dozen times; ringing the call button to find out when we'll land. Basically, you never want to push the call button at all.

First-class perks

Our business-class passengers receive unlimited free cocktails and snacks. But management actually discourages flight attendants from offering these passengers our "expensive" snacks. When taking an order in business class, we're supposed to mention only the items that sell in coach for $2. We give the stuff that goes for $4 or $5 strictly on request. So if you're in business class, open up the airline magazine and take a look at what's offered onboard. If you ask for something you see, your flight attendant has to hand it over.

Happy hour, any hour

If you want to meet flight attendants outside the work environment, it's as simple as going to the bar of the hotel nearest the airport, where you'll find airline crews unwinding at any time of day. Sometimes we party with staff from another airline in someone's room, the hotel lounge, or poolside. Snacks and cocktails are always provided by the airline (wink, wink).

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