- Flight attendants tend to know more about flying than the average passenger.
- To unearth their secrets, we turned to the experts and asked them what most people don’t know about flying.
- Among the secrets were that you can’t actually open the plane door mid-flight (though some have tried) and that many flight attendants avoid drinking the coffee.
No one has more insider knowledge about flying than flight attendants.
By talking to these veteran globetrotters, we unearthed 11 secrets about flying.
Whether you want more attentive service or want to avoid getting kicked off your flight, read on for the inside scoop.
You can’t physically open a door mid-flight — and trying could get you kicked off the plane.
Annette Long, a flight attendant with 17 years of experience, told Business Insider that though opening a door mid-flight is impossible, trying to do so would still get you into trouble.
As we’ve seen in previous incidents, passengers who try to make a jump for it while the plane is in the air usually wind up restrained during the flight and in handcuffs once the plane lands.
In some cases, pilots will make an emergency landing to get the passenger off the flight.
“I don’t make those decisions,” Long said. “I convey the information to the cockpit and the chief flight attendant, and they make the decision about whether or not we’re going to land and get someone off the plane.
Long added: “Most of the pilots say to us, ‘If you’ve got a problem with them, I’ve got a problem with them,’ and they will back us up 100%.”
The plane isn’t getting cleaned as much as you’d hope.
“The dirtiest part of the plane has to be the tray tables – people constantly lay their heads on them, change babies’ diapers, and rest their feet on them,” a flight attendant for JetBlue told Business Insider. “I wouldn’t eat off of that even after sanitizing it.”
What’s more, Long said, “remember, they’re using a rag to start row one, and when they end up in row 35, that rag has wiped a lot of tables.”
Passengers rarely see or consider unsanitary incidents on the plane, like accidents in the lavatory or a passenger’s seat.
“Just so you know, when you go to the bathroom and you’re barefoot, or you’re in your socks, that’s not water on the floor,” Long said, adding, “It’s just not the cleanest environment.”
Flight attendants aren’t really supposed to help you lift your bags.
Flight attendants have told Business Insider that they get paid only for flight hours, not for time spent boarding or deplaning.
“So for example, your duty day could actually be 12 hours, but you only get paid for six hours of work,” one flight attendant said.
Flight attendants’ unions won’t cover them if they get injured trying to lift your bags into the overhead bin. And since being out of work and out of money is no fun for anybody, you shouldn’t expect flight attendants to take that risk for you.
You may want to avoid the plane water.
In response to the Quora question “What are the weirdest things flight attendants have seen in their line of duty?” Heather Wilde, a former flight attendant, said that among the strangest were people who made soup using the airline water.
“Guys, the water lines haven’t ever been cleaned – ever,” she said.
Another flight attendant told Business Insider: “Flight attendants will not drink hot water on the plane. They will not drink plain coffee, and they will not drink plain tea.”
“I bring my own,” one flight attendant with four years of experience told Business Insider. “Plane water isn’t the best.”
“Bottled water only,” said a flight attendant with 40 years of experience.
Of course, not everyone avoids the water. Robert “Bingo” Bingochea, a flight attendant with United Airlines, readily drinks the coffee and told Business Insider he trusted the water’s cleanliness.
Riley, a flight attendant for three years, told Business Insider that all the drinking water was bottled.
“As for the coffee and tea, it does get very hot, and I like to think that kills all the germs,” she said.
Another flight attendant said that whether or not he drinks the water depends on the time of year.
“During the winter, I’ll drink tea, because the water tanks are so cold that there’s less bacteria buildup and the water comes out so hot that it kills most germs,” the flight attendant said. “But during the summer and warmer months, I’ll bring my own tea from home.”
Flight attendants need you to keep the shades open.
“According to my training, the emergency-exit shades have to be up because flight attendants are required to assess the conditions outside before they open the door,” Long said. “If there’s fire, deep water, or rocks outside that exit, that would make it unsafe for us to go through there, and the flight attendant would have to make that determination fairly quickly.”
If you’re flying on a major airline from one of its hubs, you’ll never be delayed because the flight attendant didn’t show up.
During preflight check-in, flight attendants let the airline staff know they’re there and ready to go.
“They cover their bases because the plane has to be out,” Bingochea said. “You can’t be late. You can’t be looking for coffee. You have to be there on time.”
If the flight is out of one of the airline’s hubs, it will usually have flight attendants on standby as “ready reserves” to will step in if others don’t show up for their shifts on time.
The ready reserves usually hang out in the crew lounge while they wait to see whether they’re called for duty. Other local flight attendants on reserve may stay at their homes.
You’re not allowed to BYOB.
“Some people will go to the local liquor store and bring their mini bottles of booze on the plane,” Long said. “We always know who you are. We always find it.”
“You can’t serve yourself,” she said. “We need to know how much you’ve had to drink so we’re not overserving you, because the higher you fly and the longer you go, the more the alcohol affects your brain.”
You might have to sit near a dead person on your flight.
No one ever officially dies on a flight, Long said.
“We don’t pronounce them,” she said. That would happen once the plane lands.
“When a medical situation happens in the air, the flight attendants are not allowed to call time of death, so we have to continue doing everything we can to keep someone alive, even if they are already gone,” a JetBlue flight attendant told Business Insider.
Long said that, though thankfully she’s never been in the situation, if a passenger were to die mid-flight, she would most likely keep them in their seat.
“I would probably put a blanket over the person so it would become less of something to look at,” she said. “You want to maintain dignity and respect for someone who passed away. You don’t want anyone staring at them. That would be really sad.”
It turns out there is no one-size-fits-all rule about what to do with a dead passenger. According to Quartz, the International Air Transport Association, which represents most of the world’s airlines, advises flight crew members to move the body to a seat with few passengers nearby.
If this isn’t possible, the crew members might place the body in the galley or first class – or, in the rare event a plane has one, a compartment referred to as the “corpse cupboard.”
If no other seats are available, the body would most likely be left in the seat.
Using the bathroom before takeoff could delay the flight.
When a passenger gets up to use the bathroom, flight attendants must alert the flight deck, Bingochea says.
Legally, pilots cannot take off when passengers are in the bathroom.
“Once the aircraft starts moving, there’s always the fear of someone falling down, and we’re in that position of liability if we don’t let the captain know,” Bingochea said.
Once the passenger exits the bathroom, flight attendants can give the flight deck the all clear to start moving.
Flight attendants know a lot about each passenger — and that’s a good thing.
United flight attendants have a great deal of information for and about passengers right at their fingertips, Bingochea said.
If passengers want to upgrade to “economy plus” during boarding, for example, a flight attendant can do that for them using a proprietary app called Link on their handheld device.
They can also use the Link app to check passengers’ reservations, including whether they have a connecting flight they need to make, as well as their flier status. Bingochea also uses the app for food-and-drink sales.
If something does go wrong, Bingochea said, flight attendants are empowered with resolution options, from offering a free drink or meal to updating fliers and giving them more points.
“We can’t fix everything, but at least we can try to give it a chance and try to make things acceptable,” he said.
Service is usually better at the back of the plane.
Annie Kingston, a flight attendant for four years, wrote for Oyster:
“While most passengers tend to choose seats that are at the front of the aircraft, so that they can disembark first and have a better chance of securing their preferred meal option, flight attendants know that if you’re sitting towards the back, you’ll receive the most attentive service.
“The reason is simple: We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way. This can cause a problem since planes often don’t have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes, or the time on shorter flights to deviate from the service schedule.
“For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it’s much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine.”
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