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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

19 Things to Never Say to Flight Attendants

Flight attendants have seen it all and heard it all. Although there's not much that can surprise them, there's plenty that can annoy them.

These won’t fly

Yes, they’re there to serve you and make your flight easier. Yes, they’re professionally trained and highly experienced, and they’ve “heard it all” and “seen it all.” Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t give you the side-eye if you say or do something inappropriate or offensive. The pandemic has made things even more stressful for flight attendants, who can’t exactly practice social distancing while serving and keeping their passengers safe. Since flight attendants are taking a risk with their health every time they show up for work, it seems only fair to keep their feelings in mind when you fly, and that includes steering clear of these missteps.


“Can you help me get my bag up?”

If you can’t lift your own carry-on, then you really shouldn’t consider it a carry-on, says Candace Johnson, a flight attendant for American Airlines during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s not your flight attendant’s job to do your heavy lifting, and during the pandemic, asking your flight attendant to do so puts their health at risk. “Like you, flight attendants are trying to minimize transmission of COVID-19,” Johnson explains. “Each time they touch a surface, the risk of spreading the virus increases.” In other words, only carry aboard what you can safely and comfortably manage on your own so that you won’t find yourself asking your flight attendant to do something that unnecessarily puts their health in danger.

“Do I really have to wear my mask for the whole flight?”

Masks are a must for both flight attendants and passengers. The only exception is when you are eating or drinking. And wearing a mask means wearing it properly—over both your nose and your mouth. Sometimes a passenger will complain about how uncomfortable it is to wear a mask for the duration of the flight, and this really tweaks Bridget, a flight attendant who has been working throughout the pandemic and has asked that we use a pseudonym instead of her real name. “So many people are wearing masks for much longer,” she points out, and many of them are doing so while working and breathing hard. Then there was the time Bridget had a passenger walk up to her—without a mask and right up to within spitting distance—to complain about another passenger who was not wearing a mask. Don’t miss these other real-life examples of irony.

“Why can’t I change seats if the plane isn’t full?”

At various points during the pandemic, airlines have observed “seat blocking” protocols, leaving a vacant seat between passengers in order to observe social distancing. It’s unclear whether this practice will continue, but for as long as it does, you should not be moving around the plane and changing to a “better” seat, Bridget says. The seating has been carefully planned for social distancing and other purposes. If you change seats, you throw things out of whack.

And now that you know this, please do not ask a flight attendant for permission to change seats. The answer is going to be “no,” and every time you make contact with your flight attendant, you’re potentially exposing them—and yourself—to the coronavirus. Before your next flight, brush up on the other things you’re not going to be allowed to do on airplanes anymore, thanks to the pandemic.

“You don’t have COVID, do you?”

“You may think this is funny, but it isn’t,” Johnson points out. “Flight attendants, like all airline employees, are doing everything they can to reduce the spread of COVID-19.” That includes not working around other people if they have tested positive for the virus.Asking if your flight attendant has COVID implies a lack of professionalism. It’s insulting and disrespectful. So, please, just don’t.” Here are 22 things your flight attendant won’t tell you.

Any kind of joke about having or carrying the coronavirus

There are certain things you should never do at an airport or while engaging in air travel, in general. Add to that list any kind of joking around about having or carrying COVID-19, which can easily ground you if your flight hasn’t taken off. No one really knows if you’re kidding, least of all your flight attendants, and it’s part of their job now to take this matter seriously. If your flight is in progress when you make this crack, your plane might even be rerouted to the nearest safe airport so that the plane can land and you can be escorted off.

luggage on airplane shelf overhead passenger seatSurachet Jo/Shutterstock

“It fit on my last flight…”

“One of my favorites was the passengers who insisted that the oversized bags they were trying to stuff under a seat or into an overhead bin should be allowed on board as a carry-on because ‘it fit on my last flight,'” says Johnson. “No, it doesn’t because it didn’t. Now go check that bag and stop wasting our time.” The size of your carry-on bag is not the only thing your flight attendant first notices about you.

Don’t ask them to babysit

Flight attendants aren’t trained governesses, nannies, or even babysitters. And if they wanted to have any of those jobs, they wouldn’t be flight attendants, you can safely assume. Not only should you never ask a flight attendant to help you watch your kid(s), but they should never agree to do so.

“You should smile!”

A flight attendant’s job is to provide routine services to airplane passengers and to prepare and respond to flight-related emergencies. And while they may serve food and beverages on flights, the services are extremely limited, so they’re not “waitstaff” either. Nor are they there to entertain you. That’s why it can really make a flight attendant’s blood boil if you tell them to “smile,” Johnson says. “Would you go to anyone else’s job and tell them to smile?” FYI, flight attendants actually have to follow these 11 strange rules.

“Can you give me a massage?”

“I met a number of famous people while working, and most were polite and appreciative,” Johnson recalls, “but the grossest one I met was the CEO of a famous catalog company who was flying in first class and asked me for a foot massage after his dinner.” No. Just no.

“Funny name…”

“My nickname is Candie—that’s what my name tag read,” Johnson tells Reader’s Digest. Unfortunately, that seemed like an invitation to some passengers to make jokes (that were never funny to Johnson). “I lost track of how many male passengers told me, ‘Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.'” Johnson tended to plaster a smile on her face just to make the moment a little less awkward.

Lunch in a plane, transportation catering serviceAureliy/Shutterstock

“Isn’t there going to be a meal?”

“When I was flying in the ’70s and ’80s, passengers expected full meal services,” Johnson tells Reader’s Digest. “Over the years, the food-service model has changed drastically, with limited snacks available in coach for purchase on longer flights, and only beverage services on shorter flights and those during off-peak times.” With the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an even greater scaling back, she adds, with “airlines experimenting with various options to limit contact between flight attendants and passengers.” That’s just one of the ways travel may change forever after coronavirus.

In addition, flight attendants have no say in what food or beverages are served, or when the service begins and ends. Johnson advises keeping your thoughts on both of those things to yourself. All in all, your best bet is to either eat before you get on the plane or to board the plane with your own supply of food and beverages.


Flight attendants can be male or female, and that’s your first hint that the word stewardess is no longer appropriate in this day and age. Calling a flight attendant a stewardess is about as acceptable as lighting up a cigarette on a plane and about as desirable as getting decked out in your fanciest clothes for your flight. All of these are vestiges of the early days of aviation, and none belong in the present day. Check out these vintage photos of what flying used to be like.

Travel concept. Back view of confident businessman in suit is walking along airport lounge while carrying his suitcase. Copy space in the left sideOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

“Will I make my connection?”

You wouldn’t ask your flight attendant when you’ll get married or how old you’ll be when you die. That’s because flight attendants aren’t psychics—though that hasn’t stopped them from getting some pretty crazy requests. You know what else they can’t predict? Whether your flight will arrive, land, and deplane in time for you to make your connection. This is particularly true when your plane has not yet even taken off.

Attractive and successful African American businessman with glasses working on a laptop while sitting in the chair of his private jet.XArtProduction/Shutterstock

“Just one minute…”

Sorry, but your flight attendant doesn’t have a minute. Not for your drink order. Not for you to turn off your devices. Not for you to step out of the aisle or return to your seat when asked.

“Did you hear the one about the hijacker?”

Terrorism and other assorted threats are serious subjects, so why would you ever expect your flight attendant to treat them as anything but? In fact, your flight crew has been specifically trained to follow certain protocols when these issues come up, even in a joking manner. Generally speaking, it’s wise not to make those wisecracks to anyone on the plane, including your seatmate, even if they “seem” like they can take a joke. While this should be common sense, you definitely need to read up on these 13 new rules you’ll have to follow the next time you fly.

Portrait of beautiful hostess in airport with mobile phone.Josep Suria/Shutterstock

“Are you free after the flight?”

There is very little chance your flight attendant will be free after the flight. Most are almost immediately off to somewhere else or are in desperate need of sleep. And while they may be polite and even friendly, it’s best not to mistake them doing their job with “flirting.”

Business man Hands with pen writing on paper in close up viewLittlewitz/Shutterstock

“Can I borrow a pen?”

How many pens do you think your flight attendant has? And, honestly, what are the odds you’ll give back that pen when you’re done? They don’t carry extra pens, are busy as it is, and can’t help every international passenger fill out their customs forms at the exact same time. Come prepared by always including one with the other items you should always pack in your carry-on.

Don’t argue

You’ve heard the stories—don’t become one of the stories. If you’re disorderly, threatening, or combative with gate agents, flight attendants, or other passengers, you can be denied boarding or even be banned from the airline. It’s best to not take chances and head down a slippery slope, so don’t argue with your flight attendant. Make sure you know these 10 things that could get you banned from a plane.

Passenger plane cabin overhead panelwith lights turned onRon Zmiri/Shutterstock

Please don’t DING!

Non-verbal communication is a thing, too, especially when it’s communication via the flight attendant “call-bell.” Sure, it’s there, but it’s there for a reason, and it’s not to make your flight attendant jump up and get you another drink or answer your question about when you’ll be landing. Sure, your flight attendant will come when you call, but you can be pretty sure they’re rolling their eyes. Next, check out these photos that show the “new normal” of air travel.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.