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20 Things Flight Attendants Want You to Know About Flying

Flight attendants know a thing or two about how to travel well. These smart tips will make your flights exponentially safer, more efficient, and more comfortable for you and other passengers.

cvPilot and stewardess boarding before working tripSvitlana Hulko/Getty Images

Learn from the professionals

Whether you fly often enough to be a whiz at airplane trivia or are preparing to board your very first flight, knowing the unspoken rules of flying can help you travel more efficiently and ensure that you, other passengers, and the crew are safe and comfortable in the air. We asked flight attendants to share their tips on airplane conduct, including why it’s so important to put your phone in airplane mode, how to stop worrying about those airplane sounds, and the secrets to staying healthy, well rested, and happy during a flight.

Young woman with cellphone resting in airplanedima_sidelnikov/Getty Images

Falling asleep unbuckled is dangerous

One domestic flight attendant says that neither she nor her colleagues would ever fall asleep with their seat belts off. Why? Because you never know when the plane will fly into turbulence or experience an unexpected emergency. Flight attendants on the best airlines in America advise that you stay buckled while seated and while snoozing in order to stay as safe as possible in the air.

Flight attendant holding tray with coffeeThomas Barwick/Getty Images

Too much caffeine makes you restless

“When you’re flying long-haul, the number one rule is to drink plenty of water because the air circulation can dry out your skin,” says Lauren Guilfoyle, a flight attendant for the world’s best airline. In addition to keeping your skin hydrated, flight attendants also want you to avoid a restless struggle to fall sleep on board. Guilfoyle suggests avoiding caffeinated drinks and instead sticking to water and fruit juices to help foster a much-needed snooze in the air. Every time you travel, make sure you’re following these air travel tips for smooth flying.

barefoot on the back of an airplane seatNadezhda1906/Getty Images

Going barefoot in the cabin is unsanitary

While the cabin of each plane is cleaned before every flight, germs can still linger on the floor. And while Guilfoyle says that’s a big reason flight attendants would never walk around the cabin without shoes, it’s not the only reason. “Sometimes glasses are dropped and broken, or our youngest travelers leave crumbs, so there could be sharp objects and food on the floor,” she says. If you want to be treated right during your flight, check out these airlines that are best for customer service.

Bearded pensive Man filling Immigration Form in AircraftAlexBrylov/Getty Images

Having your own pen will be helpful

Vanessa Settimi, a Swoop Airlines flight attendant and in-flight instructor, says that passengers flying internationally should always have a pen with them in their carry-on luggage. This is because you might need a pen to fill out your customs card in order to land in a new country (or back home after traveling abroad), and there are only so many on board to lend! It makes it easier (and more sanitary) for you, and a more efficient landing process for everyone on board, if you and other passengers have your own pens to use. While you have your pen out, here’s why “airplane” is also spelled “aeroplane.

Airplane Bathroom Toiletwellesenterprises/Getty Images

Use the bathroom consciously

A lot of flying etiquette can be boiled down to simple manners. You are sharing a space with hundreds of others for a few hours (or more), so be sure to always flush the toilet, wash your hands, and wipe up the sink area when done, and then be sure to close the bathroom door when finished. This will help everyone on board be more comfortable and enjoy their flight. While you can’t control your fellow passengers, you will have a better chance of having a good flight on one of the cleanest airlines in the world.

Airplane food on flip out tray, view from aboveAlexander Spatari/Getty Images

You can ask for a meal to be warmed

Flight attendants are on board to keep you safe and help you enjoy your experience, no matter why you’re flying or where you’re heading. If you need to bring your own food for dietary reasons, or have a special meal for a child or other loved one, and that food needs to be heated up, Jessen Leroy, a flight attendant with French Bee, says passengers can politely ask their flight attendants to warm their meal in the microwave on board.

Interior of airplane with passengers throwing plastic bottle into garbage bags held by flight attendantCerise HUA/Getty Images

Take every opportunity to dispose of trash

Flight attendants make repeated trips up and down the aisle with trash bags, especially as the plane lowers from cruising altitude and approaches its destination. So be kind and toss your protein-bar wrappers, breakfast-sandwich packaging, and folded-up newspapers before landing. This simple act of kindness will help flight attendants turn over the plane faster and ensure the next flight departs on time.

man checking his watch at an airportd3sign/Getty Images

Be prepared on departure day

Settimi also suggests that passengers have patience, with themselves and others, on departure day. Simple things like “planning ahead and getting to the airport early so you’re not feeling rushed, especially if you are pre-clearing customs,” may go a long way toward providing a seamless travel experience in the air. If you plan your day and have patience, you will feel less stressed once aboard and be able to relax and enjoy the best parts of the flight, like using inflight Wi-Fi to watch your favorite movie.

young girl in a grey sweatshirt on an airplaneDan Porges/Getty Images

Wear layers and dress sensibly

“Now this might just be the flight attendant in me,” says Settimi, “but you will never catch me flying as a traveler in sandals and a tank top!” The flight attendant says that she and her peers in the sky always have safety and emergency scenarios in their minds, and because of that she recommends wearing clothing onto a plane that’s comfortable and easy to move in (including shoes that won’t slip off if you need to make a quick exit). Her go-to travel outfit is always a pair of running shoes, long pants, a T-shirt, and a zip-up sweater…because it gets cold at 38,000 feet!

Cropped Hand Of Woman Pressing Buttons In AirplaneRosley Majid/Getty Images

Cooler cabins help with motion sickness

Speaking of the chilly temperatures in flight, ever wonder why it’s so cold on planes? Settimi would like passengers to know that she and her fellow flight attendants don’t control the thermostat. “Temperature in the cabin is controlled by the pilots,” she says, “so even though travelers often ask to get the temperature turned up during flights, it is kept on the cooler side.” This is because a cooler cabin helps passengers who are prone to fainting or have motion sickness during turbulence. Settimi recommends bringing your own sweater or blanket when flying to be as comfortable as possible.

Businessman sitting on aeroplane seat, wearing headphones, rear viewHenrik Sorensen/Getty Images

Use headphones to block out noise and enjoy your movies and music

Though the nature of being on a plane may not make you think of quiet, rest, and relaxation, Settimi assures passengers that the flight attendants try their best to keep what we call a “silent cabin.” What that means is that if you are planning on watching one of the 100 funniest movies of all time or listening to one of the best audiobooks, flight attendants ask that you have headphones, and if you plan on wearing wireless ear buds, that you keep track of them, as they have a habit of falling out of ears and getting lost in the seat cushions. Before getting ready to leave the aircraft, always do a final sweep of your seat and the surrounding area to ensure you haven’t left anything behind!

man showing electronic flight ticketRidofranz/Getty Images

Avoid showing off your frequent flier status

If you fly often enough to have earned frequent-flier status, know that it won’t help you switch to a better seat once you’re on the plane. Asking to upgrade onboard can put flight attendants in an uncomfortable position, as they try to accommodate all their passengers and their many different and equally valid needs. Plus, flight attendants don’t have the authority to make upgrade decisions, so don’t put them in an awkward spot by asking them for one. Check out these 14 things smart travelers always do before a flight.

airplane signs for lavatoryKateryna Kukota/Getty Images

Dispose of used diapers in the lavatory

On a longer flight with a baby, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to change a diaper at some point. But, when flying with your infant, don’t hand a flight attendant a used diaper. Either throw it away in the lavatory trash can or wait until trash bags are circulated after meal and beverage service and put it into the trash bag yourself. Here’s what else you need to know if you’re flying with kids.

Asian female flight attendant serving food and drink to passengers on airplaneKiwis/Getty Images

Don’t touch the beverage cart

Got the munchies or need a napkin? You can get anything you need, as long as you’re patient. “Some passengers feel they can just grab, touch, or help themselves to anything on our cart,” says one international flight attendant. The reason you shouldn’t is about health. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s potentially unsanitary for passengers to touch the food and beverages being offered to others, which makes flying uncomfortable and potentially unpleasant for the other passengers as well as flight attendants during COVID-19. Speaking of health, here’s what nutritionists recommend eating while flying.

Male Passenger With Lack Of Leg Space On Long Commercial Airplane FlightMatej Kastelic/Getty Images

Be conscious of where you put your feet

When you’re flying coach, airplane seat space is limited, so you have to get creative to get comfortable on a long-haul flight. However, flight attendants have observed passengers putting their feet on seats, tray tables, and on other passengers’ armrests. This might make the flight more comfortable for you, but you could be putting your fellow passengers in a difficult position. To make everyone’s flight better, avoid putting your feet in other people’s space.

Child has lunch on airplaneRadist/Getty Images

Plan ahead for special dietary needs

Flight attendants know that, unfortunately, not every flight will have food and meals that cater to every passenger’s dietary needs, so they bring their own food with them, just in case. If you’re a vegetarian or need gluten-free food options, you should make plans in advance with the airline and/or bring your own snacks and meals on board. Not all flights have meals for every need, but here are 12 times airlines went above and beyond for passengers.

empty Aircraft galley with full of storage unitVajirawich Wongpuvarak/Getty Images

Don’t do yoga in the air

While stretching and walking around during a flight is important for your physical health, doing yoga on board—especially in the galley—does not make a flight attendant’s job easy. There isn’t enough room for a makeshift yoga studio, and the galley is an active work space in the sky. A better way to get out the kinks while flying is to sit on a tennis ball.

overhead locker on airplane with a black suitcase insideJackyenjoyphotography/Getty Images

Use the correct overhead bins

When passengers seated toward the back of the plane put their carry-on suitcases in the overhead bins near the front of the plane, it interferes with the efficiency of the boarding process. This causes passengers in the front to have to put their bags toward the back, and then try to wiggle their way down the aisle upon landing to retrieve their luggage. Using the bins directly above your row makes boarding and deboarding go smoothly, which helps flights take off on time and lets everyone get off the plane quicker upon landing. Ever noticed the handrail just below the overhead bins? It’s one of several hidden airplane features.

Passengers disembarking aircraft on arrivalPeter Bannan/Getty Images

Don’t attempt to deboard before your turn

One easy way passengers can promote travel efficiency is to respect the deboarding procedure and avoid cutting in line to get off the plane before it’s their row’s turn. Pushing ahead only makes the whole process take longer and will likely disrupt fellow passengers and flight attendants alike, says Tim White, CEO and founder of travel site MilePro. As you’re patiently waiting to deboard, learn about the interesting reason why airplane windows are round.

airplane tray with pretzels and drinkLegate/Getty Images

Be prepared for beverage service

With hundreds of people to take care of, flight attendants want passengers to think about their drink order before beverage service begins. Most planes have menus in the seat back pockets that outline the brands and types of drinks available. Peruse that and be ready to order quickly. Additionally, keep multiple drink requests to a minimum so flight attendants can continue down the aisle and make sure everyone gets served.

Up next, find out what a flight attendant first notices about you.

Sources:

  • Lauren Guilfoyle, flight attendant with Emirates Airlines
  • Vanessa Settimi, flight attendant with Swoop Airlines
  • Jessen Leroy, flight attendant with French Bee
  • Tim White, CEO and founder of MilePro

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.