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The secret hardships of being a flight attendant; Don’t ever order a diet coke!

Flight attendant. Image via mentalfloss
Flight attendant. Image via mentalfloss

Heather Poole knows better than you….

Being a flight attendant may not be as glamorous as many of you think it is, at least that’s the general take of one flight attendant, Heather Poole, a seasoned flight attendant who’s been in the business for the last 15 years and who has now authored a tell all book: Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet

In an article released by mental floss the flight attendant talks about the gritty reality of what being a flight attendant really entails and how tumultuous being one really is…

Some of the ten shocking secrets are as follows:


1/ If the plane door is open, we’re not getting paid.

While most of us start getting paid the minute we turn up for work, flight attendants it seems only start getting paid the moment flight doors are closed and the craft pushes away from the gate. For all those hours (yes I have seen it) that the doors are open and passengers are scrambling to put their belongings in overhead bins (often with the assistance of unpaid flight attendants) you can bet that flight attendants are wearily watching all you stragglers.


2/ Landing the gig is tough

Getting a position as a flight attendant can be quite competitive. When Delta announced 1000 job openings in 2010, the airliner received a whopping 10 000 applications. Those who did get a call back (4% of you) could expect to start on an exhilarating annual starting salary of $18 000.


4/ We can be fired for bizarre reasons:

Once you get in, staying in may be a tall order as the airlines often enforce strict codes. But some of the codes are bizarre onto themselves. Point in case:

I know one new hire who lost her job for wearing her uniform sweater tied around her waist. Another newbie got canned for pretending to be a full-fledged attendant so she could fly home for free. (Travel benefits don’t kick in until we’re off probation.) But the most surprising violation is flying while ill: If we call in sick, we aren’t allowed to fly, even as a passenger on another airline. It’s grounds for immediate dismissal.

In other words if you’re going to be a flight attendant, don’t ever plan on getting sick. Ever.


5/ Diet coke is our nemesis:

Here’s one that caught me off guard, an admittedly consistent diet coke drinker. Ordering diet coke it seems can turn out to be one of the most strenuous activities ever asked of a flight attendant because the length of time it takes for all those fizzy bubbles at 35 000 feet to settle which can leave a flight attendant straggling when she’s got a full cabin to take care of.


6. Don’t sneak a dead body onto the plane ever. I’ll let you go straight to the article to figure this out, but suffice it to say you will be frowned upon by your flight attendant if you attempt to bring a dead body on board the flight.


9/ Seniority means shorter skirts. Repeat that please?

Our tenure on the job doesn’t just determine which routes we fly and which days we get to take off; it also affects the hierarchy in our crashpad, an apartment shared by as many as 20 flight attendants. Seniority is the difference between top or lower bunk, what floor your bed is on, and just how far away your room is from noisy areas such as doors or stairwells.

Seniority even determines the length of our skirts—we can’t hem them above a certain length until we’re off probation. Afterward, it’s OK to shorten the hem and show a little leg.

Well who can’t resist showing a little leg, not you I imagine? And you thought you had it tough with your office politics.


10 You’ve never experienced extreme turbulence:

Personally I’m the type who can get wobbly at the suggestion of turbulence let alone having to actually endure it as many flight attendants do as part of their day to day activities, but when it comes time for a flight attendant to claim injury because of flight turbulence the onus of proof is quite high.

“….on some airlines, a flight attendant’s injuries in flight can’t be officially classified as an on-duty injury unless it happens during what’s known as “extreme turbulence”—where the captain loses control of the plane or the craft sustains structural damage. In both of those cases, the aircraft must be grounded and inspected. Because no one wants to ground a plane, captains are very hesitant to hand out the “extreme turbulence” label.

Which is another way of saying ‘officially’ flight attendants never get injured because of air turbulence something that may seem counterintuitive given the risks that flight attendants take in maintaining decorum and service during turbulent flights the world over.

The upshot? You may get to travel the world over and get to meet some fascinating people and eventually get to make a decent keep but getting there in one piece and holding your own may take more work than you may have bargained for. And if you must order a diet coke, try for a regular coke instead it has less bubbles and your flight attendant will thank you for it.



  1. That article is filled with quite a bit of whiney foolishness. If you are home sick, you should be home sick not flying somewhere. Clearly this is a policy to prevent people from calling in sick when they aren’t and abusing privledges. To say even on another airline as if this makes no sense when other airlines may be offering discounted airfares because you are a flight attendant is very misleading. They are fired for breaking a good sense policy (and clearly a bit of enforced good sense is required if the nonsense in this article is anything to go by). “Another newbie got canned for pretending to be a full-fledged attendant so she could fly home for free.” Imagine that. Again if this wasn’t enforced, people would be breaking the rules and abusing their position without fear of consequences. Every job has it’s good and bad points (often far more traumatizing than having to wait for the fiz to subside on a diet coke). The smaller percentage (in my experience) of flight attendants who present themselves as rude, whiney and unprofessional, are giving the rest of the industry a bad name. Why would anyone go to such extremes to be one of the so called lucky 4% to be called back for such a thankless, intolerable job? Perhaps they are calling back the wrong 4% (okay, probably more like the wrong 0.5% because most of the time my attendants are quite alright and even better, although I’ve heard some pretty snarky ones in action).

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