There’s nothing quite like air travel to showcase the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. On the one hand, some humans figured out how to fly a plane through the sky. One the other hand, more than one hundred years since we took to the skies, we still can’t seem to figure out how basic human decency while flying through said sky.
In addition to the codified rules of flight (like seatbelt signs), there are plenty of unwritten rules of flight etiquette where we’ve yet to achieve common consensus (like reclining seats). And some of those unspoken rules come at the cost of the flight attendants working to keep you safe and comfortable while on board.
Namely, I recently saw a Reddit thread (RIP) claiming that flight attendants don’t start getting paid until the airplane door closes—which means they’re not earning any salary, nor are they covered by insurance or workers’ compensation, if they suffer an injury during boarding. I spoke with Alex*, a flight attendant for JetBlue, to clear up some of the unspoken rules of flying.
Don’t rely on flight attendants to lift your luggage
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If you’ve ever struggled to heave your suitcase into the overhead bin, you may have noticed that even the friendliest of flight attendants don’t immediately jump to assist your efforts. The reason is that for most attendants, assisting passengers put them at serious risk of injury with little to no protection or pay.
Assume that while the doors are still open during boarding, your flight attendants haven’t started getting paid. When it comes to the airline’s official training, flight attendants are “there for passenger safety getting from Point A to Point B, and lifting bags are simply not included in those duties,” according to Alex.
Since it’s not a “main duty” for JetBlue attendants, if they get hurt while lifting your luggage, they won’t be protected from calling out of work from a resulting injury. This could leave them suffering for months with no hope for compensation.
Of course, most passengers don’t realize that flight attendants are this disincentivized to help lift luggage. Alex shares how this puts attendants in an “awkward position.” As much as they want to be accommodating to customers, they can’t risk getting hurt from assisting 200 people with heavy luggage. Personally, Alex tries to help passengers on the sly, so they don’t end up trapped in a chain of lifting luggage.
What’s more, Alex says that most flight attendants have the mindset of “if I touch it, I tag it,” meaning if they assist you with your bag, they’re going to automatically gate check it for you to pick it up later at the carousel at your final destination. Keep that in mind if you, like me, cut it close with the size and weight of your carry-on suitcase.
What else flight attendants wish you knew
How else can you make your flight attendants’ lives a little easier? Here’s what Alex has to say.
The overhead bin isn’t for all your bags. “Even though people get very offended when you ask them to not put three items up top,” you should be placing smaller bags in the space under the seat in front of you.
Quit blocking the aisle. Seriously—you know you have a line of people behind you. How is getting your book out of your bag more important than other people finding their seats?
Wait to use the restroom. Take five minutes to use the restroom at your gate, or hold it until the plane is in the air. Otherwise, you’re crowding the attendants’ workspace and making it difficult for them to keep the boarding process running smoothly.
Flight attendants are not butlers. Like Alex explains above, the primary duty of flight attendants’ is your safety. First class customers get fancier treatment, but for the rest of us, you should probably hold off on asking for a welcome drink until your attendants have finished conducting safety briefings, assisting guests to their seats, answering questions for other crew members about the boarding process, and so on.
The bottom line
Alex says the one thing they wish all passengers would understand: You aren’t the only one on the plane. “Something strange happens in the airport where everyone gets this selfish ‘me’ attitude,” Alex says. “Traveling can be stressful, but there should still be some social awareness.”
As a rule of thumb, if you’re able-bodied and can’t lift your bag without an attendant’s help, you probably aren’t adhering to carry-on guidelines and should consider checking it before you get on your flight. And if you do need a little assistance, consider asking a kind stranger, before putting a flight attendant in an unfairly sticky spot.
*Name changed for anonymity.