15 Things You Should Never Say to Flight Attendants

Professionally trained and highly experienced, there's not much that can surprise flight attendants—they've seen and heard it all. However, it turns out there's quite a lot that can annoy them...

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“It fit on my last flight…”

“One of my favourites 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 onboard as a carry-on because ‘it fit on my last flight,'” Candace Johnson, a flight attendant for American Airlines during the late 1970s and early 1980s, tells Reader’s Digest. “No, it doesn’t because it didn’t. Now go check that bag and stop wasting our time.”

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“Can you help get my bag up?”

Johnson also points out that if you can’t lift/carry your own carry-on, then you really shouldn’t consider it a “carry-on.” Check it instead, rather than asking your flight attendant for assistance. It’s actually not their job to do your heavy lifting.

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Young mom, playing and breastfeeding her toddler boy on board of aircraft, going on holiday
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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), they should never agree to do so.

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Two stewardess walk through escalator or quick movie stairs on airport lobby or station with suitcases.

“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?”

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flight attendant safety
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“Funny name…”

“My nickname is Candie, that’s what my name tag read,” Johnson tells Reader’s Digest. Unfortunately, that seemed to some passengers an invitation 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.

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 a man in a white shirt touches his shoulder with his hand
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“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.

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Lunch in a plane, transportation catering service

“Why isn’t there a meal?”

As Johnson explains, flight attendants don’t have a say in what food or beverages are served, nor in whether there even will be food/beverages, nor in when the service is scheduled to begin and end. Other things to skip: If the choice is chicken or pasta, don’t ask for another option. Or if you feel the food/beverage service is coming at a time that’s inconvenient for you, just keep that to yourself.

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Stewardess cleaning garbage in airplane after lunch.


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 belongs in the present day.

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Travel concept. Back view of confident businessman in suit is walking along airport lounge while carrying his suitcase. Copy space in the left side
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“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.

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

“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.

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light attendant
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“Did you hear the one about the hijacker?”

“Flight crew are trained to take any and all mentions of terrorism and contagious diseases seriously,” explains Conde Nast Traveler, so why would you ever expect your flight attendant to handle such subjects as anything but? For that matter, 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.

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Portrait of beautiful hostess in airport with mobile phone.
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“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.”

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Business man Hands with pen writing on paper in close up view

“Can I borrow a pen?”

How many pens do you think your flight attendant has? And, honestly, what are the odds you’ll give them back their 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.

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flight attendant plane
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Don’t argue

“Disorderly passengers—those threatening or arguing with gate agents, getting into altercations, or just annoying passengers around them by being loud and disruptive—can be denied boarding,” Conde Nast Traveler points out. Best to not take chances—avoid arguing with your flight attendant.

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Passenger plane cabin overhead panelwith lights turned on
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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 the things smart travellers always do before a flight.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest