Secret Ways Flight Attendants Make Air Travel Less Terrible

Airlines may cut a lot of corners, but flight attendants generally don’t. They work hard to make air travel as comfortable as possible for everybody, even passengers stuck in economy seats that don’t recline. And they do it while putting up with sleep-deprived and etiquette-deficient passengers, too. No matter how often you fly, you probably haven’t noticed half of the things that flight attendants do to make your flight more bearable.

Below, discover some of the more surprising things that flight attendants do to ensure that everybody gets from point A to point B with as little discomfort as possible.

1. They brew your coffee with two bags instead of one

Stewardess talking to passenger

They make your coffee extra strong. | Ruben Ramos/iStock/Getty Images

Airline foods and beverages are pretty notoriously bland, thanks at least in part to the ways that altitude changes our sense of taste. Fox News notes that “even Starbucks can sometimes taste watered down in flight.” Because the coffee maker on the airplane could leak or it might have grounds clogging the drip basin, many flight attendants put two bags of coffee grounds in the coffee maker. That produces a more flavorful pot of coffee for their passengers. 

2. They help fit everything in the overhead bin

cheerful african american businessman opening overhead locker on airplane

They have to do the heavy lifting. | Michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

This one may be a little more obvious than some other things that flight attendants do behind the scenes. But it still bears mentioning that flight attendants often make it possible for passengers to fit their baggage in overstuffed overhead bins, instead of having to check those items at the gate.

As Fox News explains, the door of the overhead bin may not close all the way, even if a bag fits inside. So, flight attendants often place a pillow, blanket, or other small item under the top of the bag to angle it. That way, it fits more easily against the curved door.

3. They greet you and help you find your seat — for free

Woman flight attendant

They don’t get paid until they’re in the air. | DigitalVision/iStock/Getty Images

Again, you’ve almost certainly noticed how flight attendants greet passengers, and help them find their seats if they need help. But what you probably don’t know is that they do all of that for free. As Airfare Watchdog learned, the airline only considers flight attendants to be on the clock once the wheels are up and the plane is airborne. So all the time that they spend at the airport and on the ground is unpaid. When they greet you at the door, they do so for free. And if they pour you a pre-flight cocktail, they also do that for free — all to make your flight better.

4. They occasionally upgrade a passenger to first class after the doors close

toasting with champagne business class airplane cabin

Upgrades can still happen. | Tuned_In/iStock/Getty Images

Everybody wants an upgrade to first class or business class, but flight attendants don’t give them often. In fact, Airfare Watchdog learned that on some airlines, flight attendants have to file a report explaining why they did it. But every once in a while, they’ll upgrade a passenger. Who has the best chance? Somebody who’s “extremely nice, well dressed, pregnant, very tall, good looking, one of our friends, or all of the above.”

5. They warm up your plate or mug in the oven

flight attendants

They try to make your meals as pleasant as possible. | Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images

Hot meals may no longer be in the norm in economy. However, if you fly with one of the airlines that does offer them or sit in first or business class, the flight attendants will probably go out of their way to ensure that you enjoy your meal.

One way they do that? They warm up empty plates and coffee mugs in the oven before serving food or beverages in them. Catering services usually pack these items on the same chilled carts as food. However, cold plates or mugs can make your meal or your coffee cool off faster. So heating the dishes keeps your food hot longer.

6. They help parents make sure that their babies have warm milk to drink

Toddler boy sleeping on father's laps while traveling in airplane

They’ll make sure your baby’s meal is perfect. | Yaoinlove/iStock/Getty Images

Breastfeeding mothers may not have to worry about temperature when feeding their babies. But parents (or grandparents) feeding a baby with bottled breast milk or formula often run into a dilemma on the plane. But Walking on Travels reports that flight attendants often help out.

They’ll provide a cup of hot water in which parents can immerse the bottle to warm up the milk. You’ll have to double-check the temperature, but it sure beats trying to get a baby to drink cold milk. And even if you don’t have a baby, you can still appreciate those flight attendants because a baby who’s fed is likely to sleep instead of cry!

7. They sometimes prepare your food themselves

child eating in the airplane

Sometimes, flight attendants have to go the extra mile. | Ysurkov/iStock/Getty Images

Most of the time, it’s safe to assume that the catering company delivers the food ready to go. (Flight attendants will just need to heat it up on the plane.) However, The Daily Mail learned that sometimes, they have to do a little more hands-on food preparation. On some airlines, they even use a steam oven to prepare freshly scrambled eggs for the breakfast service. That just goes to show that you should definitely say “thank you” the next time a flight attendant serves you a meal!

8. They ignore passengers who have had too much to drink

Flight crew and passengers on board

They don’t like drunk passengers either. | Pcruciatti/iStock/Getty Images

Flight attendants frequently deal with passengers who have over-indulged in wine, beer, or liquor and want a few more drinks before they land. Most won’t cut someone off right away, according to Fox News, but “they do have a few tricks up their sleeves.” They might avoid making eye contact with a drunk passenger or avoid walking past their seat entirely. If the passenger does manage to order another drink, flight attendants may fill up the glass only halfway. Or, they may dip the rim of the glass in the passenger’s chosen liquor and water down the rest so that he or she won’t notice a weaker drink.

9. They watch out for everybody’s safety

Even though they know no one is watching the demonstration, they do it anyway. | Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

One of the things that flight attendants do constantly during every flight is to watch out for passengers’ safety. Of course, they follow all the airline’s safety regulations and procedures (which includes the safety demonstration that they give at the beginning of each flight). But they also watch out for more subtle safety issues.

They advise passengers to buckle up when the captain anticipates turbulence, and they ask travelers to keep their feet (and luggage) out of the aisle. Many flight attendants even keep a watchful eye over children and elderly passengers. And they’re always the first to spring into action if somebody gets sick.

10. They cater to all the requests of first-class passengers

business class

They know they have to step up for first class passengers. | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

The Sun learned that while most passengers would prefer to be in first class rather than economy, it’s sometimes the opposite for flight attendants. When they work in first class, flight attendants have to be available to fulfill requests from every first class passenger, at any time during the flight. So, serving 100 people in economy can end up being a lot simpler than taking care of 16 in first class or business class — particularly if those 16 people are picky eaters, have very specific instructions for their cocktails, or just keep making requests of a harried flight attendant.

11. They help keep the restrooms smelling fresh

Occupied bathroom sign

They know how to get rid of the stink. | Frontpoint/iStock/Getty Images

Especially on long flights, the airplane’s restrooms get a lot of use. So, as you might imagine, they start smelling a little less than fresh pretty quickly. And unfortunately, the deodorizing devices that the airline provides usually can’t quite keep up with the odor. To combat this, Fox News learned that many flight attendants place bags of coffee grounds in the bathrooms. The coffee grounds absorb odors, helping to neutralize the smell. If you encounter a smelly restroom, you can even ask a flight attendant for a bag of coffee to help reduce the smell.

12. They clean the restrooms, too

Seat Rows inside an Airplane

They clean the restrooms regularly. | Gabriellephotos/iStock/Getty Images

Flight attendants don’t just duck into the restroom to add a bag of coffee grounds. They also clean the restrooms — as often as every 30 minutes, according to The Daily Mail. One flight attendant filmed on the job explained, “I’m just about to get stuck in to every cabin crew member’s favorite job – cleaning the toilet. People tell you it’s a glamorous job. I think they lie.” She explained that the crew cleans or checks the restroom every half hour, “just to check that everything is well and good in the toilet and there’s paper in there.”

13. They might give you some extra alcohol

They might give you an extra drink rather than throw it out. | iStock/Getty Images

Fox News notes that customs regulations don’t allow airlines to enter a country with half-full bottles of wine or alcohol. So sometimes, flight attendants have to pour them down the drain before landing. But if you’re the only one enjoying a particular beverage — and you’ve been polite to the crew — you might get extra drinks. The flight attendants might even send you home with the rest of the bottle.

14. They know what to do if somebody gets sick

Man throwing up on an airplane

They’ve been trained to react. | DmitriMaruta/iStock/Getty Images

Unless you’re a medical professional, you’d probably have no idea how to respond if your seatmate becomes seriously ill on a flight. But flight attendants know what to do. CNN learned that in the case of an emergency, the flight attendants spring into action to get key information on symptoms and vital signs. They then consult with a medical center on the ground, and learn what to do to treat the passenger.

Most issues are simple, like a diabetic with low blood sugar or somebody who’s lightheaded and just needs some oxygen. But flight attendants are all trained in CPR and can use a defibrillator, if needed. They also have a medical kit that they can provide to a physician or nurse on board.

15. They handle awkward situations gracefully

airplane bathroom

They make sure everything goes smoothly. | Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Besides dealing with rude passengers and watching out for people who try to do dangerous things in the middle of a flight, flight attendants also gracefully deal with people’s in-flight faux pas. Most of the time, those faux pas don’t hurt anybody. (Dropping your luggage on somebody can definitely be the exception!) But flight attendants do their best to smooth things over if somebody sits in the wrong seat, gets air sick before making it to the restroom, or gets too drunk on the flight. Most of us wouldn’t want that job and can appreciate that flight attendants make things a little less awkward for the rest of us.

Read More: Flight Attendants Reveal the Things They’re Silently Judging You For