After six years as a flight attendant for a leading UK airline, 30-year-old Kristina Galvydyte has many insights into an industry that remains intriguing to many. Here she answers 20 questions you’ve probably always wanted to ask.
“I haven’t seen British drinking culture anywhere else”
1. Which type of passenger bothers you the most?
There are many: those who spend most of the flight closing the aisle or letting their kids run up and down, and also those who need to be told multiple times to fasten their seat belts. But people who get very drunk will always be the worst.
2. Are Britons more rude and rowdy than other nationalities?
Sorry to say the cliché is true. Brits tend to start drinking and even downing drinks at the airport no matter what time of day it is, so most people get on the plane drunk or at least tipsy and then move on. As someone from Eastern Europe, I have never seen such a culture anywhere else.
There are strict rules about how much alcohol we can sell to passengers during a flight (two drinks per person per serving), but people still miss out on their own drinks and it often gets completely out of control. All in all, Brits are the worst travelers to deal with in terms of offensive behavior.
As for the most benign nation, I’d say most travelers from mainland Europe – but especially Scandinavia – tend to be pretty docile.
‘I saw men pulling cocaine and fighting’
3. How do you deal with drunk passengers?
Drunken behavior is the biggest issue when flying and it happens often, so we receive annual training on how to deal with offending passengers and selling alcohol responsibly. It’s almost unbelievable that people’s behavior can change so drastically when they’re under the influence. When things heat up, we issue a final warning to disturbing passengers, drink the drinks we find in them until the end of the flight, and continue to monitor the situation. If they continue to act antisocial, we get their passport information so the airline can ban them permanently. Usually, it helps when they realize that their actions can have real consequences—like not getting on the flight home.
I’ve never had to personally rein in anyone (we’ve been trained in self-defense, but not how to rein in someone), but many times we’ve had to involve the police. One event that came to mind was an Alicante flight with three separate bachelorette doses. Two of the groups got into a physical fight that needed to break up, and a deer was snorting cocaine in the toilet. I don’t know how they got back home as they were all banned for life by the airline.
4. Have you ever seen a passenger trying to join the Mile High Club?
This, unsurprisingly, was the first question I was asked in an online dating! Fortunately not. That would be absolutely disgusting as the toilets were not cleaned until the end of the day. If you don’t want to catch anything and everything, don’t try. Water on the ground, not water.
5. Do you ever drink alcohol at work?
I know airlines with more accepting views of on-the-job drinking, but no one would have thought of doing something like this at my place. Most of our flights are very busy, but on quiet days we usually talk about random topics and get to know our colleagues, go to the flight deck and chat with the pilots (they are actually bored), read a book or play an old-school game like Stop The Bus.
“No one seems to know how to open toilet doors”
6. What is the dumbest question a traveler has ever asked you?
This happens every day: no one seems to know how to open the toilet doors, even though there is a sign in front of them explaining this.
7. Has anything else ever disappeared from an airplane?
I wouldn’t say this happens often, but some parents have carried baby life jackets with them. I like to believe in the goodness of humanity, so let’s pretend they forgot to toss this in their bag and take it out.
“My colleague broke his cheek against the ceiling of the plane”
8. What is the worst turbulence you have ever experienced?
Luckily I never made an emergency landing, but the worst turbulence I’ve experienced was arriving at Madeira, one of the most difficult airports in the world to land at while drinks were flying through the air. My colleagues have seen worse—one of them even smashed his cheek by hitting the ceiling with his face. But even in these cases, neither of us thought we would crash.
9. What happens if someone dies on the plane?
Only a medical doctor can legally say that someone has died, so in a serious medical emergency, even if the person is clearly dead, we are trained to continue performing CPR until the plane lands and paramedics arrive. If a death on board is correctly identified, there is a lot of paperwork to complete, the plane is diverted to the nearest airport and we try to provide as much privacy and dignity as possible to both the deceased and their travel companions in such a small space.
I’ve dealt with many medical emergencies over the years, and every single time an insensitive person complains that they’re still waiting for their Diet Coke.
‘You can make an extra £1,000 a month if you sell enough drinks’
10. How much does a stewardess earn?
As a mid-level flight attendant at my airline, I take home about £35,000 a year as we earn a good commission from inflight sales. However, not all airlines have such good salaries. We have to work on public holidays, but we take 40 days off a year, and since it’s a short haul airline our shifts include a flight and a return home – so we sleep in our own beds every night.
11. Do you get bonuses for selling the most snacks and beverages on board?
Yes. Staff take 1 percent to 5 percent of total sales from a flight, depending on how much is sold. This means we can receive anything from £300 to £1,000 per month in commission only. This means that we will sometimes ignore the two drinks per person rule – but only if the passenger is clearly sober.
12. How bad was the situation with delays and cancellations last summer?
As we had understaffed, there were many sudden changes in our roster, which made it difficult for us to plan our lives. In a moment, you will change your whole week. Delays were also frequent, meaning our long days (10-16 hours) got longer. Everyone worked hard to get people on their vacation and by August we had gotten through the worst.
‘Many pilots and flight attendants are finally dating’
13. Do flight attendants usually date pilots?
Yes, it happens a lot. There are two couples in my group of friends, the pilot and the cabin crew.
14. Is sexism still a problem among airline personnel?
Unfortunately yes. There are sometimes subtle hints of sexism, but I’ve heard some pilots say downright vicious things about cabin crew. To my friends, conversations behind the closed doors of the flight deck are extremely sexist, but if someone did, they would be labeled as snowflakes. Being overtly sexist has become more unacceptable, so hopefully attitudes will eventually change – but there’s still a long way to go.
15. Are there any unusual requirements to become a flight attendant?
There is a minimum and maximum height, and you need levers long enough to open the plane door in an emergency. As for looks, tattoos should be covered, no visible piercings allowed, hair should be either in a regular bun or short ponytail, and only red, nude, open or French manicure nails are allowed. They used to want us to wear our heels when we weren’t on the plane, but thankfully, the Equality Act of 2010 finally got them after 10 years.
“If you’re afraid of flying, sit in the front”
16. Where is the best and worst place to sit on an airplane?
If you’re afraid to fly, sit in the front – the back of the plane suffers the worst turbulence. And if you’re flying over the sea for a long time, sit next to the wings as this is the main exit if you need to land on the water.
17. Which is your favorite airline to fly and why?
I love flying with SAS as a passenger – service is always nice and passengers are quiet. I don’t have my least favorite airlines – I have my least favorite routes depending on the types of passengers going to these destinations. Alicante, Antalya, Palma and Ibiza are the first ones that come to mind.
18. Would you like to eat plane food?
Yes, I love a fatty breakfast all day!
‘No, we don’t clean toilets’
19. What are the best and worst parts of the job?
Both money and vacation were good. When flying to Italy quickly and easily with beautiful passengers, this may seem like the best job in the world.
Dealing with rude or annoying passengers is the worst part – and in case you were wondering, we only clean the cabin, not the toilets. Even if there is a really bad accident, we will lock the door for the rest of the flight and wait for the cleaners to arrive when the plane lands.
20. What questions do people always ask when you tell them you are a flight attendant?
This is usually an assumption, not a question: “You must have seen many places!” Then I should explain that short haul airlines like mine fly to many destinations but come back right away. It’s not that attractive after all.