Flight attendants on the mistakes they see passengers making right now


Despite nonessential travel still being discouraged in many places, such as the US where the Centers for Disease Control warns against it, more people are flying again.Flight attendants say they’ve noticed some common mistakes passengers keep making during this time.Whether it’s not properly wearing a mask or handing flight attendants trash without any warning, here are five things flight attendants wish passengers would stop doing. Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic nearly decimated air travel, cutting thousands of flights daily and furloughing tens of thousands of flight attendants and other airline employees. The industry hit an all-time passenger low in April with only 87,534 people passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints in one day. However, despite nonessential travel still being discouraged in many places, including the US where the Centers for Disease Control warns against it, air travel is slowly picking up again. The TSA reported 587,903 people flying on June 19.Flight attendants — deemed “essential critical infrastructure workers” by the Department of Homeland Security — have been on the front lines of the pandemic since day one, continuing to work and exposing themselves to hundreds of people daily.While rules have been put in place to keep cabin crew and passengers as safe as possible — some airlines say they could ban travelers that refuse to wear masks — flight attendants say they’re seeing a few worrisome trends in the skies lately.

Insider spoke to four flight attendants from three different airlines who shared the habits they’re seeing that are putting themselves and others at risk, from masks being used ineffectively to being handed trash without warning.Editor’s note: Some of the flight attendants who spoke to Insider for this article asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly.Flight attendants say some passengers take off their masks, wear them incorrectly, or flat-out refuse to wear one

Masks should cover both the mouth and nose.

Giulio Fornasar/Getty Images

A 53-year-old New York-based flight attendant who says she’s worked for one of the big three US airlines for 20 years told Insider that while she saw many people wearing masks before they were even required, people have been wearing them incorrectly.Most of the flight attendants Insider spoke to echoed this.

“Having it under your nose. Pointless. Pulling it away from your face or touching it with your hands, that all contaminates what you’re trying to do,” a Minneapolis-based flight attendant, who says she has worked in the industry for four years, told Insider.To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends the use of cloth face coverings in public areas where it’s difficult to maintain social distance. To be effective, a face mask should cover the wearer’s mouth and nose. During air travel, they should be worn from the moment passengers step inside the airport to the moment they leave, not just during a flight. The flight attendants Insider spoke to said that passengers should really only take their masks off to eat or drink.Currently, most major airlines require passengers to wear a mask. United Airlines even implemented a new policy in which it says it could ban passengers that refuse to wear a mask during the pandemic from traveling with the carrier in the future.And yet, flight attendants say they have seen or heard from their colleagues of passengers refusing to wear masks. 

“The thing I’ve heard the most via my colleagues still out on the line is passengers refusing to comply with wearing masks while onboard the aircraft, making both fellow passengers and working crew uncomfortable,” a San Francisco-based flight attendant who worked for a major US airline through April but has been on leave since early May, said.”There is always that one [person] that thinks the rules don’t apply to them,” the New York-based flight attendant said.Anne Anker Møller, a flight attendant with Global Reach Aviation, a private charter company, advised passengers to bring multiple masks for long flights.”It is very important to have several masks with you because it should be changed every fourth hour or when becoming wet or soiled,” she told Insider in an email. “But I do still meet passengers who either don’t wear a mask at all or are taking it off as soon as they enter the airplane. It’s so important to protect yourself as well as the people around you — we are a big group together in a very small place.”

They say some passengers aren’t practicing proper hygiene despite taking certain precautions

Flight attendants say some passengers aren’t using common sense.

Aaron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty

“For the most part, I think people are taking all the precautions that they can, [but] there are a couple of things that I see people doing that I’m like, ‘That doesn’t make sense,'” said the Minneapolis-based flight attendant.The New York-based flight attendant seconds this, and said that she’s seen people move around different seats throughout a flight, and take their masks off to repeatedly touch their face, mouth, and various surfaces. “It’s quite comical to see people take all these precautions of wiping seats, wearing gloves and masks, and then seeing them cross-contaminate multiple times,” she said. The Minneapolis-based flight attendant said some people aren’t washing their hands after using the restrooms.

“A lot more before COVID, but especially now, I still see people not wash their hands,” she said. “I don’t know whether it’s because people think, ‘I don’t want to touch the handles [taps] in the bathroom,’ or because people get so nervous and weird on planes.”Whether it’s touching your face or pulling down a face mask to talk, the flight attendants Insider spoke to suggested taking a second to think before you act. Others are apparently handing flight attendants their trash whenever they feel like it

Passengers should come informed about current rules and safety precautions.

Edward Wang/Reuters

The biggest thing the Minneapolis-based flight attendant wishes passengers would stop doing right now is giving her their trash throughout the flight.While it was annoying before, she said, it’s a safety hazard now. Handing a flight attendant used wipes, napkins, tissues, and food waste is a safety risk as it increases touch points. It also means that the flight attendant has to stop what they are doing to throw the trash away and change their gloves.

“Nowhere else in the world would you ever try to hand trash to somebody that wasn’t prepared for it,” the Minneapolis-based flight attendant said.Møller added that flight attendants are there to help, but that passengers should ask for help in the right way.”If you need to ask for something, push the service button instead of coming to the galley — it should be as clean as possible,” she said, speaking of the cabin crews’ kitchen space.The designated times for meal service, trash collection, and drinks are there for a reason. They give flight attendants time to prepare and thus provide the safest service possible.

Some passengers aren’t planning ahead, flight attendants say

Flights look different today, with practices like temperature checks and mask requirements in place.

Rafael Marchante/REUTERS

Many of the flight attendants Insider spoke with say they noticed that stressed, worried, or late passengers were more likely to forget to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Their biggest piece of advice: Plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time.”Show up in the airport earlier than you normally would, it saves you from being in a rush,” Møller said. “Being in a rush normally makes you stressed, and therefore it’s too easy to forget to keep distance.”The Minneapolis-based flight attendant seconds this. “You should come into a situation [like this] 100% ready,” she said. “Don’t come into a situation thinking that everybody else is just going to take care of everything for you.”Flying under normal circumstances can be stressful enough, and while air travel isn’t necessarily riskier than being in other public settings during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s an extra layer of fear and worry to deal with. And with social distancing and other precautions currently in place, things simply take a little longer and look a little different; passengers should be prepared for this and informed about current rules and safety precautions ahead of their flight. 

Others are treating air travel like it should be business as usual, they say

Many airlines have cut food and beverage services to minimize touch points during the pandemic.

Halfpoint/iStock

The Minneapolis-based flight attendant said that, at the end of the day, passengers are choosing to fly during a time when nonessential travel isn’t recommended. With that in mind, passengers should be flexible and understand that the flight might be fuller than they’d like and that there might not be any alcohol or food service.”My advice to the traveling public these days is don’t expect to have space on the plane to properly socially distance — although we are blocking the middle seats and seating first or business class at only 50% — bring a snack or drink on the plane with you as our service is very limited, please be compliant with the rule of wearing a mask since it gives others a sense of safeness, and please be kind to your fellow passengers and crew members,” the New York-based flight attendant said.She emphasized that, yes, flights look slightly different today than they did pre-pandemic, but that doesn’t mean travelers should expect an empty plane.While many flights are currently operating at low capacity, this likely won’t last. According to a press release from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), social-distancing measures can reduce planes’ maximum load factors to 62%, when most airlines need their planes to be 77% full to break even. Thus, the IATA anticipates fares rising by up to 54% in some places, though this could also mean that flights will simply get filled right back up as soon as there’s demand again. This notion is supported by the many reports of nearly full flights traversing the skies recently.

“We need to make money, and if we don’t have a full flight, we’re not making money,” the Minneapolis-based flight attendant said. “We still want people to be safe — our whole job in being there is to make sure that people get there safely.”A flight attendant’s job is to help people travel to their destinations safely, but passengers can help by staying informed and following precautions. “It’s really the simple things that are going to save us all,” the Minneapolis-based flight attendant said. “Wash your hands, treat everybody kindly, and don’t ever yell at your flight attendant.”



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