I’m usually writing from the perspective of a traveler. But I got to sit down for a candid chat with someone who has to deal with our entitled, obnoxious asses constantly: a flight attendant. Here is what she had to say about what it’s really like to fly the friendly skies on Czech Airlines. Full disclosure: we were totally sober during this interview.
GnomeTrotting: What’s your favorite thing about being a flight attendant?
Flight Attendant: The best thing for me is going on an airplane because I like take-offs and landings. For me it’s the nicest part of the flight. And I like to see the cockpit.
GT: Do you ever get to go in it during a flight?
FA: Sometimes I have a chance to fly in the cockpit when a flight is empty.
GT: What’s the worst thing about being a flight attendant?
FA: The worst thing for me is spending a long time with some passengers. Because sometimes it’s very difficult to speak with them and to be nice all day.
GT: Who are the worst passengers in your opinion?
FA: In the past I thought Russian people were not nice. But now I like them. I don’t like flying with people from Bulgaria or Romania, but only because they don’t travel very often so they don’t know what to do. They don’t know where to sit, boarding takes a long time, and they make a mess. They treat us like servants. They expect us to do everything for them.
GT: Any others?
FA: Italian people are always really noisy. And people from Israel and these countries, because when they eat they throw everything on the floor. When we have flights to Tel Aviv, it’s terrible because there is trash everywhere. And Israeli men don’t want to sit next to women. So we have to change seats a lot on those flights.
GT: What’s the most annoying thing people do on planes?
FA: There are a lot of small things that make us crazy. For example, when we start boarding, people who travel often know how to find their seats. But people flying for the first time ask you. And when you explain where the seat numbers are, they try to sit at the seat where you’re showing him and not in their row. When 60 people out of 100 do this, it’s annoying.
The worst thing of all is the boarding process because of the luggage. They have too much and they just throw it up there. They don’t know best way to use the space. So all the compartments get full and nobody can fit anything else. So then I have to go in there and rearrange everything, and after 10 minutes, I’m sweating.
It’s really the company’s fault because their policy lets you take two pieces of luggage, but there’s no space.
GT: What I hate is when people use the overhead space for things like coats so bags don’t fit.
FA: When there are the coats, I always squeeze them into a small area. Or I try to move it. Sometimes we ask people who have small bags up there to put them under the seat. It’s always complicated.
GT: Are there any other things that bother you?
FA: People on charter flights, like when the aircraft is full of people traveling with some travel agency. They spend 5 or 6 days on the beach, and they come on board and say, “Finally we hear the Czech language again.” For me it’s really stupid because it’s only 5 or 6 days. And they’re traveling with family anyway so you know they were speaking Czech on their vacation.
GT: What are your favorite types of passengers?
FA: Businessmen, people traveling for work. They know how it goes, where to sit. They are not waiting for refreshments. A lot of people who only travel sometimes always ask us why they don’t get snacks, why do we sell food and drinks. But there’s no problems with businessmen. And they’re courteous; they say thank you.
GT: Have you ever caught someone having sex on a plane?
FA: No. Maybe because my airline doesn’t have so many long haul flights.
GT: What’s your favorite destination you’ve been to for work?
FA: New York. I went there many times. For me it was the best experience. We took roller skates and went to Central Park. And then went shopping and out drinking at night. It was nice because we were all friends.
GT: What’s your least favorite work destination?
FA: Birmingham (UK). Because a lot of people come to Prague to spend a weekend here and they drink all weekend. So on the way back, everyone is drunk and people are throwing up. And they still buy a lot of alcoholic drinks. So when I see that I have a Sunday flight to Birmingham I’m like, “Oh no!”
GT: What has been your scariest experience?
FA: We had a situation months ago when there were strong winds and we couldn’t land. We had to do a go around. But it was more scary for all the people. For me, it was interesting.
GT: Have you ever been scared?
FA: I was scared once but I wasn’t working. I was traveling in Thailand. We were flying from some island and there was a thunderstorm. And after takeoff the plane was shaking and we saw the lightning. So I was scared because I didn’t know the pilots.
GT: Do passengers ever flirt with you?
FA: Two months ago, it happened to me for the first time. I was surprised because when I worked for CSA in the past I was younger and more attractive.
GT: Maybe people were intimidated by you.
FA: Yeah, I think in the past I was not so communicative and I think men saw this. But this man was talking to me the entire time. He was asking a lot of questions. I think he prepared questions in advance. He gave me his business card and invited me for dinner.
GT: Did you go?
FA: Yes! Why not? We had lived near each other and knew some people from the same city. So it wasn’t a completely random person.
GT: Do the flight attendants ever have sex with the pilots?
FA: No comment!
GT: So let’s talk about upgrades. How do you get one?
FA: We can’t do that. It’s the ground staff. It’s unofficial but, for example, if I’m the main stewardess and my sister is flying with me, I can tell her to board last and sit in business class. But you shouldn’t do that. Other than that, on the plane, we can’t upgrade anybody.
GT: What if someone can’t sit in the exit row and the only seat available is in business. Can you move them there?
FA: No. In fact, recently, we had someone flying standby with us who worked at Lufthansa and he had to sit in the jump seat. There were four free seats in business class but he still had to sit by me.
GT: Do you ever go on standby for free?
FA: Yes, I traveled a lot in the past with my ex-husband. Every year we had a flight somewhere… the Dominican Republic, Thailand. We just have to wait until the last minute to see if there’s a place on the aircraft.
GT: Did you ever do that and not get a flight?
FA: We didn’t get a flight in Manila on the way back to Prague. We were waiting all day and we ended up having to fly to Seoul and then to Prague.
GT: Do you ever party with the crew when you’re working?
FA: In the past, we partied a lot, because we used to fly in the evening and come back in the morning. So we could go out at night or drink at the hotel together.
GT: Do you sometimes work with people you hate?
FA: Yes, sometimes. You just have to do the work. And at night, we can make plans secretly without them. And tell them we are going to bed.
GT: Have you ever had an emergency landing?
FA: No, just once we had a man who had a pain in his chest but it was 10 minutes before landing. So we called an ambulance ahead of time, and they took him to the emergency room.
GT: How did things change in your work after events like 9/11?
FA: Until then, we didn’t have to close the cockpit. Since then, we have special rules for how to communicate with pilots and go in the cockpit. And we train for special situations like if we see someone doing something unusual. There are also secret agents flying who are watching. On some flights we know who it is. Sometimes we don’t.
GT: What do you do if someone is causing a scene or smoking or something?
FA: We have a procedure if someone is disturbing. First I tell him to stop and if he doesn’t quit, the chief of the cabin comes and talks to him. If it doesn’t help, the captain can make an announcement. We tell them, “If you don’t stop we will have to land.” If someone is smoking, we will land at the nearest airport. It’s really more strict.
GT: So what’s one thing you would want to tell travelers that would make your job easier?
FA: They should take just one piece of luggage and sit down as quick as possible. And smile.