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6 Things Passengers Probably Don't Know About Cabin Crew

When you step foot on an aircraft and are greeted by a smiling cabin crew, you probably have pre-conceived ideas about them and their work. Here are some things that you might not know.

1 Service and safety

Although you might only see them serving meals and drinks, they are primarily there for passenger safety. They spend six weeks or more in training, learning how to evacuate an aircraft in under 90 seconds on land or in water. They are trained to fight fires on the aircraft, should one occur, as there is no one else to help at 37,000 feet.

A flight attendant explains information on the safety card to a passenger.

They learn how to deal with numerous emergency situations onboard and know every safety feature in the cabin. Flight attendants also receive advanced first aid and CPR training to deal with medical emergencies. Their priority is safety over service, and you would never hope to see what they are really trained for. Depending on the airline’s training program, most cabin crew are also trained in self-defense, security, survival, food safety, and crew resource management.

2 Boarding is a critical time

Boarding is a very important time as cabin crew are, in fact, scanning the passengers for any unusual behavior. They are looking for people who might be drunk, as it is an offense to be in such a state on a commercial aircraft, and they don’t want issues later during the flight. Cabin crew look for potentially disruptive passengers, and an angry business person who has been drinking is not ideal on a long flight.

Austrian Airlines cabin crew providing snacks and drinks to passengers.

Photo: Austrian Airlines

Also, sometimes, flight attendants may be concerned about a very ill-looking passenger or a heavily pregnant lady. They will check if the traveler is fit to fly and then monitor them during the flight. They also look for any signs of drug taking, drug trafficking, and also human trafficking. Cabin crew also look for potential ABPs (able-bodied passengers) who they may be able to use in case of an emergency evacuation.

3 Cabin crew instructions

Did you know that following a crew member’s instructions is legally required? If the cabin crew asks you to do something, it is for a good reason. If they ask you to raise the window blinds, they need to be able to see outside conditions in case of emergency. If they ask you to remove your headphones for take-off or landing, it is because they want you to be able to hear emergency commands, especially if an evacuation is in order.

Passengers boarding an Alaska Airlines A321neo.

Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

If you are asked to put your seat back upright, it is so that you are not stopping other people from getting out of their seats behind you and slowing down an evacuation. They often must remind passengers to stow bags away, especially on exit rows, as it could impede an evacuation. There is always a safety reason behind every request.

4 Cabin crew backgrounds

It very much depends on the airline, but for many international airlines, the cabin crew come from various backgrounds. They will be of all ages, genders, and often from different countries and cultures. These cabin crew often are highly educated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and continue to study throughout their careers.

Cabin crew giving a safety presentation onboard a Wizz Air aircraft.

Photo: Wizz Air

Cabin crew also come from many different career backgrounds for a break or sometimes a total career change. There are ex-lawyers, teachers, doctors, accountants, and nurses who have later decided to become cabin crew. It is a profession in which people come from all walks of life and create a diverse and exciting community.

5 Speaking a different language

When cabin crew do their aviation training, they learn an entirely new language without realizing it. It is the language of aviation. Often, words are shortened. Onboard, we might talk about the LAV (lavatory) or describe something as INOP (inoperable). We will talk about the PAX (passengers) and might take out the ‘gash cart’ (waste cart) or be a ‘dairy fairy’ (taking out a tray of milk and sugar during the hot beverage service).

Etihad airways cabin crew standing outside the airport.

Photo: Etihad Airways

Cabin crew often talk about their layovers or destinations in three-letter airport codes. For example, ‘I am going to HEL today’ (Helsinki) or ‘I’m off to SIN’ (Singapore). We talk about time as ‘on the clock,’ meaning that we are staying on base time and not local time.

6 Cabin crew salaries

The cabin crew salary, in general, is relatively low, especially in Europe and the UK. It is not a job you do for the wage, that’s for sure! Flight attendants have a basic salary, but then added on are flying pay, a layover allowance, and commission from inflight sales. Flying pay differs between airlines but is usually from when the aircraft doors close and open, or sometimes it’s called ”chocks off to ‘chocks on.’ Most crew aren’t paid for duties on the ground pre-flight or post-flight.

Two Wizz Air cabin crew members standing in an airport terminal.

Photo: Wizz Air

Cabin crew usually get an allowance based on the city they are staying in. This is based on the cost of living and the price of a meal, although most crew try to save this instead of spending it. It very much differs from country to country. Some crew also get ‘destination of language’ payments for making announcements in their home language and speaking with passengers who may need help but do not speak English.


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