Every day, flight attendants are forced to deal with drunken, entitled, rude, and sometimes abusive passengers. We asked three longtime flight attendants for major U.S. airlines to vent about their all-time worst passenger experience.
1. Jet Set Betty, a flight attendant for 16 years with two major U.S. airlines, blogs and tweets about life on board.
About a year and a half ago, I had a really bad experience with a passenger. She was the parent of a very active toddler and had not purchased a seat for her child. If you are flying with a child under two, it is not required to purchase a seat for them. We call these kids “lap children.” Which means precisely that: You hold the child on your lap. During takeoff, landing and anytime the seatbelt sign comes on, everyone is required to have their seatbelt fastened. In the case of the lap child, the parent is their seat belt. When the seatbelt sign comes on we remind people to fasten theirs. We don’t know what the pilots have seen or heard about the turbulence ahead. We trust their decision, so it’s really important everyone sit down and buckle up.
The sign was on, it was turbulent, and this mother would not hold onto her child. I asked her repeatedly to do so. The child was a typical toddler, had probably just learned to walk and just wanted to go go go. They were sitting at the bulkhead and there was room for her to walk around, but once that sign comes on, the child has to be held or put in a seat belt. It’s not personal and we really don’t make this stuff up to annoy you. At one point I even squatted down next to the mother saying it was for her daughter’s safety, telling her that I’ve been there too, traveling with a child can be difficult. I’m a mom of three boys and I wouldn’t leave the Safeway parking lot going 10 miles per hour without making sure they are in their seatbelts. In a plane, during takeoff and landing, you’re going 140 miles per hour. The mother said, “She doesn’t want to stay still, she’ll scream and arch her back.” I get this a lot. I always have to explain that I would rather have a child scream and cry and be safe than to not be safe and never cry again!
The mother began screaming at me, causing a scene, saying I made it the worst flight ever, asking for a supervisor and that she never wants to travel again. On the airplane we are our own supervisors — the captain can’t exactly come out of the cockpit anymore to intervene. There was nothing I could do except enlist another flight attendant to step in and call a supervisor once we landed. The mother responded right away to the other flight attendant by picking up her daughter and buckling her into the middle seat. No eye rolls, no questions asked, and certainly no tirade. That’s when I knew it was just a personal thing. She didn’t want metelling her what to do. I went to another part of the plane for the rest of the flight and continued to do my job, but it was a really uncomfortable situation. When we landed, we had a supervisor meet her as she got off the plane. She told the supervisor that I picked up her child and physically slammed her into the seat and fastened the belt around her myself. What?! I wouldn’t do that to my own kids, much less someone else’s.
With this job, it is easy to get hardened. When people are rude, you just say okay, it is what it is. But I was infuriated and shaky after this incident. Several passengers who had witnessed it all came up to me to say I did a great job and handled it as best I could and that she was just a terrible mother. When people are mean to you, you feel bad but you get over it. But when someone is so over the top nasty and others are nice to you, well, that’s when I wanted to cry. Typically flight attendants do not cry on airplanes. It tends to not instill a whole lot of confidence. This woman’s blatant disregard of the rules and attitude toward me pushed me over the edge. Not Steven Slater over the edge mind you, but she does and will stand out in my memory for a very long time.
2. Gailen David, the Sky Steward, is a lead purser and has worked as a flight attendant for a major American airline for 23 years.
We were flying out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a husband and wife boarded the plane. They were “tan and popular” types, as I call them. She had on her sarong and gold lamé heels and her husband had on his golf outfit. They were very hoity-toity nouveau riche and obviously thought they were hot stuff. We had open seating in coach at the time, so the agent had told everyone to find an empty seat and settle in. This couple went ahead and took two open seats that were in first class instead of in coach, where they had purchased their seats. I was the one pulling tickets and I would not have noticed except that the agent then brought two people up who actually had those seats in first class. So I approached the couple that had seated themselves there and asked them which seats they had, and they told me they didn’t know but that they had been told to take any open seat. I apologized but told them that the first class seats were taken by paying customers and that they’d have to go find seats in coach. And the woman said, “But we’re already sitting here. We’ve already put our luggage in the overhead bin, we’re not changing seats.” She kept saying it was ridiculous, and that we had already delayed them into San Juan and that the least we could do was give them a first class seat. She was causing a scene and her husband was just sitting there. Finally they went back to coach and I thought that was the end of it.
During the flight, while we were picking up the meal trays and had our carts blocking the aisle, I see her repeatedly pushing her call button. I motioned to her that I would be back as soon as I could get through the aisle, and I thought she understood, but two minutes later she’d ring the call button again. When I got back there, she just freaked out. She told me she wanted a pillow but just to “f$#%ing forget it.” Her husband was still just sitting there. It was almost like she was really upset about her life. Believe me, I can relate — I hate walking through first class to take a seat in coach, too. Later, she comes and finds me in the galley and starts telling me she is going to write a letter to the airline and I am going to lose my job. She kept calling me a stewardess, which I chose to ignore since I am a male flight attendant. And I have to admit I said something nasty to her. I said, “I am so sorry your husband won’t fly you in first class. If there’s anything I could do to make your life better, I would.” And she just told me that I would lose my job. She was really up in my face and said, “Enjoy your benefits while they last.”
When I went to get off the plane, there were passengers behind me and they said they had heard the whole story and people were coming up to ask if I was okay. It did shake me up a little bit. I was really worried. When passengers write letters, many times they do embellish. And how can you control what people write? We did have an airline representative meet the flight when we got in because we didn’t want to get in trouble. But happily, that was the last we heard from her.
3. Flight Attendant X has worked for more than 21 years for a major US legacy carrier and tweets about his experiences.
I was working in the first class cabin on a flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis and before takeoff, this passenger stops me as I walk by and says, “Hey, I’m am a descendant of Daniel Boone.” You get a lot of people saying strange things on flights, so I was just like, that’s nice that your great grandpa was Daniel Boone, welcome on board.
It happens that people get drunk on planes. They start out at the sky club or at the airport. Since this was first class, we had given him a Jack Daniels and Pepsi before takeoff. When this flight pushed back, the horror began. He ordered another drink or two and was just getting really obnoxious, so we cut him off. And then when it came to the meal service and we didn’t have his choice of meals, that’s when he became really ticked off. I had over 300 people on this flight, and he was causing quite a scene. I had to contact the pilots to ask them what to do, and they said to consider it like a hijacking since he was getting out of control. This was back when pilots could go in and out of the cockpit during the flight, so the first officer came out and told the passenger to go the back of the plane. So he walks down the aisle, and when he gets to his row near the back, instead of asking the people sitting there if he can pass to get to his seat, he just climbs over them. He sat back there for a little while brooding, just getting angrier and angrier. And then he decides he’s had enough and is coming back to his original seat, and he storms past where I was in the aisle with the beverage cart, and knocks all of these glasses off the top. In the meantime, we had heard from the woman who had originally been seated next to him that he had been harassing her and saying really inappropriate things. So we move her to another seat and put a non-revenue passenger next to the Daniel Boone guy. Then the guy starts screaming obscenities and harassing two male passengers nearby who are a couple.
The pilots got us cleared immediately to land in Minneapolis and we basically made a nosedive down for the airport. As we landed, you could see police cars escorting the airplane. When we finally got to the gate and I was making my announcement, I had my back to the cabin for the doors to be disarmed and everyone starts yelling, “He’s coming after you!” And that’s when the door opened, and the police were right there and I said, “There he is.” I later learned that on the way to his holding cell, this guy had broken out the car window in the cop car. Then he did some damage to his holding cell. The incident even made the news that night.
by Terry Ward