After six years working as a flight attendant for a leading UK airline, Kristina Galvydyte, 30, has plenty of insights into an industry that still arouses a curious fascination for many. Here she answers the 20 questions you’ve probably always wanted to ask.
‘I’ve never seen the British boozing culture anywhere else’
1. Which type of passenger irritates you the most?
There are quite a few: those who spend the majority of the flight blocking the aisle, or letting their children run up and down, as well as those who need to be told multiple times to put a seatbelt on. But people who get too drunk will always be the worst.
2. Are Britons more rude and rowdy than any other nationality?
I’m sorry to say the stereotype is true. Brits tend to start drinking, or even downing drinks, at the airport, no matter the hour of the day, so a lot already board the plane drunk or at least tipsy – and then carry on. As someone from Eastern Europe, I have never seen this kind of culture anywhere else.
There are strict rules on how much alcohol we can sell to passengers during a flight (two drinks per person per service), but people still smuggle their own drinks in and often get completely out of control. Subsequently, Brits are the worst passengers to deal with in terms of disruptive behaviour.
As for the best behaved nation, I’d say most passengers from mainland Europe – but especially Scandinavia – tend to be fairly tame.
‘I’ve seen stag dos snorting cocaine and fighting’
3. How do you deal with drunk passengers?
Drunken behaviour is the biggest issue when flying, and it happens often, so we receive annual training on how to deal with disruptive passengers and the responsible selling of alcohol. It is almost unbelievable how drastically people’s behaviour can change once they’re under the influence. When things escalate, we give disruptive passengers a final warning, taking any drinks we find off them until the end of the flight, and continue to monitor the situation. If they continue to behave antisocially, we take their passport details so the airline can ban them permanently. Usually, when they realise there could be actual consequences to their actions – such as not being able to board their flight home – it helps.
I’ve never had to personally restrain anyone (we are trained in self-defence, but not in how to restrain someone), but we’ve had to involve the police many times. One incident that comes to mind was an Alicante flight with three separate stag dos. Two of the groups ended up in a physical fight that needed to be broken up, and one stag do was snorting cocaine in the toilets. I don’t know how they got home as they were all banned by the airline for life.
4. Have you ever seen a passenger attempt to join the Mile High Club?
That used to be the first question I got asked in online dating, unsurprisingly! Thankfully not. That would be absolutely disgusting, as the toilets do not get cleaned until the end of the day. Unless you want to catch anything and everything, do not try it. That water on the floor is not water.
5. Is there ever any boozing on the job?
I know of airlines that have more accepting views towards drinking on the job, but at mine it hasn’t even crossed anyone’s mind to do something like this. Most of our flights are very busy, but to pass the time on quiet days, we usually just talk about random topics and get to know our colleagues, go into the flight deck to chat with the pilots (they’re the ones that are truly bored), read books or play an old school game like Stop The Bus.
‘No-one seem to know how to open the toilet doors’
6. What’s the most stupid question you’ve been asked by a passenger?
It happens every day: no one seems to know how to open the toilet doors – even though there’s a sign right in front of them explaining it.
7. Has anything else ever gone missing from a plane?
I wouldn’t say this happens often, but some parents have carried the baby life jackets off with them. I like to believe in the goodness of humanity, so assume it’s because they’ve just popped it into their handbag and forgotten to take it out.
‘My colleague broke her cheek against the ceiling of the plane’
8. What’s the worst turbulence you’ve ever experienced?
I’ve luckily never had an emergency landing, but the worst turbulence I’ve had was arriving in Madeira – one of the world’s hardest airports to land at – when drinks were flying in the air. My colleagues have seen worse – one of them even broke her cheek hitting the ceiling with her face. But even on those occasions, neither of us thought we were going to crash.
9. What happens if someone dies on a flight?
Only a medical doctor can legally pronounce someone has died, so in the event of a serious medical emergency, we’re trained to continue performing CPR until the plane lands and paramedics arrive – even if the person is clearly dead. If a death is correctly determined on board, there’s lots of paperwork to complete, the plane would divert to the nearest airport and we would try to give both the deceased and their travel companions as much privacy and dignity as possible in such a small space.
I have dealt with many medical emergencies over the years, and every time there is an insensitive person complaining how they’re still waiting for their Diet Coke.
‘You can earn an extra £1,000 a month if you sell enough drinks’
10. How much does a flight attendant earn?
At my airline, as a mid-level flight attendant, I take home around £35,000 a year because we earn good commission from on-board sales. However, not all airlines have such good salaries. We have to work on bank holidays, but get 40 days off a year, and as it’s a short-haul airline our shifts involve a flight out and a return home – so we get to sleep in our own beds every night.
11. Do you get a bonus for selling the most in-flight snacks and drinks?
Yes. Staff receive between 1 per cent and 5 per cent of the total sales from a flight, depending on how much is sold. This means we can take away anything from £300 to £1,000 a month in commission alone. It means we’ll 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?
Because we were understaffed, there were a lot of sudden changes to our rosters, making it difficult to plan our lives. You would just get your whole week changed at a moment’s notice. The delays were also frequent, meaning our long days (10-16 hours) got even longer. Everyone worked very hard to get people on their holidays and we were through the worst of it by August.
‘Lots of pilots and flight attendants end up dating’
13. Do flight attendants often end up dating pilots?
Yes, it happens a lot. In my friendship group, two couples are pilots and cabin crew.
14. Is sexism still a problem among airline staff?
Unfortunately, yes. It’s sometimes slight undertones of sexism, but I’ve heard some pilots say downright predatory things about cabin crew. According to my friends, the conversations being had behind the closed doors of the flight deck are extremely sexist, but if someone spoke they’d be labelled a snowflake. It’s become more unacceptable to be openly sexist, so hopefully attitudes will change eventually – but there is still a long way to go.
15. Are there any unusual requirements to be a flight attendant?
There is a minimum and maximum height, and you need long enough arms to open an aircraft door in an emergency. As for appearance, tattoos must be covered, visible piercings are also not allowed, hair must be worn either in a tidy bun or a short ponytail, and only red, nude, clear or French manicure nails are permitted. They used to require us to change into our heels when not on the aircraft, but, thankfully, the Equality Act 2010 finally caught up with them – 10 years later.
‘If you’re scared of flying, sit near the front’
16. Where is the best and worst place to sit on a plane?
If you’re scared of flying, sit near the front – the back of the plane gets the worst turbulence. And if you’re flying over the sea for long periods of time, sit by the wings as that is the primary exit if you have to land on water.
17. What’s your favourite airline to fly with and why?
I like flying as a passenger with SAS – the service is always nice and the passengers are quiet. I don’t have least favourite airlines – I have least favourite routes, based on the kind of passengers that go to those destinations. Alicante, Antalya, Palma and Ibiza spring to mind.
18. Do you eat plane food?
Yes, I love a greasy all day breakfast!
‘No, we don’t clean the toilets’
19. What are the best and worst parts of the job?
The money and the time off were both good. When you’re on a quick and easy flight to Italy with lovely passengers, it can seem like the best job in the world.
Dealing with rude or disruptive passengers is the worst part – and, in case you were wondering, we do not clean the toilets, only the cabin. Even if there’s a really bad accident, we will just 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’re a flight attendant?
It’s often not a question, but an assumption: “You must have seen so many places!” Then I have to explain that short-haul airlines like mine fly to so many places, but come straight back again. Not so glamorous after all.