Nov. 21, 2013 at 5:48 PM ET
If you’re like most of us, you’ve flown on so many airplanes in your life that you could do the safety demo song-and-dance all by yourself. (Blind folded, in your sleep.) But no matter how much we’ve traveled by air, it turns out there’s a whooooole lot we don’t know.
Flight attendants are the ones who’ve truly seen it all, and the things they know—as well as the peculiar quirks of their job—might totally shock you. Long-time vet of the profession Heather Poole wrote a piece in Mental Floss that pulls back the curtain on some astounding flight attendants’ secrets. Read them and see if you ever look at your on-flight staff the same way again.
You know that frustration you feel when passengers file ever so maddeningly slowly onto the plane, readjusting their bags and generally taking up unnecessary aisle space— when all you want to do is get the darn show on the road (or in the air, as it were)? Well, you can bet that flight attendants are even more eager than you are. When the plane doors are open, they’re not even getting paid: Turns out, they’re not officially on the clock until the plane moves away from the gate. (They do get a tiny allowance for each hour they spend after checking in for their shifts, however—to the tune of $1.50 an hour, in Poole’s case.)
Maybe it seems glamorous to you: Flight attendants get to travel all over the world while on the clock (or, mostly on the clock: see above). You might consider it a great gig—that is, if you could get it. Turns out competition is super tough. Poole cites one example of 100,000 applicants for 1,000 openings offered by Delta a few years back. So most applicants who win the gig are college educated, experienced, and-or multilingual.
Those few percent who do score the job would be wise not to get too attached right off the bat. The six-month probationary period for new hires is very strict, and people can get fired for just about any reason. "I know one new hire who lost her job for wearing her uniform sweater tied around her waist. Another newbie got canned for pretending to be a full-fledged attendant so she could fly home for free. (Travel benefits don’t kick in until we’re off probation.) But the most surprising violation is flying while ill: If we call in sick, we aren’t allowed to fly, even as a passenger on another airline. It’s grounds for immediate dismissal,” Poole says.
Well, they don’t necessarily hate drinking it on their downtime. But they absolutely hate pouring it for passengers. This is because it takes the most time to pour of all the drinks in the cart. “The fizz takes forever to settle at 35,000 feet,” Poole wrote—claiming she could pour about three other beverages in the same amount of time.
Wait, what? Yes, that’s right: It turns out that newbie flight attendants have stricter guidelines and can’t mess with the length of their skirts. As they gain more experience, they also earn more hem freedom, and are permitted to show a more little leg if they’re into it.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.