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Is ‘The Flight Attendant’ accurate? Two real flight attendants weigh in

From drinking on the job to dalliances with passengers, two flight attendants separate fact from fiction in the HBO Max series starring Kaley Cuoco.

Two seasons in, and it's obvious that the show "The Flight Attendant" isn't really about flight attendants — despite the name.

Inspired by a novel by Chris Bohjalian, the HBO Max show is about addiction and recovery; international intrigue; the CIA; self-sabotage; incredibly chic villains; among other things.

Still, the show is steeped in the backdrop of protagonist Cassie Bowden's (Kaley Cuoco) work as a flight attendant. Even if she's not on planes much, she's frequently seen in her uniform.

When Anna*, a 31-year-old flight attendant for a U.S. airline who flies both internationally and domestically, first heard about the show in 2021, it was that aspect that got her attention. (*Ed. note: Anna's last name has been omitted to protect her privacy).

Kaley Cuoco as Cassie on "The Flight Attendant."
Kaley Cuoco as Cassie on "The Flight Attendant."HBO Max

Speaking to TODAY, Anna recalled that she began watching "The Flight Attendant" in Jan. 2021, while she and her husband (then fiancé) were sick with COVID.

For Anna, "The Flight Attendant" — for all its high-wire plot-lines — was also a refreshing return to normalcy. "We had been dealing with COVID for a while, and travel was not what it used to be. It was kind of nice to to look at and be like 'Oh, that's how kind of it used to be,'" Anna told TODAY.

“It has its glamorous moments ... it definitely does."

Anna on working as a flight attendant

Flight attendants have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, with news of fights erupting in the sky. While the public transit mask mandate lifted in April, Anna had to add “mask enforcer” to her list of duties for two years.

"Anyone who has paid attention to the news over the past two years can you know should be able to see passengers traveling being brings out the worst in people, and the last two years or so has been really challenging," Anna said. “I say to my coworkers, my goal is to not end up on the news.”

"The Flight Attendant" reminded Anna of the good old days, which initially attracted her to make a career change from social work. "It has its glamorous moments. Don't get me wrong it definitely does," she said.

Ashley Mayyou, 36, who previously worked on both commercial and charter airlines, doesn't associate her old job with glamour — though she did appreciate the flexible lifestyle.

"At the end of the day, you don't feel glamorous like at all. I just felt like I smell like a lavatory. When I got off the plane, I just felt gross and I needed to shower immediately," Mayyou said.

Speaking to TODAY, Anna and Mayyou fact-check "The Flight Attendant" — at least, how the show portrays the job itself.

Cassie's schedule on 'The Flight Attendant' isn't quite realistic

"The Flight Attendant" never goes into detail about how Cassie lands her routes — but, as Anna explains, there's a process to it, based around seniority and bidding for schedules.

At Anna's carrier, flight attendants are either classified as "reserves" or "line holders."

Reserves, who are typically more junior, are on call, and can be sent "wherever" on the days they're working. Anna illustrated an incident from her early days as a flight attendant.

"I was new and in San Francisco, I got a call one morning saying I was going to need to head to the airport and be there in three hours to head to Japan, and then a day later head to Singapore. Reserves can be stressful, but they can also send you to places that you never thought you would," Anna said.

Line holders bid for a schedule each month based on seniority. That way, Anna said, "you know what you're going to work."

Friendships are formed on the job, thanks to 'jump seat therapy'

On "The Flight Attendant," Cassie develops a close relationship with Megan Briscoe (Rosie Perez), a fellow flight attendant.

Anna said that the show's relationships between flight attendants are one of its most accurate parts.

"When you spend so much time with people — three or four days with the same crew working 10 to 12 hour days — you get to know people real quick," Anna said.

In season two, Cassie bonds with flight attendant Grace St. James (Mae Martin) while sitting on a fold-up jump seat in the back of the plane. Anna said that that's where some of the bonding magic happens.

Grace St. James and Cassie bond on the job in "The Flight Attendant." Pictured: Kaley Cuoco and Mae Martin.
Grace St. James and Cassie bond on the job in "The Flight Attendant." Pictured: Kaley Cuoco and Mae Martin.

"We sometimes call it jump seat therapy, because you'll sit down on the jump seat and you'll just start talking. By the end of the trip, you know everything about their lives, their family, their day-to-day life — you name it," Anna said.

Though one thing is inaccurate. Cassie frequently works with Rosie in season one. Anna said it's less consistent — unless you try "buddy bidding," and bid for the same schedule, a possibility that comes with seniority.

Mayyou recalled working for a commercial carrier and working with strangers daily.

"Most days I would go to work and I would not know anybody, every single day. That's why they have such a good training structure. Everybody works well together, because you have exactly what you're going to be doing on the plane," Mayyou told TODAY.

Partying is a thing, but drinking on the job is not

Cassie, in Season One, marries work and play, partying once she hits the ground. According to Anna, this isn't uncommon.

"You have people that as soon as they get somewhere they're going out, they're exploring, they're partying," Anna said. She added it’s especially celebratory when flight attendants fly with people they actually know: “It’s like, ‘Oh, this is awesome. Let’s go out.’”

By no means, however, do all flight attendants partake. "It's a mix," Anna said.

Cassie mixes business and pleasure on the job. Pictured: Kaley Cuoco in "The Flight Attendant.
Cassie mixes business and pleasure on the job. Pictured: Kaley Cuoco in "The Flight Attendant.HBO Max

However, "The Flight Attendant" diverges from reality in one major way. Cassie sneaks alcohol on the job, a major no-no. Normally you're not allowed to drink eight to 12 hours before work, Mayyou explained.

"Everybody tends to know when that bottle-to-throttle line is. We have until this time, and we have to stop drinking at this point. Doesn't mean we can't stay out," Anna said.

“Flight attendants are your first responders in the sky."

Anna A.

According to Anna, this rule is taken very seriously, and for good reason.

"Flight attendants are your first responders in the sky. You have to be ready for anything, whether it's a security issue or a medical issue. You want to be very clear minded and not impaired whatsoever, which is why those rules are in place," she said.

Seniority is the rule, including when it comes to jump seats

In Season Two of "The Flight Attendant," Cassie fights with Carol (Alanna Ubach), more senior flight attendant over the jump seat on a flight to Reykjavik.

But Cassie blackmails her with information that Carol sells her buddy passes (discounted tickets for family and friends) and earned the nickname "Black Market Carol" as a result.

Alanna Ubach and Kaley Cuoco fight over the jump seat to Iceland in "The Flight Attendant"
Alanna Ubach and Kaley Cuoco fight over the jump seat to Iceland in "The Flight Attendant"Jennifer Rose Clasen

This interaction is steeped in reality. "You're given the jump seat based on your seniority," Mayyou said.

Mayyou explained that flying the jump seat is a bit like flying standby. The major difference? Only flight attendants and other professionals are eligible to sit in a jumpseat.

Seniority affects other areas of work, including schedules. "Everything is seniority based for U.S. carriers," Anna said.

Relationships with passengers? Not so much

The show's hijinks are spurred from Cassie's decision to strike up a brief romance with a first class passenger (Michiel Huisman). The next day, she wakes up next to him — only to find he's been murdered.

As for whether affairs with passengers happen in real life? Well, mum's the word. "It's really not talked about much," Anna said. "What do you do on your off time is your off time."

First class cabin, or meet cute territory?
First class cabin, or meet cute territory?HBO Max

Anna said she knows flight attendants who have met their spouses on the job, but it's not very common.

"I honestly didn't see that very often, especially nowadays," Mayyou said. "Usually passengers are so glued to whatever they're doing — sitting on their phone, listening to headphones. They don't pay attention. Why are they going to look at the flight attendant and hit on them?"