Drunks, vomit and bad smells: the horrors of being a domestic flight attendant

There's not much glamour involved in being a flight attendant on domestic flights.
There's not much glamour involved in being a flight attendant on domestic flights. Photo: Getty Images

Can you smell that? It's pretty bad, right? Kinda stinky? That's because the flight attendant just farted right next to you, and then walked away.

He did it on purpose, because you've been annoying him since take-off. Demands for this and that; general rudeness. So he dropped one in your vicinity and went on his merry way.

Classy. But that's sometimes the world of the domestic flight attendant, where small victories have to be claimed in an otherwise tedious existence. Take off, land; take off, land. Serve the masses and push them out the door.

A few weeks ago I interviewed an Emirates flight attendant who spoke of the glamorous life of the international hostie. It provoked plenty of responses, but the most entertaining was from a guy who's worked as a domestic flight attendant in Australia for four years, and who said he had a much different story to tell.

We had a chat last week, and he's asked to remain anonymous in the interests of keeping his job. I'll let him show you why.

What's the difference between being an international flight attendant and being on a domestic airline?

Well as a domestic you get shafted with super-long days and short breaks. The max that we can do is four flights a day, and that takes it out of you with going up and down all the time, cleaning the plane, dealing with bags and people... Whereas in international you've got one flight of up to 15 hours and then plenty of rest.

Could you relate to the things the Emirates hostie was talking about in the original post?

There were certain things I agreed with and others that were just crap. It sounds so glamorous but it's not – you have to clean toilets, you have to deal with vomit, you have to deal with people's BS every day. They forgot to include that. People always say, "Oh I've always wanted to be a flight attendant." I'm like, "Don't do it." If you get in you can never get out.

What do you dread on a typical day?

The worst flight you can possibly get is the Coolie [Coolangatta]. If you get rostered on a Gold Coast flight you know you're in for a hell day. The clientele on those flights are the worst of anywhere – ask any crew of any airline. They're demanding, they pay very little for their ticket and want everything. People on those flights don't travel very often, and it shows.

Do you have any horror stories about passengers?

Oh, daily. I can't even make the nonsense up that people produce. Once I was going to Perth and this guy got on, he had a row of three seats to himself. So he's pressing his call bell and I go to see him and he says, "There seems to be a screw poking me through my seat." I'm like, "OK, don't touch it, you've got the row of three to yourself would you mind just moving to one of the other seats and I'll get an engineer to have a look at it?" He says, "No no no, I want to stay here." I'm like, "Well this is the solution otherwise you stay there and enjoy the screw in your knee." So he chucked the s--ts and sat there in the screw seat with his arms folded for the next five hours of the flight. Men are like that in general though, especially businessmen, they hate being told what to do.

Are there things that the crew get up to that most people wouldn't realise?

Every story that you hear is true – that's the easiest way to explain it. Not on board though. But on an overnight... You're an adult, you're on an overnight, there's a lot of people, there's alcohol, and it just goes on from there.

Do people really try to join the Mile High Club?

I've had it twice. Once in row one these people had just met and they pretty much wanted to go for it. So we embarrassed them. And then a guy went into a toilet followed by a girl on a red-eye. There's no procedure of what to do but we just embarrass the hell out of them. So four of us just stood there in front of the toilet waiting for them to come out. There's no law against it, it's just... Don't do it.

Do flight attendants really have code words for passengers? I've heard if they refer to an attractive person as "Bob" it means "Best On Board".

Oh yeah, you've got your Bob. Also, say someone in seat 18-Charlie is the best-looking person you've ever seen in your life. You'd say, like, "I can't wait to have 18 days in California." Initially when I first started I wasn't informed of that little trick. I'd be like, "Eighteen days in California? That's so exciting!" They're like, "What?" But now I've caught on. And have you heard the term "crop dusting"? I have a lot of new crew at the moment, so I've been teaching them to crop dust if there's someone in the cabin they don't like.

Have you ever had any scary moments in-flight?

I've been in aircraft that have been struck by lightning twice – the first time was the loudest noise I've ever heard. The aircraft is designed to be struck, it's got entry and exit points, but it was such a loud bang in the middle of the cabin that two of the crew screamed and that in turn made me almost s--t my pants.

Do you have any good memories that stick in your mind?

I don't normally get starstruck by celebrities, I couldn't give a stuff about the ones we have on board. But once Toni Collette was on board and I flipped out. We also had the Glee cast on a few years ago and I couldn't even talk. I was supposed to be serving them and I had to remove myself from the situation.

Would you still want to be a flight attendant? Do you think crew on domestic flights are different to those on international? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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