Tales of drinking and debauchery are nothing new. British Airways was forced to launch an investigation in 2013 following complaints from passengers about the alcohol-fuelled behaviour of its off-duty cabin crew on a flight to Washington; while a YouTube video showing two female attendants stripping down to their underwear – shot in a hotel during a stopover between flights – also angered bosses at the airline. Most will be unfamiliar with aisle surfing, however. "Betty", whose column Confessions of a Fed-Up Flight Attendant appears on Yahoo! Travel, explains: "It's rare, but there are flights where there are no passengers on board. With no passengers to see us we can do things we would never do in the sight of paying customers. This is when we go aisle surfing. You get a meal tray, then stand or sit on it at the front of the airplane. On takeoff, you attempt to aisle surf all the way to the back of the plane."
She also describes an initiation prank for new flight attendants: "The 'air test' is where you tell the new hire that we have to test the air quality on certain flights. You give them a recycle bag and tell them to go catch the air in First Class and then have them do another air catching spectacle for the economy cabin. Upon arrival, we have them hand in their bags full of air to a stunned gate agent."
Dealing with a dead body
During filming for a recent BBC series, A Very British Airline, a lead trainer at BA offered some advice to new recruits on dealing with a recently deceased passenger.
"You cannot put a dead passenger in the toilet," she told trainees. "It's not respectful and [the corpse] is not strapped in for landing. If they slid off the toilet, they would end up on the floor. You would have to take the aircraft apart to get that person out. Imagine putting someone in the aircraft toilet?!" Her advice refers to instances where rigor mortis had set in and a body could not be removed from a confined space.
"In a nice, easy world – where someone dying on an aircraft isn't – you put them back on a seat."
Once seated, flight attendants should "tuck a blanket" right up to the corpse's neck, she added. If there is space in first class, they will often be placed there, and nearby passengers informed.
The system wasn't always thus. The trainer goes on to explain that BA used to prop up dead passengers and pretend they were dozing.
"It's what we used to do many years ago – give them a vodka and tonic, a Daily Mail and eye-shades and they were like, they're fine. We don't do that [now]."
In her first column, Yahoo! Travel's "Betty" revealed that one of her biggest bugbears is passengers that wolf down sleeping pills such as Ambien before turning into "lumbering, slumbering zombies".
She added: "On a recent long-haul international night voyage another flight attendant noticed something unusually pale in the aisle. She blinked before realising it was a totally nude man from coach, gunning straight for first class." Upon closer inspection, she realised he was an "Ambien zombie" who, "thinking he was asleep at home", had removed all his clothes.
Cabin crew have fun using the PA system – occasionally at the expense of passengers. EasyJet's stock eye-opener was "Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to inform you that we have on board someone very special today. He's an 89-year-old gentleman making his very first flight. So on leaving the plane would you please shake hands with your pilot".
A Virgin flight attended was heard announcing: "It's customary after a long-haul flight to ask for volunteers to clean the toilets. If you wish to volunteer, please stand up before the fasten seat-belt sign has been switched off."
During the safety briefing on board the Canadian airline Westjet, one flight attendant said: "In the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. If you are travelling with someone who needs help, put your own mask on first, then help your husband."
And a BA flight attendant also reportedly amused passengers with the following: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard this British Airways flight to Denver. If your travel plans do not include visiting Denver, then now would be the perfect time to make yourself known to a member of the cabin crew'".
Handcuffs for angry fliers
Airlines keep a pair of handcuffs on board to deal with particularly unruly passengers. "Thankfully it doesn't happen too often," said one flight attendant. "I've never had to use handcuffs, but I have dealt with some very angry and drunken passengers. Thankfully, calming them has been enough and we have not had to use them."
The stupid things passengers say
"Betty" also revealed some of the ridiculous things passengers have asked her during a flight.
"Where are the lines between the states?" – from people who believe there are visible lines, like on a map.
"When do I change the time on my watch or will it change itself as we go?"
"I don't mean to scare you, but something out there has been following us for hours!" – referring to the light on the wing.
"What country is Hawaii in?"
"Have we landed yet?"
Getting a free upgrade
As explained in our guide to getting a free upgrade, flight attendants have the power to move you to first class. Although most upgrades will be offered at the check-in desk – with frequent fliers the most common recipients – you could get relocated after you've boarded. For example, if you've got a faulty entertainment system, or a chair that won't recline, you've got good reason to complain, particularly if you're on a long-haul flight. You may simply be moved to another economy class seat. But if none are free, you could potentially be upgraded. Equally, if you've got a legitimate grievance against another passenger – harassment, for example – you could ask to be relocated.
"Betty" explains: "You shove a wad of toilet paper in the toilet then roll the rest of the roll out on the carpet the whole length of the plane, hit the flush and it will go airborne like a wet noodle and disappear in a second down the toilet. You can have races down each aisle. We usually only partake in these high jinks when the passengers are not on board. Usually."
Missing life jackets
There's a fair chance that those yellow inflatable life jacket, which might one day save your life, might not be there. According to George Hobica, airline expert and the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, they are increasingly targeted by souvenir hunters, and at least one airline - British Airways - does not require staff to check each seat still has its life jacket underneath at the end of a flight. She added: "A spokesman explained that spares are kept on board. But if you want to be able to don it immediately in the case of an emergency, it's up to you to check it's stowed where it should be."
The Mile High Club
There are more members than you might think. According to Mandy Smith, a former flight attendant who published the tell-all book "Cabin Fever": "Certain crew members got up to a bit more than serving tea and coffee," she said. "If we saw passengers being amorous we'd tell them to stop; or politely knock on the toilet door".
In the book, she also describes (in graphic detail) how she became a member (thankfully not on board a commercial flight).
Flight Attendant Career Connection, a Facebook page for cabin crew members, published a list of the things passengers do that are most likely to irritate.
- Taking forever to decide which drink you want
- Leaving rubbish in the seatback pocket
- Keeping your headphones on while you order a drink
- Walking around the plane barefoot
- Hanging out in the galley
- Whining about a tight connection when the current flight is on time
Being a flight attendant was once glamorous
It's not just a cliché. Several ladies who worked for BOAC in the 1960s said: "It really was the most glamorous job in the world, like being a super model, or an actress today. My mother even had an article put in our local paper, and a picture of me in uniform. The title of the article was: 'Wendy becomes an Air Hostess with BOAC.' We were the golden girls!"
They occasionally forget to disarm the doors
Which causes the emergency slide to inflate.
The Telegraph, London