Confessions of a Flight Attendant
Heather Poole has been flying for a major U.S. airline for 20 years. She has weathered come-ons from the cockpit and passenger turbulence, which she documented in her 2012 book, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. Here, she shares some cringe-worthy moments and flier do’s and don’ts.
RED BULLETIN: How has flying changed since you started?
Heather Poole: Travel is not a sexy experience anymore. There’s airport security. Planes are crowded. People have to deal with it. Then they explode over nothing.
Not sexy? How about the mile-high club? Do couples still join it on flights?
It’s so long since I’ve seen that happen. The plane is full, and you can’t do things in your seat. I don’t know if lavatories are getting smaller or people are getting bigger, but seriously, they’re not romantic places.
What about flight attendants getting together with pilots on layovers? Does that still happen?
Maybe on a young airline, when everything is new and exciting. It’s extreme: Flight attendants are either after pilots or totally over it. Also, pilots now get longer layovers. They usually have a minimum of 10 hours of rest and we have eight. They might stay in a different hotel. You might work a flight and never see the pilot after.
What about during a flight?
Before 9/11 we could go up there (to the cockpit) and hang out. There was more camaraderie. Now, we’re not all lovin’ each other. We’ll be trying to do a meal service and they’ll want us to block the aisle so they can use the lavatory. We’ll say, “Do you really want to come out NOW?” Things have changed.
We hear a lot about bad passenger behavior. I’m sure you have stories.
Oh my god, yes! But I have more confidence now and can handle people better. I just had a passenger who started by putting his bag in first class when he was in coach. That’s a no-no. Then he asked for a drink just before landing and I had to take it away. He asked for my name. A few days later I saw him in an airport and walked up to him and said, “You write that letter yet?” He exploded and yelled (profanities).
Do you have problems with drunken passengers?
I fly to Vegas. There are a lot of bachelor and bachelorette parties. And once an Irish boxer was fighting in Vegas, and a lot of fans came over from Ireland. I couldn’t even set up the (beverage) cart. Everyone was trying to grab a drink. I said, “You need to sit down.” One guy cupped my butt and tried to put his lips on me and make out with me. I could have had the flight diverted and gotten him kicked off, but that would have meant that a lot of people would be late or miss connections. For every incident you see reported in the news, there are 20 others you don’t see. Sometimes you just suck it up.
Have you flown with a lot of celebrities?
Oh yes. We get the stars going to the Oscars every year, and the closets are full with their dresses. One flight I had three gowns for Natalie Portman. And when I watched the Oscars I said, “I know that dress.”
Have you had any stars over-imbibe on a flight, as they have been known to do?
Well, we had a famous young celebrity just out of rehab and she was drinking a lot of wine. We thought that was pretty stupid, because when you’re a celebrity and people know it, the things you do can show up in tabloids.
How many drinks will you serve a passenger?
Everyone’s different. You have to feel it out. If you’re quiet and well behaved, you’ll probably be fine (ordering multiple drinks). But sometimes it’s hard to keep track when different people are serving a passenger.
How do you cut people off?
We might disappear and “forget” to serve someone. Or I’ll say, “You’re not getting any more. I’m not comfortable serving you more.”
I hear flight attendants can tell newbies in first class by the way they order.
They might ask for five drinks right away. I say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be coming back.” I’m smiling, but in my head I’m going “Gawwwwwd!” Or they feel they have to try everything. They keep switching their drinks.
Have any tips for passengers?
Number one, be nice. I had a guy who came on and looked me in the eye and said, “Hello.” That happens so rarely. So if he wants something, I’ll get it fast. And people don’t usually say “please” and “thank you.” Or they have their earphones on and I have to keep repeating myself. I could say, “My dog laid an egg” over the PA system and no one would be listening. But remember: One time I might be your flight attendant and the next I could be your seatmate. When you’re flying, you’re never invisible.