For most of us, flying was fun the first couple times we tried it as a kid—and since then has just been one of the most annoying tasks we have to endure from time to time.
From delays to long lineups to being crammed into an uncomfortable little space for hours at a time, it’s just something most of us prefer to avoid if we can.
That being said, there is far more to the flying process than meets the eye, and there is a lot that cannot be picked up on from the passenger’s perspective. And maybe with good reason...
For better or for worse, here are 42 tricks of the trade that most flight passengers are completely unaware of.
This applies to flights that are operated by a carrier that is based in an EU member country (i.e. Lufthansa), or the flight is operated from an EU member country (i.e. a flight from France to JFK). If the flight is delayed more than 3 hours due to technical or operational mishaps, you are entitled to monetary compensation. Up to 600 Euros depending on the distance of the flight. Also, airlines have to give you meals, refreshments, and accommodation too, depending on the duration of the delay. (3-5 hours: meal and refreshments, a phone to call your family and friends; 8+ hours: accommodation and free transfer to and from the hotel). This is done regardless of the reason for the cancellation or delay.
I see most people from the US are happy enough just to get a hotel and they have no complaints whatsoever. However, if you ask nicely, they will most likely give you your compensation after the flight, if not immediately.
My partner worked for Delta for about four years as one of the guys who loads and unloads your luggage and waves wands. Nothing is safe in those bags. They pop open all the time and your things just get haphazardly shoved back in. They get tossed around like volleyballs. TSA is a lie. A lot of decisions about boarding or switching flights, etc., are completely at employee’s discretion.
What passengers don’t realize? How much the pilots sleep!
If you have to poo, lay toilet paper in the toilet first. It won't smear, I promise.
Yes, on trans-oceanic flights there is a cabin for the crew to get some sleep. No, you won't be invited in for fun times. On some newer planes, there's also a hold for people who have died on the flight. No, you won't be invited in for fun times either.
If you piss off the cabin crew they will fart on you. The pressure on aircraft makes you naturally gassy and it's easy to puff one off in the face of an annoying jerk while bending down to speak to someone on the opposite side of the aisle.
If a meal service is on offer, go for the kosher option, so you know it was prepared that day.
There are sometimes body parts, pets, and luggage together in the same storage area.
My late mom was a Delta "stewardess" for 33 years. She used to tell awesome PG stories, and I'm sure she had a hundred more that were unfit for my innocent ears. Like any kid, I never really paid attention, but most of the ones I remember were about famous and/or drunk people. Or best of all, famous drunk people.
Count the seat backs to the closest exit. Good chance you won't be able to see in some types of accidents.
I'm not a flight attendant but I work the ramp. To elaborate on the body parts, we send full bodies on planes a lot. Some in caskets, some not. Twice in the seven years I've been doing this has "fluid" leaked out of the boxes the bodies are in and gotten all over the luggage.
I'm a ticket agent and, boy, the stories I could tell.
One thing people definitely should know is that a surprising amount of the delays that happen are due to passengers. Yep, passengers. That one guy who throws a fit because he can't take four ounces of liquid through TSA and decided the gate agent was a great target to take out their wrath on caused your delay. So did that family that decided it was a great idea to bring three strollers and two car seats for their single child. That sweet old Grandma who insists she doesn't need help getting onto the plane, but can't walk faster than one step every minute? Gotta wait for her. And that last delay you had that the agent told you was due to maintenance? Was thanks to some guy trying to hijack the smoke alarm on the plane.
There are lots of delays for other reasons—weather being a big one. And don't even say that there's no weather where you are. There isn't, but that doesn't mean there's not weather somewhere else! You'd be amazed at how many are caused by the people around you while you're trying to board the plane. This is also part of why gate agents are so strict about cutting off loading times.
Airline employees love to help when they can, but there are times when we kind of wish we could turn to the nearest wall and whack our heads against it a few times just to improve the situation.
Aerospace fastener production here. Nobody ever asks what is actually holding the plane together. Don't worry about it.
A flight attendant told me that in the event of a situation where passengers have to cover their heads, you do not “lock” your fingers over your head but place one hand on top of the other. If something falls on your hand/head, you'll still have one good hand to use.
I dated a flight attendant for a while. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that sometimes delays are caused by flight attendants not showing up and the airline scrambling to get a backup scheduled. Like a flight attendant was partying too hard last night and decided to call off two hours before that $1,500 cross-ocean flight you just got to the airport for.
She loved to party, as did a lot of her coworkers and was often hungover or "out of it" on flights. Even though the pay was lousy, their union made it very hard for them to get fired, so call-offs were kind of no-big-deal.
Worked on military aircraft but it's something I've noticed pretty universally about jet engines in general: you have your auxiliary engine that runs while the aircraft is parked, providing power, hydraulics, AC, etc. while you're at the terminal. When getting ready to depart, you turn on your main engines. It takes a lot of power to get them started. As such, most of the auxiliary power goes to starting the engines. This is the point where usually you may see the lights flicker, and you will hear the whine of the main engines start up. The environmental control unit (or whatever they want to call it) stops cycling air during this start sequence.
Without fail, if you watch for it, numerous hands will stick up and check or adjust the air conditioning vents as this happens. The air will kick back on when the engines are up and running.
As shown in some movies like Executive Decision and Passenger 57, there is a secret hatch on every plane that allows people to travel freely throughout the aircraft.
Also, Wade Boggs once drank 50 beers on a cross-country flight and then absolutely destroyed the Seattle Mariners the next day.
Worked at multiple airports as a consultant and this is common at almost all I've worked at.
Mechanics love to take their coffee breaks right behind the security checkpoint. This is where you will see women in a rush with their outermost garments off and bending over to put their shoes back on. The "jackpots" are passengers that didn't know a sweater or hoodie they are wearing had to come off until they are told to remove it by the TSA, so they have very little underneath.
I wasn't part of this, so don't judge me. Just telling the tales of the trade.
When flying overseas there are generally no systems tracking the movement of your aircraft for several thousand miles—i.e., how they go missing.
People fake needing a wheelchair to gain boarding priority. Ten wheelchairs get on and only one person needs it getting off. We call ‘em miracle flights.
If you checked your dog, there's about a 30% chance it's terrified before it even gets on the plane. Who knows how scared it gets during the actual flight? Bag room agents will usually try to comfort a scared animal, but all we can really do is talk to it, so if you write your pet's name on their carrier it usually helps a lot.
I've never seen a cat who was scared in the bag room, cats don't give a hoot.
That there's a huge list of things that can be missing from the aircraft while still being allowed to fly.
Locks on zippered bags are useless. You can pop a zipper with a pen and drag the locked zipper pulls around the bag to close them back up. I've done this many times to identify bags that are tagless and locked.
You know how all the other armrests can be raised except for the one next to the aisle?
Turns out that one can be raised as well via a small button in a divot on the underside of the armrest. Useful if you want to spread out a bit more, though some flight attendants may tell you to put it back in place.
If you check a skateboard by just slapping a sticker on it, it will definitely either get ridden or used as a dolly.
The two pilots are served two different meals and cannot share, this is done in case of food poisoning.
Paramedic here. If you switch on your alarm lights on the ambulance while being on the inner field of the airport (because...well, you just get there sometimes) they will totally shut down all incoming and outgoing flights until they know exactly what's going on. My buddy learned this the hard way. Needless to say, people got mad at him…
I'm an outstation mechanic for multiple airlines. I cover all flights at a major US city airport—by myself. Where to start?
If your flight has a maintenance delay and there are no on station mechanics for that carrier, I get called. If it's a quick fix, I fix it. If not, we check to see if it can be deferred to get fixed later. Either way, most of your delay is spent waiting on me to do all the paperwork to clear the aircraft or for me to finish the other seven calls I'm out on to get to your plane.
There is also constant pressure on both me and the pilots to clear/fly aircraft that have some fairly significant problems. I have airlines try to get me to sell some pretty sketchy stuff to the pilots to get them to fly and avoid a costly delay. I have no problems telling a pilot to call his controllers/dispatchers and tell them to screw off if I'm not comfortable with whatever concoction of deferral action I was asked to perform.
Don't get me wrong, the airlines would never willingly fly an unsafe aircraft. But if there is, say, an engine vibration that is just right at a little hair under the limit they will fly it. If the oil is super low but servicing it will cause a delay—service it at the next stop. If the pilot encounters something at altitude that I can't duplicate on the ground—sign it off and see if it happens again. Those are the ones I usually push back on depending on what it is.
Also, if you have to get out of your seat so a mechanic can fix something, don't moan about it. I get harassed all the time by passengers even though my sole purpose is to get them in the air. Besides, I tell gate agents all the time not to load people until I get out there, but they never listen, so go complain to them instead of me.
Not a secret, just common sense; the reason some bags miss their flight or get misrouted is that passengers don't remove old tags. It confuses handlers as well as the conveyor belt scanners. I see it happen all the time.
The coffee is absolutely disgusting because no one washes the container that goes out every morning. The station agents who get paid way too little don't give a damn about cleaning it. I certainly didn't when I worked for AA.
And also, because we generally weren't given the proper supplies to clean it. We pretty much just rinsed it out and dumped coffee into it.
Be nice to the ticket agent and they will pretty much always let you get away with overweight bags. If you were funny, I wouldn’t even charge you for bags.
On larger aircraft, there are secret compartments where your cabin crew and flight crew are able to get much-needed rest. There is a flight crew rest area on a Boeing 777 and it's located above the ceiling of the first class cabin. There are two beds behind the seats as well as personal entertainment screens for each seat. There is also a cabin crew rest area on a Boeing 787 located above the economy class. Older Boeing aircraft have crew rest areas within the passenger cabin and I've been told some Airbuses have crew rests under the floor.
I used to work for a warehouse that supplied a certain airline with items. The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, “cleaned,” and then packaged again.
Flight attendants have a list of who is who and what seat they are in, as well as what level of frequent flyer they happen to be. Or if they are employees or family and friend tickets. This is why you will see them being rude to some individuals or bending over backward for jerks.
Flights are routinely overbooked because there's an estimate per route of what percentage of people tend to miss the flight. So, if you don't have a seat assignment, you might not get on. Which is why they ask for volunteers. If you are a frequent flyer and know the busy times and flights you could volunteer all day from every flight going to a hub and make $1,000 in credit.
Invest in quality luggage. You are the only one that handles your bag with care. Your bag is going to take a beating in the system.
Employees and their families get "ID tickets" (ID is for "industry discount"), which means they only pay taxes and fees and nothing for the actual ticket.
The airlines basically let them fly for free. And not just with their own airline, but with every airline in any alliance. The tickets are standby tickets, so you're not guaranteed to get on board, but you get a seat more often than not. The family members can travel on these tickets without the employee.
My dad worked for an airline in Star Alliance, so I used to get free tickets with airlines in Oneworld and SkyTeam as well as Star Alliance. I usually traveled in business class, all around the world. A return trip between Europe and Japan was something like 200 USD in business class, and maybe 50 USD in economy.
I don't get any perks anymore, as it was only valid until I turned 25.
Sometimes your pilot can be on food stamps because they only make 19k/yr.
Baggage handlers see hundreds of bags a day. No bag is treated special unless it is OBVIOUS. Even then, depending on the person, sometimes they're not (which is rare). Bags are not intentionally harmed. They are, however, intentionally thrown, slid, jostled, stacked under hundreds of pounds of other bags, and exposed to the elements, because that is the nature of the job. You can safely assume that your bag is touched and handled by at least 7-8 people, per flight segment, and if you are connecting, at least 10 different people, not including TSA.
Sometimes, the vehicle that fills the potable water for washing hands and making coffee is parked next to the vehicle that is used to dump the toilets and fill the blue juice for the lavatories. They're not supposed to do this. Sometimes, they're parked at a distance from each other, which is policy, yet the guy who is filling the water is using gloves that he hasn't changed in over 2 years.
The most power you could probably wield is Twitter. The employee in front of you has so little power to actually remedy tough situations. Baggage handlers are usually short staffed. As well, customer service agents are usually limited in their options. Also, it would help us get a message to higher ups because our work is not being supported as it should be. Hell, I'd even recommend asking an employee about the problem and say something like, "if I were to take my complaint to Twitter, how could I phrase it in a way that would help you too?"
You get more customer protections buying directly from the airline. All those third-party travel sites are owned by the same company, and you lose a lot of the rights afforded to you in the airline's contract of carriage.
And if you're nice to people, they'll be nice back to you.
When the drink cart is coming through, you can ask for a full can of pop instead of the tiny little cup filled with mostly ice.
Not particularly a secret but one time I was upgraded to business class on a plane that was delayed for maintenance. Just settling into my middle row aisle seat up at the movie screen/bulkhead when a hatch in the floor of the cabin right at my feet flipped open and the maintenance engineer climbed up. He had a clipboard of paperwork for the pilot to sign, then climbed back into his hole, tipping his hat to the passengers before closing the hatch over his head. If you look for it, you can see a recessed pull ring in the cabin floor in front of the first row seats behind the cockpit. It was a 757 wide-body plane, I think.
I work Revenue Management for an airline. On average, the cheapest time to BUY a ticket is Tuesday afternoon. The cheapest time to FLY is Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. This applies to US flights, in my experience.
There is a small latch hidden inside the lavatory sign on the bathroom door, which will open the door when pulled, even when it's locked. Airplane peekaboo!
I used to work with elderly people and one of my clients was a former pilot that finally quit when he realized in the middle of a flight that his dementia had progressed and he couldn't remember where he was supposed to be flying to. Meaning he had been flying for a commercial airline with dementia for quite sometime before that.
I was cabin crew for five years—long haul only—and whilst we've all passed the exams and tests and blah blah blah and have a refresher every year, you never really know how anyone will react in any kind of emergency. Firemen and police are tested on a weekly basis, but in the five years I was crew, there was nothing I personally experienced that put any of the proper training into use, and I'd like to think I'd not freeze or fall to pieces, but you just never know.
So definitely pay a bit of attention for the three mins of the safety demo and figure out where the nearest exit and it's alternative are because you never know, you might end up having to help yourself.
I'm a flight attendant... So many incidents occur on the plane that everyday passengers don't see or consider. My last flight an elderly man accidentally pooped on the floor, stepped in it, and walked on like it was nothing. DO NOT WALK AROUND BAREFOOT. Pee and poop happen, all over. I feel like I witness an "accident" regularly; in their seat or in the lav. People get nosebleeds, or their wounds open. Obviously, when we land, it is thoroughly cleaned. But inflight our resources are limited. DON'T CHANGE YOUR BABY'S DIAPER ON THE TRAY TABLE. This also happens all the time. It's unsanitary and people use the tray table to eat, put their personal things on, etc.
Lastly, it is NOT the responsibility of a flight attendant to lift your bag. There are multiple injuries caused because flight attendants lift heavy bags to be friendly, and then they're out and off the job for months to a year (on average). If you pack it, you lift it. If it's too heavy for you, it's too heavy for us.
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