Image: Dreamworks Pictures
When you’re travelling, there’s nothing more reassuring than being warmly greeted by a flight attendant as you step onto the plane.
They’re always smiling broadly… but what are airline staff really thinking as you board? Flight attendant Gaea Peregrinor spilled the beans in a response to a Quora question – and it turns out there’s a lot being masked by that friendly “Hello”.
“Consider that air travel is fraught with inherent danger, made more so by the political climate of the world today, one must be constantly alert and aware of one’s situation. When I greet people, you better believe that I’m always very aware of each passenger who steps through the door of the aircraft,” she says.
Here are the nine things Peregrinor says a flight attendant will silently assess:
1. Your attitude
While you’re struggling to get your ticket and seat number out, they’re making some quick but important assessments about your character from both your body and verbal language.
“I’m working out what attitude do I get from this person? Helpful? Belligerent? Withdrawn? If someone boards the plane with hateful and nasty attitude toward the crew, that’s a concern that needs to be addressed before departure,” Peregrinor writes.
These measures help identify what you might need during the flight, your role in an emergency or whether you might be the cause of any issues.
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2. Your fitness levels
“If I see someone who is muscular, powerful, strong, physically fit, I memorise his/her face and make a mental note of where they are sitting,” she says.
Don’t flatter yourself – it’s nothing to do with romance, but rather singling you out to be of assistance in an emergency.
“I consider this person a resource for me. In the event of an attack on the flight or on me, these are my ‘go-to’ people. If a situation looks like it could develop, I’ll privately and discreetly ask one of these people if they would be willing to help us if necessary,” she says.
This might involve restraining an unruly passenger or any heavy lifting. (Post continues after gallery.)
3. Whether you’re intoxicated
An intoxicated person can cause trouble anywhere. On a plane, the chance for problems is even greater. If you’re visibly inebriated, a flight attendant will assess the situation, and either keep an eye on you and limit your drinking onboard or even refuse to depart with you on board.
4. Whether you have any disabilities.
This is primarily to ensure that people are not wrongfully seated in an exit row, where assistance is required in emergency situations.
“They need to be able to physically lift a heavy hatch or open a heavy door” she writes.
5. Your language ability
It’s a similar safety issue if you can’t understand the airline’s language. “If they cannot understand English, they cannot understand shouted commands, nor can they read the instructions on how to open the exits,” she says.
6. Whether you're an airline employee.
A key thing a flight attendant will research and look out for are if any passengers who are fellow airline employees and crew members. This means they're trained for emergency situations, and can therefore immediately help out the team. While it sounds extreme, this knowledge could mean the difference between life and death.
"When United flight 232 crashed in Sioux City Iowa in 1989, it was a disaster that should have killed everyone on the plane. But when the problems began, the head flight attendant remembered that an employee, a pilot, was riding in the coach cabin. She told the captain, who told her to ask him for his help. It was his assistance in the cockpit that helped save so many lives," Peregrinor says.
7. If you're sick
If you're harboring an illness or not looking well, flight attendants will know.
"I’ve had passengers board who look pasty and pale, deathly ill. We removed them; nobody wants their flu germs!" she says. (Post continues after gallery.)
8. If you're smuggling something
You may think you're nonchalantly carrying that clearly over-stuffed bag, but it won't escape a steward's eagle eye.
"I’ve had people try to smuggle pets in their purses or handbags, and bottles of booze in their briefcases ... So yes, I need to be vigilant and aware, all behind my 'greeting face' of smile and pleasant, comforting welcome," Peregrinor writes.
9. If you need some reassurance
Finally, if you're looking nervous, flight attendants want to know so they can help and reassure you. "I often see passengers who are afraid of flying and need a word of comfort and encouragement,' she says.
What are you thinking as you board a plane?