A spate of reports about people behaving badly on planes and the arrival of a “PassengerShaming” Facebook page serve as timely reminders to business travellers that being rude to flight attendants can have repercussions.
It’s a sad and sobering truth that in the reminiscences of flight crew, business travellers – perhaps because of their imagined self-importance – often feature.
But staff have a variety of methods of getting even.
High wind areas
At the end of a demanding flight, according to David Sedaris, a scribe for The New Yorker, some attendants indulge in the practice of “cropdusting,” silently passing wind as they walk down the aisle. Annoying passengers are prime targets.
Author Gigi Wolf recalls that flight attendants in the now-defunct airline Pan Am would routinely doctor bullying pilots’ coffee with Visine eye drops, renowned for causing “terrible” diarrhoea.
“If I was a pilot, I’d bring my own thermos and a lunch box from home,” she writes.
Or a captain might have his coffee laced with some of the liquid that flight service staff poured into empty ice buckets. This evil cocktail comprised left-over melted ice water, coffee and other dregs that attendants threw down the toilets – once the ice buckets were full – because the garbage containers leaked.
“The ice bucket had a little of everything in it,” she writes, “like minestrone soup. Getting some of this vile concoction in your coffee makes spitting in a customer’s plate at a restaurant seem innocuous.”
Contaminating drinks is a common theme. Ellen Simonette, author of Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant: The Queen of Sky Blog, writes about the time a colleague took revenge on an abusive business traveller by making him “a very special drink” in the galley, rubbing the rim of his glass on the plane’s filthy floor before serving it with a smile. “Looks like you’re finally getting what you deserved, sir,” she said.
Another ploy is to place a full bottle of water in the horizontal position with the lid off on the seat of a troublesome passenger when they get up to visit the bathroom. They usually don’t realise their trousers are wet until they’ve sat down again.
Bill Haymaker writes online that, years ago, he was evaluating service on a flight between Bahrain and London when a man lifted his thobe – an ankle-length robe – and exposed himself to a young stewardess, who was so distressed she wept.
“We moved down the aisle to where the lone passenger was. I made certain he was looking at us when I gesticulated to the man by pointing to him and then holding up my hand and lifting my ‘pinkie’ finger, wiggling it to signify the diminutive and homuncular nature of …er, um…something.
“My colleague then looked at the man . . . also holding up her hand and wiggling her pinkie finger, so as to acknowledge I was suggesting something involving the passenger was nanoscopic.”
The man appeared to be “stewing” afterwards, and was met by police when the plane landed at Heathrow.
Celebrities are not immune. A steward and fellow crew on a US airliner once took their revenge on actress Faye Dunaway.When Dunaway turned up at JFK airport with a coach ticket to London and her demands for an upgrade were refused she allegedly became enraged.
“She was . . . screaming at everyone and saying, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’,” the stewardess said. As a result Dunaway was seated at the front of the economy section on purpose so she could see that there were seats free in business and first class, making her even more furious.
It’s hardly surprising some attendants blow up, therefore. One famous incident involved Steven Slater, a flight attendant of JetBlue airlines, who in 2010 had an argument with a passenger during boarding at Pittsburgh.
According to witnesses, he grabbed the intercom and said: “To the passenger who called me a ***, *** you . . . I’ve had it. That’s it.” He activated the emergency exit and slid down the inflatable slide onto the tarmac.
He then boarded a train to the terminal, stripping off his tie and discarding it, to the astonishment of onlookers. He was later arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.
Damned by faint praise
On other occasions crew take their frustrations out on their employers. One traveller was flying into Denver some years ago. While the plane was taxiing to the gate the attendant added the following to his normal flight patter: “We know you had the choice of flying on many bankrupt airlines today, but we thank you for choosing [ours], the number-one bankrupt airline in on-time arrivals.”
Airline staff do it tough, and not just in their punishing schedules. According to a Hong Kong-based Equal Opportunities Commission, some 27% of air hostesses said they’d been sexually harassed while on duty in flight over the past 12 months, while nearly half had witnessed or heard about it happening to a colleague.
So the next time you’re tempted to snap at one of these hardworking people, remember that their patience is not endless and there could be unforeseen consequences. You could end up on the PassengerShaming site on Facebook where some of the pictures of passengers are, well, shameful.