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Every flight begins with a safety demonstration. Flight attendants point out the emergency exit rows, what to do if the aircraft loses cabin pressure, and other potentially life-saving tips.
Yet when it comes to onboard etiquette, passengers are left to fend for themselves, often with some frustrating results. Is it acceptable to recline your seat as far back as possible? What about bringing your own food onto the plane? One common question involves the proper use of the flight attendant call button, which is readily accessible to every passenger, but lacks instructions on when you should (or shouldn’t) use it.
Flight attendants seem somewhat divided on the issue, which has recently been heavily debated online following videos posted by flight attendants to social media. Some say that the button should be reserved for emergencies, while others are more tolerant of passengers who use it to ask questions or request food, drinks, and blankets – especially when they are in a middle or window seat and their neighbors are asleep. Still, catching a flight attendant’s eye or politely raising a finger to get their attention are usually preferable to ringing, as flight attendants have to assume that they are being summoned for a potentially serious issue. And if you do push the button, doing it once is enough, unless it’s an emergency.
A passenger’s location on the plane and the timing during the flight are relevant to when it is acceptable to use the button. Except in a genuine emergency, passengers should never use the call button during taxi, take-off, and landing, when flight attendants are expected to be strapped into their own seats or are following safety procedures. It’s easy for passengers to forget that the main job of a flight attendant is to ensure the safety of everyone on the flight. According to one American Airlines crew member, only one day out of more than six weeks of training was devoted to hospitality, while the rest was focused on safety and security.
To press or not to press:
- Pressing the button during food and drink service, when it is especially difficult for flight attendants to move around the cabin, is also frowned upon, as is making trivial requests when the seatbelt sign is illuminated.
- Nearly all flight attendants agree that while there are some differences in interpretation with the call button, it is universally unacceptable to touch a flight attendant. So no poking, tapping, or grabbing their sleeve.
- Calling a flight attendant so that they will dispose of trash is another no-no. Flight attendants come through the cabin regularly with trash bags and gloves, so it’s best to keep your trash at your seat and wait until they pass by.
- Flight attendants generally agree that passengers who can easily leave their seats (as long as the plane is at cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign is off) are welcome to come to the back of the plane to request a drink or snack.