Life of a flight attendant (Part 2): Dealing with passengers from hell

What’s life really like behind the bright smiles, perfect uniforms and five-star hotel stays of jet-setting flight attendants?  In a three-part series on the inflight service industry, Yahoo! Singapore finds out that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Read Part 1 here. In the second part of this series, flight attendants reveal how they deal with nasty passengers and even nastier situations, all with a smile. (For the purposes of this series, only first names have been used as most flight crew are bound by confidentiality agreements).
Serving demanding customers in a restaurant can be nasty business. But up in the air, it can be many times worse.

Cranky passengers and crying children cramped into limited space for hours miles in the air make for one of the most pressurizing (pun intended) working environments in any service industry.

“There’s a 50/50 chance of a flight being smooth or a complete nightmare. The stress can be incredibly high – and there’s no escape. You’re in a plane. You can’t leave and take a smoke or walk to the back of a restaurant for some fresh air. You take a minute to calm yourself in the tiny crew galley and then it’s back to work to face those annoyed, uncomfortable and angry passengers,” summed up Qantas steward Rick, 36.

In his almost decade long career as a flight steward, Rick has done everything from warming up milk in an ice bucket while balancing a screaming baby on his hip, to chasing couples hoping to join the mile-high club out of plane toilets.

“It’s a skill like no other. I tell my friends, I can handle anybody and anything now. And with a smile,” laughed the Singapore-born steward who is now an Australian citizen.

Unlike Rick, however, most of the other 14 flight crew Yahoo! spoke to said they often struggled with keeping their smile – and cool – when confronted with nightmare passengers and filthy, clogged toilets which stink up the entire plane.


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