Flight Attendants Reveal The First Things They Notice When Travelers Board A Plane

Behind those friendly smiles, your flight attendants’ minds are working overtime.

Have you ever wondered if your flight attendants are judging you as you board a plane? Well, maybe they are, but it might not be in the ways that you think.

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Giving you a kind smile and helping you aboard the plane is a natural part of any flight attendant’s job. Not to mention alerting passengers to vital and complex safety features of the aircraft: 

But have you ever considered that while they’re looking at you with a smile, what they’re really doing is sizing you up?

A recent Quora thread asked flight attendants what they tend to notice the most about passengers as they board the plane. Here are some of their most surprising answers.

If You’re Fit

"If I see someone who is muscular, powerful, strong, physically fit, I memorize his/her face and make a mental note of where they are sitting.” —Janice Bridger

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If you’re in good shape and notice the flight attending giving you more than a cursory glance, don’t be too quick to think they’re checking you out. They’re actually sizing you up to see if you’re someone they might be able to go to in the event that something gets out of hand during the flight.

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If they think you could help them at some point if a need arises, they may discreetly come to you and ask if you can assist with something like restraining a disorderly passenger.

If Something Seems Off

“The first impression is often the right one, and we do refuse passengers who might be a danger for the safety of that flight. So far I have refused four passengers and was luckily backed up by the purser and captain.” —Sjaak Schulteis

Flight attendants are always on the lookout for people who are either way too worked up or way too relaxed, as these types of individuals often bring lots of problems on board for the ride. A Ryanair flight had to make an emergency landing in Denmark when a passenger did this:

Flight attendants not only want each and every passenger to be comfortable during the trip, but they also want to make sure they’re all safe, too. When it comes to emergency situations, it’s a lot easier for them to deal with people who are all there mentally and physically, and they take on a lot more risk when they have to assist those who might be uncooperative.

Just ask this woman who had a few too many libations during the flight (video contains profanity):

If You Work for an Airline

"[I like to] learn if we have any passengers who are airline employees, particularly crew members who have been trained in the in-flight procedures. They've been trained in what to do in an emergency, whether medical, mechanical, etc.

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"They know how to handle the situations as well as I, and are trained to become an instant 'team member,' fitting right in immediately if needed. They are an invaluable resource for me, and I like to know who they are and where they're sitting." —Janice Bridger

It makes a lot of sense for a working flight attendant to seek out off-duty airline crew members during a flight, especially for emergency situations. Of course it also doesn’t hurt to have one more person to talk with about rude or unruly passengers either.

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If you’re on a flight and work for an airline, mention it to your flight attendant and you might even get some special treatment.

If You’re Sick

"I've had passengers board who look pasty and pale, deathly ill. We removed them; nobody wants their flu germs!" —Janice Bridger

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"We are in an enclosed space, therefore if you're sick, it's not right to pass it on to others. ...I once saw a woman at the gate have a heart attack—I was so thankful it happened on the ground and not while we were in flight.

"Flight attendants are all trained in CPR, automated external defibrillators, basic first aid emergencies, but we cannot diagnose you nor have the expertise, experience or treatment as doctor." —Amar Rama

No, you’re not going to get kicked off a flight for having the sniffles, but if you look like you’re about to puke at any moment, don’t be surprised if it happens. That kind of event would not only be plain gross, but it would also make it even more likely that you'll spread illness to others.

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A flight attendant may also prevent you from boarding not so they don’t have to deal with you, but for your own good: Would you rather go through a serious medical emergency in the air or on the ground?

If You’re Disabled

"I watch for disabilities that may disqualify someone from sitting in the exit row. They need to be able to physically lift a heavy hatch (up to 60 lbs) or open a heavy door (several hundred pounds)." —Janice Bridger

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Rama looks for those who “require extra assistance during an emergency. This way, if anything were to happen, I want to make sure they are not left behind."

Above all, flight attendants like to know of any disabilities their passengers might have ahead of time so they can help them out when the time comes, even if it’s just while they board and exit the plane.

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Should something serious happen while the plane is in the air, it makes sense that they want to know who might not be able to take care of themselves during an emergency—that way, they’ll already be aware of any extra steps they might need to take.

If You’re Being Shady

“I need to be vigilant and aware, all behind my 'greeting face' of smile and pleasant, comforting welcome! When you consider that I have approximately 3–4 seconds to make that passenger feel welcomed and comfortable, and then also assess them for all of the potential that they bring with them onto the plane...well, it can require a lot of focus." —Janice Bridger

You’d be surprised at what people try to sneak on their flight without anyone noticing—stun guns, pets, and a whole lot more. Although some people may honestly just have things without any intent of doing anything out of the ordinary with them, that’s something that a flight attendant can’t distinguish just by looking at someone.

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For this reason, they have to be especially vigilant when making sure everything you bring on a plane is something that’s allowed to be there or that you brought on in a legal manner.

If You’re Anxious

Bridger always keeps an eye out for those who seem like they’re not comfortable with flying or those who “need a word of comfort and encouragement.”

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It’s no secret that although some people have absolutely no issues with plane travel, others truly believe they could be flying to their death each time they step on board a plane. Even the most seasoned traveler may get understandably nervous when hitting a rough patch of air that has the entire plane bouncing and shaking around.

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Flight attendants are especially helpful for these types of people, as they go through these types of situations themselves often and clearly feel comfortable enough to be in the air all the time. Not only can they give passengers useful advice on how to calm themselves when they’re feeling a little scared, but they also can help provide some comfort to those who get scared during patches of turbulence.

That You Won’t Cause Delays

“I'm making sure no one comes on with a huge bag that they cannot fit or someone who has a bag that they obviously cannot lift. These bags will need to be checked because bags need to be properly stowed before we can be cleared to take off.

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"If you cannot lift your own bag, we are not allowed to do it for you as this could cause an injury to the flight attendant (not covered, so we will be out of work and paying for it ourselves) and if it's government mandated minimum crew, a replacement will need to be found (delay) and if not, ultimately the flight will be cancelled.

"This is why almost every airline will clearly state on their website flight attendants are not supposed to lift your bags.” —Amar Rama

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If you think you’re being sly trying to take a slightly oversize bag on the plane, think again. Ultimately you’re just making yourself look like a jerk and potentially putting others at risk. It’s worth it to play by the rules and make sure what you’re bringing on the plane meets all of the airline’s standards to ensure you’re not causing a backup for yourself and everyone around you.

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