I was recently interviewed by someone who asked, “Why are so many male flight attendants gay?” While I understand the significance of stereotypes, they’re often more harmful than they are helpful, so I felt that the question warranted a thoughtful response. The short answer is, being a flight attendant is the best job out there and gay men are obviously the most intelligent people on the planet. I’m mostly kidding, but all jokes aside, the job lends to a lifestyle that is both fun and glamorous. (Most days, anyway!) Flight attendants get to travel all over the world and get paid for it, jet off to different countries at the drop of a hat, and avoid those awkward holiday dinner conversations with family by blaming our absence on work. What’s not to love?
For gay men, being a flight attendant is all about identity – or rather, anonymity in this case. Imagine a flight that you’ve been on. Do you remember your flight attendant’s name? Rarely. Do you know anything about this person other than they seem to have fun at work? Nope. But you will always remember how your flight attendant made you feel. As crew members, we loveputting on a show for the public, entertaining our guests, and then going on with our lives at the end of the day. We love to perform, and the airplane provides a perfect stage to express ourselves. We can transform into a character we might not otherwise get to play and sometimes our uniform even becomes a costume that can make us feel safe and protected. We are allowed to be unapologetically true to who we are with no threat of pushback from potentially unaccepting friends or family. Everybody adores a fun-loving flight attendant because it makes traveling more fun. But while often times even the most conservative person loves a sassy gay flight attendant, it’s still not necessarily the person they want their child bringing home to dinner. In the aviation world we are accepted for whatever bold personality we want to adopt. On the airplane, we are free to be whoever we want to be.
The flight attendant lifestyle has remained so appealing for gay men over the years because like gay men, flight attendants come from all walks of life and face similar issues of self-identity. Through all of the diverse cultures we get to experience every day at work, we realize a new piece of ourselves in each one, learning more and more about who we want to become. Rather than learning new ways to hide from our truth, we uncover new aspects of ourselves that we never knew were there before. Individually we may be quite different from one another, but we all have so much in common at our core. There’s an unspoken bond and mutual respect among flight attendants much like members of the LGBTQ+ community. That respect translates well into the flight attendant life because crew members around the world are united by the wings that each of us wear proudly when we fly. We have experienced a lot of the same situations and understand each other as a result. Each trip we fly with new crew members and are required to communicate effectively with them without ever having met before. We have to be able to form strong connections with sheer strangers. This allows us to create a space where everyone feels free to open up… sometimes maybe even too much! At the end of the day, flight attendants around the globe look out for each other, just as members of the gay community often do, too.
With the flight attendant lifestyle, the possibilities are endless. The job is flexible, relatively low-stress, and allows us to see places and meet people that we would’ve otherwise never imagined possible. Being a flight attendant allows a level of freedom to be exactly who you want to be, which often times we don’t get the privilege of doing while growing up gay. Whether you fly with your best friends or perfect strangers, you can open up and embrace your truth. So when someone asks why gay men become flight attendants, it’s because you can be anybody you want to be, but most importantly, you can just be yourself.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
And now, some wisdom from Nicole Byer:
You’re right, Nicole. We are too much for this world. We belong in the sky!
I put on some music, brewed myself a cup of coffee, and started a load of laundry. It was a typical morning off from my flight attendant life. All I wanted to do was relax and lounge around the house. As I ran downstairs to fold the laundry, my phone buzzed with a new e-mail. I knew today would be the day I got the news, but I was still hoping things would somehow be different. There it was: Furloughed. In just a matter of weeks, I would be unemployed. I sat down on the steps, home alone that day, and cried. I don’t know how long I sat on the stairs but in that moment, it felt like forever. The job that I had been doing for seven years was saying goodbye to me, at least temporarily. I knew it was coming and I know it won’t last forever, but when I saw it in writing, I was crushed.
When I first started flying, my life was a mess. My job was emotionally draining, I couldn’t afford to pay rent, I was on food stamps, and I was in a dead-end relationship. There was literally nowhere to go but up. One night, after a really big glass of wine (or two), I applied on a whim to become a flight attendant and just a few weeks later, I got the job. Becoming a flight attendant didn’t just change my life, it saved my life.
The flight attendant job is a dream. It’s fun. It’s flexible. We get to see the world and visit friends in faraway places whenever we like. For some flight attendants, this is the job they got after high school, or dropped out of college for. For others, this was only a steppingstone or a chance to see the world. Whatever the reason for becoming a flight attendant may be, the thought of now going back into the so-called “real world” seems daunting for many. As challenging as it can be to adjust to the flight attendant lifestyle, it’s even harder to imagine leaving it.
Recently, I was flying with one of my best friends. The Captain announced that we were starting our descent into Boston. Our crew had just one more flight to go and then we would be home after a very long trip. As the plane flew down through the clouds, it quickly became dark and our plane leveled out again. We were in a holding pattern as a storm rolled through Logan International Airport. The Captain made an announcement to the entire plane, “Well folks, air traffic is holding us here until the weather clears up in Boston. We’ll get you there… eventually.” We all cringed as we heard his words echo through the cabin. That’s the funny thing about being a flight attendant. We are well-prepared for anything to happen and yet we are still somehow surprised and even annoyed when it does. When you become a flight attendant or pilot, you tell the company you’re interviewing with that you’re flexible and adapt to change quickly. As the years go by, you deal with delays, diversions, and sometimes missing important life moments, all because of a flight gone wrong. That’s just the nature of the industry, but we still do it anyway because we love what we do.
At the end of that trip, we did make it home eventually. We may have diverted to another airport along the way, but ultimately, we made it to our destination safely. For those of you around the world hanging up your wings for a few months, a few years, or possibly even forever, look at this as just another diversion. Rather than let it bring you down, think of it as a chance for new opportunities. You’ll always be a flight attendant at heart, so do what any flight attendant does best: face the situation head on, follow your instincts, and dream big. We will be back in the skies before you know it, or something great could be waiting just around the corner.
Special thank you to Taylor Tippett for allowing us to use her photos. Now more than ever, we appreciate the words of wisdom and encouragement! Check out her Instagram accounts for more inspiration: @taylortippett@wordsfromthewindowseat
The airports are empty. Planes that would typically hold 300 passengers are taking off with just eight. While the world quarantines because of the Coronavirus outbreak, flight attendants are still showing up to work every day with smiles on their faces – albeit more forced than usual. Given the uncertainty in our world and in the airline community, we’re scared. We’re at high-risk for contracting a deadly virus but we’re also afraid of losing our jobs as our industry collapses before our eyes. Our friends and family have become fearful of us and some flight attendants have even been asked not to come home. Flight attendants, pilots, and other airline employees don’t have the option to stay home from work. We are essential personnel doing what we are expected to do during a global pandemic – pushing forward.
Flight attendants are servers, bartenders, babysitters, counselors, and tour guides, yes – but we also often play the roles of firefighters, nurses, law enforcers, and the list goes on. Most people assume that flight attendants are on the plane to serve drinks, snacks, and maybe perform a life vest fashion show – but this career is far more than what the average traveler sees on a daily basis. Our primary purpose on board the aircraft is to save lives if need be. While customer service is a huge part of the gig, it’s by far the least important. Flight attendants are first responders. 90% of our training is focused on safety and emergency procedures while only 10% is spent on service standards. We are safety professionals.
The list of scenarios we are trained for seems endless, but nothing could quite prepare us for just how emotionally and physically draining it would be to face the public at work every day during a global pandemic. According to The New York Times, flight attendants are one of the most at-risk personnel for contracting the Coronavirus and that’s not something to be taken lightly. Now more than ever we are being reminded just how essential flight attendants and the entire airline industry are to the world. When a global crisis occurs, flight attendants are almost always a part of it. We transport medical supplies and COVID-19 testing kits all around the world. We bring sick patients to life-saving treatments. We staff the Civil Reserve Air Fleet in the US to mobilize troops for war. While some think being a flight attendant is all about seeing the world and maintaining a glamorous lifestyle, flight attendants play a much larger role than they’re often given credit for.
Every day we are expected to maintain our composure and greet passengers with a warm smile. At the same time, we are fearing for our own personal health and safety while also questioning whether or not we will have a job at the end of this. These unforeseen circumstances have added yet another layer to an already multi-faceted profession.
Flight attendants are qualified and experienced professionals. Trust that we are taking every necessary precaution we can to keep ourselves, our passengers, and our family and friends safe. If you are traveling, please treat everyone – not just airline employees – with respect. There are people working in airports, hospitals, grocery stores, sanitation departments, public transportation, hospitality, and so many more doing everything they can to keep our world moving. Sadly, many airline employees across the globe have already lost their jobs. Some have even become ill due to Coronavirus. With that being said, please only travel if it’s urgent. While we appreciate the business, now isn’t the time to buy a $20 ticket for a weekend getaway. We’re not out here working simply because we want to, but because we have to, and we will continue working as long as it is expected of us, but please be mindful of the difficult journey we are facing out here. Flight attendants are innovative, we are resilient, but we cannot get through this without your support!
The first question that we get when people find out that we are flight attendants is: “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on one of your flights?” Whether we are at a family get together, a social gathering, or even chatting with passengers on the plane, it never fails. This is simply one of the most commonly asked questions. The fact that this is the number one thing asked says a lot about where the airline industry stands today, but that’s an entirely different conversation for another time.
Traveling is already hectic enough without people acting crazy, and yet every other day we see stories on the news about passengers going off the deep end. Whether you are an airline employee, a frequent flyer, or even someone who’s only been on a plane a few times, you’ve most likely got a story or two about a crazy passenger on a flight.
While we could probably give you a million stories ourselves, we decided to sit down with some of our fellow flight attendants, including Passenger Shaming Creator Shawn Kathleen. We had some very honest conversations and shared some laughs. Here are seven passengers that totally deserve all the shame that they can get:
I was in the back of the airplane midflight and a passenger came back to the galley with her emotional support chihuaha. She asked me if there was a private area where she could breast feed her dog. I stared at her for a moment to process what she was saying, but she clearly was not joking. I looked down at the dog, with it’s crazy overbite and it’s teeth sticking out at me, and I was repulsed. Not even knowing how to respond, I finally just said to her “Ehhh, um, the lav is right there.” She nodded as if all of this made sense and then went in to “feed” her pup. The crazy thing is, I’m quite positive she didn’t have any breast milk to give the dog.
I was doing a cabin walk-through on an evening flight that was pretty much wide open. Everyone was spread out and had their own rows. The seatbelt sign had come on and the Captain had told us it would be getting pretty bumpy so we should take our seats. As I was doing a seatbelt check, a passenger waved me down and asked to go to the restroom. I kindly informed him, “The Captain asked everyone to stay seated, including the flight attendants, because we’re about to hit a rough patch of turbulence.” He was clearly pissed off. I said “I’m sorry, but the seatbelt sign is on, and I need to take my seat.” About 30 minutes later, I went to walk through the cabin again and noticed a smell. It wreaked of feces. I get to the same row that that gentlemen was sitting in to see if he was okay, but before I could say anything, I gasped. There was literally a piece of shit on the floor next to his seat. I said, in as professional of a tone as I could muster up at this point, “Sir, what exactly is going on here?” His response? “You told me I couldn’t get up and I needed to take a dump.” Needless to say, he didn’t enjoy talking to the authorities when we landed, but you can’t just go around pooping on the floor at 35,000 feet.
Picture this: Boston to LA. We’re on a 737. About halfway through the flight, a passenger comes to the back to tell me about a man who is distracting other passengers. She tells me his seat number and goes to sit down. At this point, there are a million things running through my mind of what it could be. I’m halfway down the aisle when I hear a buzzing sound. Seriously, what is that? I approach said seat and look down to see this man using an ELECTRIC RAZOR TO SHAVE HIS FACE OVER THE TRAY TABLE! Before becoming a flight attendant, I would have assumed that shaving your face over a surface where people dine seemed like an obvious no, but apparently I would’ve been very wrong. I literally had to hide my disgust as I tapped the guy on the shoulder to tell him that he had to stop immediately because it was distracting and gross. Everyone around me cracked up and I gave the man wipes to make sure he cleaned up every last hair left on that tray table.
I was working my second trip ever and we were boarding a 757 out of MIA. We were towards the end of boarding so the gate agents were checking bags. A lady got to her seat and was beyond pissed that she had to check her bag as there was a space left in the overhead bin above her seat. She then threw a complete temper tantrum unlike anything I’d ever seen. She started screaming at the top of her lungs at me and the other flight attendants and began cussing us out and calling us liars. She caused a huge scene. The gate agent came on to help out and got in between us and the woman yelling. She said “You better apologize to the flight attendants and calm down right now.” The woman then ran away from the gate agent all the way to the back of the airplane to hide. The agent followed and said, “Are you just going to run away from me?” At that point, our lead flight attendant made the decision to kick her off the flight for her behavior. As she exited the plane, the passengers began singing together “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I was a fairly new flight attendant, maybe a few months into the job, and I was working an “all-nighter” which consisted of flying from MCO to LAX and then back all in the same night. Lovely, right? I’m sure you can already guess how this story is going to go. From the beginning, boarding was a mess so I knew I was in for a rough night. Once we were airborne, after the service, I dimmed the lights and sat down in my jumpseat. We were now about 2 hours into the flight when a young girl came up to the forward aircraft door with a coat on and her carry on rolling up behind her. She said to me, “I’m ready to get out.” I laughed as I thought she was joking. It was clear from her face that she was unfortunately was not. I didn’t want her anywhere near that door so I offered to grab her bags and stow them as I explained that we had about 4 hours left in flight. I returned her to her seat and the surrounding passengers were rolling their eyes and laughing but clearly this lady was on another level. At this moment I knew, I had entered the twilight zone.
While I had hoped the flight would calm down, it only continued to get worse. We later discovered a woman was moving around the airplane sitting with different men and trying to seduce them. She even accused one of them for touching her inappropriately. Needless to say, the cops met us at the gate as those situations are taken very seriously. And as if things couldn’t get any weirder, we had a woman at the end of deplaning who simply refused to get off the plane. Based on the look in her eyes, something was definitely off. We brought the authorities back for a second time to take her and when they arrived, she claimed that I – the flight attendant – was her husband. The police looked at me and I assured them that I was not, and then off in handcuffs she went. The best part of that night? I still had to work the flight back to Orlando. Pro Tip: Don’t fly red-eyes!
I was working as a flight attendant in the back of the airplane and one of my duties was to confirm the amount of passengers on board. The flight attendant up front called back to confirm that I had the same number that was listed on the paperwork, which included an infant. As I was walking through the cabin, I didn’t notice any babies on board. We notified the gate agent and then went to double check with the passenger who supposedly had an infant with her. Her response was, “You asked us to stow everything in an overhead bin.” When I opened the compartment above her seat, I found a mound of blankets and toys and sure enough, there she was – the baby in a bin. Somehow, the mother couldn’t seem to understand why babies aren’t allowed in the overhead bin. Don’t worry, we had a nice long conversation with her about why babies and suitcases cannot be stowed the same way.
It was the last day of my trip, boarding was almost over, and all I wanted to do was go home. A man came on in a wheelchair and sat in 1D, right across from my jumpseat. He was probably in his mid-fifties, long-ish hair, seemed to be a disheveled mess as coins were falling out of his bag onto the floor. I leaned out of the airplane door and kind of mouthed to the wheelchair assist, “Is something wrong with this guy?” He shook his head no and left, but I still thought something was off. I crouched over and asked to see this passenger’s boarding pass, to try and see if I could smell alcohol or anything like that, but there was nothing. At this point, I’d done everything I could to try and find an issue with him before take-off but nothing was coming up. We secured the cabin for departure, and since I was the lead flight attendant, I made my routine call to the Captain to let him know that we were ready. I called and said “Cabin secure. We’re ready for takeoff. If anything happens, it’s the guy in 1D.”
The flight was overall pretty uneventful and it was time to start our initial descent. I was in the back of the airplane at this time. One of the flight attendants went into the bathroom and the other was cleaning up, so I decided to do a trash pick-up from the back of the plane. It was nighttime so the cabin was pretty dark by this point. As I walked into the aisle, maybe two rows deep, I looked up and saw a red light flashing at the front of the plane. I couldn’t even hear the alarm because the plane was so loud. I ran up to the forward galley and noticed the smoke alarm. I grabbed a fire extinguisher, preparing for the worst. I went up to the lav and suddenly the door flew open, this man stepped out, and the whole front right side of his head was singed. Well what do you know, it was 1D. His hair was basically smoking and you could smell it burning. I had assumed he was smoking a cigarette and something went wrong, but as it turned out, he was bent over lighting a crack pipe when his hair caught on fire. I told the Captain what was going on and we had the authorities meet the flight. As we were taxiing in, the man had the nerve to say to me, “Am I going to make my connection?” I advised him that it was best not to say any more at this point. The funny thing was, I knew the whole time that he’d be an issue, but I guess I just didn’t know how much of one he’d become. Of all the jobs I’ve had, the one job that strengthened my intuition the most was definitely being a flight attendant!
What are some of your crazy passenger stories? Drop a note in the comments or tell us on Facebook!
Special thanks to Shawn Kathleen, creator of the Official Passenger Shaming Instagram, for sitting down with Two Guys On A Plane and sharing her favorite story with us!
Hosting holiday parties can be so much fun but it can also be quite stressful! But who knows about hosting tons of people at once better than flight attendants? That’s why we took the time to come up with twelve of our absolute best hosting tips to make your life easier this season. We hope you find each one of these tips was thoughtfully put together to assist you and yours. Happy Holidays from Two Guys On A Plane!