What perks or treats are within a flight attendant's discretion?
June 3, 2018 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question, I've been meaning to ask a similar one. If a flight attendant wants to be nice to you, what is s/he allowed to do/likely to do? I assume upgrades are out of the question, but extra food, if available is not. Drinks? Anything else?

My sister is a flight attendant who mainly works an international route that I fly once or twice a year, but on an airline that I usually don't, because it's one of the more expensive ones, and even with the large discount (from full price) I can get for being her relative, it's more expensive than the sale prices on other competing airlines.

Recently, for example, I could have flown her route on her airline, for an extra $250 (on a $1700 fare). So far in advance, I couldn't even be sure she would be working that day, though, so I didn't do it. But I was wondering, how likely is my fantasy that if I did book her flight and she was working, that she'd be able to offer me some kinds of little perks, or even have a chance to have a chat? I know she'd be working hard and not really have time to hang out, so is there just really no point in trying to get on her plane one day?

Worse, is it like avoiding nepotism in other jobs where even though she could slip a random passenger an extra glass of gin and tonic to be nice (as, in fact, many a flight attendant who is not my relative has done for me in the past), she'd have to avoid doing that for her sister to make sure her conduct is above reproach?

I did mention to her that I nearly booked her flight and she was all super excited and said it would be "so cool" if I ever was on a flight she was working. But our family is way too guess culture for me to feel okay asking directly if there would be any ways she would be able to make my flight more fun, since it could be really awkward if she can't and then I ever do end up on her flight and she feels bad about it.

She's not especially senior, so unlikely to be the flight attendant in charge, if that matters.
posted by lollusc to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've brought little gifts for the flight crew before (which they can accept--packaged chocolates and Starbucks gc--nothing homemade) just because I love traveling and like showing appreciation once in a while. A lot of times I simply get heartfelt thanks in return
, which is lovely...especially one time when I managed to have an extended conversation with an attendant and got to learn more about her family/draw a doodle for her girls. I have been bumped up once, not to a different class but to a closer, roomier row that was empty aside from myself (luxury!). The most that's ever happened was on a Virgin international flight, where I was given free glass of champagne, some meal plates from first class, and a gift pack towards the end of the flight that included a bottle of wine/assorted goodies/a virgin branded mug. They also told me that I could visit the bar for whatever I wanted, but I don't really drink. That one really astonished me, but it was super generous of them.

So I know that free food/wine/snacks/little goodies are definitely within their power to give. In terms of moving seats, that's usually the gate agent that has that power (the one time I got bumped up some rows it was because I usually prepare some goodies for the gate agents, too).
posted by sprezzy at 9:06 PM on June 3, 2018

Oh! One other cool thing, on one flight where I brought goodies the flight attendants just took care to check in on me often, but then as we were deplaning they told me that the pilots wanted to say thanks...so I was able to step into the cockpit and take a picture with them, which I thought was fantastic. Like being a kid again.
posted by sprezzy at 9:16 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

On a long transatlantic return flight my wife made fast friends with one of the flight attendants and the purser, who happened to be the FA's husband. They snuck ice cream sundaes from 1st class back to our kids but whispered "meet us in the back" (meaning the rear galley) before letting our kids at them. They also let the kids meet the pilots after everyone else deboarded, and my son got a picture of him sitting at the controls of a 777.

Honestly, I don't think the crew on a plane has access to much else other than food, extra blankets/pillows, and perhaps some alcohol like what's left in the wine bottles. Everything else is inventoried. But when it comes to things like food that will be wasted after the flight is over - they certainly have control and can distribute what they like as long as the passengers in 1st and Business get what they paid for. The downside is that it could cause a revolt in economy among the more astute passengers so it's typically avoided.

FAs do indeed get meal and rest break periods, usually once all the passenger meals and drinks are out and everyone is watching a movie. So you would definitely have a chance to chat with your sister then, but probably not for a very long time.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:24 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have been bumped up to business class from coach for being kind and helpful to a flight attendant on an airline that I had no history/status with, so it's possible. The other thread is correct that those seats will almost always be filled these days with frequent fliers getting upgrades before boarding.

I have no idea how airlines regulate nepotism. If it's an expensive one that doesn't do cheap flights for family members, I would imagine your sister would get the side eye at the very least if she tried to put you in a better class. Drink tickets tend to be pretty easily dispensed as discretionary items on many airlines so that would probably be fine.
posted by Candleman at 9:26 PM on June 3, 2018

A couple weeks ago I went to the back of the plane and told the flight attendants about how I worked for an airline and the amazing concept of "mile-high happy hour." Then I asked them for two beers and they gave me one for free.

I have an American Airlines pin from 1976. :)

I recently flew first class for the first time and that's a whole different ballgame.
posted by bendy at 9:28 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

If they did it routinely, you'd notice it. If you do see it, it's often because the person has a high status with the airline but is flying economy--it can even be a published benefit that such a person gets a drink or a bottle of water.

There is some give in the system, though, and I'd expect nepotism to be quietly ignored as long as it was limited to consumables, didn't affect service to the higher classes, and wasn't done in such a way as to induce a rowmate riot.
posted by praemunire at 9:33 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

It’s more than twenty years ago now, but when I wa flying from NY to London on Concorde using frequent flyer miles (my wife indulged me to fulfill a long held dream) the FA found out that my wife was traveling separately on a different flight so she gave me a bottle of Champgne to give to her. Not a split, a full-sized, unopened bottle of Pol Roger.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I commuted regularly, like every week for 6 months regularly, from San Francisco to New York, I regularly got upgrades in seats without me having to use miles or status. I traveled the same flights each week and often it would be the same crew so they got to know me. I would also travel bagless. No luggage, no carry-on, just me and my smile. I was easily moved. Nothing to get in the overhead. So, after takeoff, if there was a seat in business or 1st, a FA who knew me would tell me to just go ahead and move to say seat 6A. When I was in coach the whole flight, I rarely ever paid for my beer.

I think that the FA's have a lot of latitude. I think it matters what the flight is, how crowded it is and who the FAs are. At and around that time, I flew enough and had enough miles that American made me a Platinum for life. I can check bags for free and I get the choice of some of the select extra legroom seats, but so many people have elite status that I rarely get picked off the upgrade list.

One time, about 10 years ago, I was flying first class and ALL the FAs and the pilot and co-pilot came over to say hello to my seatmate. I kept looking at him and for the life of me did not recognize him. Finally, I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. He said his name and I said, "Never heard of you. Should I know you. Everyone is treating you like royalty." He smiled and said no. He was treated so well because he was the #2 mile flyer on American for 2 years in a row. He showed me his Frequent Flyer card which was metal with his name and number engraved and something about being a top traveler. It was like the golden ticket.

The amount of miles was astronomical. He said he flew between Hong Kong and the States often. I forget the exact miles, but if I had say 150,000 miles he had over a million miles in a single year. He was in his mid thirties and single. Said he did not think he could have a family and travel as much as he did. He was sort of like George Clooney in that movie, Up in the Air(?) or whatever it was called. I am sure they were all alerted to his presence and looked up his name, but they all greeted him like they knew him and he seemed to know a lot of them too. I don't think there was anything on that plane he could have asked for that he would not have gotten. He then promptly went to sleep for 3 hours.
posted by AugustWest at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2018 [14 favorites]

I know I've been on flights that were delayed significantly and the FA has come on and said, drinks, food or pay-movies are on the house! I don't know who decided that, I'm assuming there is a head FA that has authority - but I'd say that's pretty significant.
posted by Toddles at 10:54 PM on June 3, 2018

After flying home from burying my grandmother and cleaning out her house I was in business and busying myself with drinking a very large amount of prosseco. I had a great rapport with the flight attendant and as a treat he smuggled me a whole bottle from the galley to take home with me in my backpack. Giving a whole bottle of Italian bubbly to a bereaved passenger was probably less than kosher but I’ve never forgotten it and it made my day.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:20 PM on June 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine had connections with the flight attendants on international Qantas flights, tried to get upgrades for me a couple of times. Didn't work as all the flights were full, but I did get a bottle of bubbly to take away a couple of times.

I also got sat next to someone on an Australia-Europe flight who had got to Australia, found out that her sister had died, and had then immediately gotten on a flight to go home. The flight attendants knew, and whisked her away to somewhere more spacious so she could sleep as soon as the seatbelt sign was off.
posted by kjs4 at 11:42 PM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

About a year ago my husband and I flew international with our baby, and the flight attendant we had gave us extra refills of wine (wine is free with dinner on that flight, but she came and asked us if we wanted another glass an additional 2 or 3 times) and she also gave us each a bag of the first class toiletries. The flight was about half full and she said they just had extras. I think she liked us and thought our baby was cute, or maybe felt sorry for us since flying with a baby is stressful.

Anyway, I'm literally wearing the socks from the amenities bag right now. They aren't super high quality or anything but I like them because they have treads on the bottom like slipper socks. I use the eyemask too!

I also once sat next to a young lady whose dad was a pilot for that airline and she definitely got better service (this was also international). She chatted to the flight attendants beforehand about people they knew in common and then they offered her the first choice of food, extra drinks, came to check on her throughout the flight a little more. As a fellow passenger I did not at all resent this nepotism, by the way. If your job's got any perks, use them when you can I say!
posted by cpatterson at 4:11 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would say it would depend on the airline

I used to fly all the time, usually on the same trans Atlantic route. So much so that I got to know many of the flight attendants and other crew. My employer was a cheep SOB and he'd only spring for economy tickets (and being 6'4 that was agony!). Several times the attendants brought me up to business or first class. They gave me meals, cookies, blankets (clean ones) and a variety of others perks. Why? I always said Thank You, gave them gift cards or other little trinkets. Being nice to a flight crew can pay dividends down the road.

And just saying Thank You to a flight attendant just might make their day. I wouldn't do their job for all the tea in India.
posted by james33 at 6:35 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Flying with a cute baby (who was generally calm/quiet), FAs showered us with cookies and snacks.

Actually even flying solo, I’ve never gotten a ‘no’ when asking for two snack servings, and ‘two’ sometimes turns into ‘a handful’.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:47 AM on June 4, 2018

It would be interesting to know the approximate year for some of these anecdotes -- a full bottle of wine?? I wonder if that was 15+ years ago...

Anyway, within the past 6 months I flew with my baby and the flight attendant gave us a kids' snack pack -- one of those boxes with teddy grahams, a fruit pouch, box of milk, and so on. It probably normally runs about $6. This was United. That's the best I've gotten in 32 years of flying!
posted by Bebo at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Christmas before last I took my 5 kids on a 2,000 mile trip with a layover each way. When the flight attendants found out A) I was the only adult in the group and B) my kids were well-behaved, they gave me free drinks. On all four flights.

I thought it was a nice gesture and since it happened every time, I assume they have a bit of leeway with the alcohol.
posted by tacodave at 2:56 PM on June 4, 2018

This isn’t a story about the flight attendant but the check in lady. Many years ago, when I was moving from the UK back to Australia, I packed up everything I owned and tried to take it on the plane in various suitcases, backpacks etc. I was laden like a packhorse and attempting to disguise the weight. It didn’t work. The check in lady made me take it all off and weighed everything. It came to 60kg. The limit was 25 kilos, and you had to pay extra per kilo, like a huge amount, $10per extra kilo or something insane. I looked at the extra luggage - all my possessions that I would literally have to just throw in the airport bin because I couldn’t afford to ship it and I wanted to cry.

The check in lady flipped open my passport and examined it. “Oh, Ms Jubey! Happy birthday. We’ll waive that extra weight. Our gift to you.” Wow, you have never seen a happier person than me in that moment.
posted by Jubey at 3:56 AM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

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