7 Things Flight Attendants Notice About Airplane Passengers in Just 3 Seconds

You're being watched.

Have you ever wondered what the flight crew is thinking of you as you board your aircraft? If you have, that's probably a good thing: It shows your self-awareness level, as well as your ability to think clearly enough that you're probably not (too) intoxicated.

Thanks to experienced flight crew members responding to questions on Quora, we now have a solid sense of what it is that goes through the professionals' minds as they quickly and efficiently scan the crowd.

"Remember that we will be hurtling through the air between six and seven miles above the earth — if a problem develops, one cannot simply dial 911 and wait for the police," wrote Janice Bridger, a flight attendant with 25 years of experience, in answer to the question: "What Are Flight Attendants Really Thinking When They Are Forced to Greet and Thank Passengers at the Door?" So, she wrote, "The whole idea is to prevent problems from getting airborne, and be prepared for them if they do develop in flight." And she says she has been trained to do it in just three to four seconds' time.

While you're boarding, flight crew sizes you up right away to determine...

1.  Are you drunk?

Flight crew person Amar Rama, in response to the question, "What do flight attendants notice about passengers as they board the plane?" said that the team is immediately looking for passengers who may be impaired. "Anyone who is drunk or on drugs... can pose a potential safety and security issue. In the event we may need to evacuate the aircraft, the goal is to do so in 90 seconds, and I don't want to unnecessarily risk my life or the life of others because a drunk or high person is being uncooperative."

2.  Are you strong?

"If I see someone who is muscular, powerful, strong, physically fit, I memorize his or her face and make a mental note of where they are sitting. I consider this person a resource for me. In the event of an attack on the flight or on me, these are my go-to people," Bridger wrote. "If a situation looks like it could develop, I’ll privately and discreetly ask one of these people if they would be willing to help us if necessary. Help might involve subduing or restraining an unruly passenger. We hope it never happens, but we will prepare just in case it does."

3.  Are you disabled or sick?

"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 pounds, or open a heavy door, several hundred pounds," Bridger notes.

Rama who once missed an unpaid month of work due to an illness picked up on the job, wrote, "We are in an enclosed space, therefore if you're sick, it's not right to pass it on to others. We have elderly and children on board as well. As for more serious medical issues, we would much rather it be taken care of on the ground where you have access to a doctor or hospital than a medical emergency at 35,000 feet where we are limited to what we can do for you medically. 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 are 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."

4.  Do you speak English?

Bridger notes, "If [the passenger] cannot understand English, they cannot understand shouted commands. Nor can they read the instructions on how to open the exits."

5.  Are you experienced with aviation?

"I try to learn if we have any passengers who are airline employees, particularly crew members who have been trained in the in-flight procedures. These people also are a resource for me [as] they’ve been trained in what to do in an emergency, whether medical, mechanical, et cetera. They are an invaluable resource for me, and I like to know who they are and where they’re sitting." Bridger wrote.

She added that when United flight 232 crashed in Sioux City Iowa in 1989, it was a disaster that should have killed everyone on board, but the head flight attendant remembered that a pilot was riding in the coach cabin — and his assistance helped saved many lives.

6.  Are you likely to cause a delay?

Rama wrote, "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. 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."

Flight attendants try to resolve such issues as soon as possible, because waiting can only cause departure delays and the crew is not paid until the boarding door is closed.

7.  Do you look suspicious?

Beyond all of the above specific things, flight crew only needs a few seconds to note if your behavior seems generally somehow... off. Rama added that the flight crew immediately scans the plane for anyone who appears suspicious — which can sometimes be a matter of simple "gut instinct.

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