This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Being on a plane can turn reasonable adults into the absolute worst people imaginable.
Many passengers, it turns out, believe that the price of a plane ticket also buys them the flight attendant on duty, and the right to be as abusive and demanding as they like. A study by the Association of Flight Attendants found that 68 percent of flight attendants have been sexually harassed during their careers. Only 7 percent have actually reported the abuse to their employers.
I spoke with Milla*, 30, and Elena*, 30, about the worst things they've experienced in their combined 12 years working as flight attendants. They shared their stories of endlessly creepy guys, and grown women screaming over plates of pasta.
Milla: Just seeing a flight attendant seems to awaken people's sexual fantasies, and you can often tell who it'll be just by the way they stare while you're trying to give the safety demonstration. Once, this guy was sitting next to his girlfriend on a flight to Nice, and he was outright ogling me—it was disgusting. This other time, a passenger wrote on a sick bag, "I'd like to fuck someone who's working here," and passed it to me. It's so disrespectful—nobody would write that to their doctor.
Elena: It's usually old men in suits who hit on me. Sometimes they'll hand me their business card, and other times they'll shout something dirty at me. You just have to find a way of dealing with it while remaining professional and friendly. I don't tell them that it's inappropriate; I just accept their card and throw it in the garbage later.
Once, when I was working in first class, I was speaking with an elderly gentleman who I saw regularly on flights to Tehran. He told me about his children and how they were around my age, and that his daughter was studying medicine, like I am. He then offered to show me around Tehran. I like the city and Iranians, and my colleagues didn't want to go out, so I was happy to take him up on his offer.
After showing me around the city, he asked if I had a boyfriend and how old the men I usually date are. He added that, although he was much older, he was young at heart and rich, and it could be great for me to have someone in my life who could support me financially. He then suggested I give him a kiss. Luckily, he didn't persist when I declined his offer.
I've had a few men like that, who seem interested in my education and offer some form of support for my study. I'm usually quite naive when that happens because I like to assume that people's intentions are good. But it never turns out that way.
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Poo and Vomit
Milla: A passenger once got so drunk that he threw up in his sick bag. I'll never understand why, but when we landed, he came up to me and held the bag in my face, before smacking the side of it as he said, "I puked." His vomit shot up from the top of the bag and splattered all over me. It was absolutely disgusting.
Elena: I've had a passenger shit himself mid-flight. The entire plane smelled so bad, all the other passengers were losing it.
Milla: I've had a completely drunk couple just sitting there looking perfectly normal, while the guy was fingering the woman under the blanket.
Elena: I once overheard this couple in their 50s having sex in business class on a red-eye. She was on top of him without a care in the world. When that happens, we usually give them a warning. If they don't stop, we might go and make an in-flight announcement.
Milla: After catching a guy smoking in the bathroom, my colleague confiscated his passport and told him that he would get it back after we landed, and that his behavior was reported to the authorities. But after taking a closer look at his passport, she realized the person in the photo was about 20 years younger than the passenger. After we landed, my colleague called the police, who were able to determine that the passport was fake.
Elena: I normally work in first class, which most of the time is quite nice because I only have to look after around eight guests. But sometimes we get these big shot executives who just sit there and down glass after glass of champagne before we've even taken off. From there, they'll drink an entire bottle of wine and end up so drunk they can't even get up from their seat without help. Some passengers—mostly businessmen in their 50s—get so drunk that they start smashing up the glasses.
Then there are sailors—they can be great to have around because they generally have solid medical training, which can be useful in an emergency. But we always have to keep an eye out to stop them from getting too wasted.
Milla: The problem is that people start drinking before they get on the flight, but don't factor in how the change in air pressure will affect them. It could be that you're just a bit tipsy on the ground but completely plastered in the air. We once had to do an emergency landing because of a ridiculously drunk guy. He was traveling with his mother and brother.
Elena: One of our frequent flyers verbally abused me once. He first started mocking me as we were welcoming people onboard—something he found hilarious. I asked him to stop, but he wouldn't. He then asked to be seated somewhere else because he didn't want to sit next to his wife, but we couldn't, so that's when he called me dumb and told me, literally, that I had a "whore head." We had already taken off, so we obviously couldn't kick him off the flight. The only thing I could do was report him to the cockpit. In situations like these, a report is written and the passenger could be banned from flying with the airline.
On another flight, I had a woman scream at me because she was angry that all we had left to serve was pasta. She went completely off the rails, and another passenger had to intervene. I was so upset. I was fighting back tears and had to lock myself in the bathroom. You can get so angry at times in this job, especially when adults start yelling at you because they didn't get the meal they wanted. But you can't lose your composure in front of passengers. Being a flight attendant is a bit like being a bartender, but difficult customers don't just get up and leave—you have to deal with them for the next ten hours. So it's important that you find a way to resolve any conflicts as quickly as possible.
* Milla and Elena's names were changed to protect their identities.
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