Behind the Beverage Cart: Insights from our in-house flight attendant

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To you, Gilles Bourque may be a peppy part-time sales & marketing coordinator. But his main gig is at an international airline where he’s been a flight attendant for over 7 years.

It was a slow social media day, so Carl distracted Gilles for tips to take note of between takeoff and touchdown. You’ll find snapshots from their conversation below.

Gilles: “A flight attendant can’t upgrade a passenger.”

Don’t bother attempting to flirt your way into Business or First Class. Seating is handled by the gate/boarding agent, never by a flight attendant. It’s a computerized program and in case of an overbooking, passengers are bumped in priority sequence. Frequent Flyers and reward program members will have first dibs at an upgrade.

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Gilles below the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. C’est bon.

“We only get paid once the plane door is shut and the flight is released.”

If a plane is delayed, flight attendants aren’t compensated for their time. No matter how long they’re grounded. So while you may be frustrated by mechanical issues, so are the staff (despite their smiles).

“Being nice to us can go a long way. I love when customers give me chocolate. Flight Attendants will talk to each other and say which customer was nice. We always go out of our way to make generous customers more comfortable.”

While most airlines have policies prohibiting flight attendants from accepting cash tips, you’re allowed to present them with small gifts such as the aforementioned chocolate. Behind the curtains, stewards are whispering which customers were gracious. And on the flip, who is serving attitude. Only one of them gets extra snacks and complimentary headphones.

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Getting his Out Adventure mug shot.

“A lot of people don’t understand there’s a sequence of service we must follow. We can’t adjust it for individual customers.”

Wishing dinner would arrive when the seatbelt light fades? Too bad. No matter how hard you hammer the Request Service button, your flight attendant can’t adjust said sequence to your needs (medical emergencies aside, of course). Consider bringing your own snacks or dinner if you’re going to be peckish.

“You can ask for the whole can of soda.”

Know your rights! You can have the whole can of soda – not just a plastic cup’s worth (hey, in hard times, every ounce counts).

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At the Scotiabank Toronto AIDS Walk. From left Keri Sharp, Gilles Bourke and Carl Hiehn.

“Please don’t walk barefoot on the plane.”

It’s important to be comfortable on a flight. But it’s also important to remember this isn’t your living room. Bathrooms are constantly in use and people have bad aim. That’s not water on the floor.

“Having sex in the bathroom is less common than people think”

Becoming a certified mile high club member sounds hot. But attempting it on a long-haul will likely end with an interruption. There’s no way to discretely enter an airline loo, and you may be shamed Game-of-Thrones-style.

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Gilles in Beijing, China.

“Safety always comes first. The government imposes specific safety regulations that we must abide and if we fail to do so we can be personally fined.”

In other words, they’re personally liable for passenger safety. Observe their authority, please and thank you.

“We sympathize with negative experiences before the flight, but we have very little (if any) way to help.”

It sucks you got penalized for switching departures, security was a hassle and children were running amok in Terminal C. But there’s literally nothing a flight attendant can do about a negative experience outside of the plane other than listen. Their authority is  restricted to what happens on the plane.

“Some people don’t even look at us.”

It may seem self-explanatory, but simply acknowledging their existence is the bane of many flight attendants’ existence.

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