Q: What is a Flight Attendant’s Job? A: Not What You Think

We occasionally hear from upset passengers because of flight attendants supposedly not doing their jobs. Sometimes that means a cabin crew member didn’t assist with stowing a bag; sometimes that means a cabin crew member was grumpy (gee, just like you and me).

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But here’s the crux of the issue: Do you know what flight attendants are supposed to do, and what they aren’t supposed to do?

LISTEN: Some flight attendant anecdotes.

What Flight Attendants Do

A flight attendant’s focus is – in a word – safety. Their jobs have evolved over the years but safety has always been front-and-center and never more than now thanks to crowded planes and ongoing threats of terrorism. And safety doesn’t end with graduation from flight attendant school; more on that in just a moment.

What Flight Attendants Don’t Do

Sometimes flight attendants go above and beyond to give passengers a hand but what follows is not part of their job description.

Babysitter: If your child is chronologically old enough to fly alone but not quite mature enough for solo travel – yet you put him on a plane anyway in the belief the flight attendants will constantly watch over him, think again. Flight attendants will not ignore a little one, but they do have many other responsibilities and cannot be anyone’s babysitter-in-the-sky.

Waiters/waitresses: Yes, they push drink carts and serve the meals in business and first class, but consider this an extra service performed by a professional whose real job is safety. Treat them as you’d like to be treated when you order that Diet Coke.

Baggage handler: Some flight attendants tell us some airlines order them not to stow carry-ons in overhead bins, to avoid risk of injury – and such injuries do happen. Better to ask a fellow passenger for help or best of all, pack lighter. Some airlines will hit you with overweight fees even for  carry-ons.

Always in Training

We recently chatted with a flight attendant who’s been on the job for 40 years (and is still flying), who just finished her latest round of FAA-mandated safety training – something she and fellow flight attendants do once a year to reinforce what they already know.

The training can vary by airline but our flight attendant told us she is sometimes in mockups of airline cabins which can be programmed to fill with smoke or rock and roll as though in severe turbulence, while flight attendants practice opening various types of airplane doors (sometimes by touch alone) or hone strategies to deal with potential terrorist incidents (but they can’t say much about this). The point of all these exercises is making sure every passenger on every plane is always safe.

Read more in Rick’s latest column for ABC News. See all his columns here.

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Updated: June 5, 2015