Head of flight attendants union explains what crews do to keep you safe in the air

The next time you board a flight, you might want to take a moment to greet your flight attendant, because if anything happens, they’re the ones that will be there for you.

Whenever there’s an incident or an unruly passenger on a plane while in flight, it falls on the flight attendants to take action.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, says the job is getting increasingly difficult.

“Flight attendants have been aviation’s first responders. We’re charged with the health and safety of the passengers in our care. And since Sept. 11, we have also become aviation’s last line of defense,” she said. “More and more as our airplanes are fuller than ever, we have more seats packed on the planes and more people filling those seats, we see a rise of tension in the cabin.”

The Association of Flight Attendants represents 20 airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, and more than 50,000 flight attendants.

Nelson says in addition to making regular safety checks prior to takeoff, flight attendants do their best to read passengers’ behavior in an effort to identify a potential problem.

“We don’t always see the behavior of every single person, but it is absolutely a part of our job, part of our role, and often times we will identify when there are red flags even before that door closes,” she said. “We are trained that the best way to avoid a problem in flight is to keep it on the ground.”

Nelson also says while fellow passengers are always eager to assist, she encourages them to wait before jumping in.

“What we tell passengers is that we need them to listen for our instructions, so sometimes if passengers try to get up and engage an issue that we are attempting to manage, they can actually make it worse. They can escalate the situation without meaning to,” she said. “So please listen for the flight attendant’s instructions. We are also trained in how to give you clear instructions to help us, and we will call upon passengers when necessary.”

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