The dark side of the trolley dolly life: Cabin crew reveal how they're struggling to cope with abusive and drunk passengers who make flying 'scary and intimidating'

  • One serving flight attendant reveals how he fears for his safety regularly
  • He warned that 'sooner or later someone is going to get hurt, or worse'
  • Another said: 'The pilots hide in their hutch, there's no back up'  

Cabin crew have a glamorous life – but there’s a dark side.

Two flight attendants have revealed how they struggle to cope with abusive, drunk and sometimes violent passengers, with one warning that ‘sooner or later someone is going to get hurt, or worse’.

They both spoke candidly to MailOnline Travel about how life at 30,000 feet can be ‘scary and intimidating’ for them.

Two air stewards have revealed how they struggle to cope with abusive, drunk and sometimes violent passengers, with one warning that ‘sooner or later someone is going to get hurt, or worse’ 

Two air stewards have revealed how they struggle to cope with abusive, drunk and sometimes violent passengers, with one warning that ‘sooner or later someone is going to get hurt, or worse’ 

In the past week alone the police intervened in four incidents involving troublesome passengers, including a stag group stopped from boarding a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, a Scottish stag party who 'intimidated cabin crew with foul and abusive language' and a 55-year-old drunk man who locked himself in a plane toilet. 

These kind of incidents are becoming an all-too common occurrence according to Dan Air, 33, who currently works as a flight attendant and writes a blog, Confessions Of A Trolley Dolly, about his experiences and the industry.

'Disruptive passenger incidents is an area I am extremely passionately about and, sadly, the number of incidents are on the rise,' he told MailOnline Travel. 

'We should never feel scared or intimidated in our work place. Sadly increasing numbers of cabin crew are telling me they feel this way, myself included. 

Flight attendant Dan Air believes alcohol consumption in airports often leads to mid-air troubles

Flight attendant Dan Air believes alcohol consumption in airports often leads to mid-air troubles

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO END MID-AIR DISTURBANCES?

'Bad behaviour is simply unacceptable. Prevention must start inside the airports.

'Stop the drinks promotions. Train bar and shop staff to limit the amount of alcohol they sell and liaise more with airline staff. 

'Gate staff need to be more vigilant and have more support when having to offload disruptive passengers, so that these idiots don’t even make it as far as the aircraft door.'

Serving flight attendant Dan Air 

'It's not just verbal abuse the crew are having to deal with. Physical assaults to members of cabin crew have also increased recently and I feel that sooner or later someone is going to get seriously hurt, or worse. 

'We should not have to go in to work fearing for our safety but sadly, on certain routes and days, many crew do.'

Another flight attendant who has been in the industry for 15 years and wishes to remain anonymous, believes the support mechanisms are not always there for the cabin crew.

'Mostly the passengers behave well but since they've put more seats on planes and have less room for baggage, then they kick off but it's quite rare,' she said.

'I'm afraid we have to tolerate bad behaviour as we don't get supported. The pilots just hide in their hutch I'm afraid, there's no back up any more. People are too fearful.’

But Air argues that modern security measures are the reason why captain intervention, and ultimately the police being called, is a last resort.

'At my airline our flight crew always back you up and fully support any decisions we make,' he added. 

'While it's true they're locked behind a bullet proof door, this isn't their choice as obviously this came in after 9/11 and most will come out to support us on the ground as soon as they can.'

The captain is informed immediately of any situations that are developing in the cabin, with Air highlighting that communication 'is a key part of our role on board'.

As soon as any ‘rowdy’ passengers are spotted, the flight crew will be informed straight away. This can either be during the boarding process or during the flight. 

'We are the eyes and ears for our flight crew in the cabin as of course they are locked behind a bullet proof door,' he added.

'We have various classes of disruptive passengers from one to four with one being the lowest level and four being the highest. We of course have other "code words" and "names" we may call them, none you would probable be able to print.'

 Yes, we could throw someone off for swearing at us or for swearing loudly in the cabin

Should passengers use rude words, it may be forgiven, but bad language could result in a passenger being thrown off.

Air said: 'Yes, we could throw someone off for swearing at us or for swearing loudly in the cabin. 

'If there are other passengers seated around, especially those with children and we ask them to watch their language and they continue to swear then they are disobeying orders from the cabin crew and so yes we could throw them off. 

'Obviously we wouldn’t throw you off for just swearing discreetly.'

Should matters escalate, Air's training kicks in.

He said: 'In our training we are taught various de-escalation techniques to try and calm a situation, every airline teaches their own techniques, both verbal and physical. 

'Some airlines carry restraint devices should the situation become so serious that it warrants the passenger being restrained. Others have to rely on resolving the situation themselves.' 

Air, perhaps not surprisingly, believes that alcohol is often the source of blame for many of the disturbances in the plane.

He points to the fact that airport shops and bars often have special offers on alcohol that many passengers are all too keen to take up. 

He said: 'Prevention must start inside the airports.

'Stop the drinks promotions. Train bar and shop staff to limit the amount of alcohol they sell and liaise more with airline staff.  

'It is against the law in the UK for a passenger to be drunk on board an aircraft and we have the right to refuse passengers boarding if we think they have had too much, although we are unable to actually say to someone that we believe they are drunk.'

The ground staff play a key role in marshalling inebriated passengers - but Air doesn't believe they're always effective.

He said: 'Our first line of defence are our ground staff, who monitor passengers as they board. If the gate staff feel someone has had too much to drink then they will either have a quiet word with them and inform them that they need to improve their behaviour, or simply remove them from the flight. 

HOW CABIN CREW DEAL WITH ABUSE - AND WHERE THE RED LINE LIES

Where is the 'red line' with disruptive passengers?

Dan Air: 'This is a tricky one to be honest. Some crew have a much greater tolerance level than others. 

For me any types of disruptiveness that affects any members of my cabin crew or my other passengers I deem as crossing the "red line" and I would not tolerate. 

We need to take a firm stand so that passengers are aware that any type of disruptive behaviour, no matter how big or small, is not tolerated.'

What can passengers get away with?

Dan Air: 'This really depends on the profile of the other passengers and the time of day or night of the flight. 

We understand that people want to have a good time and we will gladly allow certain behaviours, if passengers comply with our instructions and requests and are mindful of the other people onboard. 

Singing - it depends how loud, what they are singing and again if it is disturbing other passengers. 

Dancing - this is a no no. If they’re up dancing in the aisles then they are blocking our access and of course other passengers access to toilets etc. This is a safety issue so I personally would not allow people to be up dancing. 

Kissing - again this is something we wouldn’t really allow as it can make our other passengers uncomfortable.' 

Are there any code words the crew use among themselves to identify disruptive passengers?

Dan Air: 'We have various classes of disruptive passengers from one to four with one being the lowest level and four being the highest. 

We of course have other 'code words’ and ’names’ we may call them, none you would probable be able to print.'

What techniques do cabin crew use to calm people down?

Dan Air: 'In our training we are taught various de-escalation techniques to try and calm a situation, every airline teaches their own techniques, both verbal and physical. 

Some airlines carry restraint devices should the situation become so serious that it warrants the passenger being restrained.

Others have to rely on resolving the situation themselves.' 

If passengers obey the rules and behave appropriately, both they, and the staff working the flight, can have a much more enjoyable journey (file photo)

If passengers obey the rules and behave appropriately, both they, and the staff working the flight, can have a much more enjoyable journey (file photo)

CAN SWEARING GET YOU KICKED OFF A FLIGHT?

Dan Air: 'Yes we could throw someone of for swearing at us or for swearing loudly in the cabin. 

'If there are other passengers seated around, especially those with children and we ask them to watch their language and they continue to swear then they are disobeying orders from the cabin crew and so yes we could throw them off. 

'Obviously we wouldn’t throw you off for just swearing discreetly.'

'However, as they are often met with hostility some (not all), ground staff will turn a blind eye, leaving the unenviable task to us.'

The solution, he said, is twofold.

He continued: 'Gate staff need to be more vigilant and have more support when having to offload disruptive passengers, so that these idiots don’t even make it as far as the aircraft door.'

Dealing with drunk passengers is made that bit harder by the the pre-take-off work load.

Air said: 'As crew, our first interaction with passengers is during boarding. Now this is a very stressful part of our job role. 

'We are under massive time constraints to ensure the aircraft leaves on time. We are having to deal with baggage issues, passengers issues, liaising with flight and ground crew and this means that spotting the drunken passengers can sometimes prove difficult. 

'However, if we believe that someone is under the influence, again we will go down and speak to the individual and then make the decision to either offload them there and then or let them continue their journey and limit, or refuse, the sale of alcohol to them on board. This decision is made as a crew and ultimately our captain has the final say.'

Air explained that passengers sneaking alcohol on board exacerbates the problem further.  

The reason passengers are asked not to drink their own alcohol is so that the cabin crew can monitor the amount they are consuming and prevent alcohol-fuelled incidents from taking place.

One member of the party was so drunk he wet himself in his seat 

However, if passengers are drinking their own then staff are unable to monitor their intake and situations can quickly escalate.

'They [the passengers] have even begun to pour it into their own water or drinks bottles before they board to disguise the true contents,' Air said.

'On a flight last summer I had a group of around 15 men who we believed were drinking their own alcohol.

'We never actually saw any bottles of spirits, just water bottles and when we were out with the inflight service the passengers asked for soft drinks and glasses of ice, a sure sign to cabin crew that they’re drinking their own. 

'Around two hours in, the situation began to escalate rapidly. One member of the party was so drunk he wet himself in his seat. Another began arguing with the passengers in the row in front who were travelling with a small child.

'Despite numerous attempts by myself, my fellow crew members and our captain over the PA system, we could not control them and so the decision was made to divert the aircraft and have the men arrested.'

Air said it is possible for passengers to let their hair down on a flight, but it must be done in a modest manner.

'We understand that people want to have a good time and we will gladly allow certain behaviours, if passengers comply with our instructions and requests and are mindful of the other people on board,' he added. 

Even singing in your seat is not necessarily ruled out, but dancing in the aisles and kissing are.

'It depends how loud, what they are singing and again if it is disturbing other passengers,' he added.

'Dancing - this is a no no. If passengers are up dancing in the aisles then they are blocking our access and of course other passengers' access to toilets. This is a safety issue so I personally would not allow people to be up dancing.

'Kissing - again this is something we wouldn’t really allow as it can make our other passengers uncomfortable.'

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