5 Safety Precautions Flight Attendants Always Take When They Fly

You may have heard that flight attendants sit on their hands during takeoff and landing—but that’s not required. Here’s what they really do to ensure the safety of themselves and everyone else on board.

Flight attendant holding an airplane intercom phone

Flight attendants regularly communicate with the cockpit for updates on safety and service measures.

Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

It’s easy to forget that there’s so much more to flight attendants’ jobs than serving passengers drinks and snacks, locating free space in the overhead bins, and passing out earbuds for the seatback entertainment. After all, much of their most important duties occur behind the scenes.

As most captains will remind passengers before aircraft pushback, a flight attendant’s role is primarily about ensuring the safety of all passengers and crew before, during, and after the flight.

To do so, they have to ensure their own safety and security. For instance, we’ve all heard pilots ask the flight attendants to take their jump seats when turbulence gets rough—that’s to make sure they remain out of harm’s way. And, of course, they always remain seated and buckled in during takeoff and landing, just as passengers do. You may have also heard that flight attendants will sit on their hands while in their jump seats during takeoff and landing, but they’re not required to. The FAA only requires flight attendants to have their hands “positioned in their laps or holding onto the side of their seats.”

Here are five things flight attendants do to ensure the safety of themselves and everyone on board the plane.

Cabin checks

You may have noticed that flight attendants always come through the cabin one final time before takeoff and landing to check that no tray tables are down and everyone is wearing their seatbelts. They do this throughout the flight as well, especially if the captain has just turned on the fasten-seatbelt sign.

But the reality is flight attendants are constantly checking the cabin, and it starts before passengers even get on the plane. Before passengers board, flight attendants check the cabin to make sure emergency items like the defibrillator and first aid kit are on board and in good working order. They also test equipment like emergency lights and the public address system. What exactly is tested and checked is up to each airline’s FAA-approved flight manual, but you can bet that flight attendants are doing their due diligence to check that everything is in good shape before the flight.

Talking to the pilots

You won’t see it face-to-face while in the air, but flight attendants and pilots talk to each other. If you’ve ever seen a flight attendant conversing on what looks like a landline phone, they’re communicating with one of the pilots in the cockpit via the plane’s intercom. Cockpit doors are locked and not opened during flights, except when necessary for a pilot shift change or meals. So if the pilots and flight crew need to speak about the status of the flight, or if there is any deviation from the original plan, the intercom is how they communicate.

That’s not the only time pilots and flight attendants talk. They also meet before passengers board to go over the plan for safety and service.

Evaluating passengers

Even when it may not look like it, flight attendants are almost always working to keep everyone safe, even during boarding. A flight attendant might make a mental note of details about passengers, from their age to what kind of shoes they are wearing, should that information be relevant to any emergency that arises.

“I always look at what kind of shoes a customer is wearing to determine whether they can run quickly and easily in them,” flight attendant Amy Caris recently told Reader’s Digest. “If I see someone wearing high heels during boarding, I can make a note to add in an emergency command about removing them if the need arises.”

Flight attendants are also looking for able-bodied passengers, or ABPs, who could help in the event of an emergency. They note where these people sit to recall later if they need to.

Flight attendant from behind conducting a preflight safety briefing

While you may tune the preflight safety briefings out, flight attendants know them by heart and will be your most valuable asset in the event of an emergency.


Preflight safety and exit row briefings

Everyone who has ever had an in-flight briefing knows that the flight attendants are required to get all passengers up to speed on safety protocols before each flight. According to the FAA, the briefing should include information about 10 points, including the prohibition of smoking, instructions on when to buckle their seatbelt, and the location of the emergency exits.

Nowadays, the preflight briefing is often taped in a studio with a lot of pomp and circumstance and played on the seatback screens before takeoff.

While frequent travelers have heard these briefings countless times and likely tune them out at some point, flight attendants are well-trained to know all the intricacies of these safety measures so that they can effectively assist passengers in the event of an emergency.

It’s up to flight attendants to tell passengers sitting in an exit row what’s expected of them. Before even selecting the seat, passengers have to accept that responsibility when they buy their tickets online. The regulations about who can sit in exit rows dictate that the passenger must be older than 15, able to understand commands, and physically able to assist, and they can’t be preoccupied with other duties. Because of those safety reasons, some passengers may be excluded from being able to sit in the exit row seats.

The FAA also recommends an in-person briefing during which flight attendants ask exit row passengers if they are willing to help in any way in case of an emergency; the flight attendant must get verbal confirmation from each passenger. This can happen any time after everyone is seated but has to be done before the flight attendants are told to be seated for takeoff.

Conducting a silent review

Finally, when flight attendants are seated in their jump seats before takeoff, they often conduct a silent review, or 30-second review. This involves recalling by memory the safety procedures they would need to put into action in the event of an emergency.

While in their jump seats, flight attendants will sometimes assume the partial brace position, a more relaxed version of the position anyone on board would assume during an emergency, by either sitting on their hands or holding on to their jump seats during takeoff or landing. But don’t worry—there’s no reason for passengers to follow suit. This position gives flight attendants the best possible opportunity to assist everyone else as quickly as possible in case of emergency.

Dennis Green is a New York-based reporter and editor primarily interested in stories about planes, trains, and anything else that moves. He was previously a senior business editor at Business Insider.
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