Maybe you’re thirsty, hungry, have trash to throw away, or want someone to intervene with a disruptive child seated near you. The flight attendant call button is gleaming overhead, promising to send over a friendly crew member to solve your problems. But is it rude tno page a flight attendant for one of these reasons?
Most flight attendants admit that there’s a certain unspoken etiquette to using the call button properly that takes into consideration the phase of the flight, where a passenger is seated, and what the request may be.
Obviously safety always comes first in regards to the call button: If you see something, say something, and if you believe something is unusual, someone is suffering a medical emergency, or a situation appears to be unsafe and potentially could cause an emergency, hit the button and hit it quickly without a second thought.
Outside of safety issues, however, using the feature has some nuance. We asked flight attendants to walk us through several scenarios when it’s ok for passengers to ring the call button—and when it would be frowned upon by most crew members.
Hands off the button during taxi, takeoff, and landing
If you’re contemplating ringing the call button as the aircraft is accelerating down the runway for takeoff to ask the flight attendant for a soda, expect some withering side-eye stares and scolding from the cabin crew. “It’s never okay to ring the call button during taxi, take-off, or landing unless it’s an emergency,” says Boston-based flight attendant Kelly Casteel. “Those are the phases of the journey that carry the highest likelihood in which something could go wrong, so the flight attendants are instructed to prepare the cabin, take their seats, and review their emergency procedures. That’s pretty standard at every airline.”
Some things can wait
Many flight crew members are happy to respond to a page from a call button once the plane is at cruising altitude—with one major caveat. “I personally tell passengers it’s okay to ring the call button if they want another drink or snack. I’m not one of those flight attendants that says a passenger can only ring the call button if they’re dying or bleeding,” says Orlando-based flight attendant Aimee LaMay. “I’d much rather they call me, and I can provide a personal service rather than bringing out the beverage carts again and blocking the aisle and path to the bathroom.”
But flight attendants’ patience wears thin when it comes to trash clean-up, according to LaMay. “No airline has a trash container on the beverage cart, so please don’t try to hand us your trash while we’re serving drinks and food,” she says. “And don’t ring your call button to have us pick up trash.”
Holding onto trash is common etiquette rule for most crew members. “I don’t mind if they push the call button if they really need something, but it’s never okay to push it to have us pick up your trash,” says Alexa Billig, a flight attendant based in Los Angeles. Billig says her airline, like most, requires flight attendants to routinely pass through the cabin to collect rubbish. At such times the crew is prepared with trash bags and protective gloves, but they don’t always respond to the call button prepared to handle some of the unsanitary items passed their way. “Dirty diapers, toe nails, chewed sunflower seeds, food waste—the list goes on,” Billig says. “You wouldn’t touch half of the things handed our way without gloves, so it’s only courteous to wait until we’ve got ours on before expecting us to take anything away.”
It depends where you’re seated
For some cabin crew, your right to call button access depends on where you’re seated. “If the in-flight service is over, and the passenger is seated at the window or in the center seat, they can ring the call button anytime,” says New York flight attendant Linda Newman. “If you’re in the aisle seat, you’re welcome to come to the back and ask [for what you need].”
But it’s a different story when cabin crew are serving meals and making rounds with the beverage cart: Paging flight attendants for something frivolous during these times is practically verboten, according to Newman. “I am always happy to get passengers what they want, it’s what I’m there for, but if we’re obviously in the aisle working, please be respectful of the fact that there’s usually three flight attendants for every 150 passengers, and it’s going take some time to get through the cabin,” says Newman.
“My biggest pet peeve”
Ringing the call button to flag down a crew member is always a better idea than physically touching a flight attendant to get their attention. “Anything is better than being poked in the side, or behind, while walking down the aisle. It’s my biggest pet peeve,” Katherine Gwynn, an Atlanta-based crew member, explains. “The call button is there for a reason. Passengers can use it anytime they have a need—but please don’t touch the flight attendants.”