Flight attendant reveals dirty little secrets on why they ignore us during flight


call button 2

Picture this.  You’re on a very long flight. You’ve pressed the ‘I need help button’ on your in-flight console, a number of times but still, your flight attendant ignores you.  Confused?  I mean, aren’t flight attendants specifically there to assist passengers and make us feel, well, comfortable.

According to flight attendant of 15 years, Sarah Steegar, who is in the current employ of a major U-S airline carrier, she says there may be a number of motives behind ignoring passengers.

From Sarah’s lips to our ears.

1. “What was that ding?”

Aircraft communication is a bit like SOS – a slew of messages through just a couple of tone combinations. No heartbeat fails to flutter for the rare emergency patterns! But other dings are heard so often they’re almost ambient music. If we aren’t looking in the right place to see the corresponding light at that exact moment, we might not know which signal it was. (“Was the blue light on a second ago?”)

2. Bad Button Placement

Any call button attached to the armrest is ripe for accidental ringing. Elbows, pressing thighs and sleeping feet are huge culprits. Often we return to the same seat so many times that the passenger looks harassed, so we just leave it.

3. Ghost Lights

These happen regularly. Indicators get stuck in the on or off position—it might be the galley indicator panel, it might be your seat light, or all of them! No telling. Sometimes the ding just comes randomly. All night long. That’s fun – especially when it’s a vibrating loose wire. (D-d-d-d-d-iiiing. Di- di. Ding. Ding. Ding.)


4. Reading Light Mix-up

Malaysia 737 BSI  Interior

These two buttons can be side-by-side but unlabeled. So—best of all—passengers keep pressing, thinking it isn’t responding (when they’re ringing us repeatedly) or trying to turn it back off (when there’s a silly, third unlabeled button for that.)

5. Kids

Ah, the classic “kid is ringing the call light.” Except they often don’t stop, which means we just have to ignore it.

6. Turbulence

This is when the answer is a bit of, “We’re just ignoring you,” but there’s context!  If a flight hits turbulence and you think it is too rough to walk to the galley to request coffee (it’s always a hot drink), then it’s too rough for your flight attendant to do it. If we are buckled into our jump-seats, we’re only getting up for emergencies. Which brings me to how we deal with most of these scenarios.

We never willfully “ignore” a call, but as you can see, 19 out of 20 are accidents. We do our best to answer calls while managing that fact. How? When in doubt we will either walk through (if we can) or look down the aisle for someone in distress or otherwise trying to get our attention. If you “ding” but keep your eyes glued to the movie when I saunter by, I’ll often conclude it was a mistake.

So, what if you really do need something a bit urgently and we don’t seem to hear? Say you had a spill. Try ringing two (at most three) times and give a little wave. It’s not guaranteed, but it definitely works better than getting mad.

For more of Sarah’s secrets into the world of airline and passenger etiquette, check out her blog at Flyer Talk.

About Author

Tracee Tuesday

Tracee Tuesday is a travel writer, radio and television personality.Her mission is to inspire, inform and equip you with information necessary to experience the most amazing trips that are fun, affordable and culturally broadening.In her pastime, Tracee enjoys: white water rafting, astrobiology, zoology, traveling, music, horseback riding, and is an all-out foodie.