United Flight Attendant Says Call Button Is For Emergencies Only

Christine learned an interesting bit of in-flight trivia on her recent United flight: those little call buttons are for emergencies only. What’s more, the flight attendants can psychically sense when it’s an emergency and when you’re just foolin’ with them, and they’ll ignore you if they suspect you’re just going to ask for water. And no, needing to take sinus medicine to prevent clusters of needle-explosions going off in your skull during descent is not an emergency, so go back to your seat.

Christine doesn’t usually fly United, and only got booked with them when she had to reschedule a flight at the last minute:

I slept for the bulk of the flight and when I woke up, I realized I needed to take sinus decongestion pills to avoid sinus pain during the descent. Because I am a frequent air traveller, I knew that I only had 30 minutes left in the flight and if I didn’t take the pills, the pain would be unbearable. I would have gone to ask for a cup of water myself, except I was in a middle seat and I didn’t want to disturb the passenger seated next to me. So, I pushed the flight attendant call button above my head. This is something I have done on other planes many times in the past and I didn’t think it would be a problem.

After 5 minutes, I looked around to see if the attendants were busy with other customers. The aisles were clear and the attendants were in the back of the plane. They seemed to be talking to each other and I assumed they were busy, but I eventually realized they weren’t preparing or doing anything other than chatting. One of the attendants looked up and saw me, so I waved–I assumed that maybe the button system wasn’t working and that they didn’t know. I thought that, if she saw me waving and if she saw the orange light on, she would come over. The attendant turned back to the other attendant and started talking again. I was at a loss for what to do.

Eventually, the passenger in the seat next to me woke up and asked me if I needed to get up. I said I had been trying to avoid bothering him by calling for the attendant, but after 10 minutes, it didn’t seem like they were coming. He graciously got up and I went to the back to the attendants, who were chatting.

I said to the attendants, “Sorry to bother you. I don’t know if you saw the call button or anything, but I just wanted a cup of water. I didn’t want to disturb the fellow next to me because I have an aisle seat.”

The attendant who was standing–I believe she was of Asian descent, but I didn’t get her name–said curtly, “That button is just for emergencies, not water.” The other attendant didn’t say anything.

I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I have used that button before for water and, besides, the little figure on the button is carrying a cup. I assumed I could use that button to request water.”

She repeated that, again, the button was for emergencies only. She gave me the water, I took my sinus medicine, gave her the empty cup, and asked how I was to turn off the button. She said that it would turn off if I pressed it again.

I was really surprised because I have been flying my whole life and I have pressed those buttons before and I’ve never been told that they were for emergencies only. I’m not used to receiving such brusque service, either. After I sat down, I realized that if this had truly been an emergency, neither of the attendants would have come to help me. There was no way of discerning between an emergency and a request for water without having first come to me. I know I’m a bit slow, otherwise I would have brought this up with them when I was still standing and talking to them but then again, they didn’t seem to be in the mood for providing customer service. I decided to e-mail my feedback instead.

It is arguable whether or not needing water to take sinus pills prior to descent qualifies as an emergency, although I would like to point out that by the time I received the water, we were close to descending and the sinus pain would have been incredibly debilitating if I had to wait a few minutes longer for the pills to start working.

I think a more appropriate response would have been to come to my seat when the button was pushed. If it had not been an emergency, the attendant might have said to me, “Those buttons are for emergency only, not for water. If you want water, please come up and request it in the future.” I think this would have been appropriate and reasonable response.

Also, if these buttons are, in fact, for emergencies and not water requests, perhaps the buttons should be labeled, “For Emergencies Only.” Also, what constitutes an emergency for using the buttons?

For those who tend to suspect the worst in our OPs (you don’t have a real disease! you shouldn’t have lost your job stupid! only communists have sinus problems!), let’s review:

  • she slept for most of the flight, so unless she is a horrible sleepwalker or has night terrors, she couldn’t have been that much of a high-maintenance passenger;
  • she waited 10 minutes before getting up;
  • she got the water herself;
  • the little figure on the call button is holding a cup; and
  • the button isn’t labeled “for emergencies only”.

Our first reaction was to think Christine should have insisted that the flight attendants do their job properly. The trouble with that is, airlines have us all by the balls right now and know that if we act even the least bit exasperated they can accuse us of endangering the flight. We’ve seen “Flight Plan,” and we know where that leads. So we’re not sure what she should have done. (But sending the above email to corporate is a good start.)

Clearly, Christine, that is an emergency cup on the button, which you should only request in the event your plane is crashing. An emergency cup may just save your life one day! We’re not sure how, though, so this looks like a good place to end this post.

(Photo: Zinnia.)


Edit Your Comment

  1. LiC says:

    This is why I only fly international, where the steward(ess)es feed and water you every 2 hours.

  2. timmus says:

    Consumerist and Complaintant: PLEASE include details. If we just omit things like the route, flight number, date, and so forth, then it’s just a gripe board and we’re no better than the “Bad Service” blog on Livejournal. I quit reading that blog for that very reason — being able to cite details is a hallmark of a good, informative blog.

  3. XTC46 says:

    I fly united all the time ad can assure you, they are not for emergencies only. She just got a bunch of lazy flight attendants. I like united a lot and it is because I have always had great service from them. I guess they have a few bad employees who ruin their rep.

  4. bbbici says:

    As far as i know, those buttons are not for emergencies, or they would be clearly labelled as such. airline service quality sinks to an all time low on this one!

  5. mkt3000 says:

    This sounds like typical United Airlines (and most US legacy carriers) to me.

  6. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Honestly, she’s lucky she didn’t have to explain the whole escapade to the Fatherland Security goons upon landing.
    So untied ignores you, but at least they don’t involve the AUTHORITIES!!!

  7. MercuryPDX says:

    Use the handy dandy call button guide:

    Ding = Passenger needs assistance.

    Ding – Ding = Passenger really needs assistance.

    Ding – Ding – Ding = Passenger really REALLY needs assistance.

    Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding – Ding = I am going to drive everyone on this plane crazy with the bell noise until you come over here, then claim it was stuck and I was trying to unstick it. :)

  8. UpsetPanda says:

    Yeah, she got lazy attendants. But why was it important that one of them was Asian? Not saying anything about the OP, just wondering why that detail was included…I don’t say “the guy who delivers the mail is black” which I have no idea if he is or not, but you know…

  9. demonradio says:

    I love how you have to gently point out to people to not be assholes. I miss how Consumerist used to be, before it was so easy to sign up and leave comments. Sigh.

    And it sounds like these woman just didn’t feel like doing their job that day and should be reprimanded.

  10. TimeDoctor says:

    I flew a similar experience flying US Airways a few months ago where I too was in a middle seat and wanted a sinus relief pill so I could land without my ear pain getting too ridiculous.

    Their solution to my asking for water was to bring it to me ten minutes later, and audibly berate me over the loudspeaker for the whole plane, fortunately not by name, but still completely unprofessional.

  11. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @UpsetPanda: If she sent this letter to United, she may have been trying to specify which flight attendant actually gave her the rude answer, as she wasn’t able to get the woman’s name. Whoever handles the complaint will be able to tell which FA she’s talking about.

    At least, I hope that was the intention. Otherwise it really bugs me when people mention race for no apparent reason in these stories. You notice no one ever mentions that an impolite clerk is white.

  12. grouse says:

    Complaining to United: may do something
    Complaining to Consumerist: will do nothing

  13. Dashrashi says:

    @UpsetPanda: I think that was for the benefit of Corporate, so they could have more luck IDing and hopefully reprimanding the offending flight attendant. Raised a red flag for me, too, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on here. I do think she would’ve said “blond” if she’d been blond.

  14. SJActress says:

    I just bring my own bottle of water on the plane.

  15. jkaufman101 says:

    @timmus: Right on, timmus. I love the Consumerist, but sometimes their reporting is sloppy, and this diminishes the relevancy of the site. We consumers have plenty of legitimate gripes, and there’s more than enough opportunity for the blog to be more complete and thoughtful in its representations of the facts.

  16. mac-phisto says:

    it’s sad, but this is the level of service i have come to expect virtually everywhere i go anymore. there was a time when i’d go into a store & the workers were attentive & pleasant, or i’d get on a plane & the attendants would be courteous & helpful – the “good old days”.

    now the norm seems to require one to wade thru a huddle of chatting friends/co-workers to get help/checkout, politely ignore the employee’s scoff when they realize their ever-so-important cell conversation will have to be put on hold for a moment, accept that they probably have no knowledge how to do their job (particularly when it requires interacting with computers) & that inevitably 4 different people will have to be paged to complete what seems to be a simple transaction.

    the OP should just be happy that the captain didn’t have to land the plane so they could get clearance from head office on releasing a glass of water after the service period had passed.

  17. Dashrashi says:

    @SJActress: So, you buy one at one of the overpriced concession stands in the airport? Not very thrifty of you.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    @SJActress: I can’t remember, are you not allowed to bring your own bottle of water past security, or are you only allowed to have water if it cost $4.50 from the Burger King next to the terminal.

  19. Dashrashi says:

    @UpsetPanda: Heh. Jinx.

  20. ecwis says:

    @SJActress: I used to do the same before the absurd liquid ban. I’d rather put up with the rude service on the plane than spend $3 for a bottle of water. :-

  21. shadow735 says:

    @SJActress: dont they ban you bringing on bottled water or is it okay to bring it on if you bought it at the terminal?
    With all these restrictions in place who knows whats okay anymore.

  22. UpsetPanda says:

    You know, the next time I fly, I think I’ll bring my nalgene (or nalgene ripoff) bottle and just ask for 20 little cups of water to fill up my bottle. I’m sure they’d balk at me and ignore me. Or I could buzz them every 20 minutes and ask for another cup of water…

    I’d actually just bring an empty bottle with me and fill it at the water fountain.

  23. shadow735 says:

    @mac-phisto: Too true!!!

  24. Corydon says:

    Meh…I tend to drink a lot of water (keeping hydrated helps me avoid many of the health pitfalls of flying) so I always make a point of bringing one of those big liter bottles on board with me (two of them if it’s going to be a long flight).

    I just count my blessings if I get my standard package of pretzels and half-a-can of juice or soda out of the airlines these days.

    Yes it sucks that I have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to buy them on the other side of security , but I can’t rely on the flight attendants to bring me enough to drink. So I fix it myself, in the same way I bring along a few snacks and a book or a couple of magazines.

    This lady claims to be a frequent flyer. I can’t believe anyone who’s been on a plane in the last five or ten years wouldn’t know enough to plan ahead in this way, especially if she has a medical condition.

    The sad truth is that you can’t assume that you’ll get any kind of service at all unless you’re flying business class.

  25. Myotheralt says:

    @SJActress: you haven’t flown here recently, right?

  26. Jon Mason says:

    Seems like another case of the slow transformation of air hostesses from friendly, waitress-like people who often go out of their way to please customers, into petty bureaucrats who slavishly follow/misinterpret rules/policies coupled with the attitude of police officers who have a “i am the law and can act pretty much however I want, and if you argue with me YOU will be treated like you are the one in the wrong, no matter who was right initially.”

    I do continue to see some stewardesses doing a great job, but like minimum wage workers, many stewardesses seem to just be there to follow the rules and get through the day without being fired, not because they like their job.

    /i know stewardesses make (a little) more than minimum wage, just saying the attitude is becoming the same

  27. ecwis says:

    “I didn’t want to disturb the fellow next to me because I have an aisle seat.”

    How would she disturb the fellow next to her if she had an aisle seat?

  28. rolla says:

    while i have to agree that the flight attendants were lazy, what was the point of saying that she was Asian?? If she was white, would the OP state this as well? This kinda illustrates the thinking behind the OP when she meets people…she notices the other person’s race, as opposed to their personality first.

  29. balthisar says:

    Bring an empty bottle through security, and fill it up in the bathroom or a drinking fountain. Unless you’re afraid of water (I hear that some places don’t have very good water).

  30. DeltaPurser says:

    I’m almost too embarassed to even respond… The flight attendant she had the unfortunate pleasure of dealing with was, what we call in the airline industry, an ASSHOLE! (Actually, I think it’s a universal term now… But we started it!)

    The button is NOT only for emergencies. It is to be used for service requests, just like Christine’s.

    The FA was just plain lazy, and I recommend she reevaluate her objectives and perhaps moves on to a job where she feels more joy. It’s people like her that make people like me wanna’ scream…

  31. tk427 says:

    The OP should take her sinus medication for 24-48 hrs before the flight. I know from painful experience that taking it only during the flight will be too little-too late for my sinuses & ears.

  32. ecwis says:

    @balthisar: Yes, I’m actually somewhat scared of water and I don’t like the chlorine taste of tap water. I hear it also has estrogen in it. ::gasp::

  33. sleze69 says:

    Yeah…need to post more details. Please post the flight details and the flight date.

    The call button is not for emergencies only. She states that she usually never flies United. I GUARANTEE that she never flies United again after this.

  34. chiieddy says:

    @Dashrashi: You can bring an empty bottle past security and fill it at a water fountain.

  35. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    That flight attendant is full of a lot more than water and sinus medication.

  36. sickofthis says:

    @tk427: As the OP stated in her e-mail, she’s a frequent air traveller and has had enough experience with flying to know when to take her pills. But I’m sure she appreciates your second-guessing based on your own experience.

  37. ecwis says:

    @tk427: Most medications will wear off within 24 hours…

  38. Antediluvian says:

    Like others have said, I bring an empty water bottle with me to the airport, and fill it up post-security. Yes, you may have to put up with crappy airport tap water, but at least it’s wet.

    I’ve found you can usually do okay by going to McD’s or BK and filling it from their soda machines — ice and cold water (look for the water dispenser button on the non-carbonated beverage tap). I’ve never had anyone bother me, but I had also purchased some food.

  39. luz says:

    @masonreloaded: Hey, up yours, buddy. I got floors to mop here.

  40. snowmentality says:

    @demonradio: Seriously. I appreciate the “don’t be assholes” reminder a lot. Consumerist commenters have the highest asshole-to-human ratio of any blog I read, except possibly MacRumors (where it seems like everyone is a thirteen-year-old boy).

  41. spinachdip says:

    @snowmentality: The crazy thing is, this site is moderated. I’d like to see what kind of assholes don’t make it past the moderator.

  42. Pithlit says:

    @snowmentality: I know, and it’s weird given the content of this blog. It’s intelligent and informative. And then there’s the comment section. I often tell myself “Don’t look at the comments, you know it will just piss you off…” That’s why I had to laugh at that disclaimer. Though it seems to be getting a little better since I first started reading.

  43. tk427 says:

    for 24-48 hrs
    This gives the medication plenty of time to work on the sinus/ear tissue swelling and congestion that is the cause of the pressure & pain.

  44. rkmc12 says:

    @rolla: if she didn’t catch the stewardess; name, pointing out her ethnicity might be the only way to identify which one she was.

    Seriously, things were infinitely better when commenting was harder.

  45. ecwis says:

    @tk427: Yes but what if she’s just taking it for the Placebo effect? :-) I tend to agree with you though. I doubt that the medication could do that much in so little time (20 minutes until landing).

    And on the other hand, if she wants to fly United in coach, she should learn how to swallow pills without water or bring her own. :-) :-)

  46. humphrmi says:

    @rkmc12: Yeah, I remember when, in order to get a comment on here, I had to (gasp!) send an e-mail to Ben, I think I only got an login because he got tired of posting for me.

    So in the way of responsibly advising the OP: Hopefully you sent enough details to ID the flight attendant to United. As they say during their intro spiels, the FAs are there for your comfort and safety. If the FA isn’t busy, they can certainly spare a few minutes for your comfort.

    Maybe that FA had a bad day. Or maybe she should rethink her career. Either way, I hope United at least apologizes.

  47. Chongo says:

    I just flew round trip last weekend on United from Chicago to LAX and on both flights, multiple people pressed the call buttons. Each time a flight attendant came and pretty much did what ever the passenger wanted. All but one attendant (and there were at least 4-5 calls each way) was polite. The one who wasn’t was just plain old rude but I overheard him talking about his very bad day when I went to the bathroom.

    Me thinks you had either an uninformed crew (doubtful) or just a bunch of assholes for attendants.

  48. William C Bonner says:

    @SJActress: You bring your own bottle of water? Oh, you always buy overpriced water in the airport, since you can’t bring your own anymore?

    I’ve now been flying for 36 years. I first flew unaccompanied at age 5. I used to look forward to flying, and now I just dread it.

    I did spend miles on a first class ticket overseas on Cathay Pacific a couple of years ago, and I’d look forward to that trip again.


  49. Jackasimov says:

    I understand not wanting to bother the other passenger by getting up, that’s polite, but I feel like if I need water I should get up and go ask for it in person.

    However, I think the Flight Attendant in question was a real screwhead.

    I know they have tough jobs and all, but it seems like every international flight I’ve been on most of the flight attendants are in a super-foul mood by the time the lights come back up from nap time. Or maybe it’s like the Post Office or fast food where the one who’s been at the job the longest and hates their job the most brings the rest of the crew down to their level of unhappiness. Like a virus.

    Dig the way I threw “crew” in there like I actually knew anything about anything.

  50. Jackasimov says:

    Everybody’s sure hatin’ on SJActress right now. LOL.

  51. avsfan123 says:

    @LiC: Um…STEWARDESS? How long ago were you born? They have computers in your nursing home, sweetie?

  52. Dashrashi says:

    @rolla: Did you read the comments? Multiple people addressed this. It was likely so corporate could ID the offending flight attendant and reprimand her. I think she obviously would’ve said “blond” if the FA had been blond.

  53. jfischer says:

    This article should have been titled “2 Stewardesses, One Cup”

    I mean, talk about obvious set-ups!

  54. Chris Walters says:

    @Jackasimov: Last year I flew by myself from Frankfurt to NYC on Singapore Air, and the flight attendant stopped and chatted with me for 10 minutes about my DS (she also had one and we compared games). It made me feel like a 10-year-old traveling by himself for the first time. But it was also really nice. But she wasn’t an American, judging by her accent, so it hasn’t changed my opinion of domestic airlines.

  55. pigeonpenelope says:

    @SJActress: that would work well… if only one was allwoed to bring liquid on a plane.

  56. Dashrashi says:

    @Jackasimov: I’m just sick of people making irrelevant comments about how the OP is stupid or negligent in some way to their superior way of doing whatever, and so could have AVOIDED THE WHOLE SITUATION, GOD, instead of addressing the obvious way the company fucked up.

  57. K-Bo says:

    @pigeonpenelope: You can bring liquids on a plane, they just have to be purchased inside security.

  58. Once again, United proves they are the WORST airline in the air.

  59. tedyc03 says:

    Someone has to blame the customer so let it be me…

    First, how DARE she think that she should deserve water, something that the earth is covered with, to be served to her! I mean come on, after all that poor flight attendant doesn’t get paid as much as she used to. She shouldn’t have to work as hard! Who cares that she spent 3x more on the flight than she should have? Customer service is for pussies.

    And she’s probably a druggie if she’s taking sinus pills. She’s lucky she doesn’t get arrested! I mean everyone else in the country flies just fine! No one EVER needs motion sickness pills or anything.

    Come on, Consumerist. Post something important like stories about kittens or something!

    (Note: for those who didn’t get the sarcasm, here’s the disclaimer: I WAS BEING FACETIOUS!)

  60. ornj says:

    I fly southwest, jetblue, or not at all.

  61. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    Addressing all the comments about the attitude of commenters on this site: while there are a lot of bad comments, I do think that many times the commenters are the only ones to counter an incorrect or unreasonable judgment on the part the bloggers. There have been many times when the post has been unduly mean or flat-out incorrect, and the commenters bring balance to the discussion. In so far as this blog is a public service (which I think it is), it has a responsibility to be fair and balanced (not in the Fox News fashion), and the commenters are key in that effort.

  62. akalish says:

    To the people who aren’t familiar with these sorts of sensitivities: they can cause hearing reduction and loss for several days if one’s inability to equalize pressure is bad enough, in addition to the pain.

    The time needed prior to descent for the medicine to be effective varies by medicine, medicine type (how it’s taken), and the individual. Some people metabolize what they ingest quicker than others–what needs 20 minutes for one person requires 45 for another.

    Don’t be so quick to judge. I can speak from experience when I say that this type of pain is beyond horrific. (If you stick a knife about four inches into your ear, then you’ll understand, though of course, I don’t advocate doing that).

  63. ohgoodness says:

    Poor thing. United and Delta are the most painfully awful airlines I have had to encounter. Hate hate hate.

  64. sparklingpink says:

    Was it really necessary to point out that the flight attendant was Asian?

  65. karmaghost says:

    When I was a kid and my family was flying back from a trip to Ireland, I wasn’t able to get water for my motion sickness medicine. So I had to attempt it without water. Result; fail. It was the worst taste I have ever experienced in my life when the pill dissolved in my mouth because I couldn’t swallow it.

  66. Trai_Dep says:

    @demonradio: “I love how you have to gently point out to people to not be assholes. I miss how Consumerist used to be, before it was so easy to sign up and leave comments. Sigh.”

    Me too.

    Consumerist Gods – can we PLEASE have a Craigslist-style spam button where if enough people judge a poster to be a useless, limp penis, he’s (yup, almost always guys: shoot me) banned? Much more useful than embedded videos.

    Maybe have someone review and give a reprieve if warranted, but otherwise, assume the wisdom of (Consumerist) crowds.

    New members have probationary status that nukes them MUCH easier: make them realize commenting is a privilege.

    Following the example used in the article, it can be a icon of a cup. Of flaming death!

  67. WraithSama says:

    I remember back when I used to fly a lot, a few years before 9/11, flight attendants always seemed to be so courteous and helpful. Good in-flight service was one of those things you expected as airlines competed for business.

    Post 9/11, now that flight attendants have all this authority and no accountability, they realize they can treat people like shit now and have free reign to do whatever they please. My how things have changed.

  68. CapitalC says:

    @SJActress: I’m not allowed to bring a bottle. I bring a sack, taped to my leg. And it’s not water, it’s booze.

  69. nardo218 says:

    @Dashrashi: You can always bring an empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain or resturant in the terminal.

  70. rolla says:

    @Dashrashi: well, unless she can ID the flight with a flight number or the name of the flight attendant, then how does corporate know who the offending flight attendant was? For all we know, there could have been more than one Asian flight attendant…ever think of that??

  71. Neurotic1 says:

    Folks, we are embarking into the golden age of flying…

  72. jamar0303 says:

    I also like to think of the “Asian” mention as an ironic comment. It’s always the Asian airlines (ANA, JAL, Asiana, etc) that are known for… not being assholes to their passengers in flight.

  73. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    We still have no plausible justification for the liquid ban (don’t throw that ‘liquid explosive’ bullshit into the mix), so much for taking water or your other preferred non-alcoholic beverages on the plane.

    And I am so happy that there are the elite commenters chiming in here and there to let the rest of us know how lucky we are to be able to peruse their incredible insightful opinions.

    Has the Consumerist been bought by Faux News?

  74. friendlynerd says:


    Why are you even here? Why do you bother reading this blog?

  75. friendlynerd says:


    Would you get up at a restaurant and find the waitress to ask for a drink? How is this different?

  76. Solly says:

    How come everyone else can comment but my insightful observations never get posted???

  77. mike says:

    @timmus: Amen. We need more details.

  78. Jamie Beckland says:

    @SJActress: Ha! I bought a bottle of water after getting through the security gauntlet at SFO – that thing cost me $4.59! I WILL get me some free water from those airlines from now on…

  79. kimsama says:

    @PotKettleBlack: @ornj: @ohgoodness:
    Agreed times a hundred.

    I will always say this whenever Consumerist posts a story on United.

    They effed me over years ago, and I delight in paying more to flight a competitor (usually Southwest or Jet Blue, and they aren’t usually more, though if they are, it makes me happy) because I know that the more I pay a competitor, the more it takes out of United’s pockets.

    I will never fly United ever again as long as I live. Though I’m pretty lucky in that most of my flights are to Asia and I can avoid all US carriers (ahhh, ANA).

  80. kimsama says:

    @kimsama: er, “fly a competitor”

  81. Jackasimov says:

    @friendlynerd: I might. And you seriously don’t know the difference between a flight attendant and a waitress? Therein lies the problem I suspect.

  82. Jackasimov says:

    @Dashrashi: And I’m sick of people treating blogs as kindergarten playgrounds.

    Morally superior much?

  83. @kimsama: Last time I went to Asia, we flew Northwest to get there, then, internally we flew Vietnam Air, and Singapore Airlines. What a difference. Maybe we are too enlightened to have good service or something.

    On the whole water dilemma, I have the HACK: Bring an empty [www.nalgene-outdoor.com] bottle. It is not liquid, it can be taken through security. At the first water fountain beyond security, fill er up. You now have as much as 1L of water, for free. Past security and good to take on the plane.

    OT Rant: $5 bottles of water and the new necessity of <3oz bottles for all toiletries that I would carry on is a victory for the TERRORISTS. Never mind a federal budget that is overlarge with defense spending. I don’t think the TERRORISTS are getting the victories they want, but they are winning. It depresses the hell out of me.

  84. @Trai_Dep: How about an ignore function. I bet someone could cobble together a greasemonkey script for this.

  85. AaronC says:

    Maybe she was just trying to inform United which employee it was. She said she didn’t think to take her name down, so the next best option is to describe her. She didn’t use any racist comments, just a very short description of her. If I didn’t know my Mail Mans name but I know what he looks like, then i would probably tell the post office it is an African American who works on this street at this time. Everyone always assumes the worst. jeez.

  86. ekthesy says:


    Taping your sack to your leg sounds very painful and not at all worth saving $5 for a mini-bottle of Tanqueray.

  87. Javert says:

    @avsfan123: Thank you for enforcing the language policy! So important. Of course being an Avs fan shows emotional issues with which to begin focusing.

  88. friendlynerd says:


    What problem? Part of a flight attendant’s job is to be a waitress, like it or not.

  89. ProjectGSX says:

    The OP should be glad she wasnt arrested for disrupting the flight. these days all it takes is disagreeing with a flight attendant to get yourself thrown in jail.

  90. IrisMR says:

    She just was lucky enough to get frickin’ lazy attendants. You know, the kind that probably hate their job and think it’s a social club.

    She should’ve put them in their place… But with a smile. So they can’t say she’s a terrorist.

  91. formergr says:

    I love that she pointed out to the flight attendant that the call button has a picture of a cup on it! That’s the type of comment I generally only think of after I’ve returned to my seat and have been fuming mad for 10 minutes.

  92. picardia says:

    @Dashrashi: Amen.

  93. parabola101 says:

    United Airlines really really SUCKS! I try to avoid this airline at all costs as they are really miserable! About a month ago my connecting flight was canceled and so the airline tried to put on a UNITED flight, I said “NO THANKS” and had to stay an extra 2 days just so I could avoid flying on UNITED AIRLINES! Of course, I did happen to be stranded in Paris… but still!

  94. Consumer007 says:

    UMMMM then why are you on here? Go Grouch somewhere else.

  95. Consumer007 says:

    I would have simply, in a friendly voice and very calmly but firmly instructed her to either give me her first and last name and employee number and manager’s name, or have the captain come back and address the issue. No fuss, no threat to the plane, just making sure the flying bitch knows that like she is actually there to do her job and earn her paycheck – duh. And then clip her little wings later with corporate.

  96. Consumer007 says:

    Yes, she should be fired for being hostile to passengers and lying to them about service and security related matters when it’s not her option to do so.

  97. christinec says:

    Hi! I’m the original poster! I don’t usually comment on blogs–too messy–but I guess I should clarify:

    -I sent the flight information, date, and time to Consumerist.com, but it was not published. Maybe they wanted to protect the identities of the people concerned? That seems reasonable, especially if they want to give United a chance to deal with this instead of allowing for a situation where the readers might confront the attendants. The only information I didn’t provide was the seat number (13E) and the flight attendants’ names, which brings me to my next point.

    -I, too, find it racist when the race of someone is brought up and it is not relevant. I’ve often thought of indicating a person’s whiteness in passing in my own conversations in order to draw attention to this practice, but I realize that many people wouldn’t get it. I mentioned her race only as an identifying factor for United Airlines, but I should have thought to delete this when I forwarded my e-mail to Consumerist.com, sorry. The other flight attendant was white, no more than 3 feet away while watching this entire conversation, and completely silent the whole time.

    -I’m Asian (ABC). The passenger next to me was white. The flight attendant next to the Asian flight attendant was white. There were no other people of Asian descent working on the plane as far as I could tell. The figure on the “emergency” call button was painted in white and I couldn’t discern its gender. Clearly it’s a call button for white people only! Kidding!

    -There’s always a little part of me that knows I sometimes get treated differently because of the stereotypes surrounding Asian women (always already foreign, submissive, can’t speak English, etc.). This was probably not the case here, and it probably isn’t relevant, but I want to convey that I understand white privilege and racism because of my daily experiences as a person of color and also because it is something I study and try to understand on an academic level.

    -I have travelled often enough to know that the sinus medication needs 15 minutes to kick in and it wears off after 4 hours (for me). This I established through painful experimentation and accident. Since the flight was just over 4 hours, I could not take the medication at the outset of the flight before I fell asleep because it would wear off.

    -Once I left my dinosaur SIGG bottle at security and I haven’t finished mourning. And by “I haven’t finished mourning,” I mean “I figured I could get some water on the plane like the idiot that I am.”

    -I am not looking forward to my return flight on this airline but I can’t afford to cancel and fly another airline. The funniest part is that I bought a $1,150 international ticket on United 3 days before this incident because of the departure times. 17 hours of this will be on United. Again, I can’t afford to cancel and fly another airline. My partner was about to buy his ticket also, but we don’t want to give United any more money–granted, it’s his employer’s money–and we are even considering flying the long flights separately.

    -In the letter to United, I asked the following questions:
    What are those buttons for? I would like to be able to use them correctly in the future. Are they for emergencies only on United Airlines, or is this standard among all US airlines? What constitutes an emergency? Will the flight attendants in question be notified if they were wrong in their approach to this? If this had, in fact, been an emergency, they or United Airlines might be held liable or subject to lawsuits in the future. Can I cancel my flight to Eastern Europe without incurring penalties? Or, can you, United Airlines, say or do anything to reassure me and my husband that this is not typical of United Airlines, and that we should go ahead and book my husband’s ticket to Eastern Europe?

    I got a canned response that said that my information would be shared with colleagues and they would follow up with employees so they would know how I felt. I’m not sure I can publish the response here because it says, “This message is intended only for the use of the Addressee and may contain information that is PRIVATE and CONFIDENTIAL. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited.” Is this to protect them from having their responses posted on sites like this? In any case, the response did not address any of the questions I asked above. I e-mailed them back and pointed this out, but I haven’t heard back yet.

  98. christinec says:

    Also, I know I should have asked for her name. I usually do, but I forgot because I had just woken up and I was baffled by the entire thing. You know, once, I asked a Delta passenger for his name and he told me, but something felt wrong so I asked to see the name on his badge. He said he didn’t have to show me his badge and I insisted that he did. Eventually he did, and the name he had initially given me was not the name on his badge!

  99. rjhiggins says:

    @sparklingpink: Was it really necessary to make the same point that umpteen other comments made? Try reading before commenting…

  100. rjhiggins says:

    @avsfan123: Smarmy comment. They have books in your junior high, sonny?

  101. Dashrashi says:

    @rolla: For serious? She probably included the flight number (or at least route, date and time) on the letter to corporate, and she probably would’ve mentioned if there was more than one Asian FA on that particular flight. Clearly she didn’t get her name, or else she would have provided it. I just don’t think the OP is acting in bad faith here. You’re free to disagree, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable interpretation here. Honestly.

  102. kimsama says:

    @PotKettleBlack: Wow, the first time I went to Vietnam, I took the exact same airlines! Very cool. It really cemented in me a desire to cut out the U.S. carriers and only go with Asian ones from then on. The NW staff were very surly, and only the NW legs had delays (heck, Singapore held a plane for us because of NW’s delay…what’s that? Oh, yeah, service!). Even Vietnam Air, which is based in a developing country, has much better service. This should really be telling us something ^_^.

  103. At 26, I’m not quite old enough to remember the days when airline travel was new; but I do remember flying solo when I was just a toddler, and seeing how much pride the attendants took in my care, as well as in the service they provided to others.

    It seems that as the method of travel becomes more the norm than the luxury, people (employees and customers) take it for granted. It happened with the train, it happened with the car, it’s clearly happened with air travel, and it is even happened to some extent on the open seas, where cruises used to be a serious to-do complete with bon voyage’s and the flailing handkerchiefs of yore.

    See, this is why I can’t wait until space tourism becomes a reality. It really is the last frontier of good service without having to own your own private rail car connected to the rear of what would otherwise be the proletariat train.

    Please Richard, bring the call button back.

  104. Pop Socket says:

    I had a Southwest flight attendant as part of the preflight briefing jokingly tell the plane that hitting the call button by mistake when trying to turn on the light was a fifty dollar fine.

  105. Pop Socket says:

    @PotKettleBlack: The service on Vietnam Airlines is fantastic and one-way from Saigon to Hanoi is only $90.

  106. vastrightwing says:

    Flying the “Friendly Skies”

  107. kimsama says:

    @Pop Socket: Hehe, that’s the nguoi nuoc ngoai (foreigner) price. Vietnamese citizens pay even less! Talk about value and service!

  108. croeso says:

    Repeated service like that and attitude at the gates has made me only fly United in emergencies. There really is a difference in corporate culture on airlines, and for my money, the Delta people are the nicest, friendliest, and will go out of their way to be helpful.

  109. Jackasimov says:

    @friendlynerd: Easy fix. Ask one if they consider themselves a waitress. I’d bet your black left eye they politely tell you “no”.

    Ever tip one?

  110. Kounji says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: Seconded.

  111. marblepops says:

    Seriously, to all those who are sticking up for the OP on identifying the FA as Asian: please note that post was not to United, post was for Consumerist.com readers. This post is not a direct quote from OP’s letter to United. OP is not using this post to help United or us readers identify the evil FA. That is why we are startled at this unnecessary inclusion of ethicity.

  112. kich20 says:

    United is in the middle of an ongoing labor dispute, and flight attendants have been passively resisting for some time now. The idea is to provide an absolute minimum of service until complaints/issues reach such a critical mass that management will renegotiate. You might also notice United’s pilots not wearing uniform caps, turning off channel 9 on the in-flight radio, etc. If corporate stopped paying themselves huge bonuses while asking the pilots’ union to accept wage reductions, service might get a little better.

  113. rjhiggins says:

    @marblepops: Seriously, she explains herself extremely well here in the comments. But if you actually read her explanation you couldn’t make ignorant comments, and what fun would that be?

  114. sparklingpink says:


    I just signed up for an account last night and my comment didn’t show up til this afternoon even though it was written before then because they had to “approve” it.

  115. raehtz10 says:

    You know, I have had problem with my ears when I fly too (I have ruptured both eardrums multiple times). The best solution I have found on a plane is nasal spray. No water needed!

    That being said, anyone that has had a landing w/o your ears decompressing can attest that it is one of the most painful experiences you can have. Imagine someone stabbing your eardrums. Rupturing would be a relief…

  116. marblepops says:


    Seriously, OP’s post wasn’t up yet at the time I wrote my post. I seriously experienced delay in posting too. Too bad you don’t get to be all judgmental. Actually, you do get to be judgmental, you were simply incorrect.

  117. Atlantys says:

    @Javert: What’s wrong with “stewardess”?
    But I guess I should ask about your other mental problems first, especially if you consider being a fan for Colorado’s NHL team to be a cause for existing problems.

  118. Consumer007 says:

    Hello, I wanted to chime in once more with this information from a dear friend of mine who is actually a trainer of flight attendants with another airline, and correct info at United to get more help with this: 
    Being an Inflight Department Line Instructor, I have pleanty to say about this issue.
    A flight attendant’s responsibilities are to attend to the needs of the passengers. The call button is there for passenger utilization, whether for comfort needs or for emergent needs there is no difference.  Our policy manual states that any need is to be considered important and that  the call button serves the purpose of cabin communication between passengers and cabin crew. To quote from the script for the pre departure passenger safety announcement, “If there is anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to let us know. You can do so by pressing the flight attendant call button at your seat.”
    This point is reiterated at both United and Delta.
     United’s flight attendant was clearly wrong, and just being bitchy.  I know their policy says the same thing as our airline (omitted), and the FAA would agree. In fact, the whole call button issue is a requirement of the FAA, and they oversaw the writing of the policies, and had to approve them before they could be implemented.   Now, that being said, there are far too many parents who let their children play with call lights, and that is my one pet peave.
     The call light in the Lavatory is a different matter, it should only be used in an “emergent” situation, and that could simply include something like the kleenex box is empty.
    The flight attendant should be reminded of that in her annual recurrent class, particularly during  the section on customer service.  This passenger needs to write to United Customer Care with full details. The e-mail address and link can be found on the website  [] http://www.United.com
    This just frosts me. After all I can do to make people’s flights comfortable and enjoyable, and to repair a damaged corporate image, even though it’s not my company, idiots do this.  The crew members who take pride in what we do, would never act that way, and during the close to 15,000 flights across this country a day most flight attendants treat our passengers with dignity and friendliness.  But see how one bad apple does indeed spoil the whole barrel.

  119. Consumer007 says:

    That text was actually from a friend of mine – an instructor of flight attendants for an airline other than United…enjoy.

  120. flyguy0077 says:

    I have worked in the airline industry for 16yrs and 14 of those years I have been a flight attendant for an Australian carrier.Unfortunately I too have been on a United flight where this very same comment was made over the PA before we departed Sydney…I was shocked!

    There are always 2 sides to a story but I can assure you 100% that the call buttons are to get the cabin-crews attention.I try to respond to these call buttons as prompt as possible but due to lower airfares,crew numbers have been reduced which impacts on service quality.

    At the end of the day,all airlines have their good and bad staff whether they be on the ground or in the air.I too have worked with crew that are either racist or do not appreciate their job.

    I do feel the airline should’ve been given a chance to resolve this issue before posting in a public forum in all fairness.I just ask that if you have an issue with any sort of service issue,then please speak to their superiors such as a supervisor or perhaps Purser.

    I wrote a letter to United after my experience with that PA and received a prompt apology and assured me that this issue would be addressed with the entire crew as I could not indentify who had made the PA.

    If you cannot get the staff members name then I advise you to hang-on to the flight details as this can be used to indentify every crew member.

    On closing this comment…it is always a pleasure to serve a well-mannered passenger and a real strain to serve someone who is rude and arrogant.Please don’t judge an airline or business by 1 or 2 staff members who do not appreciate their job as their are many people who they work with that try so damn hard to ensure their customers will return!.

    I’m white,I’m not racist,I speak to passengers and I answer call buttons.All passengers onboard deserve equal service.