The dreaded destination: why foreign flight attendants dislike travelling to and from India

In-flight entertainment.
In-flight entertainment.
Image: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder
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Indians have a really bad reputation when it comes to air travel.

So much so that when an Emirates flight from the southern state of Kerala made a hard landing in Dubai last month, an ex-flight attendant had no qualms referring to the panicked passengers as “fucking rats” and an “untameable bunch” as videos emerged of them rushing to grab their belongings in the midst of the emergency.

The post was slammed for its racist and insensitive undertones. But for frequent flyers from India, disgruntled or even disgusted flight attendants are nothing new. What’s behind the negative attitude? Quora has the answers.

Not used to the jet-set life

Many Indian passengers who take flights, notably to the Middle East, are first-time travellers from socio-economic classes that have little exposure to the jet-set life.

As Quora user Maazin Buhari puts it,

“A lot of the time, (on flights to the Middle East especially), the passengers on board these flights will be migrant workers who are travelling to earn a livelihood in the city they are flying to. Often they are of a lower socio-economic background, will be carrying all or a significant amount of their possessions with them, and are not used to frequent air travel.”

That explains the rush to grab belongings as soon as the flight lands, despite instructions to stay seated until the seatbelt sign is switched off.

Often, these passengers aren’t used to the in-flight behavioral norms that are mostly western. Quora user Sri Ka notes:

“For example, practically no Indian uses cutlery at home—they eat with their fingers—but the flights are not suitable for such a lifestyle as they are not designed with sufficient hand-wash facilities so one is forced awkwardly to eat with cutlery, that too the plastic ones. It is quite difficult. Similarly, the toilets in the flights are nowhere near like the toilets in Indian homes and many Indians, particularly first-timers, do not even know how to use paper instead of water. When people are forced to do something unnatural for them, they are likely to fumble and make a mess.”

But it’s also about civic sense

The first-timers can and should be forgiven but even among regular travellers, inconsiderate behaviour is common.

Supreeth Shankarghal, who describes himself as a frequent flier and aviation enthusiast, lists some of the worst offenses Indians are known for:

Being adamant about placing their overweight hand baggage in the overhead bin of only their preference.

Stealing cutlery.

Stealing headphones and blankets.

Not switching off the phone during take-offs or landings despite warnings.

Taking selfies and pictures inside the flight when asked not to do so.

Not making way or getting up from the seat for fellow passengers.

Reclining the seat even during take-offs and landings.

Not speaking proper English.

Ogling at air hostesses and other female passengers.

Moving up and down the aircraft many times.

Requesting for unnecessary seat changes.

Getting up and going to the toilet when seatbelt sign is on.

Removing seat-belts and getting up to remove overhead baggage when the aircraft is still taxiing.

Over-abuse of free alcohol served on board.

While it is a bit unfair to refer to poor English skills as inconsiderate behaviour, the consumption of a copious amount of alcohol does seem to be a big problem. For some passengers, the chance to gulp down one whisky after another during international flights proves irresistible and untoward incidents ensue.

Entitled passengers are the worst

But despite all of the above, it’s the rude and entitled regular travelers that pose the biggest problem with their assumption that the cabin crew exists to serve them and them alone.

Flight attendant and Quora user Buzzlair Voufincci noted that some travellers are quick to claim a higher status on every flight.

“They would explicitly say to the flight attendant, ‘I am a doctor’ to get treatment above all the others on board,” he wrote, adding that some even said things like “I know your CEO personally” or even “I pay for the seat, and the compartment above me, it’s my space.”

For Voufincci, it’s India’s “huge income gap” that leads to this “inflated ego.”

Some responses have been mildly edited for grammar.