Delta Passenger Scolded For Pushing The Flight Attendant Call Button

A Delta Air Lines passenger shares what happened when they rang their flight attendant call bell to ask for a drink while flying from Atlanta to Boston recently.

Seated in extra legroom coach, which offers free cocktails, they asked for a Jack Daniels and Coke during the drink cart pass through the cabin. Half an hour later they wanted another drink so they pushed the button about their seat. It lit up. About five minutes later a crewmember showed up and declined their request, as the passenger explains it,

We are still service the back of the plane. I’ll bring you one after we finish in back..AND DON’T TOUCH THAT BUTTON AGAIN.

They did not return, and did not ever bring that second drink. Did the passenger do something wrong?

The head of the largest flight attendants union, Sara Nelson, says you shouldn’t push the call button for a drink.

Don’t use the call button to ask for a drink,” Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants told TPG. “As a general rule, don’t think of the call button as your vodka-tonic button.” Nelson explained that it’s “not intended to be for ordering drinks.

Nelson is 100% in the wrong. The alternative to pressing the call button, to let a flight attendant know you want a drink, is to go to the galley. But you don’t want a steady stream of passengers heading to the galley and blocking the aisles, and airlines often announce not to congregate in the galley. In Ms. Nelson’s world, passengers simply wouldn’t hydrate. Cabin crew wouldn’t provide service. And you’d like it, or at least sit down and shut up about it.

The call button exists, what does she think it is for? She says it is so individual passengers can ask to identify themselves when called upon to do so by a crewmember. And if you do use it for something like a glass of water, you’d darned well better have a compelling moral justification (“It may be that you’re a mother, and you have an infant in your arms, and you need some help”).

In the rest of the world this isn’t even a question, of course passengers are supposed to push the button for service. Emirates even monitors response times and reminds crew to answer calls quickly.

Delta flight attendants aren’t even unionized, but the median Delta employee also doesn’t usually scold and ignore passengers this way. The bottom line is that it is not an ’emergency button’ it is a call button, and if you need a drink the best way to ask for one is to let a crewmember know you need one.

That said, if you are in economy, you can expect to wait until the crew finishes serving everyone else. What you shouldn’t expect is (1) to be scolded, and (2) to be ignored.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m thinking the major snafu is that he used the button while the beverage service, (one of the busiest portions of the flight re: flight attendant’s tasks,) was actively going on. They were busy trying to get everyone a first drink, when this person interrupted them to ask for a second. Hence their annoyance and instructions to wait and not bother them again. And also likely why they forgot, since they had to get through serving dozens more people and his single drink order fell from their heads.
    They are primarily customer service agents, though. So if he had used the button during a more appropriate time, he likely would have been able to get his beverage, without the exasperation, unless he was visibly intoxicated.
    On another note:
    If the purpose of the call button has so radically changed, then the airlines need to engage in some customer education. It will cause issues otherwise. Since the pervasive passenger view, held by the majority of fliers, is that the buttons are similar to rasing one’s hand in class, and should be used whenever one needs to speak with a flight attendant, for whatever reason, that would conflict with the airline’s view of the buttons being emergency-use only. If this is the case, then airlines need to retrain their passengers on when and why they can use the buttons, instead of just getting angry and assuming they should know.

  2. Last week I was sitting in 1A in one of those American Airlines puddle jumpers to DFW, operated by Skywest, Envoy, or Mesa, and after his first go-around the Flight Attendant absconded to “working” in the front galley, mostly obscured from view (have you ever wondered how about how long FAs can take to re-arrange the beverage cart and do inventory and then re-arrange again?). Anyhow, I didn’t want to use the call-button and simply got up and politely asked for a second drink. He nicely told me I should just use the call button and that I wouldn’t need to get up, and he gave me the drink.

    Of course, just like every other Envoy, et. al. FA (that I have encountered this year) he did NOT offer any pre-departure drinks (yes, that can be something as simple as a cup of water) for passengers in First. AA makes a big deal out of this as an added amenity for premium passengers (provided there’s time or other circumstances don’t allow this service). The difference in service provided between FAs is simply stunning. Mainline FAs provide in my experience 3 out of 4 times this service, maybe more. Some of them ought to be fired after the plane has landed as they are lazy and rude, and others should be given immediate raises and better schedules because they take their jobs serious. Strike up a conversation with an FA and it takes just moments to know what kind of employee you’re dealing with.

  3. Typical for an American airliner to believe that the call button is only to identify yourself. There is a reason that every single American airliner is on the bottom of every lever airlines in the world list. Often you hear the flight attendants are primarily for your safety, which is great but also here airlines in America fail. Flight attendants talking, texting, reading during take off and landing. Rarely a cabin check after the fasten belts sign has been switched on, allowing passengers to loudly talk over flight safety demos, allowing ADA passengers to seat on aisles seats etc etc – so the conclusion is that non of it makes sense because neither on safety nor on service any Amerindian airline is remotely up to par to many European, Asian or Middle East carriers.

  4. Some people forget a flight is about transportation. Safely. Everything else is a perk, a flight attendant is not required to serve anything.

  5. @Kimberly Chandler
    For which airline do you work as a flight attendant?

    Who is this Sharpay who, as they say in the South, “has no education”?

  6. Honestly, US flight attendents must learn from Emirates, Etihad and Qatar airways.
    Their flight attendents know how to pamper customers. Economy class equal to US buisiness class. can you beat that

  7. I’m a FA. The flight attendant call button is a signal for that we have an emergency on board. No I’m in no way scolding anyone for using the call button. I would educate them and get their drink too. Now I know people don’t look past their row after they have been served. Their are different plane sizes and certain routes can have a more demanding service, which take more time. So yes, I would’ve told them after service I’ll get them another drink, but added if I don’t come back please ask me again. I’m serving multiple people, trying to remember their order. On top of that try to remember their drink. While doing service most of the time more people ask for more stuff. By the time I get to the back i never remember. We get into breaking down the cart and trying to restock and get out there if it’s another service. You asked for one thing, but I promise you wasn’t the only one to ask. If they didn’t come back, I’m sure they forgot. I often remember in the car home that someone asked me for something and I forgot to get it. To add to this we have a service guide for every route. We try to follow that. For those who say we stay in the Galley. Times have changed. It’s less socializing and more people on their phones with head phones on. There is no engaging these days plus the more we are in the aisle we block people getting the lavatory. It’s always two sides of the story.

  8. They don’t call DL the airline of SkyPesos for nothing
    You get what you pay for with DL, and it’s near the bottom of the barrel for any experienced flyer. Sara the wack-a-doo not withstanding.

  9. The FA heard the alcoholic beverage request and might have thought: “Oh great, I have a potential flying drunk on my hands.” But, it’s only the 2nd alcoholic beverage request you think. Nope, it’s his third-fourth request. At cabin altitude you double the BAC%. effect.

  10. Alaska Best,
    I have never read or seen in any pre-takeoff briefing that the FA call button is only for emergencies, not general service requests. The airlines need to update pre-departure briefings as well as written briefings to reflect that.

  11. I tend to disagree. In economy class, the call button cannot possibly be for ordering beverages or other amenities. The service you get in economy is that you are served food and beverages when the trolley passes your seat. There is no on-demand service in economy. So in my book the call button is for emergencies, such as a passenger feeling unwell. Perhaps airlines should make this clearer.

  12. A vast majority of call buttons literally have a drink or a person holding a drink on them.

    I will normally go to the head and stop at the galley and ask for a drink. Most times, I’m told by the FA to return to my seat and they will bring me the drink. They also tell me I can use the call button next time to get a drink.

  13. Act like you have good sense even if it’s not your norm. Give out more DTP charges and ban from flying to help stop this madness on planes.

  14. Once you have flown with Korean Airline with outstanding service from the flight crew, you cringe when you step into a Delta plane!

  15. This passenger was not sitting in the cheap seats. One of the benefits of upgrading to comfort plus is free alcoholic beverages. The call button is not there only for emergencies. The passenger should have complained to Delta after the flight.

  16. I’ve been surprised that “locked seats” have not made their way into typical us airline service..after all, if all passengers are locked into their seat, like an amusement park ride, then the safety factor for the flight goes up right? And everything is explained away by ‘safety’.. also if no beverage is served then fewer restroom needs. And you save all that weight to reduce fuel costs and free up FA time to focus on contemplating safety from their seats.

    Seems like the next natural progression. Maybe a non-locked-in seat would be a new ‘upgrade’ paid option.

  17. Samir, comparing airlines in America to those on the middle east is comparing apples to oranges. This companies are heavily subsidized (if not fully) by their oil rich government. They aren’t concerned about turning a profit. You want capitalism or not?

    Also, everyone else quit whining about flight attendants. You’re not in a restaurant, you’re on a transportation vehicle. That’s not a long flight either so I’m sure they were trying to finish the service to ensure everyone gets at least one drink. Flight attendants can’t win. They are being blamed because this guy didn’t get what he wanted but if they didn’t finish the service, it’s guaranteed those who didn’t get one drink would also bitch about it. And for those who say “it’s just one person. They could have gotten the drink.” No
    It’s monkey see, monkey do. They would bring that guy his drink and someone else would then ask for something. The fa would have likely had to run back and forth 3 times(min).

  18. Unmotivated and unpleasant FAs are not new on any US airline. It’s a sad statement about how little pride some people take in their work.

    While some people would like to argue that the only job of an airline is to get you from point A to point B and the flight attendants are only there for your safety that dog just won’t hunt. Airlines are marketing and selling SERVICE (except AA which says ‘the schedule is the product’). DL markets itself as a premium airline, not a taxi service. As such, their crews should align to that business model or move on to a company that is more aligned with how they want to provide service as a flight attendant.

    The FA was in err for scolding the pax. End of story. The call bell is for communication with the flight crew. End of story. The cabin crew, at least on airlines like DL, are there for pax safety first but also for pax comfort. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

  19. Flight Attemdants are hospitality employees up until the unlikely event of a water landing or any other airline emergency that requires emergency assistance for safe evacuation.

    While many stories do exist over the years of FA saving lives of passengers, they are few and far between – so until the moment comes when the FA emergency training is required, then the FA serves a fiduciary duty to take my drink order and have the humility of understanding that waiting tables is hard work, valued work and much appreciated work.

  20. To all the US based flight attendants, clearly none of you have flown Singapore Airlines or Emirates, where it is PERFECTLY acceptable to press the button when needed, in all classes of service. Expectations need to be tempered in economy of course.

    I have a a travel rule, and voted with my dollar : I refuse to fly US flag carriers where possible. And yes, I buy premium, expensive tickets. If you would like me a customer, then please be kind and courteous.

  21. I have cautioned seatmates to not use the button unless it is serious..but they do it anyway for a drinkk etc!!!

  22. The flight attendant call button is basically a relic of a time when flight attendants were actually attendants, that is, they acted as service people to attend to your needs. They were ultimately subordinates whose job it was to make sure you as the customer had an enjoyable flight, and get you anything if you needed it.

    With services so cut back, flight attendants to economy have basically taken on a superior, nanny police, prison warden supervisor role. Their job is now to make sure you adhere to the rules of the flight and correct your behavior so you conform to standards and don’t do anything unsafe, illegal or in violation of rules. You get a drink when they ask you what drink you’ll have, and that’s it. Unless someone is dying or violent, there’s no other attending they do, therefore no reason to use the call button.

    That conflict about role leads to the disagreements here. You’d absolutely ask a server, a valet, a butler, an assistant to get you a drink and that wouldn’t be making a special request, it’s just part of their job. You wouldn’t ask a teacher, an inspector, a jail warden or a supervisor to do that. And where an economy flight attendant actually falls determines how you feel about that.

  23. No wonder the US empire is dying. It’s because of such disgusting attitudes and horrifyingly irrational nonsense that spews from the heads of these lazy union losers.

  24. While the opinions will go on for days, the entire thesis of the argument is based on the jilted passenger’s interpretation of what went on. He clearly expected that he should be able to click his fingers (or push a button over his head) and be served alcohol whenever he wanted. For reasons noted above, including the timing of his request for a “refill” relative to when he was served the first time, there might have been very good reason for the flight attendants to deny his request, even if it was made nicely.
    Add in that he could well have demonstrated behavior that a flight attendant rightly decided was not compatible with more alcohol and s/he had every reason to cut him off.
    If he had pushed the button more than once and been told that they crew was not through with service in the remainder of the economy cabin and could not return to offer seconds, then the FA could very well have asked him to refrain from pushing the call button – even if he interpreted that as being scolded.

    But let’s be clear about one thing.

    Gary LOVES to throw anecdotal stories out and get people wound up making generalizations.

    None of us has any idea what took place and won’t know.

    JUST DISPENSE WITH THE “if I ran the zoo comments” because you have no idea about 95% of what took place on either side.

  25. Did he turn around and see the cart in the aisle? Was one FA doing something else, like cleaning up a vomiting child, administering oxygen, communicating with the cockpit about conditions that the passengers have no need to know. FAs monitor family disputes, passenger disputes, watch for potential dangerous situations, deal with catering snafus and issues with turbulence. The job is physically demanding and exhausting. Passengers ask us to put their luggage in the overhead (we are not allowed to do that because of issues with FA backs and injuries on duty), ring call buttons on take off and landings when we are seated for our safety and expect us to entertain their children so that they won’t annoy other passengers. While I do not condone the FA admonishing the passenger for ringing the call button (why would you try to train a passenger when you are never going to see them again), I certainly understand how this could have happened. There are many duties that must be accomplished during the flight and a full plane makes even a two hour flight difficult to fulfill all of one’s duties in a timely manner. Easy to order two at a time, but remember that the FAs primary responsibility is safety. If there is an issue with that, and passengers are rarely aware when safety becomes an issue – short of preparing for an emergency landing, and should be understanding if their service requests are not fulfilled. If you have not been through FA training, you have no idea how well and how thoroughly FAs are trained.

  26. @Tim Dunn He clearly expected that he should be able to click his fingers (or push a button over his head) and be served alcohol whenever he wanted.

    And that fundamentally is the distinction here. If flight attendants are, in fact, attendants, hospitality staff, as the name “attendants” suggests, yes, you should be able to press a call button to let them know you’d like something, and they should come over to you as they are able to and perform a task for you as they are able, including purchasing alcohol. It is, after all, a call button, not an emergency button.

    And this certainly is a basic expectation in first class, especially on international flights, where flight attendants do in fact wait on you, and you may well call them out and explain you’d like a particular meal now, you’d like a drink, you’d like dessert now, you’d like them to make up your bed for you so you can go to sleep. You are certainly not asking for anything special from a flight attendant in these circumstances.

    Is premium economy so different that you can’t expect a flight attendant to come over and attend to anything besides some pressing safety or medical issue? Under a barebones economy model in which you see flight attendants as superiors who regulate you, yes. Your interactions with them occur only when they feel like talking to you, when THEY feel like offering you service. Asking for anything else is a transgression outside of emergency.

    Under a model in which flight attendants are attendants, in which their job is to serve YOU, yes, you can ask them for a drink whenever you feel like it, and while you shouldn’t expect the most prompt of service in economy given they do have to wait on loads of other people, it’s a completely reasonable request, as reasonable as asking a bartender for a drink on a crowded night.

  27. I have travelled for both business and pleasure a lot, achieving million miler and 1K on status United over the years. Etiquette dictates not using the call button for service. Go to the galley or flag the flight attendant down to get a drink. In coach it may take a little longer. In the specific instance of this article, the passenger was well served. It was a second drink and others did not have their first yet. Yes the flight attendant should have handled it better, but the flight attendant was correct. The person complaining is probably an inexperienced post-Covid pleasure flyer that is unfamiliar with in flight etiquette. By the way, I highly doubt if either Emirates, Singapore or any other carrier expects passengers to use the call button for service, other than non-seasoned tourists. Travelers will not do so.

  28. OMG! Grow up! Cry like a baby because you didn’t get your booze. Seriously, your not the only person on the flight. You had your turn, wait until their done and the aisle is clear. It their job to get drink service done as quick as possible for many reasons. Mainly incase of an emergency. The FA was probably joking, but this grown baby doesn’t know how to take a joke. Most likely had plenty booze already. Just because they had “one” on the flight, how many did they have at the airport bar before boarding? No need for booze on flights anyways.

  29. BS. of course other carriers like Korean Air will do exactly that. They will even serve you a drink with a heavenly smile. Fly some non-American airlines and you will see. The American airlines are the worst!!

  30. As many here have said, the call button purpose is not entirely clear to the flying public and FAs don’t say how to use it during the safety briefing or during boarding, so how are anyone to know (especially infrequent flyers)? I wouldn’t use it to order a drink, but I’ve seen others do it and I’ve been on a flight where a FA told a seatmate “that’s what it’s there for.”

    With this inconsistency between airlines and even opinions between individual FAs, of course no one should be scolded.

    The bigger issue, in my mind, is how airlines market services they expect us to pay extra for vs. how the services are actually delivered (if at all). I’ve flown Comfort+ on Delta where my snack and level of service is identical to coach whereas in the marketing materials say premium snacks and often show happy smiling FAs bringing a drink to happy pax.

    An earlier commenter said some call buttons show a person with a tray and drink – last time I noticed that was on a MD-80/Super 80 – but perhaps they exist on newer planes too…

  31. @Bill H: “The person complaining is probably an inexperienced post-Covid pleasure flyer that is unfamiliar with in flight etiquette.”
    This post was originally posted on Flyer Talk and the pax was not as you described but flew on a weekly basis.
    @JustMe: How judgmental of you. I fly regularly and noticed on my last flight how many times a passenger across the aisle from me attempted to get the FA’s attention for a refill (of a non-alcoholic beverage) and it took three tries (in FC).

  32. So self-entitled FAs are growing in number. In all fairness, this is partially the result of all the DYKWIA passengers, along with outright nut cases, now flying the ‘friendly skies’.

  33. How about we check the Delta website for the flight attendant job description-

    Prepare, serve, and sell beverages (including alcohol) and meals (which may include beef, pork, seafood, peanuts,

    Need I say more?

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