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. You have to wonder though.. Was this passenger polite? Perhaps a little inebriated too? So easy to take a one sided view of this…

  2. Amen. Every other airline I have flown, flight attendants respond to the call button, and usually very quickly. I’m talking about Air France, KLM, Korean Air, Turkish Air, Thai Air, ANA.

  3. As usual there are two sides to every story, and we are only hearing the side of the person who wasn’t catered to immediately in Premium Economy. Who’s to say that since they were still in the middle of the service on what these days are packed flights, she OMG forgot. We won’t know what actually happened, because we only have your (biased) side, and that of someone who thinks that just because you pay a couple extra bucks for free drinks thinks that the flight attendants are there for him only. Unless you can tell both sides of the story, you get a definite side eye from me.

  4. This seems like one of those (more and more common) “we’re primarily [only] here for your safety” FAs.

    I used to vehemently defend the pricing of Comfort+ because the FAs are usually very nice (at least on my routes) but this kind of crap makes me reconsider all the flak I’ve given Southwest diehards over the years.

    I have a neighbor who’s a retired DAL Stewardess (she insists on being referred to as such) and we regularly bemoan what has become of the profession.

  5. ““As a general rule, don’t think of the call button as your vodka-tonic button.”

    Doesn’t the button typically show an outline of a figure delivering a drink on a tray?

  6. As a frequent Delta flyer I will admit that there is a huge disparity in the service provided by crews. Some come by several times checking on you and getting extra drinks and such. Others do the bare minimum required and then disappear to the galleys where they are on their phone until the landing clearance chimes hit and they make one pass through the cabin. It would be nice to get some consistency but that is unlikely.

  7. 100% – Sarah does a good job making it clear the source of many passenger frustrations – a point of view of labor that ignores customer satisfaction as critical to the viability of their jobs

  8. Wow. I should be glad that the Delta flight attendants offered the main cabin frequent drink service on my 7+ hour non-stop flight from ATL-ANC last summer.

    You couldn’t hit the call button for food; there wasn’t any. They kept apologizing to everyone that there to purchase, but handed out a ton of almonds. Think I still have some…

  9. Perhaps instead of using the flight attendant call button in every row, Delta Airlines now wants passengers sitting in Delta Comfort+® to write a message ordering a Jack Daniels and Coke to the flight attendant and use the assistance of the passengers behind the person requesting a beverage. Here is an example of my plan to receive stellar customer service on the DL1221 five-hour flight from DTW to LAX if I want a beverage without using the call button while seated in 15C. First, the passenger in 15C writes a drink order request on a napkin. Then, they turn around to ask the passenger in 16C to pass this message addressed to the flight attendant to seats 17C, 18C, and so on until the message reaches the beverage cart sitting in row 45, near the rear coach lavatories. Hopefully, Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, will approve this plan. Thanks to its people’s dedication, passion, and professionalism, it’s good to know Delta Airlines gets you there with care and always keeps climbing.

  10. Thank you for shining a light on this incident. DL FA’s used to be the best in the business but their ranks have been infected with attitude and laziness since the Vid hit. Hopefully your post gets someone’s attention at HQ.

  11. I was a flight attendant for 25 years, this reply from Ms Nelson
    is outrageous. Answering a call button is part of the job.
    Has she been around for less than 5 years? That would explain remark.
    Also, this why unions get an attitude. Her leadership is questionable.

  12. We have never experienced that kind of issue on a Delta flight . If I ever did on Delta or on American which is the other airline I fly I would get the flight attendant’s name. And then call customer service after landing. And write to customer service as well. That cretin Sara is some piece of work.

  13. Whatever the circumstances, Sara Nelson is wrong. The call button is absolutely for requests such as this.

  14. Give them a tip! They are expecting it, and won’t refuse it, and you will get the service. Better still, take the train.

  15. I have never had a problem. I’m going to guess we had a very entitled passenger here. Dont judge by hearing one side of the story.

  16. TravekWarr – what’s entitled about wanting a drink? That’s the only side of the story I need to know. Airline suck ups like you are part of the problem. We have HUNDREDS of reports of entitled sky waitresses being garbage at their job, or making ‘law’ up on the spot.

    It’s a service industry. And the lazy ugly old trolls on the airline don’t want to provide service. qv Sara Nelson for absolute proof.

  17. Inquiring minds what to know if it is permissible for passengers to use the flight attendant call button to request an application for the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, or the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card.

  18. The FA union has long taken the position that their job is not to serve food and drink, but to be firefighter/EMTs who are too important to do that. Therein lies the problem.

  19. I have said tjis before and repeat it.
    Lack of service concept and TrvelWar type of excuse makers of bad service will ensure that good service is not in the near future in aitlrline travel industry in US. And in so called First class too this is a rarity

  20. @ Gary — Well, the person should follow up by pushing some buttons on their laptop for some “free” miles.

  21. @Fred: Wow…angry much? Calm down Fonzie…might come as a shock to u…but u sound worse than the passenger who made the complaint.

  22. Hey unless you were there, that passenger could have been close to being intoxicated. Now if that flight attendant had served them. Than that would be a price to pay. Enough with trying to make flight attendants the bad guy. It is hard to try and please so many people. Let’s try and write about positive issues.

  23. Can’t believe the people defending it with the usual “only one side of the story” crap…

    Americans put up with stuff that the rest of the world doesn’t for more expensive flights than the rest of the world. Funny thing is all the European flights have Unions and yet still serve you.

  24. As an ex-Pan Am flight attendant, I’m appalled. They did the same thing to a passenger next to me and I contacted Delta when I got back to inquire if this was a we policy. I was assured it was not. It’s called a call button for a reason. I understand telling your pax that you can’t serve them until you’ve finished the 1st go round but not to scold them!

  25. Well said Aida! “Aida Flamm says: Also, this why unions get an attitude. Her leadership is questionable..”

    The correct answer would be: “We will look into this and get back to you.”

    Then find out what the flight attendants know/understand of what the heck those buttons were/are used for…

    Then find out what the coach passengers see that button as…. AND how it has changed throughout the years.

    The technology is there… USE IT!

    Restructure that button to open a screen DRINK, FOOD, ITEM, EMERGENCY. Follow up questions/notification sending to the cabins. So either cabin can assist.

    Lets be serious….

    The flight attendant will now turn off the Attendant button over the passenger. Noting how long service took to complete. Holding both party’s accountable when in question.

    ……With that said. While they are in motion serving ALL of the guests on the plane. ADD “STILL HERE SERVING ALL PASSENGERS” as an flight attendants option. This can be turned on to notify passengers until the full plane has been served. This will ensure you don’t overwork the flight attendants and also passengers have communication.

    And please both groups, be forgiving, be calm, be thoughtful. Most of people’s anger has nothing to do with you.


  26. Only visit this site when it comes up on my google link and for good reason. Almost all of you have absolutely no clue about a customer service job. Try walking a mile in a flight attendant’s shoes before making such ridiculous comments. I’ll be willing to bet half of you are millenials still attached to mama’s tit who waits on you hand and foot whenever you decide to come up from the basement or you have a serious case of flight attendant envy. Those crew members w.were chosen because they can and do wear many hats- not one of them to be a bartender! Get over yourselves and take Amtrak next time!

  27. Put vending machine in the planes then, and the FAs can do what they most want to. Nothing, while hiding in the galley. It would be a good opportunity to cut back on the number of FAs too.

  28. @Fred: So, clever comebacks…not you’re thing huh? I guess they don’t teach that in ignorance school.

  29. Heads up folks…alot of airlines in-flight service goes by mileage and/or flight time. Someone flying from lga to bos..that’s a whopping 32 min. Flight…if you have to have a 2nd drink of alcohol in 30 minutes…then maybe you should be looking into AA

  30. first, Sara Nelson might think that she speaks for every onboard or flight attendant issue. The sooner people recognize her as the political animal that she is, the faster she will disappear from the headlines. Delta flight attendants have repeatedly rejected her leadership.

    second, no US airline advertises or says they provide a dedicated flight attendant in domestic economy plus. It is very much reasonable to ask a passenger to wait until everyone else is served once before asking for seconds. The vast majority of passengers understand that principle even in first class; there are certain elements of self control that well adjusted people learn in kindergarten and waiting your turn or allowing others to be served on the same basis you were before asking for seconds is one of them.

    third, ATL-BOS is a 2 hour plus flight. It rarely takes any US airline more than 30 minutes to do a full beverage service on a domestic flight. If the guy needed a second drink after less than 30 minutes, then the flight attendant might have slowed him down on purpose. Depending on the length of the flight, I have had flight attendants on multiple airlines ask if I want a double when they do the initial service.

    fourth, many Delta flight attendants do come back through the economy comfort section and ask for seconds; even if they don’t, most will accept a request for a second when they pick up trash. That is true with most US airlines.

    fifth, people that act entitled and/or act out when they are told they can’t have what they want when they want ALWAYS distort the story. Being nice goes along ways; acting like an entitled first grader than “failed” kindergarten is a sentence to finding everything wrong w/ everyone else except for yourself.

  31. If you can’t fly from ATL to Boston without two cocktails the call button isn’t your problem – America has an alcohol problem.

  32. @Tim Dunn: I know nothing about Sara Nelson so I’ll accept 100% you know more about her than I do. As for everything else you said? 100% correct. You spelled it out succinctly and perfectly. And to those on here who seem to want to demean the FA’s….all I can say is…how about a bit of respect? Are there a few folks without the best attitudes? Sure…show me any job where there aren’t? But, by and large the majority show up and do the best they can everyday. As you said Tim…be nice…goes a long way…and u just might find the better you.

  33. The call button is for emergencies. The alternative is not to go to the galley. The alternative is to sit in your seat and stop bothering flight attendants. Airplanes are not restaurants. You get a refill if the flight attendant comes by and offers one. Otherwise, sit down.

  34. Tim and TravelWank – GFYS. Air monkeys don’t get to tell someone how much they can drink.

    Sharpay – get a towel, bootlicker. You’re drooling. ‘Bothering’? They’re sky waitresses.

  35. @FRED: By continously referring to the FA’s as “Sky Waitresses” you are able to confirm for us what a spoiled, little misogynistic cretin you really are! Do us all a favor…drive your ignorant self next time and you can pull off the road and attempt to abuse working people on land. Which I doubt you’d have the guts to do.

  36. More lazy service from an airline, especially after the customer paid probably 50% more of his fare to sit in Premium. The FA’s get more and more entitled. The airline seriously needs an overhaul, and that includes better training for its stewards. This is why I avoid flying anymore. You pay a ridiculous amount of money to be consistently treated this way.

  37. TravelWank Al- what would you know about working people?

    Certainly aren’t any as sky waitresses. They’re lazy trash. Like you.

  38. Yup. This sky waitress is incompetent and useless. All waitresses can be trained in safety. But they still have to bring my drink.

  39. Nelson and Sharpay are correct. I am a 500k Skymiles flyer. Commence with the insults at me; I can take it.

  40. @ Tim Dunn

    “…the faster she will disappear from the headlines…”

    That maybe less likely when folk like @ Gary Leff re-process quotes out of context from a 3-year old interview!!!

  41. Safety is a skill they’ll use 1% of their career, if that. The rest of the time, sky waitress is exactly what they are.

  42. All American airlines and their flight attendants are nothing short of disgusting good for nothing folk. Its ridiculous how much leverage they use against the passengers, why the hell should the passengers be obliged to answer a call botton either, they can very well figure themselves. Paying money to be treated like a 3 rd class traveller, while its these attendants who are individuals of that category

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