United Airlines Flight Attendants Warned Not To Identify As An American During Trips Overseas

This is solid advice – not just for flight attendants – and was even prior to the latest tensions.

“…as a crewmember working for a U.S. carrier, we should always use caution while on layover anywhere in the world,” the memo from the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) to United’s 22,000 flight attendants reads.

“Avoid wearing clothing that will easily identify you as either a crewmember or a U.S. citizen,” the memo continues, while also advising flight attendants to maintain situational awareness and to stay clear of large protests, rallies and mass public events.

Back in September I wrote about the flight attendant who gave her life saving passengers when Pan Am flight 73 was hijacked by four Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan on September 5, 1986.

Flight attendant Neerja Bhanot alerted cockpit crew to the hijacking, and they were able to escape (leaving no one to fly the plane for the terrorists). She slipped information to a passenger on how to open an aircraft door.

And most importantly in this context, she realized that Americans would be most at risk so when hijackers demanded passengers’ passports she disposed of many American passports by hiding them under seats and throwing them in the trash. Bhanot helped passengers with their escape and was killed shielding 3 children with her body.

It was dangerous to be an American abroad 34 years ago. It’s always been smart to avoid stumbling into the middle of conflicts you’re not a part of and where you stand out.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. It’s hard to believe that Americans have allowed one man and one party to make America the armpit on the world map. The world is stunned.

  2. While this is solid general advice, it’s not always so easy when someone asks where you’re from. Some people are terrible liars, some can’t come up with a good alternative to the US in a hurry, some worry that saying an alternate country of origin is too complex, such as saying that you’re Canadian but not knowing much about Canada. Ultimately, there are some periods where Americans are disliked much more than others, with this being one of those times. It tends to be about geopolitics and who we elect as president. This is in no way either an endorsement or attack on our current president, just the way it is. The alternatives to traveling to places where US citizens are less than popular are not to travel internationally or to only to travel to places where we as Americans are generally well liked. Personally, I try to be a thoughtful tourist and whatever the opinion of Americans are as a whole where I visit, that tends to resonate.

  3. Of course good advice. I recall after the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq in 2003, we traveled to Australia and could generally pass as Canadian. On the other hand, many people were pleased to hear from Americans who found the current situation as ridiculous, sad, etc. as they did. It can help build relations between countries by reassuring people that not all Americans are as crazy as their leader.

  4. And at least America as a nation has the mechanisms for bloodless regime change if the leader proves to be unfit (aka democracy). Sadly, the same cannot be said for many jurisdictions in the world.

  5. Being an American abroad often, i find that there is no general need to try to mislead people or otherwise be a crypto-American. Hearing me speak, they just assume I’m American. And hearing my Canadian relatives speak, many people think they are American anyway and some have assumed they are lying Americans when they claim to be Canadian as they are. And then there are the Swedish relatives whom Americans think are American and not Swedish when they speak English. Should SAS tell its FAs to make a harder effort to sound like the meatball chef from the Muppets just in case one of them sounds a bit too American abroad? “You can never be too safe.”

    The average Texan abroad isn’t going to pass for anything but American upon opening the mouth; so have some self-respect and respect for people you encounter in the ordinary course of events and don’t try to deceive them when asked about where you’re from. If you’re going to be American, then be proud to be American and not try to be a paranoid crypto-American abroad.

    The risks at home in the US may be way higher than they are abroad. And just like there really isn’t a CIA man behind every bush, there really isn’t a terrorist chasing every American abroad. This doesn’t mean it makes sense for an American or Canadian to come waving the US flag in a poor Iranian neighborhood just after the US assassinated a major Iranian general or that US persons abroad aren’t targets of terrorists or other criminals, but trying to be deceptive and failing at it won’t win anyone much of anything.

  6. The group think shown by the comments here is mindbogglingly ignorant, thinking the world at large hates America or is Anti-American.

    Also laughing at people who actually think they are fooling people when they pretend to be someone they aren’t.

  7. @Colin The world as a whole doesn’t hate us, but when our government goes assassinating and droning it puts a target on ourselves for the opposition.

  8. This is terrible advice. I have traveled to about 150 countries, including the “scary” ones. I have never encountered anti American attitudes except in Western Europe, and even then only rarely. If you meet an Iranian student in New York, would you think most people just want to chat with him, or that he would be in danger? Obviously the former, and the same is true in reverse. Even more so, that the places United crew fly are so dangerous that you have to hide your nationality? Get real.

    I do think of myself as representing my country abroad, and of having interactions that help people understand worldwide how similar we all are.

    My wife is Canadian, btw, and both of us are upfront when traveling about where we are from. Again, the only difference in treatment – and here it is only a rare snide political comment here and there – has been in major Western European cities. In Sudan right as the revolution started last year, we saw many locals wearing American flags!

  9. It’s hard to fake being from another country.

    Canada is easier but terrorists kill Canadians, too. But it’s easier to know Canadian facts, like that milk is sold in plastic bags in Quebec and Ontario, not milk cartons or jugs. Also know that Canada and the USA have a border dispute near Yukon and New Brunswick.

    Of course, if you are from Togo, you can probably fool some people into believing you are from Benin.

  10. Twelve months ago, American visitors to Australia or the UK might have received some friendly digs about Trump. Not any longer: now the Brits have Boris ,and Australia has its own rabid zealot , Morrison. A trifecta of lunacy and Trump is the worst by only a small margin.
    The greatest danger ( and fortunately still infinitesimally small) is encountering some loony with a knife, in a ‘lone wolf’ attack.
    It goes without saying, don’t advertise nationality ( but for many would-be attackers , a Caucasian face would be sufficient…)

  11. Well…as others have posted…we all KNOW why it might not be great right now to say you’re American. I do always say Canada. But, as a former hockey player…I literally know Canada as if I am Canadian. Can even sing the entire anthem word for word…

  12. Dear American friends,

    Please don’t try impersonating Canadians abroad. It gives people the wrong impression.


    A Canadian

  13. Are there any stats on how many American travellers have ever been harmed abroad because they were American? I don’t think it’s very many. Probably more than the number of trick-or-treaters that have been harmed by tampered with candy on Halloween, but not many more than that. It’s probably more dangerous nowadays to be an observant Jew in NYC than be an obvious American abroad — at least in any place an American is likely to visit.

  14. I was a dual Canadian/US citizen. I’ve since given up my US citizenship. But I would always say Canadian before. My American friends traveling with me. When they say they are Americans they always got a different reaction then I got. Nobody hates Canada anyways. So for any American that’s extremely American. And can’t claim UK or Australia. Canada is best to say always.

  15. If you are too afraid to identify as American overseas then maybe you should stay home and hide under the covers. Seriously I travel all over the world and you know where I saw the most anti-american sentiment? Western europe. People pretending to be Canadian. Please.

  16. Agree with the comments about not lying and saying you are from the US if asked. I’ve traveled widely and found people generally friendly and inquisitive. Of course I resolve the local customs, learn enough in the local language to communicate, etc.

    Most people have things about their country they don’t like. Americans are paranoid and especially the ones who blame Trump for all the evils in the world. Trust me the opinion of most Americans around the world (as opposed to disagreement with some Americans policies) hasn’t really changed in 30 years. Those that think so are typically supporting their own agenda and live in a liberal echo chamber.

    All that being said, while I am a proud American and don’t lie about it is asked I think people that wear American flag shirts, walk around with fanny packs and otherwise are totally out of sync with accepted norms deserve all the grief they get. Also beat to try and blend in and be aware of what is going on since many events occur that may not be targeted specifically at Americans

  17. I’m a proud Texan and have no intention of engaging in the shameful practice of trying to pass myself off as anything else. I’ll leave that to the “apologist crowd” who would be better off staying at home on their couch watching PBS and drinking green tea.

  18. I agree with Jeff above. When I’m abroad I proudly say I am an American and I hate Trump . With that said, people from all nations nod in acceptance . My question is that are they nodding of acceptance of my being an American or nodding in acceptance they also hate Trump? I’ve come to realize they feel the same towards me in either case and with a positive nod they move on .

  19. I am American. I travel the globe. I am proud to be American and don’t disguise it. I love Donald Trump. If somebody who is not a US Citizen doesn’t like him, I really don’t care. They don’t get to vote for the US President. And if you hate my American arrogance, up yours.

    If you take your politics with you and apologize for the President or disguise being American, you really are pathetic and should just stay home.

  20. Ha ha at least some of the comments are entertaining.

    I’ve talk to many foreigners in my travels. And as far as Iranians traveling abroad: They love Americans for what America has done for them. They believe America is supporting the people of Iran inside the country and are very grateful for that. I would never represent myself as being from somewhere else. So much of what you hear is just negative garbage

    Very proud to be an American everywhere I go.

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