This flight attendant sees to your ‘jetiquette’ needs

Gailen David, The Sky Steward, talks Jetiquette with USA Today.

Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY

Twenty-year American Airlines flight attendant Gailen David, has seen it all: unruly drunks, rambunctious kids, onboard incivility. He used to do “fly-bys” (ignore difficult fliers’ requests by zooming past). Today, he has found new dedication and trains others in customer service. As the holiday travel season takes off, this self-described “ambassador of civilized travel” shares “jetiquette” tips with USA TODAY.

Q: Fliers talk about the deterioration in airborne manners. Do you agree?

A: People don’t think that everything they do affects other people. There are people with too many carry-ons, talking on their cellphones. I’m glad they’re not allowed to use cellphones during flight. I don’t think fellow passengers could handle it.

Q: You say passengers once lodged complaints about you.

A: When it got to ’96-’97, I burned out big time. I had seen the industry decay. I didn’t feel appreciated or respected. (The airlines) were cutting all the amenities. I would do something nice for people and they wouldn’t even say “Thank you.” I was having a lot of confrontations.

I would do a “fly-by”: Come in real close (to an irksome passenger), and when he thinks he’s got my attention, I’m off. I wasn’t able to deal with attitude. I would throw it back, ignore them or give snippy service.

Q: So what did you do?

A: I stopped flying for a year to regroup. After I came back, I decided I was going to focus on trying to make a positive experience for passengers and co-workers, and if I got a positive reaction, that was the icing on the cake. I also train people (at airlines and other companies; his website is The goal is to get them reconnected and excited about what they’re doing.

Q: As we approach the busy holiday travel season, what advice do you have for those traveling by air?

A: Anything you can do to prepare for (the TSA checkpoint) makes your and everyone else’s experience better. Have you seen a lot of people still fumbling? It gets worse around the holidays because people who don’t normally fly are flying and getting barked at by a TSA agent.

Please send Christmas presents ahead or fit them into checked luggage. Put one article under your feet to make room in the overhead bin.

One of the things that causes difficulties is the seat-back pockets. People put their trash in there, and it has become impossible with shorter ground times for the cleaning crew to reach into every seat-back pocket. It’s not pleasant when (the next passenger) finds used tissue, gum or McDonald’s wrappers.

Another thing is the tray table. Make sure it’s clean. Passengers are bringing their own food, and it’s messy. It’s impossible for the cleaning crew to put down 188 tray tables and wipe them in a half-hour turnaround. And, please, bring food that won’t fill the cabin with an unpleasant odor.

Q: What about etiquette with seatmates?

A: You need boundaries. Your elbows must stay on your side of the armrest. The person who sits in the middle needs to have whatever armrest space there is.

Q: What do you do about space hogs?

A: I make eye contact and say hello. I tell them what I’m going to do to avoid invading their space. I’ll say, “I’m going to bring my elbows in and if I happen to fall asleep and come into your area, please wake me.” It’s non-confrontational, but I have given them the message not to invade my space, and they get it.

Q: What if you are next to an unruly passenger?

A: You need to address it in a non-confrontational way. “You know what, your child is kicking my seat, and I’d really appreciate it if they’d stop.” If the child doesn’t stop kicking, their parents are uncooperative, or if the passenger next to you is out of control, let the flight attendant know.

Q: Sometimes flight attendants seem as if they don’t care.

A: They’ve got frustrated passengers, airline management that’s trying to cut costs. But passengers want to know that we’re available. If you greet a flight attendant when you come on board and show them some respect and courtesy, it makes an impression. If not, the word travels around the airplane so fast: “That person in 6D is a jerk.”

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