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10 Things Flight Attendants Aren’t Allowed to Do Anymore

Between ongoing coronavirus infections and lingering fear, the pandemic has altered the way we fly, including what flight attendants are allowed to do while in the air.

Exercises to detect passengers infected with Zika virus held in PrimoryeYuri Smityuk/Getty Images

Changes in the sky

Despite the existence of both vaccines and boosters, flying, both domestically and internationally, will probably never look the same as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic—and everyone wearing masks is simply the most obvious difference. Air travel has changed in many other ways and these changes look to remain in effect for months—and possibly years—to come. Flight attendants are on the front lines in the sky and will need to abide by a new set of rules. Here are predictions for how life, in general, might look as more and more of us get vaccinated for COVID.

Covid-19 Temperature CheckAlex Liew/Getty Images

Assume the health of a passenger

Just because a would-be flyer looks, sounds, and says they are healthy, flight attendants are not allowed to assume passengers are indeed healthy. All those who travel internationally, regardless of whether they are fully vaccinated or not, will need to get a COVID-19 test no more than three days before returning to the United States by air, and then show the negative test result to the airline flight attendants before boarding. This new rule should eliminate the fear of getting COVID during a flight. Check out these things you won’t see in airports anymore.

Flight AttendantInstants/Getty Images

Pour drinks

The next time you do fly, be sure to fill up that reusable water bottle before you get on the plane as flight attendants on some airlines and on shorter flights are no longer handing over those half-filled plastic cups of ginger ale in an effort to cut down on interactions between flight attendants and guests. Michael Moebes, travel blogger at Dadcation, is one of many pandemic-era passengers who have been handed the now-familiar sealed baggie containing a snack, small bottle of water, and single-use hand sanitizer wipe during the boarding process. Find out what you won’t be able to do on airplanes anymore.

Airline Travel - Economy ClassLegate/Getty Images

Serve snacks

If you are flying during the pandemic, you should also pack some healthy snacks in your carry-on or stop by the airport newsstand for a protein bar before you get on the plane. American Airlines is one of the domestic carriers that have eliminated traditional in-flight service for non–first class customers. In place of coming down the aisle to hand you goodies at 36,000 feet, flight attendants may offer a pack of complimentary pretzels, Biscoff cookies, or chips prior to boarding, but this is not happening on every airline or on every flight—so be prepared with your own food! On the upside, you won’t be stuck behind the beverage cart after an ill-timed trip to the lavatory. Check out these things your flight attendant won’t tell you that will make for a better flight experience overall.

Airplane seatsJohann Van Tonder/Getty Images

Spot check the cleanliness of an airplane seat

The changeover and cleaning up of an aircraft is a generally swift process to enable planes to get back into the sky for their next on-time departures. Now, though, even if a seat looks neat and tidy to the eye (meaning the previous occupant didn’t leave a stack of newspapers shoved into the seat pocket and cookie crumbs all over the floor), flight attendants aren’t allowed to assume that seats are clean and safe for the next passenger. In fact, there are 81 specific touchpoints (such as handrails, seatbelts, seats, air vents, and bathrooms) that are getting a thorough cleaning on American Airlines aircraft, for example. You should probably know about these things airplanes aren’t cleaning enough.

Paying with credit cardwebphotographeer/Getty Images

Ask you to apply for the airline credit card during the flight

Handing out pens to share? Collecting paperwork from passengers? In the age of coronavirus, those are hard nos! Many in-flight magazines have long since been pulled from seatback pockets, and those that are still being published are undergoing some changes. American Airlines’ American Way magazine, for one, comes with a promise of a printing involving “a new paper treatment process called Biomaster, which is an antimicrobial technology that helps prevent the growth of unwanted microbes.” Still, don’t expect flight attendants to be walking up and down the aisle peddling their airline’s rewards credit cards anymore, meaning you’ll have to go online to sign up and get all those bonus miles! Don’t share pens with seatmates, and also avoid doing these 22 things you should never do on a plane.

COVID-19 In AthensNurPhoto/Getty Images

Reassure anxious passengers with a warm smile

One of the most noticeable changes in life on the ground and in the air over the past 15 months can be seen on everyone’s faces…because we can’t see most of everyone’s faces! Flight attendants and, hopefully, every passenger that surrounds us on planes are not only wearing their masks but wearing them correctly over the mouth and nose. Thanks to coronavirus, flight attendants will be masked for the protection of every passenger. This means that flashing their pearly whites to put anxious fliers at ease during a patch of turbulence will be impossible. Learn these things your pilot won’t tell you, but wishes all passengers knew.

Baby boy looking fascinated out of airplane windowKlaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Help with an exhausted baby

Everyone loves, and shares on social media, those touching pictures and videos of flight attendants helping out a worn-out mom or haggard-looking dad by holding, rocking, playing games with, and talking gibberish to an exhausted (read: crying) baby during a flight. Going forward, they may still want to perform this casually humanitarian task, but don’t expect flight attendants to be allowed to exhibit that kind of sweet, hands-on attention. Keep reading to find out 14 everyday habits that could (and should) change forever after coronavirus.

Kids with face protective mask traveling by an airplanedamircudic/Getty Images

Assume passengers know how to wear a mask

If you have flown over the past year, you likely have heard flight attendants making at least one, but probably multiple, stern requests for passengers to wear their masks except when eating and drinking on board. This onboard message is usually followed by instructions on how to wear a mask properly (over the mouth AND nose). But a flight attendant’s job doesn’t stop with a global pep talk over the speaker. They will also be seen and heard giving one-on-one lessons and reminders to passengers who are either unwilling to or unaware of how to wear a mask to protect themselves and others. Thankfully, flight attendants have the weight of the government behind them to beef up their message, as passengers who resist masks in flight could be banned and charged a federal fine of $250 to $1,500 by the TSA. In fact, refusing to wear a mask has become one of the things that could get you banned from a plane.

Airplane toiletgerenme/Getty Images

Get out of bathroom duty

Being a flight attendant surely has its perks. They get to see the world, explore new cities, and meet fascinating people. COVID-19 has likely dampened the enthusiasm some have for their job in the friendly skies, thanks to troublesome passengers and this new policy on Emirates: Their lavatories are disinfected on all flights, as you would expect, but thanks to coronavirus, flights longer than 90 minutes see an extra flight attendant brought on board to perform one dedicated task: cleaning the lavatories consistently. Yuck. Make sure you know what you should never wear on a plane according to flight attendants.

Coronavirus Pandemic Continues To Drag Down Air Travel IndustryMichael Loccisano/Getty Images

Eat a meal before the flight

All the goodwill airlines earned by being flexible and allowing fee-free changes to our travel plans is slowly disappearing, and according to a memo sent to American Airlines flight attendants, the kindness is dissipating at the corporate level too. Flight attendants who are called to work a flight from standby reserve were told “not to stop for food or other items,” meaning that not only will flight attendants still be struggling to get every passenger to take their seats swiftly during boarding, not unbuckle before the plane comes to a complete stop at landing, and wear their masks correctly throughout the flight, they could be doing all this on an empty stomach! Next, learn what you can and can’t take from planes before your next flight.


  • “From ‘electrostatic’ spray to wipe-downs, here’s how airplanes are cleaned during the pandemic”

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.