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.

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