Flight Attendant Call Button: When Should You Use It?

That little button you see within the red circle is the dreaded flight attendant call button. When exactly is the appropriate time to use it — if at all? Photograph by FlyerTalk member nizolidas. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by nizolidas.

René deLambert — author of the Delta Points weblog at BoardingArea.com — recently wrote an article about when the flight attendant call button should be used.
I was the first to respond to the article with my thoughts…

“In my opinion, the flight attendant call button should only be used when you need something but are unable to leave your seat — for example, a drink when you are thirsty but seated at a window seat on a crowded airplane. It should not be used gratuitously or excessively by any means; but I do not believe that it should only be used in emergencies — otherwise, the safety video would direct otherwise.
“‘If there is anything we can do to make your flight more comfortable, please let us know.’”

…but naturally, I then wondered what FlyerTalk members thought over the years is the proper etiquette for that flight attendant call button as it temptingly sits above your head in the console as you are a passenger during a flight; or on the wall while you are in the lavatory. When exactly is it appropriate to use the flight attendant call button; and under what impression do passengers believe is its purpose?
FlyerTalk members generally admit to rarely or never using the flight attendant call button. “I used it for the very first time ever on my last flight on US metal,” recalled FlyerTalk member 12172003. “Another passenger kicked over a full can of soda and didn’t realize it. The flight attendant came over a couple of minutes later, I told her and she walked away and did nothing about it. Oh well. I guess they don’t care much about their $50 million airplane.”
For FlyerTalk member Moz, it is simply an aversion: “Not sure why but I simply hate the idea of using the flight attendant call button. I am uncomfortable with the concept of buzzing someone (ringing a bell) to come and ‘attend’ to me. I will quietly wait for them to walk past or go to the galley myself but never use the button. Just wondering if I need professional help or if others feel the same.”
During an announcement aboard the aircraft before departure, a flight attendant apparently gave the impression that the flight attendant call button was to be used for emergency purposes only, according to FlyerTalk member ChrisR back in 2007; while FlyerTalk member Howgart heard a similar announcement on an airplane operated by a different airline back in 2006. FlyerTalk member flyerman770 also heard a similar announcement as a passenger on yet another airline back in 2009; while FlyerTalk member sobore read an article about how a flight attendant said that the flight attendant call button is for emergencies only.
In all of the years I have traveled, I personally have never heard that the flight attendant call button is to be used only in the event of an emergency — and I do listen to the safety announcements. I even go so far as to check under my seat to ensure that it is indeed equipped with a life vest…
…but then again, I did participate in what is known as Road Warrior Training at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines — about which I briefly wrote here.
FlyerTalk member zurbec had heard several stories from friends about experiencing or witnessing being berated as a result of using the flight attendant call button. To be fair, perhaps that may be because of excessive use of the flight attendant call button — prompting FlyerTalk member wspfan to wonder what is up with all the call button beeps on trips to Europe; or maybe it was for a superfluous reason — such as reporting that a “person of size” has spilled over into your seat.
By the way, I posted an article on March 22, 2013 here at The Gate regarding the ensuing debate pertaining to obese passengers if you want to post a comment there.
Some FlyerTalk members believe that it is in bad taste to press the flight attendant call button, as using it allegedly irritates the flight attendants; while other FlyerTalk members complain that the DING! sound is too loud and that its volume should be lowered.
Parched with thirst during a flight in 2006, FlyerTalk member BamaVol pressed the flight attendant call button. A flight attendant responded, delivered two full bottles of water, and retrieved an empty bottle to dispose — all without saying a word. Coincidentally, BamaVol read an article the very next morning with Basically, don’t ever push the call button as the headline. In that article, a flight attendant expressed her annoyance when someone pushes the flight attendant call button — “usually to pick up trash right after she’s passed through the aisle 6 times.”
Always wondering if a flight attendant would look at him in a “funny manner”, FlyerTalk member Benny8444 asked if it would it be appropriate or awkward to press the flight attendant call button to ask for a drink when seated in the economy class cabin on an airplane.
When FlyerTalk member mike_asia asked if it was rude to ring the flight attendant call button to ask for something to drink after food and beverages have already been served and the flight attendants are behind the curtain in the galley, FlyerTalk member denverhockeyguy responded: “No, thats what its there for.”
FlyerTalk member meFIRST wondered if flight attendant call buttons were operable at all — and FlyerTalk member afhstingray wondered a similar thought where flight attendants never respond. I suppose the service by flight attendants must have really been deplorable for meFIRST and afhstingray — unless by some strange coincidence, there were technical difficulties with the flight attendant call button on every airplane on which meFIRST and afhstingray attempted to use it…
…but a corollary to that seems to be that the flight attendant call button always works when you press it by accident. You really meant to turn on your reading lamp or increase the flow of air, right?!?
Apparently this confusion happened more often than you might think, as The Boeing Company was prompted to finally re-design the flight attendant call button back in 2011. “Why did it take so long to come up with this design?” wondered FlyerTalk member DeafFlyer.
FlyerTalk member Explore even solicited advice from fellow FlyerTalk members as to the best way to register a complaint after deeming a lack of response to pressing the flight attendant call button “completely unacceptable.” The light of the flight attendant call button was supposedly on for at least 20 minutes after being pressed a second time — which prompts the question: how long is too long in waiting for service once the flight attendant call button is pressed? Are the expectations of some FlyerTalk members pertaining to the flight attendant call button considered too high?
Not one to leave this question unanswered, FlyerTalk member mgs 1k actually decided back in 2012 to conduct unscientific tests of response times after pressing the flight attendant call button while flying as a passenger in the business class cabin aboard aircraft on flights between Brazil and the United States operated by United Airlines and Continental Airlines. You can view the results for yourself here.
I can understand a flight attendant being annoyed when the flight attendant call button is accidentally pressed, used excessively, or used for a reason for which it is not warranted. Perhaps I am mistaken, but when I hear the announcement “If there is anything we can do to make your flight more comfortable, please let us know” and there are no flight attendants to be seen — and I want something — is that not one of the purposes of the flight attendant call button?
Whenever I have used the flight attendant call button — and it was not that often, I can assure you — either the flight attendant responded but certainly without the impression of being annoyed; or there was no response…
…and when there was no response, it was because the flight attendant was busy doing other things at the time. Sure, I felt disappointed; but I do not believe that I was ignored — but then again, I do not recall having a request which was so important and urgent that it needed to be fulfilled there and then at that moment.
I have asked Sarah Steegar — the resident flight attendant expert here at FlyerTalk and author of the Crewed Talk weblog — to weigh in with her thoughts and impart her experiences
…but in the meantime, now it is your turn to opine and relate your experiences: what exactly is the etiquette pertaining to using the flight attendant call button? Do you ever use the flight attendant call button at all? If so, when and under what circumstances? If not, why?

  1. 1) Lower the volume except in the Galley.
    2) I’ll use it as and when I please unless the airlines issues a specific comment on the use of it.

  2. Since I generally fly TATL in economy, I get quite thirsty during flight. If possible I will go to the galley (taking the opportunity to stretch my legs), but if I’m in a window seat and don’t want to bother my seatmate, I’ll press the button.
    I’ve had very rude attendants before, completely ignoring my call button for over half an hour, and then when I pressed the button again one came up to me and said “you need to stop pressing the button by accident” and walked away. She didn’t ask what I needed, or give me chance to ask for water.

    1. Ironic, considering how many times we as passengers are told that remaining hydrated during flights — especially long international flights — is very important.
      Thank you for sharing, PDXNRTLHR. Your FlyerTalk name suggests that you fly as a passenger on transpacific flights as well as transatlantic flights…

  3. I almost never use the call button. However, there are flights on which they F/As seem more interested in sitting and reading or chatting. If possible I will go to the galley and make a request.
    If I am in a window seat, seat mate is sleeping and I get thirsty, I will ring. If the F/A is frequently working the aisle, never.

  4. I find that the FA call button should not even be there in the first place. If there’s an emergency, someone near you will contact someone for help. Especially with full flights these days.
    I find it very entitled to call cabin crew for petty things. We’re all adults, and are responsible for our own well being. Thirsty? Bring an empty water bottle, and fill it up post security. Or buy one by the gate. Have a mess? Get up and get napkins from the galley, or restroom. The person next to you, will have to move. It’s not the end of the world to ask someone to move so you can get up.
    And Icemaker – is the perfect example of what’s wrong with people today. Entitlement, and selfishness, are prevalent in public. It’s all about me attitude. Passengers pay for transportation – not an onboard servant to boost your ego.

  5. I would feel like some previous century British sahib ringing the bell for his fateful indigenous servant whom, according to those times, is one step below human anyways. No way. Absolutely no way.

  6. There are some people that need it. For someone that has trouble getting up due to mobility problems, I see no reason at all why they shouldn’t use it.
    If I am flying in economy on a long haul, I always have a window seat and if I want another drink will just walk to the galley.
    If I am flying across the pond and am seated in the J and have lazy flight attendants I have no problem pressing it. A lot of times my shoes will be off and I’ll have the duvet draped over me watching the IFE screen and don’t really want to get up. If over a half hour goes by without seeing an FA come by and I want a drink I ring it. Normally service is great in the J cabin on Delta, but a few times I have had lazy FA’s when the purser isn’t around.
    Not trying to sound like a DYKWIA but when I am paying $5 to $10K for a business class ticket, I don’t think I’m out of line ringing it

  7. very informative….thanks all
    question: the poor child on Jet blue that had to pee. Faa rules are not the 10 commandments
    and since they were, as described, on the tarmac for 30 minutes, clearly some exceptions
    need to be attended to. Suppose its medication…..life threatening or near?
    When planes are locked down for extended periods, some passengers MUST have
    some resources. What procedures and rules are in place for such circumstances?
    Hope all of us can trigger some forward thinking and rule revisions on these things…..

  8. Hi Brian (and readers), a different topic is lined up for Tuesday, but I’ll definitely take this one on next. I’ve enjoyed reading all the different passenger experiences and thoughts. Keep them coming!

  9. On the American legacy carriers I would be very hesitant to summon a flight attendant via
    call button – I’ve had too many of them snap at me for so many silly reasons over the years ..
    .. all the snapping ‘ramping up’, of course, since 9/11. Attendants are ever so much more willing to lay down the law, for any reason, since 9/11 – the terrorists HAVE won by spawning such aggressive U.S. FAs.
    I use the call buttons when necessary and without worry, however, when flying Asian legacy carriers (Singapore, Thai, ANA, etc.) or the newer U.S. carriers (Jet Blue, Virgin America) … NEVER been snapped at or berated by ANY FA on these flights.
    NO WONDER folks like me absolutely dread having to get on board United, Delta, American, etc – I’m, thankfully, pretty much finito with all these scary, charmless, in-your-face folks.

  10. In the rest of the world, feel free to use the FA call button as you please. We’re still treated as humans out here and not just annoying self loading freight.

  11. Brian Cohen – why would you think PDXNRTLHR flys trans pacifically. They’ve already said they fly TATL, ruling out NRT as a base. Given that far more people live in the vicinity of LHR than PDX it seems an obvious leap to assume that LHR is their base.

  12. Interesting that all these comments seem to come from and relate to US passengers/carriers. We non americans all know that the service level on american carriers is probably the worst in the entire world, it used to be the developed world but the rest of the world caught up.
    You have paid for a service and the service provider is contractually obliged to provide that service and that includes getting off their butts and responding to the call button, that is what it is there for.

  13. For most part, I’ve been very happy with Delta and its flight attendants. But on one RDU-LGA flight, the attendant recited the safety announcement as if she was listing the side effects for hemorrhoid medication–you know that fast-talking approach to saying what’s required but making sure nobody is actually informed. So, for the first time in my flying history, I used the attendant call button. I asked her to repeat the safety announcement, enunciating it so that I could understand her. She did. And all the remaining announcements on that flight were very clearly spoken.

  14. I flew United in May, on one out of seven flights they advised that the call button was for emergencies.

  15. The FSM on my Virgin Atlantic VS200 flight to Hong Kong last December actually announced as we took off from London “please only use the call button in an emergency”.
    Other than do what they had to do, the cabin crew, at least in Economy, then went missing without trace.
    I actually did use the call button, for the first time ever on a plane, as my IFE failed. It took twenty minutes for anyone to answer it. I guess the cc were all asleep. I am not sure what “emergency” they could have solved with that lack of interest.
    Friend of mine who work for VS said that her call button approach is not VS policy as did VS after I wrote to them. By all accounts, I got the do the minimum necessary aka lazy crew.
    PS. The crews on my three other VS flights on this trip LHR-HKG-SYD and return had a completely different attitude to customer service and were good to excellent..

  16. aa764 Are you kidding me?
    Premium passengers pay for the level of service. Fly Emirates First Class and see that you will never get the chance to push the button. Fly Delta in economy and those muppets employed by Delta will avoid getting off their seats to do anything, mainly because they are too old or too unionised.
    My point (exaggerated I accept) is that frequent fliers like this community choose an airline for the very reason frequent flyer programmes exist. get from A to B in the most comfortable and relaxing way possible and earn a freebie at the same time. Flight Attendants….. there’s a clue in the name. They are there to deal with firstly your safety but also your comfort. press the button if you need something and if you get grief, tweet it either on board or when you get off. Those attendants will soon improve. If you get great service and there is no need to push the button, tweet it again, let us all know

  17. Interesting discussion.
    Flying mostly TATL in coach I rarely use the button and always try to be sensible about it.
    Example: Whenever possible I get up and walk if I need something to drink, but last week I needed to take some medication at the end of a 8-hour flight. The plane was on initial descent ergo seat belt sign was lit, so I pressed the little button (and got some water quickly).
    Sure, I could have saved some water from the previous service, but I forgot.
    I believe we do pay (partly) for service and staying hydrated so bringing my own water for long flights just feels wrong.

  18. Couldn’t disagree more with the opinion that requesting service during a flight indicates some entitlement issue on behalf of the passenger. Aside from the passengers who may abuse the system the call buttons are there to be used. United’s Association of Flight Attendants FA description states:
    “(after safety and emergency assistance)…the flight attendant serves passengers food and beverages and dispenses items for comfort and entertainment”
    “respond to passenger requests as appropriate & possible”
    While I cannot even remember the last time I pressed the button, I have flown with plenty of very pleasant and attentive FA’s. However, I have also frequently witnessed FA’s that react with indifference all the way to hostility (the “why are you bothering me?” attitude) and this has been exclusively on US carriers in my experience. There has been a decided shift in the FA-held perception that they are there for your safety only. This is patently untrue and flies in the face of carriers’ extensive advertising campaigns about their quality of service on board.
    Every passenger is a customer that may be lost to a competitor. FA’s are part of the customer service side of an airline for better or worse. We would tell an individual who dislikes children to find a profession other than teaching, yet too often FA’s who have a disdain for customer service are defended by their organizations (I won’t even go into seniority trumping performance).

  19. I’m quoted as: “I would rather die than ring the FA buttton”, but am reminded by the previous posters when using it is a good idea. If the FAs gather behind a drawn curtain and nobody comes out for 20 minutes, I have no problem ringing to ask for what I need. And if an FA breezes by me 3 times without acknowledging my “excuse me”, then I use the call button.

  20. I think someone needs to remind the flight attendants — along with the FAA — why their job exists in the first place. When United Air Lines introduced stewardesses many decades ago, it had nothing to do with safety. They were there to serve and to reassure the passengers.
    As for the flight attendants who complain about someone ringing the bell “after I’ve just passed through the aisle six times” — first of all, I’ve never seen a flight attendant pass through more than twice to pick up garbage. Second, it’s been my experience more often than not that they don’t check both sides of every row; I’m often left holding the garbage I want to pass to them because they didn’t bother looking in my direction.
    If the flight attendants would pass through the aisles on a regular basis for the entire flight, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. I’ll lay part of the blame on the airlines that are too cheap to offer continuous service.
    BUT … the airline and its employees need to remember that I am the customer. I am the reason the business exists, and the reason their jobs exist. I don’t believe that wanting more than two 4-ounce cups of liquid in 2 hours is being overentitled. Offering a beverage is part of the service, so provide the service already!

  21. Stuck in a middle middle seat, I saw one of the overhead bins pop open during the landing approach. As none of the people seated nearby were getting up to close it, I rang the call button to alert a flight attendant. Now, had I been on the aisle, I would have bounced up for the couple of seconds required to shut the bin and let them yell at me for being up when the seatbelt light was on, but since I was trapped, I rang the call button again. They were not yet seated, but standing near their seats chatting prior to buckling up. Had any of them even glanced down the aisle, they should have seen the open bin. Seeing no movement in our direction I tried a third time. At that point, the purser came on the PA and announced that whoever was ringing the call button should stop unless it was an emergency. As it was not yet an emergency, I stopped ringing the call button (I did a quick mental check and calculated that most of the time, the plane would turn onto the taxiway in the direction that would push the luggage into the bin rather than out.). I consider this a serious safety issue and said so to the flight attendant as I deplaned. Deliberately ignoring the call button at a point when all the passengers are locked in is not acceptable.

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