How do travelers deal with flight attendants who conduct themselves unlawfully (racist/homophobic/etc)?

I have seen and even overheard flight attendants discuss amongst themselves why they are going to spit in someone's food or just be ignorant about certain people's requests.

What options does one have in a flight when flight attendants blatantly ignore your requests due to their own belief systems.

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    I would probably change the title to ask how to report a flight attendent behaving unlawfully, insultingly, inappropriately, or unacceptably. That way it can cover things besides racism such as sexism, homophobia, etc. Dec 26, 2013 at 14:06
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    As long as they don't carry out their threat or make it in public, I am not sure this is actually illegal anywhere.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 25, 2014 at 10:44
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    Unless you're in first class, a flight attendant will find it very difficult to spit in your food. Everything is in sealed containers except the salad and, even if they spat in your salad, they'd then need to figure out exactly which one to spit in so that it got served to your seat rather than the guy next to you. Apr 7, 2016 at 19:12
  • One way would be to sue (after the event), e.g. nytimes.com/2016/02/27/world/middleeast/…
    – A E
    Apr 7, 2016 at 19:12
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    Put it on Facebook. If you're telling the truth, it will be all over the world in a week. If you're lying, it will be all over the world in a day.
    – WGroleau
    Apr 11, 2017 at 4:54

2 Answers 2


To be honest and as a cabin crew member, I have never heard of such a thing. The second advantage of being a flight attendant is meeting different people from different countries and cultures (after going to many places). So having a racist flight attendant is like having a doctor that does not like to touch people! or a nurse that can not see blood. So if there is a racist flight attendant, then she/he must be one of a kind, not something you might see in every flight, not even once in a life time.

Regarding ignoring requests, this is surely not because of racism, this is totally the company's mistake. If a company is enforcing its onboard services, you will never see such a thing. So if this behavior was found in one attendant, be sure it is a company wide issue not a racism issue.

Regarding spitting on food, come on! Again, I do not think this happens. If it really happens, then I guess the rule of "Don't Piss Off People That Handle Your Food" can apply here. Again, from an insider, I never heard any flight attendant ever mentioning this idea, even as a joke.

Regarding fist fight, it is bad by all means (unless it is an act of self defense of course). Flight attendants know how to handle passengers, it is very rare (out of the millions of flights each year) when a flight attendant picks up a fight with a passenger, usually it is started by the passenger. Just avoid such a case, the crew will be filling forms and calling security to be waiting upon arrival, and they know how to deal with these situations, it is almost never a win situation for the passenger. In general, getting physical is a bad idea.

Finally, If you really felt that a certain flight attendant is ignoring a certain ethnic group while serving others, act correctly. Start by requesting to talk to the cabin in charge (purser), explain to him/her what you have experiences. A one or two witnesses to backup your claims and there will be a quick action on the spot! If this did not work then try escalating things and write an official complaint to the company (or sue the company if you have enough proof). Any airlines will not want such a reputation and will try to compensate you so things do not go out of control (media, etc.)

  • I have literally witnessed this on American Airlines where they just wouldn't listen to an old Indian couple (a friends parents I was accompanying) who had no communication issues. Sadly, I have overheard this on full service flights. Some of the most expensive carriers. Dec 25, 2013 at 23:20
  • @happybuddha that's sad, did you report that? Dec 25, 2013 at 23:21
  • Yes. I just cannot stand this indifference. And like AA gives a hoot, all they said was they would look into it. Did not offer an apology either. That was the last time I have ever given them my business. Even corporate tickets, I never fly with them. The standing instruction to our corporate travel desk is that I am ready to bear any price difference on other airlines. The day they ignore that, will be the last day they get business from my company. Dec 25, 2013 at 23:29
  • You should have gone public! Twitter Facebook and all the rest.. Its just sad! Dec 25, 2013 at 23:30
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    Good answer, I'll just add that anything physical is a very bad idea and could easily lead to you being blocked from flying for some period of time (even if you're in the right), that might even happen if you push things too far verbally. But HaLaBi is right, follow the escalation path and report it. Get witnesses. If it's happening repeatedly try and get it on video or audio. Frankly I'm a little surprised this happens on a big American corporate -- I was expecting you'd be talking about some local carrier where they weren't used to carrying non-local passengers.
    – SpaceDog
    Dec 26, 2013 at 1:31

I'd say it's fairly straightforward, you deal with them on a plane just like any racist individual you meet on the ground.

You have several options:

  1. Explain to them that you feel they're being offensive in their words/behaviour. They may not realise that certain words are bad, and that may solve the problem on the spot.
  2. Ask another flight attendant if you can get service from them instead, as the other flight attendant (note their name) is making you feel uncomfortable. @MeNoTalk may be able to tell you if this is common or not, but I'd assume it's possible.
  3. Note the flight attendant's name. If they won't give you their full name, ask another attendant - you could always tell a white lie and say you want to give them a good note to their airline. When on the ground, write an email to the airline, indicating the flight number, attendant's name, description, and the time and details of what they said and did. If other passengers witnessed the incident, ask them if they'd mind sharing their contact details to act as witnesses.
  4. Finally, if you don't get a helpful reaction from the airline, you could go to the press. This is an extreme option, but articles like this tend to spread pretty darn fast, and are very effective at getting a reaction/apology from the airline.
  5. If they've done something criminal to you on board, you can go to the police. Obviously this would have to be pretty serious. For this one you would ideally want witnesses' details, as this will strengthen your case.

Odds are incidents on a plane would be rare, I'd think, as they have training on cultural differences, and how to handle passengers politely and well. However, there's always the potential for someone to say something stupid.

  • If it's an international flight from country A to country B on airline based in country C, which police do you go to? Dec 26, 2013 at 14:04
  • @hippietrail the first ones you can find. If it's not their jurisdiction, they'll point you to who can.
    – Mark Mayo
    Dec 26, 2013 at 14:04
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    Another issue might be if you land in a place known to have corrupt or otherwise problematic police you don't want to get involved with. Dec 26, 2013 at 14:10
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    The police where the plane landed will be handling any security or unruly passengers issues. Dec 26, 2013 at 14:31

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