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I fly Abu Dhabi - Amsterdam - Portland, OR and back frequently. Each leg is about 8 to 10 hours. For most people, it is their one 'long flight,' and are sleeping, but for me, because I have two of them, it is a much longer day.

The shades are drawn and everyone's asleep, but I'd like to have a couple beers and watch a movie with my headphones. Would cabin crew prefer I walk quietly to the back and ask them for a beer (this is what I usually do), or to press the call button. I want to be as polite as possible. I understand this might be subjective, but I'm hoping there's a universal rule-of-thumb.

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    Since you do this regularly, you should consider that sitting for so long is not healthy, you should get up and walk regularly. Harder exercise like jogging is out of the question, of course, but you could ask the crew if you can do exercises like push ups. – Count Iblis Apr 7 '16 at 15:53
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    Alas I don't think there's a universal answer. Just as an anecdote, Qatar cabin crew have on a few occasions told me to press the call button rather than walking up the galley, while I've had BA cabin crew say often "as you can get out, next time just pop and see us in the galley and we'll sort your next drink out quicker". Really seems to depend on the airline and crew – Gagravarr Apr 7 '16 at 18:19
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    @Gagravarr - I agree, it depends on the crew. I flew ADL-HKG-LHR and back on Cathay Pacific, and on the HKG-LHR leg, the cabin crew put fruit and biscuits in bowls in the galley where people could walk up and grab them, and would hand out drinks there. The other three flights didn't do this. – HorusKol Apr 8 '16 at 2:49
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There is no specific preference, it depends on the person actually. Some do not like to be interrupted while they are at their position (usually the galleys) because it is sometimes the only place where there are no people and they can loosen up a little. Here are some general tips:

Good times to use the call button:

  • During a service, do not even think to go to their position. Just press the call button and wait.
  • Make the first request via the call button, regardless of the time.
  • Avoid going yourself ~30 minutes before the second service, usually it's the time when the crew start preparing the second service, and the second rest shift is not awake yet (if the crew has rest, which is usually the case in 8+ hours flights). They will be busy, it's better not to request at all in this time as the service will start shortly anyway.
  • If passengers are not sleeping, expect others to use the call button and the crew would be busy preparing their requests, so get in line and press the call button, do not go yourself.

Good times to go yourself to the galley

  • Afterwards, if most people are sleeping, it's ok to go yourself, since they will not be busy preparing requests for the other many passengers who pressed the button.
  • It is very common in long flights around the middle of the flight for passengers to want to stretch their legs, so that's a good time and most crewmembers are expecting that. I have seen galleys turn into canteens at these times.

Ordering the first time via the call button then going yourself the second time is the best you can do in general, they will understand that you do not want to bother them. In case you go yourself and they request you to sit back and they will deliver it, do so. In long flights the crew usually have rest shifts after the first service until shortly before the second service. During this time the crew will be operating with half the number, but that shouldn't affect anything since most passengers are usually sleeping at this time as well. The only bad time is before the second service, when people starts to wake up and the half the crew is either still sleeping or just woke up, either way they will be preparing for the second service, so it's better to avoid requests at this time as I mentioned earlier.

There could be things I forgot, but again if a crewmember asked you to sit back and wait, do so and do not go back yourself again, it's a clear sign that he/she wants to you use the button, be his guest! sometimes this is simply due to airline policy, especially if the number of passengers standing at the back is becoming big, in the name of security.

Source: I am a cabin crew member.

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    The last paragraph confused me a little: In your opinion, if you are asked to sit back and wait, is it best to go back to your seat and press the button (maybe to signal your position?) or just assume the crew will find you and wait quietly? – Relaxed Apr 7 '16 at 18:15
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    @Relaxed no, i meant the crew can take the order while u r in the galley, but sometimes they need time to prepare it, like brew coffee or something, or they are busy doing something, so if they ask u to go back it means they will follow u with the order in a while, it is better to let them do the job. Sometimes passengers "feel like" talking a lot while the crew is busy, and sometimes the policy forbids that passengers stand in the galley.. that's what i meant, feel free to rephrase it to make it clearer :) english is not my gift – Nean Der Thal Apr 7 '16 at 18:21
  • Umm, why not ask the FA who answers your first call if they would mind if the OP just searches them out in the galley for subsequent requests? That way, you'll be told if there is a preference or not. – Ellesedil Apr 8 '16 at 18:20
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    @Ellesedil usually ones in the aisle are not the same ones in the galley, and different shifts in long flights.. – Nean Der Thal Apr 8 '16 at 18:28
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Get Up if You Can, Call if You Can't

I'd use your personal judgement on this one. What I do on long-haul flights is get up and go ask myself. For starters it makes me get up and move around a bit which is not at all bad. Secondly, I tell myself that flight attendants might be busy with something else and that my getting up might actually be helpful for them. From the way you worded your question I'm getting the idea that you think the same.

Now all this is all nice and dandy, if you are in a position to easily get up and move around. In other words, this works if you are seated on the aisle. However, if you are seated next to the window, with two other seats separating you from the aisle, you might want to press the button and wait. Calling the flight attendant might be much less disturbance than having to play musical chairs with two other passengers twice (to get out and back in) to go pick up a beer. Moreover, once you call the flight attendant, you can ask for two beers, so that you won't have to repeat the process again soon thereafter.

Now, all of this is just my personal way of going about this. For completeness sake I managed to find some interesting posts here and there on the web offering similar and different point of views.

Get Up in Economy, Call in Business/First

This post on OneMileAtATime makes a somewhat valid point in distinguishing between economy class and business. In economy the attendant-to-passenger ratio is on the understaffed side of the scale (some 1:50 average). If many passengers push the button at the same time, the aircraft staff are likely to go crazy trying to manage all the requests. The same can also be said if many passengers get up concurrently to go towards the galley. However, on most long-haul flights you'll find a nice self-serve tray with drinks and snacks set-up in the galley from which you can quench most of your cravings. If beer isn't on the tray, you can go ask the staff directly.

In business/first class on the other hand the attendant-to-passenger ratio is much lower, and staff generally have a much easier time dealing with passenger requests. In that case you could opt for pressing the button over getting up yourself if you wish to do so.

Be Considerate to Staff Privacy

The post goes on to mention another interesting scenario. The author says that galleys are usually screened away from the cabin with curtains, aimed ad providing staff with some kind of privacy/relaxed environment. There's a chance that airline policy or cultural norm might dictate that passengers aren't supposed to see the staff in their relaxed mode. Hence, by walking up to the galley yourself you might be somewhat causing an awkward situation.

Quoting directly from the linked site:

On non-US airlines I think it’s always acceptable to push the call button for something service related. And I’ll take it a step further. Aside from airlines that have onboard bars, I find most crews actually prefer that you push the call button rather than coming to the galley, at least between meals.

What you might notice on most international carriers is that they have thick curtains between the galley and the rest of the cabin, so most of the time between meals the crews will draw the “curtains” around the galley. I’ve walked in on some really awkward situations while thinking I was doing them a favor by going to the galley to request something rather than pushing the call button.

Now if I’m going to the lavatory and see a crew member in sight then I might ask them for something, but I’ve found in the galley they’re often eating, applying makeup, or doing other less kosher things. So by pushing the call button you’re letting them present themselves to you as they’d like to be seen rather than basically opening their “curtain” uninvited.

Be Polite

As an added bonus, whatever you do keep a smile on your face and be polite. I'm prepared to bet that being arrogant and rude to the staff is much more of a problem than you pressing the button once when you're not supposed to.

In the words of this flight attendant on FlyerTalk puts it:

As a philosophy, I am happy for you to use it at your discretion – as long as your discretion doesn’t mistake “flight attendant” for “personal servant” (that definitely happens!), and remember (if I may reiterate) that there are usually 200 hundred of you onboard. If you respect those facts and still see a need to ring, I support you. Most of my friends, I think, feel the same. Let’s be honest among friends though: In reality you just have to feel out your crew.

I will put out there that drink requests are a little bit special. I do prefer you come ask for it yourself (mostly I’m just afraid if passengers see me “running” for a drink, 1000 other dings will follow and it will get out of hand), but I wouldn’t be grumpy about it. Not unless you start dinging over and over.

As I like to say, all things in moderation. Trapped at the window? I can see that’s awkward! Need a hand? I’ll happily help. Feel the need for a cheeky drink that you’re occasionally too lazy to come to the galley for? I might tease you, but oh, go on then!

Still unsure? Here’s another measure: If you’re the kind of passenger to care if you should use it, you’re probably ok to do so. I promise to do it with pleasure, if you promise not to get carried away.

  • In economy you are trapped by your seat neighbour if you are unlucky enough not to be in the aisle. But if you are in business or first, most airlines these days have direct aisle access for all premium passengers. As a matter of practicality I think it is the other way around, call in Y and walk in J/F. – Calchas Apr 7 '16 at 22:07
  • @Calchas you clearly never flew KLM Business. I had to do acrobatics just to get to the isle, and this on business class. – Burhan Khalid Apr 10 '16 at 9:55
  • @BurhamKhalid I gave up with KL years ago. In any event, most airlines now offer aisle access on major routes. – Calchas Apr 10 '16 at 13:59
  • Lol at 'musical chairs'! – Anmol Singh Jaggi May 3 '16 at 10:03

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