Flight Attendant Call Button: When Should You Use It?

Flight Attendant Call Button: When Should You Use It?

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To push the flight attendant call button, or not to push the flight attendant call button, that is the question. I’ll share my take, and then I’m curious to hear how OMAAT readers feel.

What is a flight attendant call button?

Every airplane seat has a flight attendant call button, typically in the overhead console, right by the reading light and individual air nozzle (if the plane has those). The flight attendant call button, is, as the name suggests, a way to call a flight attendant to your seat.

The flight attendant call button typically depicts a person with a tray, suggesting that the call button is intended for service. However, that’s not how all flight attendants interpret it, so I wanted to talk about that in a bit more detail.

Flight attendant call button on All Nippon Airways Boeing 737

Controversy around flight attendant call buttons

In most of the world, the flight attendant call button seems to work as intended. It’s a useful way to call over a flight attendant, whether you want a drink refill, or there’s some sort of an emergency.

However, in the United States I’ve heard several flight attendants over the years announce that the call button is in fact the “emergency flight attendant call button,” advising passengers to only use it if absolutely necessary. Suffice to say that this kind of announcement isn’t approved by any airline.

While people will often joke “well I’m happy you consider my drink request to be an emergency,” let’s talk about when it’s actually appropriate to use a flight attendant call button.

Should a call button be used for service?

Using the flight attendant call button in first & business class

Broadly speaking, it’s always appropriate to use the flight attendant call button for service in first & business class, especially on international airlines. You’re paying a premium for more service, and having an extra request on a long haul flight isn’t unreasonable.

I’ll take it a step further — at top airlines, crews generally prefer that you push the call button rather than going to the galley with your request. Foreign carriers typically have thick curtains between the galley and the cabin, and you generally shouldn’t try to go into the flight attendant’s “space” without permission. They’d much rather come to you. So absolutely push the flight attendant call button — it’s the courteous thing to do.

I do want to mention just one caveat — try to be respectful of the overall service flow. For example, if a cabin has 50+ business class seats and the crew is doing service with a cart and is currently in the aisle, wait until they finish that round of service before pushing the call button again.

When it comes to using the call button, you can’t beat Emirates first class, where you can voice or video call the crew with any requests, without them even having to come to your seat.

Emirates’ first class “room service” feature

it’s also interesting to observe the cultural differences between airlines when it comes to service approaches. For example, in Singapore Airlines first class I generally don’t push the flight attendant call button, since even on a long haul flight a crew member seems to pass through the cabin every 10-15 minutes throughout the flight. The service is just so proactive that I don’t find it necessary.

Cathay Pacific first class is exactly the opposite — the crews are spectacularly reactive. That might sound sarcastic, but it’s not. On Cathay Pacific you (hopefully) won’t see a flight attendant once between meal services without calling them, and that’s so that your privacy is maximized. But if you push the call button a flight attendant will cheerily appear within seconds.

The call button is essential in Cathay Pacific first class

Using the flight attendant call button in economy

Using the flight attendant call button in economy is trickier. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the staffing ratio in economy is different than in first & business class, and in many cases flight attendants have to walk a lot further to your seat. Also keep in mind that on long haul flights the crew has rest periods, reducing the staffing ratio even further.

Personally I think there’s nothing wrong with using the call button in economy:

  • Try to use it sparingly in general
  • You should totally use it if you have mobility issues
  • It’s fair to use if you’re in a middle seat and can’t get out, because the person next to you is sleeping

That being said, in economy I also think it’s more reasonable to stretch your legs and go to the galley yourself. Generally there’s a small setup with snacks and drinks, at least on long haul flights, so you can help yourself to that. Furthermore, in my experience flight attendants are typically “sitting in the open” more in economy than business or first class, given that the volume of requests is greater.

I’d be a bit more reserved with the call button in economy

Are the “rules” any different on US airlines?

The above are my general thoughts, though is the story any different on airlines in the United States? This accounts for the fact that:

  • Airlines in the United States don’t have “real” curtains between the cabin and the galley, but rather have “nets,” if anything at all
  • Some flight attendants at US airlines seem opposed to using the call button for service, because, you know, they’re there for your safety

On US airlines I’m generally a little more hesitant to use the call button. I see what kind of a vibe the crew gives me. In general I don’t mind pushing the call button in international first & business class on a US airline, while I avoid it on domestic flights.

US airlines are inconsistent with the call button

Bottom line

All airplane seats have individual flight attendant call buttons, though customs around using them seem to differ. In the United States, some flight attendants seem to think these buttons are just for emergencies, while outside the United States there are consistently no issues with using them for service.

Where do you stand on using the flight attendant call button, and what has your experience been?

Conversations (35)
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  1. Truth Guest

    If you push the call button, one thing us certain. All the fight attendants within earshot secretly cringe inside... for some it is not so secret.

    The flight attendant who finally shows up to see what you want is using every ounce of self control to remain civil.

    The only difference between your varied experiences is that some flight attendants are better actors than others.

    Whatever you used to think, now you know the truth.

  2. Trolly Dolly Guest

    When you pay for travel, you pay for service: passengers in first-class get tended to quickly. Coach class is minimum fare, and these days that means minimum staffing (and minimal service) so lower your expectations. We still provide service at your seat (when we're in the aisles) so no need to ring the bell then. At the conclusion of aisle service, unless you're unable to get up you're welcome to visit the galley where everything...

    When you pay for travel, you pay for service: passengers in first-class get tended to quickly. Coach class is minimum fare, and these days that means minimum staffing (and minimal service) so lower your expectations. We still provide service at your seat (when we're in the aisles) so no need to ring the bell then. At the conclusion of aisle service, unless you're unable to get up you're welcome to visit the galley where everything available is within reach. Besides providing convenience, flight crews are expected to keep an eye on security and other concerns, besides our primary function: safety during the flight.

  3. Mike Guest

    My take is that if I have to press the call button for service the crew have failed to provide the level of service required, usually because they are lazy and don’t care, and that is on premier airlines. I usually fly business these days as a leisure traveller.

  4. crosscourt Guest

    Is it part of their job to respond? Yes. No ifs or buts. Enough of this mollycoddling. I have paid for a ticket and if I need something while on a flight, it is their job to provide the attention. I am on call 24/7 when I am travelling, I don't switch off my phone etc. If the cabin crew don't like it, do something else. So over the kid glove treatment.

  5. fahrradman Guest

    It's more a matter of getting along and avoiding conflict. Not using the call button in the US in coach has more to do with FA expectations with passengers. Some FAs want the passengers to basically sit down and shut up and leave them alone. Race to the bottom pricing and LCCs do somewhat justify this. If I'm flying in coach in the US and I need something, I get up and walk to the...

    It's more a matter of getting along and avoiding conflict. Not using the call button in the US in coach has more to do with FA expectations with passengers. Some FAs want the passengers to basically sit down and shut up and leave them alone. Race to the bottom pricing and LCCs do somewhat justify this. If I'm flying in coach in the US and I need something, I get up and walk to the galley. Nice to stretch my legs. In eastern Asia, the FAs in coach don't seem to have a problem with use of the call button. Business and first class everywhere, totally fine although one should be courteous when FAs are busy serving meals. Not enough experience in the rest of the world to comment of etiquette of use of the call button in coach.

  6. Bob McGurty @Rickshaw journey Guest

    Back as far as the 1980's, Emirates would hand out a simple 'sticker book' that had stickers that said things like: wake me up for meal, don't wake me up, I'm thirsty, something sweet, something salty, etc. It solved the problem. Customers want something and the flight attendant will get it, in due course. The sticker is placed on the back of the seat and flight attendants look for stickers and serve needs. There is...

    Back as far as the 1980's, Emirates would hand out a simple 'sticker book' that had stickers that said things like: wake me up for meal, don't wake me up, I'm thirsty, something sweet, something salty, etc. It solved the problem. Customers want something and the flight attendant will get it, in due course. The sticker is placed on the back of the seat and flight attendants look for stickers and serve needs. There is a solution to the call button, but we American businesses have lost interest in customer service and we Americans have become self absorbed.We all see both extremes in the American market: The flight attendant who has no interest in anyone's needs or wants and the customer who thinks the world revolves around him or her. Emirates has demonstrated there is a solution but the problem isn't a missing sticker book...

  7. NYGuy24 New Member

    Never heard any announcement that the flight attendant call button is for emergencies only. Those have to be some pretty lazy FAs. I rarely ring the call button in economy, because I don't see as much of a need. They come around with the carts and food and drink service. If I need headphones or have some issue I won't hesitate to ring the call button, but beyond that there are only limited things I...

    Never heard any announcement that the flight attendant call button is for emergencies only. Those have to be some pretty lazy FAs. I rarely ring the call button in economy, because I don't see as much of a need. They come around with the carts and food and drink service. If I need headphones or have some issue I won't hesitate to ring the call button, but beyond that there are only limited things I would need. I'm not somebody who asks for extra drinks in economy. If I see them in the aisles with the carts I'm not going to ring the bell and I'll just wait till they get to me. When flying in F or J I may need a seat converted to a bed, I may be ordering from a menu so they won't be coming around automatically, etc. When in F on SQ I don't press the button. As it is I try to avoid eye contact because they are just waiting for me to ask for something. Every five minutes they are trying to ask me if I want something. It can almost be exhausting. The CX FAs almost sprint to your seat when you ring the bell.

  8. Adam Wood New Member

    Happy anniversary, Lucky!

  9. James W Guest

    A neat feature might be a touchscreen option at various times in the flight. Maybe once per hour, a little menu could pop up on the screen with items to request (a drink refill, a pillow, etc.), and passengers could tap if they want something. This way, cabin crews only have to deliver services once per hour, and only to those people requesting them. The system would only open up like that on a fixed...

    A neat feature might be a touchscreen option at various times in the flight. Maybe once per hour, a little menu could pop up on the screen with items to request (a drink refill, a pillow, etc.), and passengers could tap if they want something. This way, cabin crews only have to deliver services once per hour, and only to those people requesting them. The system would only open up like that on a fixed interval, and could be disabled in a do-not-disturb function.

    But I also like the idea of a walk-up bar in the galley, or a glass-doored fridge that would entice passengers to walk back and get their own bevvies.

    1. K4 Guest

      Why is having to do their job such a bad thing for FAs?

      Are they seriously being paid to not be disturbed?!

  10. Louis Guest

    I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I agree somewhat with the article. First and business class please ring your call button when you need something. In coach I would suggest you not ring your call button constantly. It has happened, that’s when I pull the “flight attendant emergency call button” card. We as cabin crew need to do a walk through the cabin every fifteen minutes. That is the best time to...

    I’m a flight attendant for a major US carrier. I agree somewhat with the article. First and business class please ring your call button when you need something. In coach I would suggest you not ring your call button constantly. It has happened, that’s when I pull the “flight attendant emergency call button” card. We as cabin crew need to do a walk through the cabin every fifteen minutes. That is the best time to ask for something. What is bothersome is when I just did my walk through and get to the galley and a call light goes off. I was just there! Even worse, after I bring back the request, the passengers sitting right next to them asks for something as well. Why could you ask when I was here? . And yes we are safety professionals, but we want to make sure you have a pleasant flight as well. Just don’t abuse that call bell.

    1. K4 Guest

      Do your job.

      You are serving customers.

  11. Sco Guest

    "It’s fair to use if you’re in a middle seat and can’t get out, because the person next to you is sleeping"

    I'm sorry, what? You would ring the call button to ask the flight attendant to wake up the person sitting next to you? Instead of just tapping them yourself?

    1. wpcoe New Member

      I thought what he meant was that you were not as easily able to wander back to the galley to get a snack/beverage, and rather than waking up the person on the aisle, you'd use the call button to ask the F/A for the snack/beverage at your seat.

  12. Weymar Osborne Gold

    A couple of years ago I was flying United from San Francisco to Taipei in economy. I had declined some of the free earbuds they give out at the beginning of the flight because I had my own headphones, but midway in the flight the batteries ran out and I realized I had packed the charging cable in my checked bag rather than my carry on. I pressed the call button to request a set...

    A couple of years ago I was flying United from San Francisco to Taipei in economy. I had declined some of the free earbuds they give out at the beginning of the flight because I had my own headphones, but midway in the flight the batteries ran out and I realized I had packed the charging cable in my checked bag rather than my carry on. I pressed the call button to request a set of earbuds, which I definitely don't think is an unreasonable use. It was smack dab in the middle of the flight when there was no meal service going on and nearly everyone was asleep (although I was sitting in the aisle seat, I guess I could have gone to the galley). I wouldn't say the flight attendant was annoyed per se, more so she seemed confused as to why I would press the call button. She came around to my seat and just said "yes"? I ultimately managed to get my earbuds though.

  13. Jason Guest

    On our last longhaul in J on Cathay (ORD-HKG) the FAs would arrive at your seat so quickly after hitting the call button it was as if they were popping up from trap doors in the aisle. It was amazing.

  14. Ryan Guest

    I think where the “only for emergencies” confusion can come from when the seatbelt sign is on in rough air and the crew is seated. I’ve been on flights where we are going through pretty rough turbulence and people are dinging their call light. I’ve heard the FA’s make a PA asking people to only ring it if it’s an emergency because it’s not safe to be up. Needless to say the idiot in 22C...

    I think where the “only for emergencies” confusion can come from when the seatbelt sign is on in rough air and the crew is seated. I’ve been on flights where we are going through pretty rough turbulence and people are dinging their call light. I’ve heard the FA’s make a PA asking people to only ring it if it’s an emergency because it’s not safe to be up. Needless to say the idiot in 22C rang it again for a drink request, putting the flight attendant in danger. So before this turns into a FA bashing thread, which I suspect is the intention, realize it’s not always so simple as “all FAs are lazy”

    1. Ryan Guest

      First, yeah 22C guy is an idiot. But you’re wrong on the “emergency button” referring to turbulence etc. I’ve heard it as part of preflight announcements, I made sure to use mine extra on that flight.

  15. AlanD Guest

    My favorite experience was on a Mexicana flight about 12 years ago. Somehow my wife cut her finger pretty badly while the plane was still leveling off after takeoff. The FAs had already commenced service so there were two carts preventing me from getting up to ask for some first aid supplies. I pushed the call button and saw an FA serving drinks shake her head at me in disgust. She ignored me so I...

    My favorite experience was on a Mexicana flight about 12 years ago. Somehow my wife cut her finger pretty badly while the plane was still leveling off after takeoff. The FAs had already commenced service so there were two carts preventing me from getting up to ask for some first aid supplies. I pushed the call button and saw an FA serving drinks shake her head at me in disgust. She ignored me so I pressed again. She came and asked what was so important? I pointed to my wife’s profusely bleeding finger and asked for an alcohol wipe and a band aid etc. She said “this is not a real emergency. Stop ringing the call bell and acting like it is.” I responded and said “it’s not a big emergency but it is definitely more important than serving somebody their drink” to which she aggressively snapped “NO IT IS NOT! You should have waited.” A small number of FAs aren’t even there for your safety, they hate their lives and want to make you suffer too. Ringing the call bell brings their rage to life.

  16. Calypsia Guest

    I was a flight attendant from the late 70s to the early 80s and, back then, flight attendants had no problem being called to take an extra drink order. Or heat up a baby bottle. I have since noticed that hardly anyone uses their call buttons, so I do think a lot of people have received the message that the buttons are for emergencies only. But that should not be the case. I agree with...

    I was a flight attendant from the late 70s to the early 80s and, back then, flight attendants had no problem being called to take an extra drink order. Or heat up a baby bottle. I have since noticed that hardly anyone uses their call buttons, so I do think a lot of people have received the message that the buttons are for emergencies only. But that should not be the case. I agree with Ben that one should avoid pushing the button during food or drink service but, otherwise, I think you should go ahead and push the button if you need something. If multiple people are pushing their buttons, response may not be immediate but that’s to be expected.

  17. ugoren New Member

    The "emergency" claim is clearly BS. If you press it, will an FA come running? No way. Cause there's no emergency.

    I see no problem with using the call button, just have the right expectations. FAs may be busy, and will come when they can, and that's ok.

  18. david Guest

    I used the call button on a domestic coast-to-coast flight recently. The F FA was not in the F galley (she was in the rear of the aircraft) and I needed water, so I pushed the call button and she came back quite quickly and cheerfully.

  19. TM Gold

    I used the call button yesterday for the first time in ages. The IFE for my wifes seat wasn't working and needed to be reset. We waited until we reached cruising the altitude and the FA's were getting up to start beverage service for us peasants in economy. The FA came over right away and was able to reset her IFE then proceed with the first round of drinks.

  20. Brewer Guest

    I avoid using the call button if it's practical in domestic F, as it's definitely not the cultural norm to use it here. In fact I can't recall seeing anyone use it other than myself in in the past year. I often doze off and wake up wanting a cup of coffee mid-transcon. If I'm in the aisle, I'll just get up and ask the FA in the galley on my way to the lav....

    I avoid using the call button if it's practical in domestic F, as it's definitely not the cultural norm to use it here. In fact I can't recall seeing anyone use it other than myself in in the past year. I often doze off and wake up wanting a cup of coffee mid-transcon. If I'm in the aisle, I'll just get up and ask the FA in the galley on my way to the lav. If I'm in the window seat, I will just use the call button.

    On international flights in a premium cabin, I have no qualms about using it at all.
    Nonetheless, I think it's mostly pretty rare to see it used by any other passengers even internationally.

  21. Ryan Guest

    Agree On differences between SQ and CX, and especially in CX F it’s like the FAs teleport to you as soon as you press the button but otherwise are unseen. On US airlines, I use it whenever I want unless the FA has been making regular passes through the cabin then I’ll wait a reasonable time but if it’s been a few minutes … ding. The button literally has a picture of a person holding...

    Agree On differences between SQ and CX, and especially in CX F it’s like the FAs teleport to you as soon as you press the button but otherwise are unseen. On US airlines, I use it whenever I want unless the FA has been making regular passes through the cabin then I’ll wait a reasonable time but if it’s been a few minutes … ding. The button literally has a picture of a person holding a tray with a drink, if some last FA who only has a job because their union makes it impossible to fire their lazy azz, well TFB. They can deal with it.

  22. Clayton Guest

    @PSTMI91 They won't, in my own experience ( albeit I'm UK based so US FF's may like to correct me on this), male an announcement about it being for emergencies but I have witnessed them tell pax at seat that that is what it is for. I don't agree with that at all and the logo is the logo that it is for a reason. Whilst yes it's useful in an emergency it's a service...

    @PSTMI91 They won't, in my own experience ( albeit I'm UK based so US FF's may like to correct me on this), male an announcement about it being for emergencies but I have witnessed them tell pax at seat that that is what it is for. I don't agree with that at all and the logo is the logo that it is for a reason. Whilst yes it's useful in an emergency it's a service button imho.

    Worst still I once, politely asked an AA CC about this after she admonised the US traveller for using the button. I asked if that was a thing and how grateful I was to have overheard her telling off said pax as in the rest of the world we use it as a service call button. She then came over to my seat and leant in to tell me that if I needed anything to just use it and that was fine. I decided against calling out the clear and obvious double standards!

    Whilst I agree that yes in J or F there are different service standards I will still use said button, sparingly, irrelevant of class travelled if no CC are around. More over in these times where we're told "don't leave your seat if you don't have to...... .... maintain social distancing from others" then, again imho, the CC should have zero problem with its use.

  23. pstm91 Platinum

    I fly a lot (albeit not nearly as much as you), but I have never heard an announcement on a US flight that the call button is for emergencies. Is this really a common thing? Not doubting it, just curious.

    1. NYGuy24 New Member

      Never heard of such a thing before this article. Then again I tend to avoid US airlines whenever I can so I only have a handful of domestic US flights a year and the rest on international flights on non-American carriers, so I guess its possible but not really sure how common of an occurrence it is.

  24. D3kingg Guest

    Proper call button etiquette is mid flight on a long haul flight when you are seated in first or business class and want to order something to eat or drink. Better than walking up on the FAs behind closed curtains who may have some downtime to themselves.
    Do not use the call button it in economy. Just walk up to the back of the galley.

  25. Jason Guest

    If I'm in First/ business class, regardless of whether it's domestic or international, I have no problem using the call buttons. In fact, I used it this past Friday on my Nantucket - Washington Dulles flight in F when I wanted a second drink. The FA happily responded.

  26. Sam Guest

    "For example, if a cabin has 50+ business class seats and the crew is doing service with a cart and is currently in the aisle, wait until they finish that round of service before pushing the call button again."

    @Lucky - Exception to your example... If you have already been served and are missing something (i.e. silverware), no need to wait.

    As for US-based carriers... DL/UA/AA FAs are completely lazy. Push if you need something and ignore their whinning.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      As for US-based carriers... DL/UA/AA FAs are completely lazy.

      No. People who work are not lazy. You should try it sometime.

    2. Ryan Guest

      Sitting on ass reading a magazine or gossiping in the galley != work. The FAs for US airlines who get upset about call button use are almost always doing one of those activities. The good ones don’t mine when it’s used.

    3. David Guest

      @D3kingg

      They are absolutely lazy. There are plenty of flights where North American FAs are willing and able to answer calls for service, and almost every Asian and ME airline FA are able to answer to requests for service, so the only explanation for the ones who refuse are simply because they're lazy (obvious there are exceptions, such as exceptionally short flights in Y).

  27. Jim Guest

    I tend to fit in the Millennial stereotype of, I absolutely do not want to trouble someone, even if it's literally their job. So, the only time I would ever hit that button is if the PA system said, "If [my name] is on board, please ring your call button."

    One notable exception are those silly flying saucer pods that DL installed on some of their 319/320s, where it seems nobody can figure out which...

    I tend to fit in the Millennial stereotype of, I absolutely do not want to trouble someone, even if it's literally their job. So, the only time I would ever hit that button is if the PA system said, "If [my name] is on board, please ring your call button."

    One notable exception are those silly flying saucer pods that DL installed on some of their 319/320s, where it seems nobody can figure out which button is the light and which is the call. So when cabin lights are dimmed for takeoff, you hear lots of dings...

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wpcoe New Member

I thought what he meant was that you were not as easily able to wander back to the galley to get a snack/beverage, and rather than waking up the person on the aisle, you'd use the call button to ask the F/A for the snack/beverage at your seat.

3
AlanD Guest

My favorite experience was on a Mexicana flight about 12 years ago. Somehow my wife cut her finger pretty badly while the plane was still leveling off after takeoff. The FAs had already commenced service so there were two carts preventing me from getting up to ask for some first aid supplies. I pushed the call button and saw an FA serving drinks shake her head at me in disgust. She ignored me so I pressed again. She came and asked what was so important? I pointed to my wife’s profusely bleeding finger and asked for an alcohol wipe and a band aid etc. She said “this is not a real emergency. Stop ringing the call bell and acting like it is.” I responded and said “it’s not a big emergency but it is definitely more important than serving somebody their drink” to which she aggressively snapped “NO IT IS NOT! You should have waited.” A small number of FAs aren’t even there for your safety, they hate their lives and want to make you suffer too. Ringing the call bell brings their rage to life.

1
Truth Guest

If you push the call button, one thing us certain. All the fight attendants within earshot secretly cringe inside... for some it is not so secret. The flight attendant who finally shows up to see what you want is using every ounce of self control to remain civil. The only difference between your varied experiences is that some flight attendants are better actors than others. Whatever you used to think, now you know the truth.

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