Bing! Bing! Bing! Did you know that there’s a different etiquette among the many regions of the world about the airline call bell —and about when you should press it, when you shouldn’t, and how pleased (or otherwise) the cabin crew will be when they arrive?
If you know any flight attendants, or follow cabin crew on social media for the occasional “oh I’m on the beach in Mauritius this week” glimpses into the jet set lifestyle, you may well have heard some griping about how often, and for what reasons, passengers use the call bell.
In Europe and North America in particular, there’s an expectation that the bing bong button is really only to be used in the case of emergency or other serious need. If you’re ill, or a fellow passenger is, then absolutely use the bell. Same goes if you see something that you think the crew should know about immediately: if an overhead bin has popped open while taxiing, say. If it’s in the middle of the night, and you really need some water and the passengers between you and the aisle are asleep so it would be rude to disturb them, then that’s usually all right too.
Maybe hang on if you can during the meal service, or when the crew are busy tidying up the cabin or passing regularly through. It can interrupt the rhythm of their jobs to be popping along to see what you need. If you’re in an aisle seat, consider stretching your legs and getting your own glass of water from the galley or, as you’ll find on an increasing number of airlines, the self-service section.Passengers in business and first class are usually promised a little bit more service by airlines, so feel free to ring if you need something, but again, if the crew is clearly busy then try to catch their eye when they’re already passing if you can.
A good bit of miming, hand signals and mouthing are also appreciated if you catch their eye: a T with your hands while pretending to say the word “tea” in an exaggerated sort of way if you’d like tea, C for coffee, or a drinking motion while mouthing “water” for some good old H₂O. A mouthed “thank you”, a smile, and perhaps some thank you hands are always welcome. A top tip: see that little light that goes on over your head when you press the call bell? If you press it again it deactivates the call, which is useful to know if you’ve leaned on the button by mistake. (And don’t feel bad: some seats have the button in the stupidest places, so it happens a lot.)
Elsewhere in the world, carriers in east and southeast Asia in particular tend to welcome passengers to ring the bell, as their service models usually specify less of a pattern of walking through the cabin to see if anyone needs anything, instead expecting that people will press the call button. Again, try to be considerate: if they’re clearly very busy, and you can wait, then do. Otherwise, ring away, but don’t be a muppet. And if you do get a sigh or rolled eyes from a flight attendant if you hit the bell, remember that you may not be the first to ring it, and that the previous ones may have been a bit spurious. Being a flight attendant can be a hard job, so try cutting the crew a little slack.
John Walton is an international aviation journalist, follow him @thatjohn.