Brace Yourself: In Defense of “Hysterical” Flight Attendants

An AirAsia plane “plummeted” from the sky, and in every news report I read, passengers complained that flight attendants panicked.

I’ve been a flight attendant for over 20 years. I have a hard time believing the crew panicked. They may have looked shocked, but panicked? Define panicked.

One passenger told Seven News network television: “Hostesses started screaming: ‘Emergency, emergency.’ They just went hysterical.”


Hysteria comes from the Greek root hystera, meaning uterus. Originally, it was believed that hysteria and hysterical symptoms were caused by a defect in the womb, and thus, only women could become hysterical.

It’s insulting to hear passengers use the word “hysterical” to describe what happened during an emergency situation when all I can gather is that the crew simply shouted their commands. That word gets thrown around way too easily when women are involved. In this situation, the women were shouting, instead of what, smiling and looking pretty? Flight attendants are still a female-dominated industry. If the crew had been all-male, do you think anyone would have complained about them being hysterical?

I bet if the crew had been less “hysterical,” and didn’t assert themselves with their commands, and passengers were injured, we’d hear about that, too. We’d hear how the flight attendants didn’t take control of the situation. Damned if we do; damned if we don’t.

In a video that surfaced, you can hear the crew shouting commands. You can hear the word, “brace!” The crew doesn’t sound panicked. They don’t sound hysterical. They sound exactly the way they should.

In several news accounts, a passenger is quoted stating that a “stewardess” ran down the aisle. The passenger wondered why she was running. The passenger said the oxygen masks were released, and everybody started panicking. Nobody told them what was going on.

I’m going to guess the flight attendant wanted to get to her jump seat quickly to strap in before it was too late. Most flight attendants will brief passengers about what’s going on if they have time. A planned emergency is when there’s time to explain exactly what’s happening, and demonstrate how to brace. Instead they only had time to yell BRACE.

Instead of bracing, a passenger sent a text message to her family. Another passenger decided to film the event. You can see in the video that passenger only has the oxygen mask over his mouth, not his nose and mouth, like the safety video advises. A different passenger said she didn’t put on her mask because oxygen wasn’t coming through. I wondered if she missed the safety video too, that part about oxygen flowing even though the bag does not inflate. Some passengers said they didn’t know what brace (for impact) meant. It’s illustrated on the safety briefing card located in the seat pocket in front of you. Maybe the passenger who complained about not knowing what his brace position was should try looking at that?

In a news video, a passenger complained that the flight attendants made a scary situation worse by yelling. What were they yelling? Emergency commands. As in, brace for impact. In other words, put your damn cell phone down in preparation to hit the ground.

It’s our job to instruct passengers to BRACE. It’s our job to get their attention so they know what to do to stay safe. The reason we yell is so everyone can hear us. This isn’t the first time passengers have complained about the way flight attendants sound shouting commands. In the video above, you can hear a flight attendant yelling “Brace!” during an emergency landing. Afterwards a passenger said her instructions were nerve-wracking.

“If the last voice I heard on Earth was that one, I’d be one very grumpy dead guy,” stated another.

Others suggested something more calming.

“Calming,” my 11-year-old son laughed when he watched the video, “Are they seriously complaining about the flight attendants when the plane is going down, instead of the broken plane?”

Yes, they are.

“How about we start TWEETING our commands!! Would that be less hysterical or bitchy?” A flight attendant wrote when I shared the story on Facebook

Another flight attendant added, “New commands will be ‘please brace, if it is convenient.’”

“What are we suppose to do? Lightly rub their shoulders and in a Marilyn Monroe voice say ‘Brace’?” asked a flight attendant.

Maybe we can sing our commands. That should make people happy. As you know, safety is fun, like our safety videos, which is why, I presume, you aren’t shown how to brace during the safety demo on every flight.

Here’s something most people don’t know. On every flight, right before takeoff, flight attendants are required to do a 30-second review. What this means is we take 30 seconds to go over evacuation procedures in our heads. That way, if something does go wrong, we’re ready to go. We don’t have to think about anything. We jump up and go into action. On a plane, every second counts.

A 30-second review involves going over evacuation commands, the very same commands the flight attendants in the movie “Sully” yelled out after Tom Hanks instructed the crew to brace for impact. When I heard the actors in the film yell, “Brace!” followed by, “Heads down, stay down!” my chest tightened. I held my breath. I couldn’t breathe. It felt real.

Thankfully I’ve never had to shout BRACE in a real emergency situation, but I have done it at flight attendant training for the last 20 years.

Flight attendants go to recurrent training to review evacuation and medical procedures. We also go over whatever incidents have happened during the year. This way we’re prepared for anything and everything. Like, say, birds flying into the engine forcing a plane to make a water landing. Maybe this year we’ll work on our annoying voices and figure out ways to make people calm as we’re dropping 20 thousand feet. I don’t know if there’s any sort of training to help us not look shocked, when something happens out of nowhere.

The thing about emergency situations is they happen when you least expect them. Maybe that’s why a flight attendant shouting freaks so many passengers out. It’s scary because, well, it’s a scary situation. Then when you’re safe and sound on the ground, instead of being thankful, you review the video you shouldn’t have been filming and criticize the crew for doing exactly what they were trained to do.


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