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A Flight Attendant Breaks Down Everything Wrong With ‘The Flight Attendant’

Kaley Cuoco plays a messy flight attendant in HBO Max’s new show. Real-life flight attendants say her portrayal isn’t entirely off

The Flight Attendant, an adaption of Chris Bohjalian novel of the same name, is HBO Max’s foray into a growing TV genre: unraveling white women mixed up in murder. 

Our anti-heroine is Cassie (Kaley Cuoco), a commercial flight attendant who drinks more alcohol than she serves. On a layover in Bangkok, Cassie wakes up to find Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), her first-class passenger turned hookup, dead in bed next to her. The story moves quickly: Cassie returns home to New York and enters her Nancy Drew era. She tries piecing together Sokolov’s death all while maintaining her job.

It’s the show The Undoing wishes it were: an engrossing, (mostly) plausible thriller about a messy New Yorker who has bad coping mechanisms, a love for well-dressed fuckboys (played by hot Europeans) and great winter coats.

The Flight Attendant is HBO Max’s first breakout hit series and proof that Cuoco has more to offer as an actress than just witty one-liners on an overpraised sitcom (Sorry, Big Bang Theory fans). What The Flight Attendant isn’t, however, is a good representation of actual flight attendants. Just in the first episode, Cassie shows up at her gate after boarding begins, mixes up passengers’ drink orders and joins the Mile High Club minutes after meeting Sokolov. 

To me, it’s a shock Cassie hasn’t been fired — so I asked some pros to fact-check the plot.

It’s unlikely that a flight attendant would risk their job to hook up with a passenger, even if they’re a former Game of Thrones hunk. Unprofessional, yes, but it’s also unhygienic. “Honestly, we’re all so grossed out by the planes,” says Amber, a pseudonym for a female flight attendant for a major U.S. carrier. “It’s disgusting. So many people walk [into the bathroom] without shoes on.” 

However, passenger hookups aren’t total blasphemy. Unlike Cassie, though, Amber likes to deplane before getting to know someone. “It happens. They slip you their business card, and you, you know, hang out on a layover,” she admits. 

Cassie is joined on her flights by three flight attendants and friends of circumstance: Shane (Griffin Matthews, loyal but over Cassie’s mess); Jada (Yasha Jackson, direct and composed); and Megan (Rosie Perez, on edge and earnest). What’s unrealistic here? They’re simply too young for the job. 

“[On] international flights, all the flight attendants are really old and so are the pilots,” Amber says. “Pilots are never that young and, like, hot.” That’s because most major airlines run cabin positions by seniority. The more tenured you are, the more likely you can call dibs on intentional flights.

However, Cassie is pulling from real-life when she takes vodka shooters to her hotel room on layovers. “We usually always take liquor,” Amber says. Most major carriers don’t actually keep a tight inventory on liquor. It’s an unspoken perk. Certainly not company policy, they say.

Drinking after work hours is one thing. It’s unlikely a flight attendant could get drunk while serving buckled passengers tomato juice and wafer cookies. Remember the 2012 movie Flight starring Denzel Washington as a pilot investigated for flying drunk? Like his character in the film, pilots and flight attendants are prohibited from drinking on the job. “Consuming alcohol on the plane at work (as Cassie does) is absolutely unacceptable,” a second flight attendant tells me. The FAA has a strict eight-hour sober period prior to manning or working a plan, known as “bottle to throttle.”

So Cassie is no premier employee, but did she at least get her uniform — a three-toned blue wrap dress — correct? Only if you work for JetBlue. “I thought it was kind of lame, but it was whatever,” Amber says. Like many aspects of Cassie’s life — a stable relationship with her brother and her drinking habits — her outfit is in need of fine-tuning. “Where’s the scarf? Like, come on, that’s iconic.”

So what’s the final review from flight attendants about their big HBO Max portrayal? “They’re making us look like drunks and a narc basically,” Amber says. But that doesn’t mean they’re flying along with the show.  “All my flight attendant friends were like, ‘We have to watch The Flight Attendant.’ I’m just loving it. It’s hilarious.”

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