Question 11643: "How can I properly ask a flight attendant what's going on if I know my plane has a problem?" has been voted as "off-topic" by 7 total people now, while has been voted "on topic" by 5. I'm one of the 5 that believes it to be on-topic, but was wondering why it is off topic? The way I am reading the question is:

How should I ask the flight attendant about a possible issue without causing distress to other passengers? (or words to that effect).

This seems pretty IPS-related to me, as it's covering talking to a member of staff at a certain time, place and perhaps under certain conditions too.

So is this questions completely off topic, or does it require some editing to be on topic? and if it still off topic, should we perhaps change our guidelines to make it on topic?

Given on how split we appear to be on this particular question I think it's important we discuss what makes it off-topic and if possible how to salvage it.

  • 7
    Beats me. Seemed like an interesting on-topic question to me.
    – NVZ
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 18:13
  • 1
  • I'll let the community discuss this before chiming in on my opinion.
    – gparyani
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:16
  • Also worth mentioning that the question was reviewed as "Leave Open" in the Close Votes Review queue before being closed the first time.
    – gparyani
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:36
  • Since the Q was closed again with a binding vote by a moderator (which is very rare here) we can take that as a guidance that it's indeed off topic and it's probably not appropriate to try to reopen, if only because it could get closed again and so on. Meanwhile your answer is comprehensive, welcome back @ Crafter, and as for OP, on the positive side I suppose it's useful you got 5 answers some of which probably helped you @gparyani! Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:40
  • @EnglishStudent Doesn't mean that. I once had a question on a different site reopened by the community after being closed by a mod.
    – gparyani
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:41
  • Here it was not closed but re-closed by a mod and that's very rare. If we vote to reopen there are so many close voters here (not including myself) that it will just get closed again even if a moderator doesn't close it @gparyani. Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 20:42
  • 3
    I wonder why moderator John closed it like that, even though a lot of users voted to keep it open.
    – NVZ
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 2:10
  • 2
    @NVZ Well, it was only a low-rep user, no big loss
    – user4548
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:31
  • 5
    @RichardU Regardless of the rep of a user it still sets a precedent for the site on what is and what is not on topic :P Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:32
  • 2
    @Crafter0800 agreed. Well, it looks like I'm need to flag my sarcasm as such, as that's what I meant. Ah well.
    – user4548
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:56
  • 1
    @RichardU Not a low-rep user. I'm quite familiar with SE in general. In fact, I'd recommend reading this.
    – gparyani
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 22:42
  • @gparyani low-rep here. We get a LOT of people from other sites thinking they know how this one is supposed to work, but sadly, this one is very different for being subjective, unlike stackoverflow or aviation.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 7:52
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    I have a statement prepared, but am holding off on posting it until the moderator who closed it responds.
    – gparyani
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 17:47
  • 2
    @gparyani If you have something to say, just say it. Who knows if your mod will say anything...
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 23:40

1 Answer 1


I was one of the individuals who voted to close this question. And here is why.

There is a category of professional that should not be unnecessarily distracted when they are performing their primary function of ensuring the safety of others. So, any IPS question that asks how to do this can be and should be off topic. That is because the answer is always “Do not do that”.

The “over the top” examples here are obvious, but they bring my point home.

  • Don’t ask a police officer for directions when they are responding to a robbery in progress.
  • Don’t ask a fireman to retrieve your cat from a tree when they are evacuating people from a burning building.

You might ask what this has to do with a flight attendant during a flight. Well, a quick Google search confirmed what I thought. From Wikipedia for Flight Attendant: “… members of an aircrew employed by airlines primarily to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers…”.

So, one of the primary jobs of a flight attendant is safety. During this particular flight, there was an emergency signal to draw the attention of the flight attendants. This is NOT the time to start asking them questions about what is going on. One should let them do their job (which is safety).

Let’s just say that the issue got resolved after ten minutes. After all, one could reasonably conclude that a great many conditions could result in a single alarm signal. For instance, let’s say that one of four engines cut off, but was then safely restarted. Is it best for the comfort of the passengers (second duty listed) to make them tense by informing everyone when it was a non-issue (the aircraft never stopped being flight worthy)? I would say no, especially since there are "nervous flyers" that may well panic (goes against safety).

One might ask why there was a long delay in informing the passengers that the flight was returning to its departure airport. Yes, one reason could be laziness. But a more likely scenario is that the flight crew was working diligently through a safety checklist that would then indicate whether to (1) resolve the problem and continue the flight, (2) safely and comfortably return to the departure airport for all to be rebooked, or (3) divert somewhere else. So, the best answer the flight attendant could give was what they said (which can be translated to “We’re working on it”).

This all leads back to not distracting the flight attendants when they are performing their primary task: safety.

  • 8
    So, just to be clear here, questions where the answer is "no, don't do this" are considered off-topic for the site? Isn't that basing a close reason on the answer, not the question itself? Also, I made it clear in the question that the flight attendants weren't doing any emergency work.
    – gparyani
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 7:57
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    @gparyani I am suggesting that this type of question be considered unsuitable because of an idea: Do not distract a professional whose task at hand is the safety of others. You made clear that the flight attendant appeared to not be in this mode, but what is also clear is that, as a passenger, you had no way of knowing this as fact.
    – John Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 13:26
  • 2
    Actually, I did have way of knowing this as fact. The flight attendant I asked was in the middle of the passenger cabin, conversing with another passenger. They were not preparing any emergency equipment or following any checklist.
    – gparyani
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 13:52
  • Also, as an autistic person, I wasn't aware that I shouldn't distract people whose responsibility is the safety of other people. This therefore was part of the answer, and I couldn't understand that the question would be considered off-topic if the answer was that "you shouldn't do this, it's distracting a person who's responsible for your safety".
    – gparyani
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 13:58
  • 1
    I don't really understand the perspective this answer is coming from. You yourself said the job of the flight attendants is to make sure passengers are safe and comfortable. OP has already made it quite clear this situation made him very uncomfortable. He also described the attendants as doing "normal" duties, and describes interactions with other passengers. I think immediately going to "you should not do this" is a leap. That's not to say I think it's a good IPS fit, I just disagree with the premise of this answer.
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 16:58
  • For the above two comments, I see your points, and I still see mine. What is the flight attendant to do other than essentially say "We are working on it". Anything else would interfere with their official duties.
    – John Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:41
  • @John I agree that the flight attendant would probably respond like that; but it doesn't mean OP can't/shouldn't ask. I just think we aren't well suited to deal with the question, because it is likely more an airline policy issue than an IPS one. Flight attendants not being able to provide additional information isn't the same as you not being allowed to ask them for that information. I don't think it's unreasonable for a passenger to ask a attendant what is going on if they notice something (and the attendant is able to take questions); it's just also reasonable to be told "it's all okay".
    – JMac
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 19:11
  • 3
    I'm very new here, but it seems to me at first glance that this site has formed a policy about how to answer questions where the answer is 'don't do that' - as suggested here.
    – user16064
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 23:18
  • Given that the question has now formed an element as to "when" such a question can be asked - would it now be appropriate to re-open, as a valid part of any answer would be "not right at the moment, but you could ask when..."? Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 20:05

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