Okay folks, the seatbelt sign is on and it's time to sit down and listen up! You’re getting this li’l lecture (of sorts) here because you don't listen to the flight attendants on the plane, so I'm taking over your computer screen (that's right, please leave your electronics on) and telling it like it is!
It seems as though every week we’re hearing a new report of an airline crew member reaching their breaking point. One could say that Steven Slater started the trend with a “bang” in 2010 by blowing the emergency slide and sliding down with two cans of beer while parked at New York’s JFK after a flight from Pittsburgh, but what is causing these crew members to snap?
Well, okay, maybe not you but maybe the person next to you! You know, the one you're supposed to assist after securing your oxygen mask first. Yeah, them.
It’s no secret that air travel isn’t what it used to be. When you book your ticket in coach you’re paying for extras like checked bags, carry-on bags, priority boarding, assigned seats and, at some airlines, you’re even paying to talk to a live person at the airport (I’m not kidding!). Then, once you get on board you’re hit with some more fees. Pillows, blankets and a Coke: items that used to be free on most airlines now range from $2 to $13. Hungry? There’s a fee for that. Want to watch the inflight movie? There’s a fee for that. Need a pair of headphones? You guessed it, you’re paying for that, too. Now, as a passenger it’s no surprise that you're at a breaking point, so where do you vent your energy?
That’s easy. At me...I mean us—your flight attendants.
We’re there, we’re accessible and we’re paid to be nice to you. I know, I know, even as I type that sentence I cringe at your comments. “Paid to be nice? Paid to be nice? When was the last time a flight attendant was nice!?” Well, guess what? The nice ones are out there. We’re flying around, and just like the lotto you're not picking the right [flight] numbers! There are a lot of us who do love our jobs and do it to the best of our ability. But, sadly, like in any front-line customer-facing position, a few bad employees create a bad name for everyone.
Now this isn’t to say that all of those “mean” flight attendants are out of line (didn’t see that coming, did you?). Generally speaking the flight crew is usually nice and cordial as they begin handling any situation (and they shouldn't hold you responsible for someone else's complaints or persistent questions by treating you with a bad attitude to start) but when a passenger chooses to not listen to their requests or doesn't like the answers to their questions, that’s when things can touchy (by the way, never touch a flight attendant unless you're in their hotel room after a flight). Do you have any idea what we go through on any given flight?
Watch this clip from the movie “The Space Between:”
There's so much happening here! Let’s dissect.
“How about you do us a favor and shut these kids up?” Contrary to popular belief, we’re not babysitters! Shocking, right? And guess what? We're stuck with the screaming kid, too! The shrieks really interrupt our concentration when we're trying to catch up with the latest celebrity gossip magazines. What exactly would you like the flight attendant to do in this situation? Walk over to the parent and ask if they can stop their kid from crying? Depending on the type of people the parents are their response can range anywhere from “we’re trying” to “mind your own business.” But, just like in the video, not talking to the parent about their crying baby is usually perceived by the other passengers as “bad customer service” because we're not trying to quiet the “cabin disruption.” Short of kidnapping the kid and trying to rock it to sleep ourselves, there’s nothing we can do but offer you and everyone else around the crying child “a stiff drink.”
Just like in real life, the passenger in the clip continues to complain after the offer of drink: “People are paying good money for crap seats, over-priced drinks and terrible customer service.” Here's an insider’s tip: our official title is “flight attendant” not “CEO!” The flight attendant has no control over the quality of the seat you’re in or the price of the onboard products for sale. But what they do have control over, in that moment only, is the customer service their providing to you. Prior to his statement the crew member in the clip used the tools provided to her by the airline, offering a drink (which is very common in the airline business), to aid in working through this passengers bad experience. But, like many passengers, he pressed on, unsatisfied, causing the flight attendant to eventually snap and tell the passenger what was on her mind.
Uh, excuse me, the seatbelt sign is still on, so please sit down. Thanks.
Granted, as a flight attendant and frontline employee, it’s expected that from time to time people will vent their frustrations about your company and situations with you (and then we go to the back or to the lounge and vent about you to our fellow employees). This being said, how much can one person take when they’re locked in a metal tube with about a hundred unhappy people before they need to vent their frustrations?
Take Jose Serrano for example. Jose was the flight attendant on board American Eagle flight 4607 from New York to Raleigh Durham. The flight was delayed a total of four and a half hours due to weather and roughly half of that delay was spent on the tarmac waiting for takeoff clearance— something he has no control over. Over the course of the delay, he had handled so many complaints, concerns, and passengers who refused to accept that he couldn’t remedy the situation (he's a flight attendant, not God!) that he gave up stating: “I don’t care anymore” on the aircraft’s public address system. The plane returned to the gate and was met by police who removed Serrano and select passengers who were causing a disruption for questioning. No one was arrested. And, in a shocking move, American Airlines released an email they had received from one of the first class passengers on board defending Serrano’s actions stating: "[Serrano dealt with] the most horrible display of passenger aggressiveness.”
So what can you take away from this? The flight attendants can only control so much of what happens during the course of your trip and, don’t forget, they’re people, too. They have no voice in how much your airline ticket costs, how the Transportation Security Administration chooses to operate their security checkpoints, what amenities are offered for free or for a fee (and how much that fee will be) and they also don’t have a say in how long your flight will be delayed because of weather or mechanical issues. All they can do is try to ensure that you’re as safe, comfortable and happy as possible with the tools given to them by the airline. Keep in mind that your seat cushion may be used for flotation and this public service post isn't meant to excuse a flight attendants lack of customer service skills, quite the contrary. I believe everyone on board deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, but should also treat others as they would like to be treated.
::DING:: You're now free to move about your living room.
Read more of Bobby’s observations from high above here at Instinct's Travel Desk and check out his own fabulous and funny blog about his traveling misadventures at upupandagay.com