Maybe I should take more road trips.
After last week’s column on flight attendants who hate their passengers, I’m pretty sure a “wanted” poster of me is displayed in every crewmember break room and galley.
I heard from passengers who shared their own horror stories of abusive crewmembers. I heard from airline employees who confirmed the sorry state of airline service and tried to help me understand it. And I heard from a small group of apoplectic flight attendants who thought the best way to counter the well-documented problems was to kill the messenger.
Let’s start with the passengers. Reader Pat Vinroot agrees that many crewmembers dislike the people they are supposed to serve and shouldn’t be working on a plane.
“Some of the flight attendants I have flown with on US airlines are wider than the aisles and have to turn sideways to walk through them,” she told me. “Many feel that with the pay cuts that airlines have had that they are underpaid and shouldn’t have to do much. Many are rude because there are no consequences and they won’t to be bothered to answer a question or assist passengers. Sometimes attendants in business do less than the ones in economy because they are more senior and sometimes a little lazier. In the past few years when I have gone to the back of the plane for something I have often found attendants playing games and just sitting there talking.”
Vinroot wonders why they can’t be more like the flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, who are “young, thin, polite, attentive, accommodating,” she says. “You name it, they are.”
Flight attendant John Deming, who sent me an exceptionally polite rebuttal, acknowledged a “real disconnect” between passengers’ expectations and today’s reality of airline travel.
“Somehow, people still compare us today with how things were in the 50s and 60s and then are upset when those expectations aren’t met,” he says. “These programs, such as the upcoming Pan Am TV series and movies like Catch Me If You Can and View From the Top portray a level of glamour in the industry that simply hasn’t existed for decades.”
Deming told me the average flight attendant loves his or her job and is happy to be helpful to every person they greet, “within reason.”
“When you combine the airlines’ need to cut costs and raise prices on everything with the expectation that since they paid for it, the public is entitled to whatever they perceive as paid for, it’s bound to end up a recipe for disaster,” he says. “And at 30,000 feet, there is very little a flight attendant can do to fix some of these issues other than apologize and be creative in trying to quell an upset passenger.”
One other thing: Flight attendants are under a great deal of stress because of increased security threats, continually changing federal regulations, bankruptcies, furloughs, salary cuts, and loss of pensions and benefits. But Deming agrees that there’s never a reason to forget your manners.