Do Flight Attendants hate their passengers?

August 10, 2011 3 Comments A+ a-

I usually stay out of this kind of fray, but an opinion posted last week by one of my favorite travel columnists, Christopher Elliott, really hit a nerve with me.

In his column, Mr. Elliott questioned whether or not Flight Attendants hate their passengers. Here's one of the examples he cited:

"Reader Nancy Hicks tells another story of crewmember callousness. She was flying with crutches after a recent foot operation, and notified United Airlines she’d need a wheelchair at the airport. Instead, she was greeted by a “surly” skycap who waved her into the terminal without trying to help.
“That’s where the wheelchair people all wait,” he yelled. “Everyone knows that.”
She eventually had to board the small regional jet by herself in crutches, in the pouring rain.
“Not a single person from the airline even attempted to help me or find another way to get me onto the plane,” she says. (She is, of course, referring to the flight attendants who she assumed would lend her a hand, but didn’t.)"
Trust me, there are plenty of examples of bad Flight Attendants out there--I know, I work with some of them.  But, Mr. Elliott disappointed me with that example, one that doesn't even involve a Flight Attendant!  Even at the point where the passenger was boarding the "small regional jet by herself in crutches, in the pouring rain" a Flight Attendant could not help!  We can't leave the aircraft if passengers are onboard-we are required to maintain FAA minimums for staffing.  And, exactly what is it she would have liked us to do? Carry her? Work the crutches for her?  I'm not quite sure what she would have had us do for her. Why didn't the "surly Skycap" take her to the aircraft?  Should the Flight Attendant have called for an aisle chair? (An aisle chair is one of those wheelchairs where the passenger is strapped in across the chest and legs and carried onto the plane-usually reserved for those with severe handicaps.)  Where is the Flight Attendant's culpability in this example?  
Helping a passenger with luggage?  What do you want me to do?  People come onboard and throw a small briefcase, coat or tote bag into the overhead compartment-instead of under the seat in front of them-or their suitcase in so that it takes up the most room (sideways versus wheels first) without consideration for the other people who will be boarding behind them.  For years, I turned bags, moved them, re-situated them so we could get more bags onboard.  All I ever got was dirty looks when I touched their bag, or asked that it be put it under the seat;  and rotator cuff injuries.  The shoulder issues I have aren't covered by my airlines' Workman's Comp insurance.  So, what do I do about their bags?  Not much anymore.  I do hunt for a space for your bag, but, I won't carry them or put them in the overhead bin--an injury just isn't worth it to me.  (Exceptions to that include when someone comes down in a wheelchair; a elderly person who needs help, or an unaccompanied minor.) 
And, service?  What service does a passenger want?  I don't have a roast to carve or a Caesar salad to make table side anymore.  Domestically, all I have to offer is a soda and Buy-Onboard (BOB) food.  I usually say "Would you like something to drink?" as I place a serviette (napkin) on the tray table.  Then, I pick out the soda can, and along with a cup of ice, place it on the table.  Just exactly what else would you  like me to do?  I thought I was thinking of you when I gave you the whole can of soda.  It would take way too long to pour soda in the cup for all 132 of my passengers.  So, I think I am being of service to my passenger by getting to your row faster and giving you the whole soda.  Based on Mr. Elliott's column, I guess I'm not...
In his subsequent column today,  Mr. Elliott quotes one of his readers, Pat Vinroot:
"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...” 
Tell me what that has to do with anything, Reader Pat Vinroot?  So, lets get skinny Flight Attendants because...why?  Skinny people give better service?  Wide Flight Attendants can't help you in an evacuation or serve your soda?  I just don't get the correlation.  (Heck, I wish all my passengers were slim, beautiful and dressed well--if you're taking orders, Reader Vinroot, you get off the aircraft and give me a plane full of George Clooneys, please!) 
Vinroot continues:
"...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."
Exactly what would you like us to do after a beverage service and several trash pick-ups? We go through the cabin every 30 minutes or so and offer water, and on morning flights, coffee.  So, tell me, please, what else can I do for you?  Shall I just stand in the aisle in case anyone wants to chat?  Should I be scrubbing the lavatory?   Please, tell me what would you have me doing instead of being in the galley, where my jumpseat is?
This vocal minority's expectations versus reality are two very different things.  They seemingly expect a five-course meal with white glove service, in a big ol' comfy recliner of a seat but aren't willing to pay for it.  They expect young, thin stewardesses, and convict those of us who aren't.  They expect sugar and sweetness, but refuse to say please or thank-you.  
There are many Flight Attendants that need to get out of this business, but the Mr. Elliott's column paints us with a broad, unfair brush, handed to him by a minority, who appear to be blaming the wrong people.


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August 11, 2011 at 7:02 AM delete

Yeah, more George Clooneys!

August 11, 2011 at 10:13 AM delete

I agree that some of the comments were over the top, that some of what Chris complained about FAs can't do, and that not all flight attendants are surly. But, as a FA, you can't possibly see from the PAX point of view. As a VFF, I can tell you that the courtesy and service attitude I am afforded in premium class is WAY better than I get when I fly coach. Everyone should be treated with the same level of courtesy, regardless of class of service. I know that many flyers today are hard to deal with. AT the same time, FAs are not just there for safety, no matter how much we're told that. They're there to provide service and I know because the pilot tells me so on every flight. I remember flying AA almost exclusively for a couple yrs and then flew UA for one flight and was ASTOUNDED at how nice the FAs were, the contrast was so stark. As a PAX I am tired of reading FAs complain about pay, hours, conditions etc. All of this is known well in advance of signing on. Who on earth would pick a job like this if it didn't have benefits they liked? I don't think FAs should take crap from people, be young, thin & pretty or any of that but I do think that customer service has gone down the drain in recent years and far too many FAs are sullenly going about their duties. But like I said, as a FA you do not sit in my PAX seat.