Do Today's Flight Attendants Care?

Kansas City Star: When, exactly, did flight attendants stop caring about us?

I ask for two reasons: First, because of the trailers for the TV show “Pan Am,” which depict svelte young stewardesses serving passengers. Yes, they served passengers back in the day.

And second, because of the preponderance of horror stories that suggest things have gone too far in the other direction — from the “coffee, tea or me” stereotypes of air travel to modern flight attendants who may actually hate us. Well, “hate” might be too strong a word. How about “strongly dislike”?

Consider the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index numbers. Here are the 10 worst-performing companies, according to the survey. The score next to the company is on a scale of 1 to 100.

1. Pepco Holdings (54)
2. Delta Air Lines (56)
3. Time Warner Cable (59)
4. Comcast (59)
5. Charter Communications (59)
6. United Airlines (61)
7. US Airways (62)
8. American Airlines (63)
9. Continental (64)
10. UnitedHealth (65)

That’s five airlines in the top 10. You have to work hard to pull in that kind of performance. But it’s the stories from passengers that make me wonder if the love has turned to hate.

Lea McFall was flying from India to the U.S. on American Airlines when one of her friends started feeling ill. The likely cause was her final meal in Delhi. She had a severe case of food poisoning. “She was sick in the restroom for quite a while, completely ignored by the flight attendants,” she says. “And she was in the back of the plane, in their hangout area.”

When she mentioned that she was concerned her friend might need medical attention, a flight attendant shrugged her off, telling her, “This happens all the time.” Her friend tried to lie down on several empty seats, but a purser shook her awake and told her those seats belonged to the crewmembers.

“I couldn’t believe how rude the flight attendants were about it,” she says. “We felt completely helpless, and they didn’t seem to care at all that she was sick — only cared about having a place to sit for their break.”

Reader Nancy Hicks tells another story of crewmember callousness. She was flying with crutches after a foot operation and notified United Airlines that 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 regional jet by herself on crutches, in the rain.

I get stories like hers on an almost-daily basis, from flight attendants who refuse to help you stow your luggage in the overhead bin because it’s against union rules, to crewmembers just being rude. As you can imagine, flight attendants see this differently. Some passengers demand first-class service for bargain fares.

“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,” flight attendant John Deming 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.”

Flight attendants are under stress because of security threats, bankruptcies and salary cuts. But Deming agrees that there’s never a reason to forget your manners.

I agree. There are reasons for flight attendants to be unhappy, but none to be impolite. I’m especially troubled by a saying that’s used a lot among flight attendants: “We’re here to save your butt — not kiss it.”

If the “service” element had actually been stripped out of the flight attendant’s job description, then why not hire security guards or EMTs to take their place? Wouldn’t they do a far more efficient job of saving or protecting lives? (Also, their uniforms would be cheaper.)

No, I don’t think all flight attendants hate us. But too many of them seem to, according to passengers. That’s no way to fly.


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