Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission which helps contribute to the running of the site – I’m very grateful to anyone who uses these links but their use is entirely optional. The compensation does not impact how and where products appear on this site and does not impact reviews that are published. For more details please see the advertising disclosure found at the bottom of every page
Historically I’ve not been someone who writes in to airlines complaining about their staff very often. I reported an atrocious British Airways gate agent back in February but, other than that occasion, I can’t remember the last time I wrote an email complaining about a flight attendant or another member of airline staff.
That’s going to change.
We (the traveling public) have allowed the airlines and the authorities to put flight attendants in almost unassailable positions of power and we were dumb to let that happen.
We’ve reached a point where we have travelers looking on as an airline allows a passenger to be dragged bloodied off its aircraft, where a passenger is so scared of questioning a flight attendant’s authority that she’s bullied into putting her pet into an overhead bin (where it died) and where everyone knows that flight attendants are never, ever wrong…..even when they are.
We’re scared to question anything a flight attendant says or does and that’s nothing short of crazy.
It all starts with the ridiculous assertion we’re forced to listen to before our flights where a member of the flight crew reminds us that flight attendants are there “primarily for [our] safety”.
Flight attendants are clearly very well trained in all aircraft safety related measures but their primary duty is to serve the passengers on board.
Whether you like it or not a person’s primary role is defined by what they spend most of their time doing and not what someone with a microphone on an aircraft flight deck says it is.
In what other job is someone’s primary responsibility defined by something they deal with for a tiny percentage of their working day?
If a garbage collector spends most of his day collecting garbage and then has to do some paperwork before he goes home is he there “primarily to do paperwork”?
If a secretary spends a small part of his day making coffee for the boss is he suddenly a barista and “primarily in the office to make coffee”?
If an actor ad-libs a few line changes during a scene is he on set “primarily to rewrite the script”?
If a doctor does some filing at the end of her shift is she at the hospital “primarily to do the filing?”
Of course not.
So why do we put up with this nonsense and why is it rammed down our throats?
The problem we have is that it’s not just us (the passengers) who have been listening to the “primarily for your safety” nonsense all these years….the flight attendants have been listening to this too and, unsurprisingly, a significant number of bad ones now appear to believe they’re not in the service industry.
There are a great number of flight attendants who are a credit to themselves and their profession but they also have colleagues who are the exact opposite.
I’ve had some fantastic flight attendants in the past but I’ve had a worrying number of bad ones too….and it’s often the bad ones that stick in the mind.
I’ve had a flight attendant tell me off (vociferously and aggressively) for not having my seat in the upright position when it was – no apology was forthcoming.
I’ve had a flight attendant accuse me (aggressively) of not having my phone in airplane mode when she had absolutely no proof that it wasn’t and, as it happens, it was – no apology was forthcoming.
I’ve had flight attendants roll their eyes at me when I’ve walked to the galley to ask for a bottle of water.
I’ve had numerous flight attendants make up rules and laws to suit their own agendas – you’d be amazed how many times I’m told that it’s illegal to take pictures of the interior of an aircraft when it really, really isn’t.
I’ve had flight attendants who didn’t make eye contact or smile once during an entire 10+ hour flight, flight attendants who were more interested in chatting in the galley than offering any kind of service and flight attendants who were just outright rude.
For a nation that does service so very well the US seems to have a disproportionate number of flight attendants who have absolutely no idea what the word “service” even means.
Don’t misunderstand me.
I’m very aware that there are a lot of flight attendants who know exactly how to interact with passengers and who conduct themselves fantastically well….but there are also a large number who need to be moved on.
Let’s go back to the example of taking pictures on an aircraft.
I take a lot of pictures for the blog and it tends to attract attention.
I understand that taking as many pictures as I do is going to look odd to some people and I have no problem when flight attendants come up to me and check what I’m doing….but the difference in how flight attendants deal with this situation can be incredible.
The ones who aren’t socially inept approach me with a smile and politely ask why I’m taking pictures.
The ones who shouldn’t be anywhere near a customer-facing position approach with a scowl on their face, do a staggeringly good impression of a Spanish Inquisitor and display absolutely no humanity whatsoever.
The former group understand that I’m not self-loading cargo, I’m a human being and a paying customer of the airline. Being polite to me is part of their job description and, funnily enough, when people are polite to me I go out of my way to be incredibly polite back.
The latter group seem to think their tough act and hostile disposition is something their job requires of them and they have absolutely no understanding of how a customer should be treated.
They’re also remarkably stupid….but that’s a different issue.
I’m still polite to this last group (I’m not about to lower myself to their standards) but they sum up everything that’s rotten in the flight attendant pool.
If you’re reading this and thinking that this just happens to me (and so must be down to something I’m doing) just take a look at Flyertalk to see what other frequent flyers are facing on a daily basis.
On my last long-haul flight I watched a flight attendant spill a tray of food into a passenger’s lap and then attempt to blame the passenger for the accident.
On that same flight Joanna was told (not asked) by a flight attendant to put another passenger’s bag in the overhead compartment because neither the attendant nor the passenger were tall enough to reach.
Let me just emphasize that last point again – an American Airlines flight attendant told a paying passenger (in Business Class) to do her job for her.
The flight attendant wasn’t tall enough (or strong enough) to do her job and, leaving aside the obvious rudeness, this leads to two questions:
- Why does this flight attendant have a job she isn’t physically capable of doing?
- If flight attendants are on board “primarily for [our] safety” is this the sort of person who should hold a position like that?
Call me old-fashioned but I’d quite like the people in charge of my safety to be physically capable of doing their job and to not be reliant on passengers to help them out.
There isn’t a single overriding reason why the bad flight attendants get away with this kind of behavior but there are three things that play a key role:
- There’s no meritocracy on a lot of airlines – if you’ve been there long enough you’ll get the good routes/schedules regardless of how terrible you are at your job.
- It can be remarkably hard to fire a flight attendant thanks to employment laws and deals airlines have made with unions.
- Passengers don’t want to speak up because they know they risk being kicked off their flight if they’re seen questioning a flight attendant.
There’s not much we can do about points 1 and 2 but there is something that can be done about point 3.
Aircraft are a haven for bad flight attendants because it’s the one place where the customer is very rarely allowed to be right.
On an aircraft you’re guilty if a flight attendant says you’re guilty and you have no right of appeal before you’re kicked off – if a flight attendant wants you off the aircraft you’re going whether you like it or not.
How is that right?
Sacking the incompetent, moody and rude flight attendants is a lot easier said than done….but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything.
Airlines and authorities alike need to take a long hard look at just how much power they place in the hands of the cabin crew and they need to learn that flight attendants are not infallible.
Flight attendants make mistakes and they make mistakes as often as you and I so treating their word like it’s something special needs to stop.
As soon as flight attendants get treated like humans and not infallible deities passengers will find it easier to speak up…and when passengers speak up airlines will have to listen.
For my part I’m going to start speaking up right away (sort of).
I’m not dumb enough to argue with a flight attendant on an aircraft but I will start reporting them.
Every time I come across a rude, hostile, incompetent or lazy flight attendant I’m going to try to get their name (unsurprisingly a lot of bad attendants hide their badges and that’s always a good warning sign) and I’m going to report them to their airline….and I’d encourage you all to do the same.
Don’t let them get away with it.
We may not be able to take them on when we’re onboard but we sure as heck can take them on once we’ve disembarked.
It will always be the same group of flight attendants that get reported (the good ones are considered good for a reason) so, if we all keep reporting the bad ones when they deserve it, at least some of our comments will go on their records and, at some point, their files will get full enough that their behaviour is finally considered indefensible.
Seeing the bad flight attendants get rooted out won’t only be a win for passengers but it will be a win for the good flight attendants too.
There are undoubtedly a lot of bad flight attendants preventing the good ones from progressing so getting rid of the detritus should see the competent rise to the top…..as they should.
I have absolutely no idea if this will work but I’m done standing by and accepting my fate once I’ve boarded an aircraft. It’s time to fight back.