Multiple theories abound about why stewardesses have replaced nuns in Catholic schools from the 1970’s as the forbidding people standing over you when you just want to go to the bathroom. The general attitude of the flying staff has gotten markedly and consistently harsher over the past decade, seemingly in direct relationship to their jobs becoming more militant. We’ve heard about the pay cuts, the longer hours, the shorter turnarounds for pilots and crew members. Which is enough to ruin morale for any employee.
Take Steven Slater, JetBlue steward who last year went on a cursing tirade over the loudspeaker and disembarked before the passengers by inflating the emergency slide and storming out of his twenty year career, on his backside, with a couple of beers from the flight deck in hand. Slater immediately came to my mind when I read about last week’s JetBlue pilot who had to be restrained by his own first officer and bolted outside the cockpit door after he began screaming about a bomb on the plane he was flying. Flight attendants and passengers had to hold him down while a passenger who happened to be a pilot made an emergency landing in Texas.
These incidents could make you wonder if JetBlue keeps their prices so low by hiring the airline workers who were rejected for employment by other airlines for feeling blue themselves. But I’ve had the opportunity to take more than ten flights in the last year on most American carriers and can say that no one working on any plane seems particularly happy these days.
Could this have something to do with what seems to be an industry-wide plan to transform the flight crews image from that of someone in service to the paying customer, to the security guards of the aisle? Even though none of the other trappings of their job has changed – as they are still responsible for pouring us wine and collecting our trash? Given the service requirement of their job, it would seem obvious that the flight crew is not really in the best position to be the heavy on board.
Could it be this pressure to literally both “serve and protect” the downtrodden and recently abused passengers (who just paid extra to check bags and yet aren’t allowed to carry anything they might need on board, and who have been at the airport for hours and yet probably won’t be fed in flight) that is doing the flight crews in emotionally? It certainly seemed so to me on a particularly busy three-week run when I actually flew once in every class. The one thing that was the same in each level of flying, was that all passengers seem to be suspect to the crew until proven otherwise.
Like when you ring the call button for an attendant only to find it has been rendered about as useful as the ashtray next to it. Not only is it regularly unanswered, but touching seems to profile you. It may even cause one of the many not-so-gentle announcements that the crew is primarily in place to ensure safety. However, when I look at the flight attendant up close, after going to her station myself to get a mere cup of water – which was inevitably during the unending “wrong” time of the flight -most are still wearing makeup and a form-fitting dress. I hope a terrorist act never happens in the air again—but if one should, the hairsprayed lady in a two-inch heel is not the person I’m putting my confidence in.
Rather, I’m looking for the angriest traveler who was forced to give up his toothpaste, baby formula, aftershave or any other clearly non-dangerous, possibly expensive, personal product because someone at security couldn’t digress from the script. My money is on that guy wrestling down the bad guy much faster than the underpaid, overworked, self-tanning beauty who’s giving me an attitude.
Since airline companies heavy handidly use the word “safety” to intimate the possibility of a terrorist act whenever they are removing a service that coincides with them saving money, I’m not fully believing that kindness and safety couldn’t go hand in hand if the employees of all airlines were treated better. In fact, it seems that lifting the industry wide rule that cabin crew employees cannot accept tips post the horror of 9/11, could change the employees’ interest in doing their job with the jouie de’vie we all used to enjoy.
Perhaps if airlines would invest a small portion of the savings they’ve made since cutting food, silverware, movies, and checked bags on all domestic flights, back into their staff – perhaps by hiring someone specifically there to monitor safety who is not required to sell food, I’m sure it would be more cost effective than all the public relations required to quiet the press storm when one of their disgruntled employees loses it.
(Diane Farr is an actress and author. Her second book, “Kissing Outside The Lines,” is a comic look at interracial marriage in America and available at http://amzn.to/kisslines. You can find all her writing at www.GetDianeFarr.com, or follow her at www.twitter.com/getdianefarr or www.facebook/getdianefarr.)
COPYRIGHT © 2012 DIANE FARR