Rudest flight attendants

by James Wysong on September 28, 2004

Are the flight attendants on low-fare carriers ruder than those on network airlines? Is the service, like the amenities, no-frills?

I had to wonder after the reaction to my last column, in which I suggested you’d get shortchanged in the service department when you flew on a cheaper airline. In fact, a lot of readers e-mailed me to say they’d been treated better by crewmembers on the low-cost carriers.

So which is it?

Well, imagine that you are starting a job that offers free travel around the world, lots of time off, decent pay, and layovers in exotic locations. You decide that the typical nine-to-five job is not for you so you take it on as a long-term career. You watch your company grow and share in stellar profits.

Years later, the economy changes and your company adjusts its strategy. It outsources the best part of your job, cuts your pay in half, and downsizes. You work harder and longer. You are transformed overnight into a third-class citizen. All the while, senior management is raking in bigger salaries than ever and telling you to be nicer to the passengers.

It is kind of like going from filet mignon to Spam. The flight attendants at the major airlines are used to steaks and at the low-cost carriers they are used to hamburgers.

A big change in the diet of all the legacy airline employees is currently taking place. There is bound to be some major indigestion along the way.

Many might say that if they don’t like it then they should leave. That’s easy to say. But changing careers beyond the age of 40 is a very difficult and daunting task that many decide against. So they decide to hang on and hope for the best but complain about the worst.

I feel that many employees of the financially distressed airlines are giving it their best shot to make you happy but are quickly running out of resources to work with. They realize the end may be near and now need your patronage.

Is it too little, too late? Probably, but if you give them another chance they might just surprise you.

What about the run-of-the mill nasty flight attendants?

Yes, they are out there at every airline.

You’re really thirsty and you ask the attendant for two drinks; all they do is sigh, roll their eyes and hand you a second can. They forget every request (probably on purpose), and are only happy when you leave. They hide in the back, and are never seen again after the service. They disregard the call bells and have tunnel vision as they walk through the aisles, ignoring you.

There is no excuse for rude flight attendants. Everyone has hard days, but we are trained to fake kindness even when we have feelings of overwhelming anger. Some compassion of the situation is greatly appreciated.

Still, if you do encounter an overly rude flight attendant, get his or her name and write a complaint letter. It will go in their record, and it is more than likely that they have been reported before. They do read your letters, good and bad, and they do make a difference. It’s really the only effective method of complaining. Anything else is just wasted air.

I once got on a flight and was so badly treated that I swore that I would never fly on that specific airline again.

Then I realized I had to. I worked for it.

What scares me the most are the airline employees who want to see their airline fail just to get back at the greedy self-serving twits at the top. I have seen this suicidal attitude before at Pan Am and Eastern, and in the end it worked.

Many readers asked me, “What’s the difference between a full service and low cost airline these days?”

The essential differences are: the full service airline usually goes to international locations, has better frequent flier membership perks, and usually a class of service choice. Recently, the legacy carriers have been forced to remodel themselves after the profitable low-cost carriers and the differences are quickly disappearing.

Not that long ago Pan Am, Eastern, and TWA were the supreme legacy carriers. At that time United, Delta, and American were the “domestic lower-costing airlines.” It seems like the trend is that along with size comes failure. It is a vicious cycle that keeps repeating in the airline industry, but no one seems to learn.

Please realize that there are many flight attendants out there that are very appreciative of their job, and still trying to make the best of an aggravating situation. It’s just that during these frustrating and uncertain times it’s hard to choke on the gristle of that once-tasty steak.

Now look who’s getting sick on the airline food.

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