Bad flight attendants

The thing about doing something with enough frequency is that you start to notice all kinds of things about it. At first, your knowledge of the ins-and-outs of that subject or activity begins to grow fast – you learn the ropes. You start to understand the origins and causes of certain behaviors. In effect, you gain an understanding of the rules. These days I seem to be on more planes, more often. I have been on just about every airline I can think of and I too have noticed some patterns. One big one is that the skies are, for the most part, not nearly as friendly as they once were. Do any of you remember the days when in-flight meals were part of the price you paid to sit in a comfortable seat for a few hours amongst the clouds? Flight attendants were courteous as a rule, not an exception. Basically, you were treated like a customer, not livestock.

Nowadays I notice that most flight attendants are just plain rude. Particularly when it comes to the takeoff and landing cycles. Will having your cell phone out and your seat not fully upright really cause the plane to spontaneously combust? Also, I’m sorry, but the loose fitting seatbelts do absolutely nothing. They would only be useful if the plane was to be inverted. Failing that, however, if the engines on the plane were to give out, or the wings were to fall off midflight, the damned contraption would fall to the ground like a dart. Physics would not give a damn about your seatbelt.

I digress: There is probably a perfectly good safety reason for having seats and trays up, belts buckled and phones off. However I think that it couldn’t kill these attendants to ask a little nicer. I am fully aware that they do this day in and day out and most likely deal with their fair share of jerks. But even back in the more human days of flying, there were jerks on planes, but It’s embarrassing to see how they talk down to perfectly nice people who most of the time are in the midst of obediently turning off their phones (iPhones, for example take up to 20 seconds to shut down sometimes). It’s like they are just waiting to pounce on the poor SOB who dared have his phone in plain view.

Doesn’t matter what you do; them just seeing a phone is like waving a red cape in front of an angry bull. I’ve conducted a few experiments with this. Sometimes I will have my phone out on my lap. The phone is, in fact, powered down and the screen is clearly off. 100% of the time, some tired, grouchy steward or stewardess will attack with fury, loudly insisting that I turn it off. People stare as I calmly explain that the phone is indeed off.

On a recent American Airlines (Eagle) flight to JFK (3619), I was a perfectly good boy and did nothing intentional to incur any of the flight attendants’ wrath. However, upon boarding, I noticed the looks on the two flight attendants’ faces were less than friendly. The older lady looked tired, angry, and just fed up with everything. The other was considerably younger but had a flat affect – no smile, no frown: just a straight line where her mouth should have been. The weather was bad taking off so the older one announced on the PA that they would not be doing a service due to this. What bothered me was that I could have sworn she sounded relieved at this. So, thirsty and starving, I did the only thing I could do, and took a nap. I woke up some time later to see the younger one standing over me asking if I wanted a drink. I guess the weather was not that bad after all above the clouds? I ordered my drink and before I could ask for anything more, she rushed off to the next row. Politely, I asked if I could have the gleaming bag of almonds that sat so tantalizingly atop the drink cart. My voice was definitely loud enough, I thought, to be heard but she either really didn’t hear or was ignoring me, so I tapped her shoulder gently.

Now, remember the flat affect I mentioned before? That faded. Try to imagine this because it actually happened: without moving her body, she slowly turns her head to me, her eyes wide and wild, her mouth in a grimace so deep that she looked very much like a Japanese Kabuki. I felt like I had just angered an ancient volcano god by daring to ask for anything more than a can of tomato juice, but I pressed my next question anyway and asked politely for the almonds. She let out a sigh so big that it pretty much completed the Kabuki/volcano god image in my head as I imagined steam coming out of her mouth and nose. Sure enough I get the almonds, which she slams into my hand without so much as a word – more like a grunt really. Man, did those almonds ever taste salty. The people around me seemed to be paralyzed in fear of asking her for the same thing, as you would think that if one guy asks for almonds and gets them, others would follow suit. Not on this plane! All I could do was sit crunching away while my neighbors watered at the mouth. I felt that if I offered them any, they would suffer the flight attendant’s terrible vengeance.

The older one had been a complete boor the entire flight: never did I see a smile or hear “please,” “thank you,” or “you’re welcome.” All she said was “drink?” to her passengers. Oh, and she hassled me for having my phone out when we landed. As I exited the plane there was no “thanks for flying American, have a nice day.” All the exiting passengers got was a muttered “bye” from her lips with her eyes affixed to the floor.

You may think that what I just described was an isolated incident in what is a nightmare scenario but you would be mistaken. This sort of awful service is actually quite commonplace, particularly for domestic flights and flights to and from the US. I see it all the time with only a few exceptions. I am bewildered when the safety announcements come on, thanking passengers for choosing whatever airline it is. It’s as if they think that people care about the the brand of airline when choosing that particular flight, when in reality the only factors are price and flight time because it’s not like one airline has more amenities than the other. You get a seat, a checked bag fee and a big old can of shut the f*** up from the flight crew. If you want food, better whip out the old credit card because despite that $600+ price tag and six-hour flight time to fly from, say, Toronto to Vancouver, all you’re getting is cola and water. Diabolical.

I’d say the nicest part of the flight experience is the airports themselves these days. Have you noticed how extravagant these buildings are? I remember when terminal 3 was a complete hole, but it didn’t matter, because stepping onto a plane with a friendly crew and more human service and amenities was the real pleasure of flying.