The Lines of Crew Confidentiality

Flight attendant

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new flight attendant tell-all book hitting the shelves, called Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant – True Tales and Gossip from the Galley. As both a flight attendant and one who writes about flight attending, this has brought a lot of questions my way about the content and the legalities of it (Full disclosure: I’ve not actually read this book). The main question is about his celebrity story-telling (the negative bits, really) and a few tales of crew wrong-doing.

“Don’t you sign confidentiality agreements?” you wonder. Actually, I don’t recall doing so. Assuming this is not just memory failure on my part (it was 15+ years ago, after all), there are known legalities surely in the small print somewhere. I know I am prohibited from making public statements about individual passengers that would allow someone to identify their whereabouts or otherwise “reveal personal information.” For us crews without further confidentiality contracts, other in-flight gossip is more slippery (more on that below).

I do know that some foreign airlines do have confidentiality agreements with their crew, and pretty broad ones at that. The Middle Eastern airlines are definitely in this group. I feel pretty certain that the likes of Singapore and Cathay crews are, too. These crews are incredibly tight-lipped, even on a casual basis. There’s an issue I’ve been researching for a Flyertalk reader for ages but have been unable to find a single flight attendant from these particular carriers to answer even my very innocuous question.

I’ve no guess about such agreements for European or Aussie crews, but based on my personal experience with some of them, I’d guess (just a guess!) that not. Even without such agreements, however, we tend to be careful with passenger names. Positive stories are fine. Who is going to complain about you saying something nice? I’ll tell you who’s super nice, who will come into the galley and chat like old friends (like Angelina Jolie and Pink. See?). But when it comes to mixing names with negative commentary…I don’t recall a rule spelled out on paper anywhere, but it’s hard to overestimate the extent to which it can be real trouble (if blurted publicly).

A while back, a friend wrote on his blog that he once had onboard a certain musician largely known from the 80s. A cheeky joke was made about his appearance and the airline got a serious complaint from “his people” (who must google his name regularly to have spotted it?). Even though my friend doesn’t explicitly state whom he works for, it’s not too hard to work out. He got a scary call into the office for that and had to do some damage control. What’s the exact legality? I don’t know, but the lesson was: If it names names, even a past tense, personal opinion with just implicit brand connection steps into the danger zone.

So, no, I don’t know if the Qantas Confessions author will have signed a confidentiality agreement, but even without, I am surprised that he links particular passenger names, in negative contexts, with the Qantas brand. Surely it is most important that he can no longer be fired, but I also suspect, as some Flyertalkers do, that Qantas simply chooses to avoid a legal stink. The Australian context possibly helps since Qantas would be an obvious guess even if he never said it. My guess is that it’s just a risk the author chose to take.

A bit of a post-script, if you will. I might also hazard a wild guess – 100% conjecture here – that the conditions under which he left the company could have some bearing on how this book came about. You see, with the airline industry (generally) ending pensions/slashing retirement benefits and often contesting or withdrawing support for certain work-caused* injuries, former workers have less to lose then they once did. Having mentioned his back injury and a “fight” for his job, perhaps Mr. Beddall ended up in a position where he felt his former employer had little to hold over him. Again, here it is just a guess (and it is not my intention to start a rumor here!) due to the fact that I’ve heard chatter of this type in recent years. Whether or not it’s true here, if it’s true at all, we could be seeing more of these books in the future.

Have you read this book? How about other crew books that you thought possibly crossed the line? Drop me a line or comment here, I’d love to hear about it.

*e.g. ones resulting from helping a passenger stow a bag, or damage from ruptured eardrums due to flying with blocked ears after being pressured not to call sick for that.

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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • SSteegar at 6:28pm July 02, 2014

    As a follow-up, just to confirm, today I happened to make a new Qantas crew friend. When I asked her about confidentiality agreements, her answer was the exact same as mine (read: “Um…I don’t think so, as such, besides what must be in the small print somewhere in all our other paperwork”).

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