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4 Reasons Flight Attendants Are Just as Unhappy as You Are

Close up hand holding an airplane model background the airport

I’ve heard it many times myself. Flight attendants confess that they no longer wear their uniform outside of the airport for fear of getting accosted with complaints about their airline from strangers.

We all know this long, sad story of decline (at least for Coach and true First Class), but one perspective a crew member sees in our day-to-day experience is that unbundling fares often doesn’t come with unbundled expectations. All we can do is say, “I’m sorry but…” ad nauseam. That is not how any of us like to spend a day at work. In fact, it’s a grind.

That looks set to get worse with American Airlines’ announcement that it will introduce “no frills” fares to compete with Ultra Low Cost Carriers (ULCCs). Delta Air Lines was the first to do this, experimenting with a “Basic” no-frills fare back in 2012. Judging by the fact that the strategy was expanded last year and now American is jumping in, that seems to have gone well for them, sadly. The race to the bottom feels truly on, and American’s announcement suggests it’ll bring it to international flights as well.

This whole slide-to-low-cost trend really bums me out. It may surprise you, but most flight attendants bemoan the decline in service and standards as much as passengers do. Why?

1. I don’t want to work for a ULCC

There’s certainly nothing wrong with working at a no-frills carrier. But just like many of their cabin crew don’t care to work long flights or detailed services, many of us at traditional carriers aimed in that direction intentionally. It feels like so many airlines are sliding into the same charmless lane, though, where in-flight service becomes more about in-flight sales. Much like the passengers probably feel, it’s just not a style of flight I enjoy. (Then again, I’m still pining for a hat, so this news should come as no surprise to you!)

2. Having things to give passengers makes them happy

We like happy passengers. People enjoying the service make for a good day at work. Sure, they asked for these low fares with their buying patterns, but that doesn’t change what they want once they’re onboard. A flyer may feel euphoric at the moment they save $10 booking their trip to Wherever, but that doesn’t carry over to boarding time. Then they’re miserable. Then they want more. What they used to get. Or, at traditional carriers, what the guy in the row further up still gets.

3. Traditional carriers aren’t set up for it

At ULCCs, passengers are all in the same boat. Everyone knows why they’re flying with that airline, and they’re not comparing themselves to — or trying to hide among — the higher paying passengers around them.

We already get plenty of indignant “Do you know how much I paid for my ticket?” complaints from people who, it often turns out, paid ridiculously little and are nowhere near eligible for whatever they’re trying to guilt us out of (or into). I fear a time when we’ll have to track this information onboard all the time. It’s not like there are sections for those who did and didn’t agree to bare bones travel. While at this point it remains unclear how much, exactly, American will distinguish no-frill tickets from “regular” ones, some articles mentioned less seat selection and no snacks. Are flight attendants going to have to track who gets different things, for example? That sounds quite messy.

4. It’s another blow to employee travel

I (and some others) have spoken a couple of times (like here) about how employee travel — truly one of the last remaining perks of the job — is becoming harder and harder to use. It’s not difficult to see that filling remaining seats with no-frills bare bones tickets will make empty seats even harder to come by. Commuters are already struggling, and I see it getting worse.

I know. Companies want to wring every penny out of their product. It’s natural, but it’s not like U.S. airlines are starving for pennies just now. They continue to announce historical profits quarter after quarter and make (way) more profit per passenger than their competitors around the world. Are those pennies worth the brand dilution?

And yes, yes, I hear (some of) you. We “can always leave if we don’t like it.” I’m not on a tirade. I’m commiserating, really. Flight attendants are unlikely to change their whole careers over a change in service levels in the industry. We’ve been through worse!

It’s just a shame is all. A shame for you, too.

Comments are Closed.
ksandness November 8, 2015

The airline executives have fallen for the myth that all passengers want low prices and nothing more. At this point, it's true, because who would pay more than they had to for a tiny seat, a tiny soft drink, and maybe a tiny bag of pretzels, with the struggle for the overhead compartments at either end of the trip, as people try to cram everything they own into a compartment intended for briefcases. Maybe the inexperienced flyers or very infrequent flyers want nothing but low prices, but those of us who remember what flying was like before the majors started the suicidal struggle to force the LCCs out of business and their insane capacity pricing (I have literally seen a $400 difference for the same ticket within 24 hours), are willing to pay more for better service. When flying domestically, I try to fly Sun Country and spend a couple hundred dollars more for their first class. When flying internationally, I try to find the best service for the best price on a foreign airline. As a last resort, I'll fly United's Economy Plus. I'd love to buy up to business class, but it's not worth 7 times the price of coach. Maybe twice the price of coach.

No Fly November 4, 2015

Yeah, except you're paid for it, Sarah. The flying public has to PAY for the privilege. I admire the attempt to drum a little sympathy for your profession, maybe use this to head off an issue here or there. But you're preachin' to the choir. Tell it to your bosses. You have a choice, just as we have a choice to fly.

KoKoBuddy October 30, 2015

These articles are always amusing. And the theme is always "these stupid rubes, how dare they demand low prices"?

jethornton October 29, 2015

You know the problem here? Not enough choices. We've allowed our congressmen and our recent Presidents to completely ignore the intent of our existing anti-trust laws, allowing the legacy airlines to develop what is essentially a monopoly led by a colluding few CEOs. Doesn't matter the names, doesn't matter the paint schemes, if it looks and smells like dog sh**, then it probably is, despite any lipstick or lip service they expend on trying to convince us otherwise. It has only been in the last couple of years that I've heard anything more than "tut-tut-tut" from our federal regulators, and at the pace they move, I will be in a wheelchair chasing my wife through the nursing home, before I see change. Train travel in this country is worse than it was in the forties, so most of us don't bother with it unless we happen to live in the Northeast. Forget Amtrak. And yet, ... we've got people from all over the world wanting to building high-speed rail in this country, and do it on their nickel. Guess whose at the head of naysayers and lobbyist fighting against it? Delta, United, American, and Southwest. They recognize it for what it is: competition they can't buy out. High speed rail CAN compete with most domestic air travel, if we will just open the door to letting it happen. As to this article? Excuse the hell out of me, but it doesn't make a bit of difference to me that you commiserate with our misery. You are part of the problem, if you remain employed after acknowledging that you know what you work for; or don't, at the very least, use the unions you belong to which you belong to force better service through work actions. Reading through this reconstituted pablum, I'm reminded of the old joke about the income tax auditor (substitute executioner, if you like) and that he was very sorry, but he was only doing his job... What the author of this pablum claims just doesn't stand the stink test.

SerialGriller October 29, 2015

I find the flight attendants on American flights quite pleasant. However, I can see how their jobs aren't getting any easier. Missing from the article is the sad fact that American society is gradually becoming less civil. I have been travelling regularly, almost weekly, for business since 1989. The travelling public, including frequent travelers, are pushier and more rude than they were 25 years ago. I marvel at how much the airline employees put up with, even cheerfully.