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Crewed Talk: The Complicated Status of Social Media at 30,000 Feet

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Yahoo Travel began an article last week by asking a question about flight attendants. I suppose it was rhetorical, but I’m going to oblige with an answer because it’s a bigger issue than I think the original article realizes. In the article, Yahoo asked, “Does your flight attendant love or hate social media?”

That’s a loaded question. Let me answer by breaking down the immediate list of social media/work intersections that popped into my head as I considered this.

Selfies

The sudden popularity of crew selfies, which I previously discussed here, is a good place start. That one’s fun.

My verdict: As always, there are a few that will use it in eye-raising ways, but it’s mostly a nice window into crew camaraderie and a lovely part of the job that I’m happy for the public to peek into.

The Bird Flip Stew

Not so fun. Last summer, Aeroflot flight attendant Tatiana Kozlenko was fired after posting a photo of “herself” flipping the bird to passengers. Tatiana eventually got her job back after much online support and the determination that it was not “her” photo, but rather it had been posted elsewhere and she “tagged” her name to it.

My verdict: A most perfect example of how complicated and murky social media can be. It was a rude thing to post and generally inappropriate for her job, as it reflected badly on her company.

Then again! Does she not have a right to vent frustration or joke on her own page? Is it her fault that the picture was reposted by someone else?

My verdict: Trying to sort my feelings on this makes my brain catch fire.

The Evacuation Situation

I recently heard the story of a flight attendant who was involved in an evacuation. She finished clearing the plane, exited via the slide, then (what else?!) immediately started posting selfies, photos and comments. The plane may have been empty, but she was still at work, on duty and technically in the midst of an ongoing emergency situation. Furthermore, when her company asked her to remove the posts, she became very angry and denied their claim that it was also for her protection.

My verdict: *headdesk*

The Pam Ann Slam

If you didn’t already know, Pam Ann is a comedian whose whole schtick is ribbing flight attendants. Her “Touch Trolley” routine is a crew classic, one that’s been imitated on countless of my own flights for a laugh. Flight crews were her core fan base up until last year, when she complained to Virgin America via publicly posted photos and video of flight attendants not meeting her standards. Some fans went ballistic, expecting her of all people to understand what the crew’s side of the story might have been and arguing that a public shaming of someone at work was neither the right nor decent way to make a complaint.

This presents a bit of a thorny bush when it comes to social media and our job, because things play out on a field with no referee when crews and passengers don’t see eye to eye. Delta had a similar incident last year after a passenger did exactly the same thing. The company took down the video to deal with the complaint privately, but not before the video went viral.

As Pam Ann and this passenger both learned, if you publicly rant about a named individual doing their job, it’s all too easy to turnabout.  Social media is both the best way to get a corporation’s attention and super-vulnerable to emotional use, making it a dangerous tool.

My verdict: Impulsive use of social media is like drunk dialing someone in front of a live audience of millions. Multiply the possible fallout accordingly.

The Birth of PassengerShaming.com

Started by a former flight attendant for self-explanatory reasons, PassengerShaming.com was recently discovered by the gods of whatever-goes-viral. This website has found a way to sidestep the mire of publicly identifying individuals, without sacrificing the rest of the humiliating punch.

PassengerShaming.com isn’t my style, but I admit to being very tempted to indulge in it just yesterday when a well-dressed woman in her late 50s let her small dog take a gigantic pee on the terminal floor. She half-heartedly dropped a single tissue on it, then casually flounced away… JFK. 2 p.m. You know who you are, lady. I was gobsmacked.

My verdict: Guilty pleasure.

Social media is not all bad for flight attendants, of course, but these headaches rushed to mind.  When harnessed correctly, it is a powerful tool. I love how much easier it is to connect with crews around the world in “online lounges” or individually through personal networks on Twitter and LinkedIn.

I used to feel like airlines were islands. Nowadays, we’re like neighboring countries. There are also private Facebook pages for all sorts of useful information sharing across crews, unions and companies. They’ve made solutions to many of the complicated and time-sensitive issues we run up against every day accessible, which helps us resolve said issues in efficient new ways, and there’s still a lot of room for these clever uses to grow.

That said, however, there are other miscellaneous uses of social media in my line of work that frustrate me, like the fact that social media “counts” for complaining about crews, but not for complimenting them. Complaints are easily passed on by the social media team. Compliments are not. I would like to see that changed. It’s the sort of thing that serves as an example of how the airline industry is making strides, but hasn’t quite caught up with how to harness the social media beast.

So here’s my answer to Yahoo’s question: There’s no question social media is changing my job, but for now the question of how your flight attendant feels about it only has one succinct answer — a Facebook-style “It’s complicated.”

[Photo: iStock]

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