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Crewed Talk

How to Get First Class Service on an Economy Class Flight

How to Get First Class Service on an Economy Class Flight
Amanda Pleva

The Los Angeles Times recently published an article claiming that the majority of people, according to a customer feedback survey, feel that business- and first-class passengers are treated with more respect than economy-class passengers. The very unsurprising poll found that people felt that, beyond the bells and whistles of premium cabins, coach passengers were treated a lot differently on a personal level, and that the disparity lends itself to tension onboard.

I read through the findings, and the more I thought about them, the more I analyzed these perceptions, and how they might be changed.

Let me start by saying that I cringe at the number of articles that go viral with titles like, “Ten Things Flight Attendants Hate,” or “How To Be A Better Passenger.” I think these ‘slow news day’ type pieces make our bad reputation as crew even worse. And to be fair, as a paying customer, it isn’t your job to be friendly to me or to walk on eggshells, lest I come by and smack you upside the head with a safety information card. The role of the passenger is merely to follow the safety and security rules enforced by us onboard. But should you be an entitled jerk? Of course not. However, I don’t think there should be an expectation that a passenger should constantly be on the defensive either, which seems to often be the case.

All that said, this made me think about how I treated my passengers, and why. And it all has to do with the way I’m treated.

To start with, I don’t know many flight attendants who view premium-class passengers any differently because of financial status. Our line of work isn’t known for being the most lucrative anyway, so we would really have no business passing judgment on others for not having a spare $3000 for a seat. However, I would clearly be lying to you if I said that most of us didn’t prefer first-class passengers to economy.

You know what the worst part of my job is? It isn’t cleaning up vomit or dealing with an angry passenger yelling in my face, which is what most people assume. It is when I stand at the aircraft door greeting people and get ignored. To have someone clearly see me and ignore my “hello” and walk on by is the most dehumanizing experience. It sounds trite and probably is, but all these years later I can’t get past the icky feeling of having someone not even think I am worth a simple “hi” or even just a quickly flashed smile. And it generally isn’t first-class passengers who do this.

Perhaps it’s because, in economy, people expect to disappear. They expect less interaction, and they’re right to expect that – with more people to serve, we simply don’t have the time to be very one-on-one with an entire plane full of people. That has nothing to do with class or status, it’s simply time constraints. But you would be amazed at how far politeness and friendliness goes. Even if you don’t think we notice, we do. And it gets returned whenever possible – maybe it’s a free drink, maybe we tap you on the shoulder and shoo you into an empty row. Or maybe it’s just extra-attentive service! But we always appreciate a friendly face, and word usually spreads among the crew when people are especially kind. Having fewer people to serve in first or business class gives us more time to establish a personal connection with our passengers. Because of that, I think they’re more likely to be polite to us. When people don’t feel anonymous, they act differently. I am sure it’s the same for us as well.

I can’t say that there aren’t plenty of awful, impatient flight attendants – I’ve been served by them, I’ve worked with them and boy, do strangers love to wind long yarns about them to me the moment I mention what I do for a living. And on a bad day, I hate to say I have probably been one. But we aren’t all like those people, especially not all the time. I can’t say I do my best job when people are rude to me. I can handle it and I still treat those people with kindness and respect (I can’t say I don’t mock them in the galley, however), but I am certainly not at my best.

The times, they are a-changing, and we deal with a lot more entitled behavior than we used to – and that sometimes goes for our coworkers as well as our passengers. But I think we need to view each other as people. Merely being spoken to in full sentences versus having “COKE!” shouted at me with a mouth full of Chex Mix and headphones on (especially when their response is to an entirely different question) is enough to make me want to better than my best. And that’s regardless of the seat you occupy.

View Comments (22)


  1. frosh

    October 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Regardless of where one may be seated, for an upgraded onboard experience give every FA peanut M & M’s (or other treat). After FAs finish the food and drink service I visit the aft galley whereupon I invite them to trade in their M & M’s in a game of Let’s Make a Deal. It’s an opportunity for FAs to win fabulous prizes and for all of us to share a good laugh.

  2. kb9522

    October 10, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    You mean passengers who pay for a lower level of service receive a lower level of service? My mind is blown.

    Saying they should receive anything other than the level of service they paid for just furthers passengers’ sense of entitlement. It makes the problem worse, not better.

  3. Counsellor

    October 11, 2017 at 5:10 am

    I’ve never been quite as structured as frosh in gifting flight crew (games? Let’s Make A Deal? fabulous prizes?) but for a long time I’ve brought a box of chocolates with me on Trans-Oceanic flights and given it to the attendant after meal service for the cabin crew. I’ve been doing that since 9/11.

    A Swiss friend of mine brings along a small milk can filed with Swiss chocolates for the same purpose.

  4. fotographer

    October 11, 2017 at 5:14 am

    I will always greet the FA when boarding the plane, most of the times they always comment on my Hawaiian shirt (always wear them, even when not traveling) and since I only fly AA and oneworrld, I will always hand out apprecitaion certs to the FA’s . They appreicate it and the good thing is I dont expect anything in return, but always seem to get something
    I have learned to appreciate what they do. It is not as easy as it seems.

  5. tentseller

    October 11, 2017 at 5:23 am


    Do you want first-class treatment? Then treat all the staff serving you with first-class dignity and respect.

  6. eng3

    October 11, 2017 at 8:40 am

    I think someone seated in a premium cabin should expect to be treated well. I would bet that anyone seated in a premium cabin would have that expectation. Actually they should do it by status level. The passengers with the highest status pay the most money to the company and thus support the everyone’s job security. Now in an ideal world, everyone should be treated well however this doesnt seem to be practiced in reality. Maybe an FA only has so much to give so they must prioritize. I’ve literally seen FA’s faces go from a smile to a frown as they cross the threshold of the premium cabin. As for not responding to hellos, this may be due to infrequent travelers. It can be very tense for these people because they are overwhelmed trying to figure out where they are sitting and wondering if they can find a space for their bag. Maybe they have kids with them. Where frequent travelers are relaxed during boarding. So I wouldn’t take it personally. I do understand the annoyance now with the drink service since everyone has headphones in now.

  7. apeortdz

    October 12, 2017 at 6:28 am

    I always greet the flight attendant when I board. I’m sad to hear that many people do not. I would say that 98% of my Interactions are very positive.

  8. MitchR

    October 12, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I always say “good morning” to the flight crew at the door. Even if it is the middle of the afternoon. It usually makes them chuckle and smile. If a flight attendant compliments my tie (yes I wear a suit or at least a coat and tie, even when I’m in coach) I say, “Thank you, flight attendants are great judges of ties. If you say nice tie I made a good choice. If I go five or six flights and no one mentions it, I quite wearing it.” Being polite is contagious. I always say, please, thank you, pardon me,…etc…,” no one wants to hear “Gimme a Coke.” I notice that the politeness has spread across my office. New hires who say “huh, and what…” are saying, “pardon me” and “excuse me” after a few weeks.

  9. Kimber2Sassy

    October 12, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Now I will always greet the FA’s. I just assumed they were tired of replying to everyone and would rather just smile at me !
    I do try to be polite to the FA’s. I’ve been a waitress so I now a bit of their irritations.

  10. SamirD

    October 12, 2017 at 7:29 am

    As someone who has had to greet people as part of a position before, I know exactly how you feel when they don’t even acknowledge you. Biiiiig hugs to you for genuinely greeting and wanting the same in return. Too many FAs go through the motions and are numb to the pains you describe–but imo they’re missing out on one of the finer points of any customer relations job–make the customer feel welcomed.

    I always make it a point to at least acknowledge when someone greets me anywhere–even if I barely hear them when walking out the door I still make an effort to say ‘thank you’ as I’m halfway out the door (as happened at a local Men’s Warehouse recently). It is the genuine effort to greet that makes a customer (and even a just person in general) feel welcome. It’s something you see all the time in first class, and every class gets that treatment for at least one second as you board the plane.

    I’ve had my bad days, was on the phone, baggage whatnot, but I believe I’ve still always at least looked up, mouthed hi, or just let the FA make eye contact to see it in my eyes that I was just not in a mental state to return the kind gesture. At the end of the day, they’re a person doing a job that’s trying to be nice to me. Why would you want to ignore that?

  11. rosie1818

    October 12, 2017 at 8:18 am

    I always try to acknowledge a welcome, but sometimes, being a klutz, I’m simply trying not to get caught in the gap or trip over the bump at the entrance, and maneuvering my carry-on to squeeze through the narrow opening without bumping anyone with it.

  12. Lavarock7

    October 12, 2017 at 9:27 am

    Although not a very frequent flyer, I did fly often enough (even mileage runs). I have almost exclusively flown coach and also tried to get bumped. That means I booked in the most full flights on purpose.

    Anyway, I have always tried to be polite to crew from the counter to plane. On Flights to Hawaii from Atlanta (2 flights per year for 7 years) I would often chat with FA during the trips and when I had it, hand out some small bags of Kona Coffee.

    On Hawaii flights it is not uncommon to say “Aloha” and “Mahalo” but some crews look at you strangely when you continue on from places like Atlanta to Raleigh.

    Many of us have seen gate agents get hollered at and put in bad situations. I have tried to be the thoughtful traveler because I know working with the public is not an easy job.

  13. krejcij

    October 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Treating people with respect should be expected. I suspect that many passengers find the boarding process (battling gate lice, wondering if they’ll have overhead space, and frequently experiencing travel delays) highly stressful, and this may contribute to the authors unfortunate experiences. The piece serves a good reminder to be kind to everyone during the boarding process.

  14. Bohemiana

    October 12, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I always smile and say hello but I never thought of giving a box of chocolates to the flight crew–it’s a great idea. I remember in the corporate world when a vendor would bring in a box of donuts we all would go crazy–it was like a holiday.


    October 15, 2017 at 8:26 am

    Nice article. Thank you!

  16. TWAflyer


    October 16, 2017 at 5:17 am

    Years ago when I was on a TWA flight, we had a delay after boarding. With the FA’s permission I disembarked, grabbed a nice box of chocolate from a nearby stand, and re-boarded, giving it to the FAs. It made them feel appreciated and made me feel good that I was making them feel recognized for what they do.

  17. kkua

    October 17, 2017 at 6:15 am

    I totally agree with the article…. now only if somebody can tell the elected Angry Orange to do the same thing so we wiggle outselves out of the current global mess.

  18. Bluecardholder

    October 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Politness costs nothing. If someone greets you why not return the favour – I’ve worked in customer facing roles, and a simple response to a “Hi” makes the job worthwhile.

  19. flybynight78

    October 18, 2017 at 5:13 am

    on holiday in the usa this year we ended up doing a few short hop flights. made all the more difficult due to crutches and a cast, and I have to say everybody from the gate attendant to the flight crew couldn’t have been more helpful. I cant believe anybody wouldn’t think to return a hi , good morning etc when greeted, how rude is that?

  20. alphaod

    October 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

    My mama taught me to always say hello, please, and thanks. You’d be surprised how far a smile gets you. But this needs to go both ways for everyone to be happy. What I don’t like is when they shout out short commands, or give the I don’t care look. The worst is the ones that make assumptions about you. I’m Chinese and a lot of times when I fly to non-Chinese airlines and I get a Chinese speaking flight attendant they have this attitude that they’re better than you.

  21. LittleFlyerBob

    November 4, 2017 at 3:33 am

    A brilliant article. Thank you, Ms Pleva.

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