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Travel – From the Jump Seat

Travel – From the Jump Seat
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I’m guessing by this point in our senior lives, all of us have flown on passenger planes, and many of us fly more for leisure than we ever have.  But have you noticed that airlines have been in the news lately, and not necessarily in a good way?  We thought it would be interesting and informative to interview an experienced flight attendant who happens to fly for a major airline with a hub here in Charlotte. 

Although it didn’t take any arm twisting to get her to talk with us, because she is still actively working as a flight attendant, we thought it would be best not to use her real name.  We will call her Susan, and these are Susan’s personal and professional observations and not the position of her airline.

CS:  What’s up with flying lately? 

Susan:  I know.  We can’t seem to stay out of the news.

CS:  So, what, if anything, has changed?  Is it the airline industry?  Is it social media?  Have passengers changed?  Are we still in a post-9/11 mindset?  What is going on?

Susan:  We are still in a post-9/11 mindset.  I know I look at air travel in a completely different way than before 9/11, and in a much different way than many of the younger flight attendants who were children during 9/11.  For example, for boarding, I’m at the front of the plane and make sure I talk to everyone coming on.

CS:  Are you looking for possible threats?

Susan:  No, I’m actually looking for resources.  On a recent flight, one lady was wearing a nurse t-shirt, and a guy had on an EMT shirt.  On the same flight, I had a state trooper and three Army Rangers.  I also had an unruly passenger on that flight, and the trooper and Rangers kept eye contact with me the entire time.  It’s nice to know that if I need help, where that help might come from.                                               

CS:  Are passengers acting out more than they used to?

Susan:  Not really.  It’s just more out there because everyone has a video feature on their phone, and people record things.  We in the airline industry deal with the same things police deal with.  Folks record, which is neither good nor bad, just a fact.  There are two things we in the public eye have to ask ourselves constantly:  What will this look like in the newspaper?  What will this look like on video? 

CS:  So, how do you manage that?

Susan:  Be a professional.  As an air crew, our primary responsibility is the safety of our passengers.  Regardless of whatever else is going on in a passenger’s life, we need to be calm and professional, which isn’t always easy, especially if a passenger starts making demands or accusations that feel as if they are personal.

CS:  How do you deal with an unruly passenger?

Susan:  I have been doing this a while.  Almost all the time, if a passenger is acting out, even if they don’t understand why, it’s because of anxiety about flying.  For whatever time they are on the plane with us, they feel like they have lost control of the situation.  Their behavior isn’t necessarily who they are as a person, but their anxiety often manifests itself in nervousness or anger.  But even if their nervousness or anger become personal toward us, we still need to be professional.  A lot of their misbehavior can be modified or mollified by my response.  There is a line they can’t cross, of course, but my job is to walk them back from that line before they cross it.

CS:  Tell me three things you wish every passenger would do.

Susan: (Long pause) Honestly, I can’t think of three things.

CS:  That’s interesting, because my wife travels a lot and came up with two things pretty quickly:

  1. Don’t stuff your jacket in the overhead bin before all the bags are up there.
  2. Put on your seat belt when they ask you to.

Susan:  Yeah, but those don’t really bother me much.  That’s just part of the job.  Okay, I do have one pet peeve — people who poke me to get my attention.

CS:  Really?  People will actually poke you?  I don’t like people I know to poke me.  Getting poked by a stranger seems like it crosses a weird personal boundary?

Susan:  You would think so.

CS:  Do you get upset if passengers call you a “stewardess”?

Susan:   No. The pay is the same.  Seriously, though, “flight attendant” is gender neutral.  We have a lot of guys serving as flight attendants.  

CS:  I also travel a lot, and I get tired of hearing flight attendants announce, “For your safety…” when they really mean, “For my convenience.”  Are there times when the flight crew uses “For your safety” as an excuse to get us in our seats and out of their way?

Susan:  Ummm, yup.  But it’s rare.  Usually when lots of people are standing and walking around in the aisle.  And there are times when we need the aisle cleared so we can do our job.  I’m sure you have noticed that we don’t sit much.  And the pilot usually knows about turbulence before we get to it and, “For your safety,” will turn on the seatbelt sign ahead of time.

CS:  What if some passengers won’t put on their seatbelt?

Susan:  By FAA regulation, we have to walk the aisle to check for compliance, but my job is to inform not to enforce.  If you get bounced around after I informed you, that’s on you.  

CS:  Okay, let’s end this.  Pretend you are at the front of the plane and I’m walking off.  I have just run over your toes with my oversized roll-aboard suitcase.  What do you say to me?

Susan:  Thanks for flying with us today.  Bye, bye.