In view of the “hero of the week” Steven Slater, I thought I’d reminisce about life as a flight attendant…it seems that one thing is constant from “my day” when we were still called stewardesses, to today…rude people are universal. (You’ll notice I didn’t excuse the occasional rude flight attendant…the jury will decide whether Mr. Slater is a hero or a villain.) I am referring to the absence of courtesy. It has no gender bias; or race bias; or age bias; or nationality bias…you’ll find rudeness in the grocery store; in the line at your bank; at the DMV (definitely at the DMV…at both sides of the counter)…needless-to-say, rude is not discriminated against.
The traveling public many times places flight attendants into a category of glorified waitress. It never occurs to them that if they: a) have a medical emergency; or b) the airplane has a mechanical emergency, or c) God-forbid someone has an agenda that doesn’t include the airplane arriving at its destination, the flight attendant is their “first responder”. They are trained in first aid, CPR, over-water ditching, emergency landings, how to recognize and defuse potentially dangerous passengers, what to do if the plane loses pressurization, and even how to deliver a baby and place it on the mother’s tummy until they can be transported to a hospital. Doesn’t sound like a “waitress”, does it?
In my five years with Delta, I had some experiences that called on extraordinary patience and constraint. I may not have succeeded 100%, but in most cases I was proud of myself. Whenever a passenger was incredibly rude or demanding, another passenger (or two, or more) would hand me a business card and offer to write a letter if I need corroboration. I experienced a man pulling my oxygen mask off my face as he exited the restroom when the masks fell after a rapid descent. (I let him have my jump-seat and got the portable tank from the overhead rack…when people panic, they often betray the image they extend to the world.)
Then there was the famous TV cowboy who was traveling with three of his buddies to go hunting. His equally famous wife wasn’t with him…I’ll let you figure out who it was. After about six drinks, one of his traveling companions thought that “Coffee, Tea, or Me” was true and pinned me to the wall in the galley. I rang the cockpit button and the co-pilot came out and informed him, quite forcefully, that he could be arrested for what he had done. Then he suggested he sit down and stay in his seat for the rest of the flight. In their hearing the Captain told me not to serve them any more drinks…in those days there was no limit on drinks in first class.
Those reminiscences may be humorous, but the experiences of flight attendants on duty on September 11, 2001 can’t be compared to anything we “stewardesses” experienced. Have you ever focused on the events of September 11, 2001 and asked yourself, “Who was the first victim of the deranged perpetrators of the most horrific tragedy in our lifetime?” If you asked that question, you would have to have answered: “A flight attendant.” It was a flight attendant who tried to keep the Muslim extremists from entering the cockpit on the first airplane. A terrorist cut her throat with a box cutter.
Flight attendants today are a “sounding board” for complaints by any passenger who is frustrated over long lines, fewer “perks”, higher fares, added fees, and post-9/11 restrictions. Most flight attendants listen and sympathize even though they, personally, had no say in the imposition of the rules and would gladly be serving meals for everyone at no charge just like “the good old days”.
So, my rule for this post is: The next time you fly, remember 9/11 and think of your flight attendants as your “first responders” and thank them when you leave the plane. (One of them might be our daughter.)