Flight Attendant Speaks Out About How Her Job Has Changed

Posted Feb 28th 2011 12:03 AMUpdated Mar 4th 2011 02:58 PM


then and now flight attendant


"This airline sucks!" exclaimed a passenger after he spun from the ticket counter and looked directly at me. As if it were my fault he didn't get an upgrade! My faint smile – a nervous reaction – caused him to go from angry to irate in a matter of seconds. He quickly called my smile a "smirk" that he promised to write about in a letter that, as far as I know, never landed on my supervisor's desk.

"Hello, how are you?" is how I often greet passengers during boarding, but after a handful of passengers tell me exactly how they are, and how they were on their last trip, and why they'll never fly my airline again, I'll eventually shorten it to just plain "Hello." Why roll out the red carpet and invite confrontation into my life when I don't have to? But sometimes even that one word will get shortened to a simple, yet very pleasant nod after a few of them go ignored long enough. Hey, my life is crazy enough without the one-sided conversations.

Upon spotting a pair of cat-eyed frames during boarding, a co-worker cooed, "Oh I love your eyeglasses!"

"We're not sitting together and it's your problem!" the passenger responded. No longer did the funky frames look quite as cute paired with an evil glare and a pointing finger.

And passengers wonder why flight attendants aren't always smiling.

Has flying always been so bad? Depends on who you ask.

16 years ago I worked for Sun Jet International Airlines, a low cost carrier that is no longer in business. For the record, we never flew overseas. We didn't even have layovers. We worked turns, meaning we flew to a city and back in a single day. From either Long Beach, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, or Newark, passengers received a drink and a blueberry muffin or chocolate chip cookie, depending on the time of day, for $69 a flight.

By the way, I'm the one on the left in front of the Sun Jet plane in the photo below.

Sunjet Flight Attendants

Heather Poole

Cheap Flights, Angry Passengers

What I remember most about working for the airline was not all the broken armrests, or the time my jump seat fell off the wall on landing, or the used hypodermic needle I found in a seat pocket, or the angry male passenger who chased me into the ladies room at DFW airport because of an hour long delay.

I remember most clearly our flight attendant training. It only lasted two weeks and one of our classes was devoted to handling unruly passengers.

"Our passengers may not communicate the same way as you or I might in certain situations," said one of our instructors as she glanced nervously at another instructor who just nodded in agreement.

At the time I assumed she was referring to certain four letter words. A few weeks later I found myself actually wishing for four letter words. Have you ever had a grown man hawk a loogie at you because there was an inflatable raft inside his overhead bin? I have.

Three months after my first trip I quit working for Sun Jet (never-went-anywhere) International Airline. Then I did something crazy, considering what I'd been through. I applied to another airline, one of the majors, and actually got hired. The training lasted almost eight weeks and focused primarily on food service and emergency training. Once on the line, I couldn't believe how different the job was compared to working for Sun Jet.

The airplanes were clean, without a strip of duct tape in sight. We served three meal choices in coach. There were magazines, newspapers, pillows and blankets. And passengers were really nice. The flights were rarely ever full so passengers could stretch out, which might explain why they seemed, dare I say it, happy.

Some would even thank us for a job well done after a flight. Don't get me wrong, passengers still complained, but the focus was primarily on the food, not me – or my smile, or my inability to do things like POOF! create more overhead bin space and get rid of all the middle seats or even the last row.

The Day Travel Changed

Then something horrible happened that changed air travel as we know it forever. That day was September 11, 2001. Most people don't have to think about it every time they go to work the way I do. From the moment I step out of my shoes to go through airport security until the aircraft touches ground and slides into the gate, I think about what happened to those planes. They were my planes. My coworkers. My passengers. That

Immediately after 9/11, flight attendants took pay cuts, worked flights staffed with FAA minimum crew, and watched things we had taken for granted slowly disappear, like pillows, blankets, and even a few airlines. At yearly recurrent trainings we were taught something new: karate. We also learned to throw hot coffee at lunging terrorists.

If passengers weren't afraid to fly, they could no longer afford to fly, so the airlines had to drastically lower tickets prices. A one-way ticket could now be had for the same price as a pair of designer jeans. In an effort to stay in business, free food in coach was the first thing to go. This saved airlines a lot of money because they no longer had to pay for the food, or the food's weight in fuel, or the caterers who delivered the food, or the extra flight attendants required to serve the food.

If the removal of a single olive could save an airline $40,000 a year, imagine how much the airlines saved by removing four ovens no longer needed in coach. Even first class closets were taken away, and replaced with extra passenger seats.

Everyone and their grandmother could afford to fly – a few times a year. Flights were booked full and the lines at security grew.

Passengers began losing their patience, not just with airport security, but with each other. No longer did they remain seated at the gate so those with a close connection wouldn't miss their flights. It didn't take long before I started having flashbacks. It was like I worked at Sun Jet all over again, only now I had to dodge insults AND keep a watchful eye on the cabin while remaining politically correct for up to 14 hours on the job after an eight-hour layover at an airport hotel.

When passengers complain about "bad service," I take it personally. There's only so much I can do as a flight attendant with the tools I've been provided. I work hard, harder than ever before, to do a job I take pride in.

The reality is that passengers are not getting bad service, they're getting limited service – a la carte service. I'm still serving passengers the same way I was taught 15 years ago. The only difference is that we charge $7 for a small bottle of wine and $10 for a turkey sandwich with chips in coach.

My career changed to meet the demands of the flying public. But now everyone seems to have buyer's remorse. Airlines are competing for business by charging fees to check bags so that they can offer cheap tickets online. Passengers complain about being nickled and dimed, yet continue to book flights that save them a buck. That's okay. It's the American way.

Life, they say, is about the journey, not the destination. Obviously, they haven't traveled in coach in these days.

Filed Under: Air Travel, Budget, Holidays

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Okay so I saw a flight attendant Heather Poole on CNN only fo my dismay she has a blog with pictures of passengers onboard coming from the lav, a barbie and a colleague of other inappropriate things. I found out she wasn't a SWA FA or a United FA I am awaiting on the other majors she claims she works for only to discover it's Sun Jet? In which I never heard of. Professional FAs are represented by a union which handles media relations on our part. I am shocked she would be allowed to go on CNN. Maybe ahe had company permission but going on the media and talking about fellow flight attendant and pilots is unprofessional. Even though we work for other carriers this is a standard practice. You don't comment on others or a place you don't work at. Furthermore, just goggling her name pulls up manh different topics about issues that some customers may have been involved and did not know. Poor character if judgment and unacceptable in the Corporate world. Its fine if your a FA but saying it in your blog and obviously being on company time i.e. The plane or in uniform is not acceptable. If you wanna blog about travel fine but saying your occupation and talking, having pictures is another! Again goggle Heather Poole to see if your in a picture or talked about in her blog!

June 28 2011 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I alway's wanted to be a Flight Attendant I wrote to almost every Airline's, when I was 15 years old. They told me to Graduate from High School then apply well I did that but when they started to talk to me they told me thy can't hire me because I have a Speech Problem. Every Doctor that I went to told me and them that I didn't have a Speech Problem I was raise by a Canadian Mother and my Father is from Seattle,Washington and we lived in Texas that was it. So all of the Airline's made a Young Girl dream disappeared.

April 02 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To the professionals, understand that the passengers do understand that the situation is not necessarily your fault, but we have no one immediate to "complain" to so therefore, we complain to the attendants in hopes that our complaints will reach someone in the company to reduce prices and improve services. Yes, the airline business changed after 9/11 and it was NOT for the better; same goes for airports. I miss the days of some kind of a meal or pillow and blanket when I am flying. $7 for a pillow and blanket or $10 for a meal is outrageous. What is even more outrageous is the airlines charging for check-in baggage or carry-ons. The passengers are most likely going on vacation and will need their luggage why are airlines charging for this necessity? And, I am trying of flights that give the price 1 way and the airline knows full well I need to return from where I came. I am also tried of continuously seeing sales on flying, but it never includes going in and out of NYC; it as if I am being punished for living here. And, the airports need to do something about security. The reasons they use for delaying someone or taking items that do not belong to them are beyond ridiculous; I firmly believe that many a security guard claim you can not take items on the plane in your carry-on items as the security guard simply wants the item.

March 18 2011 at 11:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
villas costa blanca

I really like this post because of the experience and reality shared in the post.

March 08 2011 at 6:04 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I can truthfully say if airline employees have become "Rude and Arrogant" its because MOST passengers have driven them to that point. What I've seen are childish, spoiled and down right RUDE passengers give airline agent hell when they didn't get their way....hence turn is fair game!

March 03 2011 at 10:11 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

After 35 years in the airline industry I retired in 2006. It became impossible to enjoy a job I loved so much for so long when I was treated as if I was public enemy #1 every time passengers boarded the aircraft.
I could no longer provide the amenities people demanded because those tools had been taken away from me by my employer. I didn't set the rules of carry-on but was reprimanded because of them. I couldn't miraculously make a 3 course meal appear or insist someone put their seat upright because it squished the legs of the person behind them. Those are things which the airline changed - not me. After 9/11 my job was strictly one of safety - and believe me, if the airlines could have gotten rid of the cabin crew they would have eliminated that "benefit" as well. So all I could do was hope I did NOT have to utilize my skills of evacuating a full aircraft under 90 seconds, extinguish a fire in-flight, hook a heart attack patient up to an automatic defilbulator or (God forbid), fight a terrorist. But I was highly trained in all those areas and would have been the FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE in each of those cases, altho passengers never respected those skills. Instead they berated me because the airline changed from Coke to Pepsi.
I also wish the flying public would understand that the airlines don't keep "spare airplanes" around in the event of a cancellation any more than a passenger would have a "spare car" should theirs have a mechanical problem. And screaming at the in-flight crew isn't going to make a difference. They're just as sympathetic to your delay because it has altered their schedule as well - and never in a good way! What might have been a 16 hour layover (and a decent night sleep) has turned into a 9 hour layover at an airport hotel with engine roar keeping them awake half the night. Hardly a recipe for competence in safety, but legal none-the-less.
Yes, there are crabby and unhappy flight crew members but that can be said for any work force. But for the most part I know that most of these professionals take their job seriously and are not looking for confrontation.

March 01 2011 at 11:46 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to 777flygal's comment

did you fly ua? looking for friends of a relative holly phields farmer IAD 1986

March 03 2011 at 12:22 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Aloysius and MiMi

since 9"11, flying have been miserable for passengers. Airline employees have been "Rude and Arrogant".
There were problems where I would ask; is this the line to stand in and the Attendant just turned away, waiting to have my luggage checked and I just moved a couple of inches and was yelled at to move back, the Attendant said you will move up when I tell you to!
I have had small items taken for no reasons such as new Cosmetics, Hair Clip,perfume and a Bra Strap Holder which were all brand new.
There are loud comments such as "here's another one!" and dumps my things out which were neatly displayed in Baggies.
I have been held up in line because the "Ticket Agent" would not help me with these new Ticketing Machines and when I am about to check in my luggage, I am asked before my luggage is weighed inn, how much does my luggage weighs! hec, the scale is right there, weigh it and then we will know.
Recently, I am on a flight from Maui. I respond to the Stuwardess I that I do not wish to have Dinner due to my diet. They respond with a ugly Grin. I request to speak to this waitress when we land. Oh no! she wants know what is wrong now.
I told her it is rude to make fun of ones Health situation and hurtful when one enjoys another persons misery to boost ones ego or is it just plane boredom from doing a boring job waiting on Passengers
After our discussion of her Rudeness, I was mistreated and received what I call "bullying in the Sky." I was also, ordered to sit down on my way to the restroom. I am nearing my 60's and so I just could not hold my bladder and wet myself. All of this occured with my Granddaughter sitting next to me.
As I walked off the airplane, these employees just grinned and dare to say: hope you enjoyed your flight.
I made a complaint and asked for a refund from Customer Service but, their response was do not tell what happened,,,do not mention nor make contact again and no, you will not get a refund.
I refuse to fly again for "FEAR" of these "BULLIES" in the sky. I see a Psychiatrist to help get my confidence back so, I could have the nerve to travel again.
I feel if these kind of treatment continue to occur, there will be more Airplanes parked in a Dessert, another airline Bankrupt all due to Passengers being mistreated and afraid to do anything to upset a airline employee because they will and can call security in a blink of an eye or shall I say for sake of their over powering ego!
so, if you Stuwardess want to complain concerning Passengers, I would suggest you interview or take a Census on problems occuring on return from ones trip!

March 01 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Any passenger acting like the ones she described should be put on the no-fly list.... End of problem.

March 01 2011 at 12:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Signalfire's comment

Aloysius and MIMI, you gotta a big problem. STAY on the ground. it would be better!

February 14 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply