Ask a flight attendant what his or her primary responsibility is, and the answer comes swiftly and without hesitation: safety.
To hear the job description from the lips of those doing it, the preservation of order in the cabin comes at the expense of everything else, almost making it seem like drink service and pillow distribution barely register as priorities.
Of course, this isn’t the case. Flight attendants respond to call buttons, pour coffee and dish out meals (when relevant) for a reason: it’s what they’re paid to do. Safety may be the primary responsibility, but it certainly isn’t the only one. This is as much a service job as it is a safety gig, despite what you hear from the people actually doing the work.
While flight attendant gripes about compensation, working conditions and passenger behaviour are hardly new, Steven Slater’s self-ejection from the plane he was working — and the voluminous support that came from the flight attendant community — has given these issues fresh legs. Even the prospect of passengers behaving badly has led to cries from the back of the cabin about how tough it is to be a flight attendant.
So, what’s the deal with flight attendants? Are they the lifeguards of the sky, there to administer aid and maintain order? Or, should they deliver your Coke with the 30,000-foot equivalent to “kiss my grits”? It’s time to settle this. Here are five reasons why flight attendants just need to shut up about their working conditions and push the beverage cart with a smile:
1. It’s a job, not a sentence: The compensation may compare to indentured servitude, but the mobility does not. If the job sucks sufficiently, flight attendants can move on. Even in today’s market, there are alternatives, especially if the pay is as awful as we’re all led to believe. It isn’t hard to leave one low-paying job for another.
2. Safety first, not safety only: Flight attendants use their lifesaving skills about as frequently as proctologists. Both may deal with arseholes all day, but not by delivering heroic rescues. Flight attendants learn more than the safety routine because their jobs call for it. They are expected to push the beverage cart, help you with your bags, sell you a blanket. In theory, they should do all this with a smile … especially with unemployment still high.
3. What else is there to do?: Between take-off and landing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. Take beverage service out of the equation, and the flight attendant’s job becomes pretty quiet. Sure, there are other safety-first things going on, but the fact that the beverage cart happens — and that it takes so much time for me to get my coffee and water-without-ice — implies that there would be a pretty big hole in the agenda if it were taken out of the equation.
4. The airlines will survive without them: The flight attendant may be indispensable to the operation of a flight — I don’t disagree at all. This doesn’t mean, however, that the current flight attendants are indispensable. In fact, with demand for flight attendant jobs tending to be high, it’s always easy to find another one.
5. The cart won’t push itself: I guess the airlines could always switch to a buffet model, in which passengers head down to the galley row by row to get their half-cups of soda and notoriously thin coffee, but I suspect this would come with its own set of logistical problems. It seems to make more sense to use the cart, with the flight attendant proudly pushing it along.
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