A travel reporter for the New York Times spent two days working as a flight attendant on American Airlines, flying between Dallas and New York City and shadowing the real flight attendants as they dealt with drunk passengers, supply shortages, and travelers who are already fed up and tense before they even board the plane.
“Who would have thought, after 30 years, that we’d be a flying 7-Eleven,” Becky Gilbert, a three-decade veteran of the industry told me during a break in our training session in Fort Worth.
The author, Michelle Higgins, captures the dramatic shift from what was once a career loaded with perks—free travel, flexible schedules, plenty of time off, and even a bit of cachet—into a job that puts you on the front line of the war most airlines are carrying out against their paying customers.
At the start of one flight, for example, the crew is told the plane is moving to a shorter runway, and they have to carry out a quick count of the number of children on board to see whether the plane meets the suddenly-reduced weight limit—otherwise they will have to kick off passengers. (And those passengers will hopefully write to The Consumerist.)
We’ve no doubt that there are bad employees in the skies—the bigots, morons, burn-outs, and despots who provide us with so many infuriating stories—but it’s revealing to see the level of stress that today’s good flight attendants have to deal with, and something worth keeping in mind the next time you fly and want to reach out and hurt the person telling you there are no more blankets or cookies, or that you’ll almost certainly miss your connecting flight.