I had one flight awhile ago that still stands out in my mind. It was a morning transcontinental flight about 5 ½ hours, east coast to west coast. I remember the flight attendant, a well dressed woman in her late 30’s, serving the first class cabin. She did everything right – pre-departure beverage, breakfast was served timely, drinks and snacks afterward. What made her stand out so much was that during the flight, she never smiled. Indeed she never spoke to any passenger. She went through the motions perfectly but otherwise, seemed near catatonic. I am sure that many would describe her as rude.
With all the passenger servings completed and the flight attendant seated, I approached the galley and asked for a cup of coffee. As she prepared my drink, I asked her something like, “Rough day already?” That opened the floodgates.
She proceeded to tell me about how the night before, she had an argument with her teenage daughter. This was something new to her – something I endured way too many times as a parent – but the worst part, she told me, was that it wasn’t reconciled before going to bed. Because this was an early morning flight, there was no time to discuss it anymore with her daughter so the last interaction they had was both going to bed angry. And now she wouldn’t be home for a few days.
She was hurt, confused, and wondering what was going on at the moment in her daughter’s mind. This was something she just needed to talk about with someone but because of the early flight, never had time to discuss it with her fellow attendants. She felt like she was carrying the weight of the world.
While I never had an exact experience like she described, I did raise a teenage daughter and way too often (as in way too often), I had to leave early in the morning before working through our issues from the night before. It was so easy to empathize with her situation. We talked about things I learned raising teenagers and needing to travel – and I shared how many times I stared out the A- or F-seat windows with tears in my eyes. We started to laugh over some of my hard-learned lessons and that was when everything changed…
From that point forward, she returned to her duties with enthusiasm. She was smiling and interacting with the passengers, offering outstanding service. What had helped was to talk through what was going on at home with another mom who could understand the guilt and heavy heart she had come to work with that morning, and actually have a laugh or two.
My point in all this… I hear all the time about surly or rude flight attendants. But honestly, between me and my husband, we fly maybe a couple hundred segments a year. Of course we compare notes about our flights and together we come up maybe a couple times when we interact with a truly rude flight attendant. That’s literally only a couple times a year between us.
I have no doubt some will say it is not our responsibility, as passengers, to help flight attendants get through their troubled days. And I agree. But where we may differ is that I have no problem lending my support to a flight attendant for five minutes if it will help her and even by association, help others.
Of course the potential for rude flight attendants is even greater in the economy cabin where each FA needs to serve perhaps three times as many passengers. Anything out of the ordinary can disrupt their routine and as all of those who fly know, it is actually the uncommon which is most common. In other words, every flight offers a different set of challenges with some being more demanding than others.
Next time you encounter what you believe is a rude flight attendant, please think of this story. No, I am not suggesting you try to help them, only that before putting the ‘rude’ label on them, take a deep breath and remember they are human, too. They may have been called in late to fill a flight, had a recent spat with someone, or even suffered a personal tragedy in their lives recently. When you put a human face to that rude perception, sometimes the behavior is not as bad as you feel. And you just might help someone else, never a bad thing. You know, travel karma and all that.