Friday, January 20, 2006

Paying My Salary or Subsidizing Your Travel

When I was first hired as a flight attendant, one of the things that I always kept in the back of my mind was that the passengers were paying my salary.
 
While that didn't justify outright abuse, and I set firm boundaries about what was and wasn't acceptable passenger behavior, it did help me overlook the little annoyances.  I smiled at some of the complaints, and listened without rolling my eyes.  I never took blame for something that wasn't of my own doing, but I was more than willing to take responsibility to find a solution to a problem.  Passengers, no matter how tedious, annoying or simply wrong, were paying my salary.
 
The times have been a changin' though!
 
While I still smile and try to help solve a problem, I no longer have the "customer is always right" point of view.  Sometimes they are simply wrong.  They have unrealistic expectations of air travel.  They want something for nothing.  Outrageously bad behavior will not be tolerated.  Drunks are dealt with quickly and firmly.
 
Flight Attendants are often blamed for problems out of our control.  We have less and less resources available to us to help solve a problem.  The tightening of rules and regulations in our work environment means that we no longer can help in ways that we might have been able to in days past. 
 
In fact, I also don't think of the passenger as paying my salary any longer. 
 
The airline executives have chosen to deeply discount fares to a dangerous level, and have slashed employee salaries to subsidize it.  That's a business choice.  We have to live with it.
 
But think of it this way (and this won't be popular with a lot of people):  Try being nice to your flight attendants.  They took pay cuts to subsidize your travel.
 
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30 comments:

Jonathan Ellis said...

Wow, I guess unions can't just wave a magic wand and keep wages higher than the market will support forever. Who woulda thunk?

A moment of silence, please, for the days of regulated air travel. Ahh, for government-enforced fat margins... everyone else in america got screwed, but hey, that was a small price to pay.

Anonymous said...

Good for you Fly Girl! Jonthan Ellis needs to CHILL. Airline tickets are entirely too cheap nowadays. It is beyond ridiculous. I am a frequent business traveller that flies over 100K miles each year, so I am a very good customer for airlines and I am saying I should be paying more. In fact, I'm writing this from my hotel room in Europe while here on a business trip.

I fly transcons regularly, and there is no reason that an air ticket from LA to NY, when purchased just a week or so before the travel date should be less that $400 on a major carrier - not even a Southwest of JetBlue - There is no way airlines can make a profit... the planes are filled with money losing revenues. This is a system which cannot continue.

It is also absolutely ridiculous to see how much abuse people give ticket agents, gate agents and flight attendants - screaming that they are PAYING CUSTOMERS and that if they don't get X or Y they are NEVER FLYING THAT AIRLINE AGAIN...

I say - go ahead - stop flying that airline - let the competitors lose money on your $299 transcon seat with your 3 HUGE carryons and lap child. See if I care.

I don't want to go back to $3K transcon coach seats, but there has to be a balance, and today the pendulum has swung way too far the other way.

Cheap air tickets are NOT a right guaranteed by the constitution, and the full service airline is quickly becoming an extinct animal.

I am not a fan of unions, but believe me, if you had to do a flight attendants job on what they make, you wouldn't. You just wouldn't.

Fly girl is right. Air travel is way too cheap nowadays... and it's only a matter of time before it's not just creature comforts that get cut and we see more safety issues due to lower profits.

Anonymous said...

While there's never any excuse for abusing airline/airport employees, I'm bored to death with more and more people demanding consideration for doing their job.

You chose the life of a flight attendant. It unfortunately involves dealing with morons some of the time. If you don't like it, leave.

Airlines are a business and elitist pantywaists like the previous Anonymous notwithstanding, they will cut fares as low as the market will let them.

I would bet most of your passengers are not assholes. Just as most flight attendants I have seen are not rude, inconsiderate jerks. We don't see you as our slave, and you shouldn't see us as your paymasters. Just give me my pack of 2.5 peanuts/pretzels and a coke and I won't bother you for the rest of the flight :)

Fly Girl said...

I knew this topic would stir up controversy, which is part of the reasons for the post. A vigorous debate is always a good thing.


Mr. Ellis: No one has a magic wand for this industry. Not the executives, not the unions, not the government, not the courts.

But before you lie the fault for the ills of the industry on the unions, take a look at all sides of this dilemma. There's plenty of blame and responsibility to go around. All the way around.

You may think that everyone got screwed back in the era of regulated travel. And while I am definitely NOT suggesting a return to that era, I think everyone is continuing to get screwed today.

Who do you think is paying for the handouts given to the airlines by the government? Who do you think is paying for the airlines in bankruptcy and the resulting domino effect that is driving other business into bankruptcy as well? Who do you think is paying for the failure of the pension plans?

We're all paying for it, and we will continuing to pay for it for some time.

If you really want the free market to win out, you won't get much argument from me. But what you'll see then is the cost of travel going much higher than it is today. You'll get what you pay for.

--------

For the record: Southwest Airlines, often touted as both a successful low cost carrier and a great place to work, is highly unionized. Their flight attendants are paid at the very top of the wage market. I guess this shows that you can be successful paying your employees good wages as long as you have a strong business plan.

marco_099 said...

Anonymous, you are such a moron. Maybe you are rich, that´s why u say all that bs. Congratulations. Eat your peanuts and shut up amigo.

Anonymous said...

You want some more cheese with that whine? As far as I'm concerned air travel ain't cheap.

Fly Girl said...

Anonymous #1: I'm guessing you are a regular reader because you seem to "get" that I enjoy my job. That doesn't mean the industry should be above my criticism, or anyone elses for that matter.

Anonymous #2: I can't understand why you are bored to death with employees wanting/demanding consideration for doing their job. Isn't that about personal dignity and respect? Isn't that how changes are brought about?

While I don't want whining to continue ad nauseum, but let's face it -- reading about fun and happy stuff on this blog is what would get boring.

Most passengers and fellow crew memebers are TERRIFIC. But I'm not going to stop poking fun at the business once in awhile. I can laugh at myself as well as others.

Fly Girl said...

Marco: No name calling, please. I appreciate your passion for the topic, but there is room for all points of view in my comments.

Anonymous #3: Damn, but I hate it when I don't know how to address people.

I'm not sure where you think the whine is. A spirited discussion is always fun!

But -- you don't think air travel is cheap? WOW! I'm not sure you'll get much empathy for that point of view when careful shopping will get you a roundtrip cross country flight between $159-$259 depending on your destination. It would cost more to drive it!

Robert Konigsberg said...

It sounds like you got the good range of opinion already, but that never stopped me from giving mine.

On one level, Anonymous #2 is right that if you don't like what's going on, you can certainly leave.

On the other hand, he says, "I'm bored to death with more and more people demanding consideration for doing their job." I thionk you shouldn't feel any need to protect him from name calling, because, heck, how much consideration can he expect? This isn't even his job! (Maybe it is? :))

It makes me sad that flight attendants have to ask people to try to be nice to them. Alas.

Fly Girl said...

Mr. Konigsberg: A good range of opinions is always appreciated and encouraged.

However, I don't want to have to moderate comments. And that means that while I am amused by a sarcastic wit and an occasional turn at snarkiness, it's gotta be done with ugliness or name calling. My blog, my comments, my call.

I've never understood the opinion "that if you don't like what's going on, you can certainly leave." In fact, that has never made any sense to me at all. I think the healthier option is to investigate and communicate and debate, thereby making things healthier and stronger. And I think that goes for business, politics, relationships, and life in general.

When I'm unhappy with a situation I hope that I NEVER just walk away without have the courage and convictions to try to change things.

Astroprof said...

Flight attendants are blamed for things out of their control? You mean that y'all aren't the ones that are creating all the bad weather leading to flight delays?
;)

I for one am really happy that air travel is so inexpensive. Of course, I realize that this means that you no longer are paying for things that you used to get for "free" on flights. A lot of others don't see this. Then the passengers are being treated almost like criminals by the TSA while trying to get into the airport, being treated like cattle once they get into the airport, not to mention that over the last decade there even seems to be fewer places to sit in the airport once you get there, and as for purchasing a ticket -- it is like playing the stock market when you try to buy a ticket (no two people on the plane are paying the same price, it seems). All this means that you have a recipe for irritation. Most people don't have any idea why things are this way --- they just know that they don't like it.

Of course, that does not mean that anyone has any reason to treat the airline employees poorly, as the ones that passengers run into are stuck in the same situations as the passengers, and they were not the ones who made things that way in the first place. However, we see to live in a society with a lot of pent up rage. The people who treat the flight attendants and gate agents poorly are likely the very same people flipping other drivers off on their way to the airport.

Civilized people should simply treat one another with civility. I try to smile and be friendly to the people at the airport, even when they are snippy and harried and in a really bad mood after dealing with angry passengers all day. Just a few weeks ago I had lots of practice smiling at irritated gate agents during a particularly busy and crazy travel day. It didn't always make them feel better, but at least it didn't upset them further. If everyone were to treat each other nicely, then travel would be much more enjoyable. I would imagine that the passengers who act like jerks, rather than getting what they want, are merely making their flights less enjoyable for themselves and everyone around them.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous#2 here. flygirl, apologies if I sounded condescending.

What I was trying to say, in my inarticulate way, was that while it is fine to have the courage to change the things we can, in this case one needs the serenity to accept that one can't change the behavior of humanity.

If you are in a customer-facing business, you will meet a lot of inconsiderate people. Those are just the odds.

I was in a tech support job for a couple of years. Yes, I would have liked to change the people who called and treated me like crap.
But do I seriously think I could have ? No. Because that would call for a social revolution that will never happen.
The fact was that there were very few of them compared to the volume of calls I handled. Most of my customers were just people trying to get on with their jobs.

I did my job, they got what they paid for and life went on.

Now how about those pesticides on international flights ? will they kill us ? Is it part of an airline consipiracy to get rid of the most troublesome passengers ?

Robert Konigsberg said...

You're right about the healthier opinion, and when something doesn't work for you, the first, best choice, is to find a way to make it work, and only then, consider leaving. "If you don't like something, you can leave", is sort of the description of the last resort.

Pulling from personal experience, I hated a job I had. So finally I updated my resume. With my resume up-to-date, I knew I could get another job. The act of no longer feeling bound to my job changed my whole perspective. I spent the following weekend doing some of the best work I'd ever done, and stayed for three more years.

However, I don't think that's what Anonymous meant, since he was coming from a place of complaint, and 'bored to death.'

Robert Konigsberg said...

Hey, I didn't see that Anonymous #2 came back. Kudos for doing so. Tell me, is my assertion that you came from a place of complaint incorrect? I'm happy to be told I'm wrong. (It happens often. :) )

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what you mean by "place of complaint".

I do believe that there are certains jobs where aggravation and hassle are a given. You can't sign up for a job like that and then be dismayed by the problems inherent in the work.

In those jobs, if you can't stand the heat, you must get out of the kitchen.

I would not be able to do Flygirl's job for even a week. She's certainly a bigger person than I am.
However, I'd like to know how she thinks discussion will change the situation.
I sympathize with her irritation with demanding passengers, but thinking anything will alter human nature is a pipe dream.

Robert, your situation was different because you only had to affect a small number of people (and/or a limited set of conditions in your environment) to improve your lot.

Flygirl meets hundreds of random people every day. She will never be able to change them all, let alone the tiny fraction that read this blog (which is fascinating and full of great material, BTW).

JoeyC said...

Hey Yuhu!

Great subject to touch upon; both the aviation and non-aviation folks are joining in some healthy debate! (nothing wrong with it!)

I have one viewpoint on this topic.

If an airline can afford to give low fares, while:

-Staying out of debt
-Paying crewmembers NORMALLY
And
-Once again, staying out of debt,

Then they are safe to charge their fares.

Anonymous dude who thinks the fares should be higher does have a good point on his side:

I, too, agree that a big reason why carriers are in bankruptcy is because of either (A)Tickets are too cheap: not profiting, or (B)Tickets are too expensive, no one's buying.

There has to be a fair balance.

I'd rather pay some more, and get a small snack, movie, and drink, than pay the bare minimum, recieving pay-per-flight entertainment and buy-on-board meals.

At the same time, I dont think the savings should be passed down to employees, in the form of pay cuts... I think that fares should be created accordingly.

I got ONT -> JFK for $209 R/T once on jetBlue, before my mom became a cabin crewmember with them.

I got:
-36 Channels of DirecTV (FREE)
-Snacks, Chips, Drinks, Candy (FREE)
-Smooth, non-stop flight
-Friendly crew (who LOVED their job)
for that fare.

There was a genuine appreciation in the crewmember's eyes... now that my mom works for them, I can understand it.

JetBlue, and others like it, treat their crewmembers VERY nicely. Southwest does the same, but due to seniority issues, they are unionized.

Jetblue is not, and probably will not be for a long time, unionized as far as cabin crew. Why? Because all cabin crew, from noobies to seniors, get paid their fair share, and get to work for a great company.

To me, nothing matters more. My mom isn't a flight attendant just to make money to survive; my dad owns his own business which makes a substancial amount of money, so my mom could live pretty well without being a crewmember.

After leaving Delta, she chose jetBlue over SWA, AirTran, and all of the rest, because of the rave reviews she got by jetBlue crew while she chatted with them every once and a while. All they could say was good about JB, and they were obviously very joyful of the airline.

That quality... a perfect utopia between employees, and management, prove that maybe charging stupidly low fares can work out, after all!

Sorry for the long post, and please excuse mistakes... been up since 3:00AM, and its 9:00PM, so I'm tired!

-Joey

Fly Girl said...

Anonymous #2: No apologies necessary, although I much appreciate the gesture.

You know, ultimately we can only change ourselves. And then, by our behavior, hope to influence others. While I have no idealistic notion that we can cause a wide-spread social reform, that doesn't mean I'm ready to give up on civility.

Fly Girl said...

Mr Konigsberg: I agree that leaving is a last resort option. I just get frustrated all too often hearing it as a first line of defense.

If you're asking if I come from a place of complaint? Sometimes. When I'm complained at (which is NOT part of my job), my inner flight attendant tends to complain back while my outer flight attendant keeps smiling.

In the big picture, however, most passengers have no idea how they come across. I like to point things out as a means of viewing life's foibles. That's all.

I try to be respectful, while pointing fun at my industry.

Fly Girl said...

Anonymous: And now I have no idea which anonymous I'm talking to. (Here's an idea, I understand wanting to remain anonymous, so how about adding some sort of nickname so that I can address you respectfully.)

And here's a point of respecful disagreement. Discussing many issues will certainly change things. Completely and forever? Or course not. But most people have no idea how their behavior impacts things.

I found this hard to believe until many friend in non-travel jobs were surprised at some of the things I mentioned.

While I hope I never give up my dreams of changing the world (albeit for a far more important cause than the thing I talk about here on the blog), I'm not losing sleep over it.

I'd like to think that I can have a good time making fun of my business.

Fly Girl said...

Joey: One reason that Jet Blue has not faced the unionization issue is that they treat their employees well. I hope that continues.

I'm sure that your mother enjoys flying for them. While salary and benefits may not be important to here, don't forget that the majority of flight attendants are not in her financial position. The job is their source of income, and they rely on it to support themselves and their family.

And now it's late, and I, too, am fading fast.

JoeyC said...

FlyGirl:

Yes, That was the point in my post; they have a near-perfect utopia, and that makes a big difference.

I hear what you're saying about the income.

Southwest and JetBlue pay their crew very well... highest in the industry (southwest)... so I wonder why a Low Cost Carrier can pay their crew so well, with their cheap tickets, when a legacy carrier (especially the ones NOT in Bankruptcy), can't pay their crew half of what SWA does.

-Joey

Anonymous said...

Ack! No! I give!

(I was talking about Anonmymous #2. Never mind. I yield.) :)

Nevernomore said...

(Anonymous#2 again. )
Flygirl, I am definitely all for civility. As I've said repeatedly, there is no excuse for rudeness.

I also agree that there are probably a lot of us who don't know we're being difficult.
I would really like to see concrete examples of that kind of behavior from you, rather than a vague allusion to "tedious, annoying or simply wrong" passengers.
That would help us correct our mistakes and maybe make the flight crews' jobs more enjoyable.

There was this great story going around a couple of weeks ago :
http://ricksegal.typepad.com/pmv/2006/01/the_new_digital.html

Nice story, except now we might have hordes of passengers bringing food for airline ground staff and expecting upgrades :-)

number4of5 said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't there an airline in the past that rewarded customers for being nice? The people who handled situations with respect or patience were givin some sort of travel bonus. I have a very vague recollection of this, but I always loved that idea.

Could you imagine if all companies did this?

Fly Girl said...

Nevernomore: I have a bunch of specific examples in some of my archived posts. I'll dig some of them out for a re-post. Thanks for the suggestion.

Number4of5: It doesn't sound familiar to me, but I'm going to ask around and see if it is to anyone else. On the plane I always try to reward good behavior (comping drinks or movie, for example). Bad behavior won't get you free anything.

Flygirl said...

Great debate. There has been some very interesting opinions voiced.

Overall...there is no excuse for rudeness. We, as flight attendants, want to help you...when your happy as a passenger our job is easier! Passengers need to realize though that there are many things that can and do go wrong when traveling that have nothing to do with us...and it's not ok to take it out on the flight attendant just because they are the only one trapped in the metal tube with you for hours, 30,000 feet up who is employed by whoever supposedly screwed you. Most of the time, we can sympathize with you...remember we travel all the time! We know the seats can be uncomfortable and that the snacks aren't that great. We know it's frustrating that all the overhead bins are full, or that your checked bag went missing or that the only open seat is next to the lav. Welcome to airline travel!
All we ask for is respect (It's that 'golden rule' concept). We respect the fact that you want a nice flight for a nice price. And although there is no possible way to make every person happy 100% of the time, we are doing are best. Please just remember...treat us as you would want to be treated! Would it make you upset if someone griped you out in front of 50+ other people for something that wasn't even your fault?!?

JoeyC said...

flygirl (the one with the hot picture!!!!!!!!!)

You, along with other flight attendants, should be the ones complaining.

Y'all sit in your jumpseats, which are smaller than my 15" monitor. When you're not doing that, you're up and about, pushing/pulling 250 LB carts.

On top of that, you get to hear people complain about things that you dont give a sh*t about. Excuse me.

With love,

Joey

Flygirl said...

Thanks joey for your understanding! We do love our job but at times I think you couldn't give us all the money in the world to put up with some of the things we do! :)

JoeyC said...

"Thanks joey for your understanding!"

No problem!

"I think you couldn't give us all the money in the world to put up with some of the things we do! :)"

Like cleaning up after slobs? Trust me... I know all that!

I do my best to help out crew, especially when I'm buddy passing with me mother.

This one time, I gave each crewmember a $20 bill in an envelope... 4 crewmembers total. I still dont know why... I was packing my bag, and saw a bunch of twenties in my bedroom safe... birthday money, etc. I took 4 envelopes, put one twenty in each one, and closed it. It wasnt anything to write home about, but I tried my best to let them know I appreciate them. Short of giving each one a new car and house, and marrying them, I tried.

During decent, I quickly wrote "Thanks for a great flight!" on each envelope. The crew did the routine cabin check, and I tapped two of them on the shoulder and handed the envelopes to them.

When we deplaned, I handed the other 2 envelopes to the crew in front.

I didnt realize until after that I probably scared a crewmember when they got a tap on a shoulder, and a man gave them a sealed envelope. As it turns out, one of the crewmembers opened it prior to landing, and gave me a big thank you upon deplaning!

I LOVE AND RESPECT FLIGHT CREW... The old ones, young ones, tall ones, short ones, fat ones... ALL OF THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You guys rock. I wish I could have the pleasure of both of you Flygirls being on one of my flights... while you might not like it, I would love seeing friendly people like you!

Flygirl said...

You can fly on my plane anytime joey...I wish all my pax had a better understanding and respect for what we do like you seem to have.