While commuting on an airline other than the one I work for, I had the chance to chat with a very seasoned traveler. He was flying on this airline by chance (not his normal carrier).
When our discussion turned to airline related development, he became animated and quite agitated.
“Today, people are just plain savages!” he exclaimed. “People just don’t know what they are doing anymore and they will step on anyone to get what they want and to hell with all the rest…”
I chuckled to myself because I knew exactly what he meant and how he felt. I truly empathize with the frequent business travelers out there who know how the system works and knows first-hand that most of us front line airline staff are truly powerless to get things to change…at least most of the time. If I wasn’t an airline employee (but could have the knowledge that I have gained over the years as one) I would never choose a career where I had to fly most of the time, unless I was privy to a private jet.
What seemed to anger this man the most was a serious lack of manners that he perceived had infected the public at large. As the baby boomers age, and the X and Y generations move into young adulthood, many educators have noted a shift in moral standards and values; tied to an ever-increasing exposure to violence, raw language and less exposure to parental authority, this up-and-coming generation has shown a true lack of respect for authority, or for their fellow human beings.
These observations have not gone unnoticed among those of us in the service and hospitality industries. Much of what we witness is frustration over many things that are simply out of the control of the person trying to correct the issue(s) at hand.
It seems clear that the reputation that the airlines have isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. Of the six major airlines in the USA today, three are still trying to sort things out from recent mergers. U.S. Airways merged with America West Airlines more than six years ago and they still haven’t worked out all the kinks that are needed in finalizing such a large transaction.
In the interim, how the airline customer perceives the airline employee adds a lot of negativity that passengers have felt about airline travel altogether. But the most plain of observations is how airline passengers treat each other that have seemingly degraded the quickest. Tempers are high and an air of “I’m only looking out for myself” tends to win out over helping a complete stranger out when they appear helpless.
Many “important” businessmen and women struggle to be first on-board their flights, jockeying for position of luggage space; some wouldn’t hesitate to run over another just to be first or have the best advantage. I have seen it happen with my own eyes more than a few times! Sometimes it’s comical – it reminds me of a “Keystone Cops” episode! And I have had to act as referee more than a few times when these people start arguing over bin space, or leg room or a seat duplication…it can get pretty involved at times, but it’s certainly not the end of the world either!
In the grand scheme of things, these airline mergers will eventually be ironed out, and employees will once again beam with pride to work for their respective carriers. Airline travelers will always have high demands and high expectations. It’s how we choose to treat one another that can make or break a trip altogether.
As an experiment, I recently traveled across country in “civilian” attire; the only people on the plane who knew I was an airline person were the crew. I did not have my badge draped on my neck nor my “CREW” tags hanging from my luggage. During the boarding process, I found myself helping other passengers get bags arranged in the overhead bins, said “please” and “thank you” out loud with a smile and generally helped get folks settled in. I laughed when one elderly person suggested that I should go to work for the airlines, I was so nice.
In general, the experiment showed two things happened. First, the general attitudes of the people around me tended to lighten. Second, I noticed that others started getting into the act, helping their fellow passengers get settled, arrange luggage and answer questions. Before you knew it, a completely full airplane was boarded, settled and for the most part happy to be underway. The flight was pleasant and concluded without incident.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every single flight would go without a hitch, but the great variable “unknown” was in play here because I never notified anyone of what I was doing and this flight was as random as any flight I might work as a reserve flight attendant. It could have been any flight to any destination, and I believe that I would have gotten a similar response.
As a professional, I truly believe that, as a society in general, we should all strive to return to the days when we were civil to one another. Dust off our books of etiquette and treat others with respect, dignity and how we’d want others to treat us…you know, that “Golden Rule” thing.
I challenge you to try this yourself and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised to the outcome, AND enjoy the process itself at the same time!