I’ve been a flight attendant for 20 years. In other words I’ve spent a lot of time talking to myself. Some of my best conversations happen with myself. Sad but true.
Twenty years ago, when I first started flying, almost every passenger said hello during boarding. Oh how times have changed. Now when I stand in front of the boarding door and say good morning most people don’t even respond. They don’t even look at me. They just stare straight ahead and keep on walking. Those who do say hello stand out. To get a hello WITH eye contact is rare, so rare, in fact, it almost makes me feel uncomfortable. That’s how bad things have gotten.
When I first started flying I’d talk to passengers all the time. I’d see a book in their hands and ask what they were reading or ask where they were going and what they had planned to do on vacation. Today passengers bring on so many devices, I spend less time talking and more time playing charades during the drink service. No joke; I’ll point at a can of soda or grab a cup and pretend to drink. Even then some passengers can’t figure out why I’m there.
Before iPhones and iPads I’d ask passengers what they’d like to drink and they’d tell me. Simple. Now they stare at me blankly, not bothering to turn down the volume or take their headphones off. I’ve been known to repeat myself not once, not twice, but three times to each passenger in the same row. After a while it gets old. That’s okay, it’s my job, and I love my job. It’s just sometimes I wonder what some passengers might be thinking when they see me standing in the aisle behind a rolling cart with a stack of cups and coffeepots on top? I’m not selling shoes.
Why all this talk about talking — or lack thereof? Not that long ago I read a Forbes article about flight attendants learning how to say two words: “you’re welcome.” Well, that made me laugh. It made me laugh because rarely anyone on the plane says thank you anymore. I wish the people who wrote articles about my job were actually required to do it first. Like for maybe a day or even an hour just to get a better perspective of how things are. Then they’d be less inclined to print such foolish things.
“Most people never acknowledge my presence,” said a flight attendant on my Facebook page after I shared the Forbes article. “I say ‘You’re welcome’ just to make a point.”
A point…nobody hears?
A different coworker only asks passengers twice what they’d like to drink. If they don’t answer by the second time, he moves the cart. “It’s amazing how quickly the headphones come off then,” he says.
Airlines want flight attendants to be more personable. At least that’s what passengers tell them. Easier said than done. Even during the dinner service, business class passengers can’t be bothered to answer questions about their meal. Once I am able to get them to stop typing or take off their headphones, I have to fire off questions like I’m on speed before they go back to doing whatever they were doing.
For instance if I ask which dressing they’d like, and then pause a few seconds to prepare the salad, they’ll go right back to what they were doing and then make a big to do about having to stop doing it again to choose a dinner roll. My friend’s solution is to ask passengers all the questions before the dinner service. On the ground. Before they have a chance to get settled in. That way all he has to do in flight is hold out the breadbasket and point at different rolls using silver tongs. No need for words.
There have been times I’ve been ignored so much that I start answering my own questions. It goes something like this, “Would you care for something else to drink? No? You’re done? What was that? You don’t want anything else for the remainder of the flight? OK.” Then I’ll whisk the glass away. Everyone’s happy. Except for maybe the passenger in the next seat who witnessed the exchange. I’ll never forget the look on one passenger’s face when I said this to the man seated next to him. I winked and moved on.
I don’t care if passengers wave me away with a flick of the wrist or look put out about having to pause their movie so I can ask if they’d prefer the balsamic vinaigrette or creamy herb dressing. I’m used to it. Anyway some people just want to be left alone. I get it. For these people I go out of my way to give them what they want: quiet. Because I assume they want to be left alone. Of course these same passengers are probably the first to complain when they need something.
Ya know the saying, it takes two to Tango? Well it’s true.
Good manners and using please and thank you is unfortunately a rarity today. All I can do is continue to do my best. And go around saying “you’re welcome,” no matter what.
Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...