Attention passengers… can you hear me?

IMG_0033I’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.

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Heather Poole View All →

Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...

13 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Sooooo true! Every word! Most times saying “good morning , good afternoon, good evening welcome aboard” with a smile falls on an unenthusiastic non-participating audience. The way I cope is to remember that while passengers may not care, I do. So if manners are a dying courtesy I can choose not to go down that same path. Flying may not be as glamorous as it was in the past but I can pretend!

    And don’t even get me started on the service and electronic device issue… I just pretend I’m a Stepford wife. I sometimes wish we could use bull horns like on cruise ships : “Ladies and gentleman we are about to start the beverage / snack / food service , anyone who doesn’t respond immediately and politely when asked for your beverage choice won’t be allowed to participate in the dance party later on the lido deck, and we will also assume because you haven’t had a drink you won’t have a need to use the lavatory and so will refrain from getting up at all during the flight. Thank you and welcome aboard !

  2. I get it, some don’t. I fly more than my husband and numerous times I have tried to explain airplane etiquette, earphones off, (you may not be asked what you would like and assume you do not want to be bothered) speak clearly and maybe look in the magazine for what is offered, don’t make it difficult, there are a lot of us on the plane, especially in the back. Slowly chipping away. It is amazing what being pleasant does, it’s infectious.

  3. Oh, Heather. Your article is so true, and makes me so sad. Ever since you’ve been writing about greeting passengers at the door, I’ve been making an extra effort to greet the FA on my way in — and always say thank you. The problem? Most FAs don’t want to acknowledge passengers ahead of me, behind me, or me either. In fact, this indifference and near-hostility is more than common — many, if not most, FAs apparently want to punch in, do their service, not be bothered, and punch out. Given the difficulty of the job, I can understand fatigue and burnout. I rarely run into the kind of eager and social FA you’re talking about. If I did, believe me, it would make my whole week. It’s happened before, but FAs like you are rare treasures. Most of the others essentially train indifference in passengers, which creates indifferent FAs. Ugh.

  4. Oh, Heather. Your article is so true, and makes me so sad. Ever since you’ve been writing about greeting passengers at the door, I’ve been making an extra effort to greet the FA on my way in — and always say thank you. The problem? Most FAs don’t want to acknowledge passengers ahead of me, behind me, or me either. In fact, this indifference and near-hostility is more than common — many, if not most, FAs apparently want to punch in, do their service, not be bothered, and punch out. Given the difficulty of the job, I can understand fatigue and burnout. I rarely run into the kind of eager and social FA you’re talking about. If I did, believe me, it would make my whole week. It’s happened before, but FAs like you are rare treasures. Most of the others essentially train indifference in passengers, which creates indifferent FAs. Ugh.

  5. I hear ya. It bothers me as a passenger to have to endure other rude passengers.

    It’s also a two-way street. As a frequent traveler, I always try to make eye contact and say Hello to the flight attendants. Many are terrific. There also are many, many times when it’s not returned. (This tends to happen more on certain airlines than others.)

    Perhaps, collectively, we’re conditioning each other to be less friendly. The gate agent doesn’t smile, so the passenger doesn’t smile, so the flight attendant doesn’t smile, etc. A vicious circle.

    But, don’t give up! We can turn this thing around if we keep trying and encouraging others.

  6. Hi Heather,
    I have always been one to say, “please” and “thank you,” becuase I truly appreciate the work of the cabin crew. I am a new non-rev flier as I am dating a pilot, which makes me double the effort. I think that people forget that the crew is ultimately responsible for their life safety, and any person who can save my life, or my child’s life, deserves every respect and accommodation possible! So, “thank you” 1,000 times!
    Kind regards,
    Linda B.

  7. Me too! I always make it a point to SAY the crew person’s name at least once when I enter or am directly asked a question. That habit started out as an experiment to see reactions, but now it’s a fun habit that elicits startled looks. But here’s the thing: If the crew is going to make sure we all get back to ground level without going “MH170” into the brine, I want to make sure I am on the survivor list. Being civil is easy. The rewards are great!

  8. It is terribly sad that people are no longer polite and choose not to communicate on flights. Im sorry you have to deal with people that seem to have forgotten common decency. Whenever i’m aboard a flight I say hello to every flight attendant I pass on my way to my seat and always remove my headphones from my ipod when any carts are moving down the aisle. It’s just being a polite human being. I often wonder if Im considered an annoying passenger as I often strike up conversations with the flight attendants; on my last flight I was even asking about the job, looking for tips on how to apply to a flight attendant position.

    Anyway, you’ll always get a hello from me if im ever on one of your flights!

  9. I agree with Linda. I too have always shown my appreciation for the job you have to do. I don’t get to travel as much as I would like because of financial reasons but over the years I’ve noticed a few things. The biggest thing is the frustration I see in coach class. Price of tickets is not too big of a deal, but the feeling of being squeezed in so tight, side to side and front to back, is starting to wear very thin with a lot of people. I’ve seen people medicate themselves just to get through the flight. I’ve heard of people elbowing each other for the armrest. Some get mad when the seat in front of them comes down the whole 2 or 3 inches. We are all, crew and passengers, trying to cope with the new normal. I have found that “thank you”, “I appreciate that”, “have a nice day” etc. said constantly and with feeling tends to be infectious and sometimes eases some tension in the air. I’m 66 and flying to me is still the same adventures generating feeling like it was on my first flight 56 years ago. Just not quite as fun 🙂
    Good luck and keep trying!

  10. I have been a flight attendant for 7 months now, and like you, I love my job. I was sure I was only being sensitive when my feelings got hurt that I was being so nice and personable as people walked through that aircraft door and they simply ignored me. This blog has inspired me to continue to love my job and get some tough skin. People don’t understand how important we truly are to their safety and well being while they’re on our carrier. Anyhow, thank you for this! I’ll keep this blog in mind and stay positive for the future, as I would like this to be my retiring career!

  11. Your thoughts on common courtesy are also common sense. However, I want to express ardent kudos to an angelic Flight Attendant who held my hand for more than a thousand miles in the air between Oakland, CA, and Chicago, IL, after I had a Grand Mal seizure. I’m sure I clung so tightly that she couldn’t easily have escaped my grasp. Yet, there she crouched, in her fashionable spike heels, providing urgent care to a passenger in need. When the plane landed, I tried to express my extreme gratitude but I was aphasic [unable to talk] as an aftermath of the seizure, so I just stumbled down to the aisle to the exit and out into the airport. I’m recalling this long past experience as a feeble way to express my unspoken appreciation to that wonderful Flight Attendant and all you others who I’m sure would also go the extra mile for a passenger in need. Thank you.

  12. It’s funny, I think this post touches on a passive aggressive response I get from a lot of flight attendants that I’ve always wondered about.

    I’m a frequent flier that wears those Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones; when the flight attendant with the drink cart gets close to my row I always start paying a lot more attention to who they’re serving/when they should get to me, and always immediately make eye contact when they look over at me, and say what I want (always water for me). Often though I get nothing but a blank look back with no acknowledgement of what I asked for, or am asked to repeat myself.

    What they don’t know though is that I am almost never actually listening to anything through my headphones (I wear them mostly for the sound cancellation effect) and when I am listening to something, I always pause it when they get to the row ahead of me, but I don’t remove my headphones because I hate that sudden engine roar that floods your ears when you take off noise cancelling headphones during a flight.

    Anyway my point is, I am not listening to anything, so I can hear myself clearly and concisely asking for water, yet they often make me repeat myself, far too frequently for it to be the occasional legit cabin noise/me speaking more softly than I thought. After reading your post I gather that many FAs take it as some sort of slight that I’m not removing my headphones to speak to them, and are just being petty.

    A flight attendant has never had to work to get my attention before, yet they somehow see it as a slight that I don’t want to take off my noise canceling headphones? It’s obvious what you’re going to ask, what’s wrong with making eye contact and simply asking for what want without removing my headphones?

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