Friday, 11 September 2009

Charlie Leocha: "Flight attendants -- unsung heroes"

Flight attendants — unsung heroes
(by Charlie Leocha, / )

Over the eight years since 9/11, there have been many ceremonies, new memorials, congressional plaudits and remembrances for those who died in that day’s tragic events.

Police officers, firefighters and other first responders gather every year with politicians on stages across America. Yet few remember that the first casualties of the terrorist attacks were flight attendants. Sadly, airline crewmembers are almost never included in the tributes.

That’s a shame.

I’ve said so on every anniversary of the September attacks, and I’ll say it again this year.

Airline flight attendants are the unsung heroes…

The stress on our airline systems has increased and will only get worse. And yet flight attendants continue to report to work every day, ready to do what they can to keep us safe. Unfortunately, the traveling public takes them for granted….

So, let’s get our priorities straight.

Baggage screeners earn between $25,000 and $38,000 a year. TSA supervisors earn $45,000 to $70,000 a year. Federal air marshals make between $36,000 and $85,000 a year. These workers receive all the standard government perks of medical care, vacations and insurance. Meanwhile, flight attendants, the airlines’ real frontline troops, receive starting salaries of $18,000 a year, or less, and don’t have a prayer of seeing $30,000 for at least three years….

As for public recognition, there’s been almost nothing. Instead, what flight attendants have seen since I first wrote this story eight years ago is a continuing series of layoffs, downsizings and reductions in pay.

Are our memories so short?

And there’s more .

Safety, of course, isn’t just or even primarily about terrorism. When I started out as a travel agent, American Airlines still sent travel agents for training on the Sabre CRS at the same facility at DFW used for flight attendant safety training, and I saw some of the drills they went through in cabin mockups, practicing things like emergency evacuations on water or in fire. A few years later, I was on a trans-Pacific flight when a cockpit alarm signaled (erroneously, it turned out) that the landing gear had malfunctioned on takeoff, and might not extend properly for landing. As though someone had flipped a switch, the flight attendants went from waiters and waitresses to lifesaving attendants, from bowing and scraping to commanding leadership, as they prepared us for a possible wheels-up belly landing. That, and not passing out pretzels, is what they are paid for, or should be. And that ability, not their appearance, is what they should be hired for.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 11 September 2009, 23:40 (11:40 PM)

Well put; this needs to be said more often. Not simply leadership, but compassion for and attention to hundreds of people a day, a feat in any line of work.

And now-distant thanks for being the person who introduced me to round-the-world tickets a decade ago. At the end of my first such trip, I settled down in a house in Boston with a group of friends including James Grimmelmann... on whose blog I am delighted to see your recent GBS comments.

Posted by: Samuel Klein, 28 September 2009, 18:19 ( 6:19 PM)

Thanks for your comments, Samuel. I'd say, "It's a small world", but one of the lessons of world travel is that the world is larger and more diverse, yet with more webs of connection between people, than we tend to imagine. (I met my partner 27+ years ago in a group house in Cambridge, through one of her MIT housemates who was one my colleagues in another project.)

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 28 September 2009, 18:48 ( 6:48 PM)

The flight attendants described in your article probably make-up the majority who work for US-based airlines. The minority of flight attendants, who turn the cabin into a flying police state, have made travel by Amtrak look like the ultimate in luxury. Those who are physically assaultive, drunk, smoking, or refuse to be seated deserve whatever they get. On the other hand there are some behaviors hardly deserving of police intervention or being labeled, under the law, as a terrorist. Spanking your young child in-flight; having a child who won't stop saying "bye-bye plane;" an Australian passenger referring to the meal as "fair dinkum;" advising the flight attendant you will be writing a complaint letter: Some of these things may merit a scornful squint, or no response at all. What is very clear is that, in all of these examples, an out-of-control power drunk flight attendant was involved.

Posted by: Jack, 28 September 2009, 23:47 (11:47 PM)
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