Thursday, August 12, 2010

In defense of airline passengers

I don't enjoy the experience of being waited on by strangers. When I dine out, which isn't often, I do so for social or culinary reasons and despite the fact that the food will be brought to me by a third party. I've had a total of four manicures in my life, two of which were before high school. Most of the time I cut my own hair.

But on an airplane, the things I make the flight attendants do! They fetch my meals, take out my trash, bring me a cup of water if I'm feeling a little bit thirsty. And I have the nerve to just sit in a cushioned seat, not even offering to get up and help.

When flying, there isn't an alternative to being served. There's no non-waitservice option for what I'd imagine are the majority of airline passengers who don't especially get off on being waited on hand and foot by a uniformed staff. However much you'd like to get your own damn soda, throw out your own damn newspaper or candy wrappers, cook your own damn dinner, these otherwise normal behaviors are discouraged in a situation where one is expected to be seated at all times.

Oh, and unlike in a restaurant, there's a very good chance the customers are, just like the flight attendants, at work. Because traveling for work, especially in coach (which is the only way I've ever gone, so perhaps in business class as well), is work. Believe me that I'd rather be at a conference or library than flying to or from one.

So whereas I understand the eye-rolling and us-against-them among coffee shop staff and restaurant workers, I don't think it's merited in any but the most extreme cases on airplanes.

And yet! While even in Paris, I find that politeness and humility get you far in terms of buying coffee or whatever with minimal tension, on planes, I'm inevitably shot looks of, "You can't be serious" whenever I make any kind of request, such as for a drink from the cart that's ostensibly in front of me, or to discard the cup from that drink once the garbage cart comes by. It's tough, particularly when you're half-asleep, to read body language and to otherwise figure out when is or is not the appropriate moment to ask for what, whether a cart is for your aisle or the one next to it, and so forth. I have a remarkable knack for not reading the mind of flight attendants and, despite following all possible etiquette rules, royally pissing off flight attendants. Yes, I really ought to have known that this airline doesn't carry seltzer, or that this cart is intended for seats A-C and not D-F. The response of flight attendants to these requests is so often exactly what one would expect of someone meeting the same request on land, where the customer could very well deal with whatever it was himself.  

All of which makes me think that the job is probably a whole lot more stressful than serving the very same items in a restaurant. But rather than blaming customers - who, again, are 99% of the time not flying as a way to be pampered - or the flight attendants, how about the airlines themselves? Or better yet, I blame the BNF, which has not yet scanned absolutely every document, making it necessary to actually go to France to get a PhD in French.

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