Friendly Skies - Part 2

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All rights reserved Olivier Blanchard 2005

Read: Friendly Skies - Part 1

Before I start, I want to say that I have run into some fantastic flight attendants in my travels. Professional, friendly, funny, caring... They're out there. They're rare, but they're out there.

I wanted to start with that because where I am going next probably isn't going to make most flight attendants happy. And unless you're in that first category (the great flight attendants), well... that's just too bad.

I know that flight attendants wear many hats: They help load and unload passengers. They are in charge of security inside the cabin. They provide safety training and are there to assist passengers in case of an emergency. They serve drinks and food. They babysit 40-200 passengers on who knows how many flights each week. They're on their feet a lot. They're constantly traveling.

It's a tough job.

I get that.

But see, part of their job is to take care of passengers. Customers. People.

Take care of them.

They are called "flight attendants" for a reason.

They aren't called "cabin police."

"Cabin bullies."

"Passenger Herders."

See where I'm going with this?

I've noticed that many flight attendants these days aren't all that nice, especially in the main cabin.

In steerage.

Well, guess what? The majority of the airlines' customers are back here with me. They're not in the front with the half dozen empty couches waiting for upgrades to step forward. They're back here. We're back here. The customers. The folks whose cash keeps airline from going out of business. The folks whose patronage flight attendants depend on to keep wearing that uniform.

I know their job is hard, but so is Jane Spears'. Jane is a waitress at a very busy restaurant not far from where I work. Jane always smiles. Jane gets great tips. People give up their place in line just to make sure they get one of her tables. Jane is one of the reasons why the restaurant she works for does so well.

Part of the job of a flight attendant is to serve drinks and food. It's only a small part of the job, but they can't avoid it. I am not suggesting that they are an airline waitstaff. Not at all. They do a lot more. But you get my point.

Jane works for tips, and Jane makes a killing. Not every waiter in her restaurant takes home the same amount of cash. But the thing about Jane is that every day, even when she's having a bad day, she is exceptional at taking care of people. She always smiles. She's always fast. She makes everyone want to come back.

When I spend four hours on a plane and watch flight attendants treat customer after customer like cattle, I think about Jane. I think about how amazing it would be if every flight attendant were just like her. Pleasant. Soothing. Fast. Caring. Personable.

The way flight attendants used to be.

I think about how much I would be willing to pay extra for each ticket just to fly with an airline that promises that kind of service. $20. $50. I don't know. When you give your customers something of tangible value, pricepoints become less of a concern.

I think maybe that there's a better way to inspire customer loyalty than through air mileage rewards programs.

I also wonder how quickly most flight attendants would start being more like Jane if they made their money on tips.

This is the part where you stop and read that last line again. That's right: Tips.

Here's the deal: Airlines charge extra for meals now. $7 for a lousy day-old salad. It's just a matter of time before the pretzels and the quarter cup of soda aren't free anymore either. Why not go with the full restaurant model?

Now... flight attendants have zero control over the quality of the food being served on their flight, but they have complete control over how it is served. How the drinks are served.

How passengers are treated.


I'm thinking that if the airlines can't pay their flight attendants enough to make them happy, if they can't train them well enough to make them friendly, then maybe they should let us do it for them with our own cash.

Maybe if flight attendants made a good portion of their money from tips, things would turn around a bit. In-flight customer experience would improve dramatically. People wouldn't get talked down to. Food carts wouldn't be used as weapons.

That's right. Tips. Just like waiters. Bellhops. Maitres D'Hotel. Doormen. Bathroom attendants.

Tips give flight attendants an incentive to work a little smarter. To treat us better. Perhaps to take pride in their jobs again, even.

Imagine what $1 for every third passenger could add to your bottom-line each week.

Imagine what $1 from zero passenger would do to your bottom-line each week.

I know this is going to sound slimy, but I have to say it: *Cringing* This might be a good way for airlines to save money. The slime melts off when you realize that by putting flight attendants' livelyhood in the hands of passengers, you're giving your flight attendants the power and the incentive to boost customer satisfaction and their own cash flow.

Give us cheaper tickets. Give us a small cash refund on our ticket right at the gate. Tell us:

"If you don't have a great experience flying with us today, here's $3 back, but if you do, thank your cabin crew on the way out."

Why not?

Would some flight attendants leave? Sure. But they would probably be the ones who need to leave anyway. The food cart bullies. Shame on them.

Will this ever happen? Probably not. There are unions to contend with, for one. It would require a huge paradigm shift in the airline industry. It would require a tremendous amount of scrutiny to prevent management abuses. The public would have to be made aware of it. Airlines would have to provide real value to make this work. A lame "please tip your attendants" plea wouldn't be enough.

Airlines would actually have to start thinking about pulling themselves out of the "also in" mentality that has been driving them into the red for over a decade.

Airlines would have to start focusing on their customers again.

Reward miles aren't cutting it. Crappy seats aren't cutting it. Lousy attitudes in the cabin aren't cutting it. Something needs to change.

Tips for flight attendants might not be the answer, but it might be a good start.

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