When I began my career as a flight attendant, I was a 21-year-old with a B.A. in English and stars in her eyes. I wanted to see every city in the world. I wanted to have adventures that, I hoped, would fuel a writing career some day. Flying was glamorous then, and as I wheeled my suitcase through airports from Chicago to Cairo, kids still pointed and adults still smiled at me. Deregulation had just passed, and I watched as fares began to drop and flying became more accessible to everyone. Yet that did not change our level of service or the passengers' attitude. A mutual respect existed, and despite the occasional grumpy businessman or harried mother or someone who was just a jerk, I went to work eagerly and left happy. I think it's fair for me to say the passengers felt the same way.
By the time I hung up my wings in 1986, change had begun. Corporate raiders were buying up airlines, slashing salaries and fares, and cutting amenities. Carl Icahn, who took over TWA, announced he was going to "de-cunt" and "re-cunt" the airline. His plan was to get rid of the flight attendants whom he saw as too old and overpaid and replace them with young, pretty ones who would work for half the amount and double the hours. Even the airlines that avoided the raiders followed them in changing compensation and workloads. I cannot deny that a job that combines physical labor, standing up for long hours, dealing with people, and jet lag is tiring. But the changes in work rules turned tired into exhausted, and the changes in pay turned comfortable into barely able to make mortgage and car payments. Smiling became harder.
But passengers still expected the service they'd grown used to. Simple pleasures like cream for their coffee and pillows on their seats disappeared. Before long, they were paying for food and to check their luggage. They sat in seats with less leg room and had fewer choices of flights, and those flights had more connections than ever before. Flight attendants stopped smiling and passengers started grumbling.
Remind you of anything?