The Airline Industry Needs a Miracle

I have been a flight attendant for a major carrier for 17 years, and I’m sorry to say that I am leaving. I can’t do it anymore. I once had a job that I loved—I had pleasant conversations with passengers and was proud to hand out The New York Times in flight and serve edible meals. I looked forward to spending time in New York, Boston, Seattle, and other cities, and my co-workers were generally happy; I felt like I was part of a family. But things have changed, drastically.


These days, the disintegration of the industry is palpable. I’ll still come to your rescue if you have a heart attack or if we have an emergency landing.  But instead of focusing on the comfort and safety of passengers, my job duties have been reduced to explaining why we don’t offer food, pillows, or blankets on five-hour transcontinental flights, why your children are sitting five rows behind you, or why the flight is delayed four hours without a logical explanation. It’s embarrassing and exhausting. There are no more 30-hour layovers in Manhattan; more like eight-hour layovers in a hotel adjacent to the airport. My co-workers are fatigued to the point of borderline psychosis. Passengers are squished into miniscule seats on jam-packed flights. They look up at me, miserably. I wish I could help, but I can’t.


Since claiming bankruptcy in November of 2011, our airline has outsourced many of its positions. They have let go of mechanics, gate agents, cabin cleaners, and other employees who have worked for us for decades, as a cost-saving measure. Unfortunately, though, penny-pinching in this manner has rendered consequences: According to George Hobiaca of, pink-slipping our mechanics has already proven disastrous: “If [the airline] lays off maintenance workers as a prelude to outsourcing the work to third parties, consumers will have to deal with ‘substandard’ results, from filthy lavatories to safety risks.” (September 21, 2012)


And yeah, the smell of urine and excrement in our neglected lavatories is overwhelming. And sadly, on September 26 of this year, a Miami-bound Boeing 757 had to divert to New York after taking off from Boston, resulting in rows of seats coming loose. Who can forget the horrifying image of those skewed, broken rows? But should we expect intact seats when much of our labor is outsourced overseas?


And those employees who are lucky enough to still have jobs, have sacrificed pay, labor rules, and benefits. Our company claims labor costs are what has brought our airline to bankruptcy. So we laborers have come to its rescue. We believed there was no other choice. Yet hundreds of management employees received bonuses just after we sacrificed concessions. Hence, my exhausted, broken co-workers.


This environment is not acceptable for me. My company’s low morale and Draconian work rules have defeated me.


Like most passengers today, this fight attendant has had enough. 

Views: 88

Comment by nerd cred on November 30, 2012 at 8:02pm

It seems that virtually everything I hear about lately, including this, the sorry state of the airline industry, is traceable to the dominance of the dollar, of profit. All business, industry, commerce in this country, maybe everywhere, is focused not on producing products or providing service but on maximizing revenue and funneling as much as possible of it as far as possible up the social and economic ladder. We little people have no choice but to be tiny cogs in the great wheel driving the revenue stream upwards. Burnout of one sort or another is inevitable.

As for flying, I make every effort to sleep through it in a window seat, unconscious before we reach cruising altitude until being (unfailingly so far) wakened by the loss of altitude as descent begins. Sadly, the best way to assure this defense mechanism is fly in the morning and not sleep the night before, a luxury I know most people don't have. I avoid the on-board lavatories as much as possible.

The first time I flew, in 1968, my friend and I were the only passengers in a big jet on an impulsive trip from Minneapolis to Madison. We had some company on the return flight but not that much. That was as extreme on the wasteful end as today's conditions are in the other direction. It a happy medium not possible?

Comment by Kelley on November 30, 2012 at 8:34pm

I wish there were a happy medium. The airline industry is a microcosm of the American economy: all the wealth going to the 1%, and the rest of us, like you say, are 'tiny cogs in the great wheel driving the revenue stream upwards.'

I take Ambien or Xanax when I have to fly as a passenger, whatever time of day. I dislike being a passenger even more than I do my job. Or maybe I just like pills. 

Thanks for your response. 

Comment by Zanelle on November 30, 2012 at 8:53pm

I can feel the stress too as a passenger and thank you for confirming my suspicions.  It sounds like a MESS.  I hope you can find something fun to do but I know your passengers will miss your reassurance in the face of chaos.

Comment by Kelley on November 30, 2012 at 10:06pm

Thanks, Zanelle. Being in that environment literally makes me sick. Luckily I took a couple leaves of absence eight years ago and got my Master's in Education and Counseling. So perhaps now I can help others in a more positive environment. Send me a message if you have any questions/anxieties next time you have to fly and perhaps I can advise you. 

Comment by Poor Woman on December 1, 2012 at 1:27pm

This is disturbing news, but (sadly) not altogether unanticipated. QWe really do need to remember it is the passengers that fuel the airlines and the workers within that system that keep it up and rolling.

When is big business going to wake up?

Best wishes on any career changes you may make in future.

I'd say you could even write the definitive book on the subject of airline misuse of funding.

Comment by Kelley on December 1, 2012 at 2:11pm

Yes, that book sure would be a humdinger. I have to wait until I receive my severance in May (my retirement date) before I expose that ugly monster. You rock, Poor Woman!


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