How I Became a Doormat.
The drill sergeants (flight attendant instructors) at Barbie Boot Camp (the Un-American Airlines Training Center) instill into their new-hire flight attendant trainees that the customer is always right. Even if a customer doesn’t happen to be right, pissing off any passenger while on six-month probation as a new-hire, will result in immediate termination.
“I don’t know why any flight attendant would be mean to a passenger, “ I thought, reassuring myself that naturally I would always smile, help people, and make their flight a more pleasurable experience.
So a couple months into my job “on the line” (as a new-hire flight attendant, no longer in training), our Boeing 757, filled to capacity with passengers, is lined up on the tarmac at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, waiting out a thunderstorm that suddenly overtook the DFW area. That means we cannot take off, unless we want to risk flying into the storm and ending up in a burning heap of steel. 13 aircraft are lined up ahead of us, waiting to approach the runway and take off. But the air-traffic control tower is shut down. DFW is “grounded”, meaning all take-offs and landings have been halted.
I am working in the Coach section our large aircraft, which holds 188 passengers (166 in Coach). There are two other flight attendants also working my section. We are here to make everyone’s flight enjoyable. But people are pissed off. We have been sitting on the tarmac for two hours. Our captain has instructed over the plane’s public announcement system that all passengers must keep their seatbelts fastened, and that they can only get out of their seats if they have to use the toilet.
“Hell, no. Are you crazy?” is what the “galley” flight attendant—the flight attendant who is in charge of the nook from which we serve food and beverages—said, when I asked if we could bring out the beverage carts and at least serve drinks to appease these people. “That would cause a riot!”
The Barbie Boot Camp Drill Sergeants also told us that we would be terminated if we argued with any other flight attendants. So, as a submissive new-hire, I was agreeable and sweet to every personality I worked with.
So instead of the crew commencing a beverage service for 166 angry, uncomfortable passengers (the other two flight attendants were smart; they hid in the aft galley and closed the curtain that separated them from the passengers), I took it upon myself to walk up and down the aircraft aisle making eye contact with each miserable passenger who looked up. (The drill sergeants also told us that eye contact was an integral skill to being a successful flight attendant. A “bad” flight attendant is one who hastily walks up and down the aircraft aisle, not looking at anyone).
Every other row, someone would yell out, “Why are we so late?” or “This sucks. I am never flying your airline again,” or “Could you get me some water? I need to take a pill.” I tried to explain in detail why we couldn’t take off, apologized for our airline “sucking”, and fetched multiple cups of water from first class so people could soothe themselves with their pills.
I felt my blood start to boil by the time I’d walked halfway through the cabin. I was alone, being bombarded with dozens of requests, many of which I couldn’t fulfill, and was continually tongue-lashed by passengers. But I reminded myself that I needed to be a “good” flight attendant and make my passengers’ flight a pleasant experience. And I could do it because I’d just graduated from Barbie Boot Camp.
A plump, well-dressed middle-aged woman grabbed my wrist and said, “Honey, I’d like a Jack and Coke.” I told her, “Ma’am, we aren’t serving alcohol until we get up in the air, because the liquor carts back here are locked.”
To which she replied, “Then go get me some fucking booze from first class.”
The first class flight attendants were lavishing their 22 passengers with unlimited drinks and snacks. And the curtain separating first class from ‘steerage’ class was open, so everyone in coach watched.
I wanted to make this woman happy, so I walked up to first class and begged the flight attendants for a mini bottle of Jack and a can of Coke. One of them, a clean-cut forty-something guy, sighed, handed me the goods, and said, “You’d be a lot better off if you hung out behind the back curtain with the other girls.” To which I replied, “Ok, great. Thanks!”
I stuffed the booze into the pocket of my striped navy polyester apron and walked quickly back to the woman who was jonesing for a Jack and Coke. She grabbed it from me and said, “Only one? I need more than that.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I can only give you one right now. That’s all they’d give me from first class.”
She reached out, took my cheeks between her thumb and forefinger, and gave them a firm squeeze. “Go up there and get me more booze now.”
“Um, I can’t.”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘you can’t?’ You just did it and you will do it again.”
“No, I’m so sorry, ma’am, but I can’t.”
The woman started to stand up, when the male flight attendant from first class quickly walked back to where we were standing, asserting, “Ma’am, I will have you removed from this flight and arrested if you speak to her or touch her again.”
The woman’s face immediately registered an understanding of this steward’s command. It was as if she was waiting for someone to notice her reprehensible behavior.
I’d like to say I never took any shit again after this experience, but I did. Going through Barbie Boot Camp was like being re-parented. I forgot how I’d naturally react to someone like the aforementioned passenger (“No.”), and tried to bend myself into a doormat who’d do anything to please someone else. It took me years to re-claim my common sense, but at least I learned how to make everyone’s flight a more pleasurable experience. Thanks, drill sergeants.