Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flying the "friendly" skies

As I believe I've noted here before, I fly a fair amount for my work.  Not traveling this week, thank God, or else all of the talk in airport gate areas and on planes would surround Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who lost his cool and stormed out the rear of an airplane onto the inflatable slide and into airline folk history, as well as custody.

Most of my travels are on Delta and its affiliated regional carriers, and that's largely by choice.  From my home in Lexington I have far more options to get just about anywhere when I fly Delta than if I use competing airlines.  But let's be clear, I've flown most every airline that services the state of Kentucky, and have had what I would charitably call mixed results in terms of service and cooperation from flight crews.

For about two years I traveled long distances regularly, as I managed a sales territory in the mountain time zone of the western US.  That meant a flight to a hub, then on to cities like Denver, Phoenix or Salt Lake City (and sometimes beyond).  So on each given trip I would have a commuter flight with one attendant, then a large aircraft with as many as six or eight attendants (I don't do headcounts, but that's my recollection), so the quality of service rendered can vary greatly by the passenger-to-attendant ratio.  And my thoughts have been colored more and more by upgrades to first class, where the attendants simply cannot do enough for you, as they have far fewer passengers to serve.

But I want to make it clear that I've seen more polite, helpful, friendly and cooperative attendants from just about all airlines than I have those whose behavior is less positive, boorish, confrontational and the like.  I was on a commuter jet recently from Columbia, SC to Atlanta, and the single attendant on that flight was very much like a drill sergeant, if a little quieter.  She sternly instructed my seatmate to do or not do several things during a tarmac delay, and was equally abrupt with several other passengers within earshot.

But on the connecting flight home to Lexington (which was also delayed significantly by weather in the Southeast US) the attendants could not have been nicer or more accommodating, and they were held up themselves in much the same way my flight from South Carolina was.

How does this happen?  How is it that some people wear a bad day on their sleeve, while others could have a bucket of water dumped onto their heads and never lapse into a frown?

Not sure, but I like to think, at this stage of my life, I'm more the latter category than the former.  And when one travels, one has to accept what's within and not within his control.  With practice, I've done that.

It's a shame that Mr. Slater didn't master that.

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