Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Monday, April 07, 2003
The Flying Bus
I read this article today on "funny flight attendants." Like most people, I prefer the funny to the unfunny (or the hostile).

What struck me though was how superfluous flight attendants are now. Important for announcements? Hardly. Flights on larger planes with video screens substitute video and voiceover talent for the live performance of flight attendants. Surely audio voiceover is not a technological (or financial) impossibility on an airplane. Food service? Right. Except in first class, almost nobody serves food anymore, certainly not routinely. And most people get fast food in the terminal before the flight anyway, so the whole drink-and-peanut service is redundant.

About the only reasons I can think of are:

  1. Safety, on the theory that flight attendants are familiar with the plane layout and can help you in an emergency. Have you been on a flight where the risk was elevated? From what I hear, they react in just as human a way as passengers--with total fear.
  2. Service, on the theory that this person is the "face" of the airline. Maybe, except almost every service is replaceable. HootersAir at least seems to know what one niche market (well-to-do middle aged men who like golf) looks for in "service" from flight attendants (though technically they're adjuncts to the regular flight crew). About all I can think of is that flight attendants provide some official buffer between passengers in the event passengers get unruly towards each other. Of course, in that case (especially on HootersAir), wouldn't a bouncer be a better idea? Nobody expects such service on a bus, whether it's a city bus or a Greyhound. Why does flying merit such "service?"
  3. Custom. I think this is the ultimate reason. Flight attendants are a relic of the glamour days of aviation, when the post-war nouveau riche could bed these aerial cocktail waitresses. It's little wonder that HootersAir has re-emerged when there appears to be a wealthy enough class of people who can jaunt off to Myrtle Beach for the weekend. Over the years, as our sexual mores have changed and our legal system (judicial and administrative) has grown up, we've had to treat flight attendants with a modicum of respect. We aren't nice to them, but it's less acceptable to "accidentally" rub your crotch against them.

The flight attendants' unions has fought to preserve these jobs. They lose jobs, wages, and benefits often, but they still have some jobs to fight for. If it hadn't been for unions, some airline would have done away with them completely, saving salaries, benefits, and all the free flights and hotel expenses for the staff. Unfortunately for flight attendants, the gradual decay of union power means this profession will die out unless we find a genuine use for them.

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