Hoisted From the Comments: Why So Many American Flight Attendants Hate Providing You Service

On Tuesday I wrote that American is encouraging their flight attendants to offer predeparture beverages in premium cabins.

It’s an ‘optional’ though desirable service element, in that flight attendants aren’t going to take the time to offer beverages if it delays a flight. A late boarding that’s done quickly for instance, the priority is an on-time departure.

But it’s certainly possible most of the time. Delta manages it consistently (and they have better on-time performance than American does..). Yet American flight attendants have been inconsistent at best at offering this.

You can call this a ‘first world problem’ and it is. When you run from one flight to the next you easily go 90+ minutes without access to a glass of water. Predeparture beverages are a nice feature of domestic first class. They’re appreciated when offered.

The good news is that American’s reminder in crew communications that “first impressions are lasting impressions” seems to be working — at least for now. Both my flights on Tuesday offered predeparture beverages. I was offered something last night as well — just water prepoured on a tray, but this was a flight that was 10 minutes late to board.

The less good news? The folks in the comments of my post identifying themselves as American Airlines flight attendants.

Randy said,

I will not serve pre departures till we are paid for boarding the aircraft

I’ve found that legacy US Airways flight attendants are more likely to offer predeparture beverages than American ones. Monique disagrees and points out that they’re now expected to do more service than they used to as US Airways (remember, US Airways elites were hungry). She said,

Yea first world problem…it’s really not that important. I can tell you as a US Airway FA based in Philly, we hate doing these PDB, most of you be so ungrateful. The AA FAS do it far more than we do, and this merger is a nightmare…they even want me be cooking meals in first class now, you should all bring your own food and drink if it’s such a big deal and stop whining like babies.

The most common themes in flight attendant comments were:

  • They aren’t being paid until the door closes, so why should they do ‘extra’ work before then?

  • American won’t offer profit sharing to flight attendants. If flight attendants don’t control profit, then it shouldn’t matter what service they provide.

  • They’re often miscatered and that eats up time they could have served beverages.

Some of course just don’t like their customers very much and want tips. (Should you tip flight attendants?)

You bought the seat in 1st. The service is optional. FAs are on board to save your ass not kiss it. …Are there no drinking fountains or restrooms in the terminal? Why do people come on and want to use 1st class bathroom when it’s the right by the boarding door and extremely inconvienient. Because you are so self absorbed , you whine about everything. Walk a day in someone else’s shoes for a change. Tip your flight attendant. They make less than minimum wage working double the hours they get paid for. You tip the waitress that brings your food why is this job any different?

DP made an impassioned case that they have lots of priorities and that drinks aren’t that important (again, though other airlines’ flight attendants manage them also) and also offered that serving drinks and hanging coats aren’t part of their job, since in all of the training DP received “[n]ot one time have they shown me how to pour a drink or hang a jacket.” That’s sad if true.

To say the issue stirred passions would be an understatement. One response to a passenger commenter? “STFU you uneducated [expletive] MORON!!!”

A year ago I wrote about whether flight attendants deserve to be paid for time spent during boarding. Most people intuitively feel that they should. In a formal sense they may not be, but in a very real sense they really are paid for that time regardless of how the calculation is done.

Most flight attendants in the U.S. are represented by unions and the terms of their contract — when they are paid, how much, what kinds of expense allowances they receive (to name just a few items) — are intensely negotiated over long periods of time by specialists acting on their behalf. And each contract is a balance of costs, getting the most for flight attendants and those things their union has determined are most important, and ‘giving’ on those things they consider less important, as the airline looks to balance their total labor costs.

In other words, flight attendants and their representatives have carefully considered and agreed to the current method of pay in exchange for other benefits they receive and in exchange for the wage they’re earning for the time that is paid.

Although in fairness, some of American’s flight attendants — seemingly disproportionately represented in the comments here — don’t much like their union.

Definitely read all the comments.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Wow! Pretty insane comments! It’s true that experiences on AA regarding in-flight service have become really mixed. Some attendants are wonderful and others can’t seem to conceal their hatred for their employer and the passengers unlucky enough to be seated in their cabin. It would seem that they have an especially toxic culture happening at the airline and there isn’t likely to be a quick fix. Which is why I will continue to avoid AA for international travel. Similarly priced as most foreign carriers, but with Russian roulette service and uninspiring food and hard product.

  2. Good grief. Why do they work in the service industry if it’s so terrible and oppressive? Hey, the economy has recovered, right? Should be plenty of jobs out there. Also, this “flight attendants are here primarily for your safety” approach is pretty lame. The key word is “primarily.” If I’m demanding a cocktail while the FA is trying to deploy an escape chute, then I’m out of line (actually if I’m “demanding” a cocktail, I’m probably out of line, period). But I’m pretty sure FAs don’t spend the entire prep and flight time using Force meditation to keep the plane in the air. Safety may be the primary goal, but FAs also must act as drink servers, cooks, waiters, etc. Passengers: please recognize that FAs are doing a tough job and have many competing demands on their attention. Be polite. FAs: please recognize that you work in the service industry and resenting your customers is not productive.

  3. Hey Waitresses, if you don’t like the job requirements go find a new job. Why go thru life being angry, and taking it out on those who pay your salary?

    The joke that the Waitresses are there for our safety is laughable at best and a safety risk at worst. Look no further than recent emergency landings or aborted takeoffs that required emergency evacuations of the cabin. On the Hudson landing a rear door was opened that led to faster flooding of the cabin. On the BA LAS fire a door was opened on the same side of the plane as the fire which lead to increased smoke in the cabin. How were the Waitresses helping those pax safety on those flights? Even if the lax had opened those doors the waitresses should have been directing traffic and preventing said doors from being opened.

    Or how about the Waitress that recently was screaming in terror as a plane experience turbulence on descent into SAT? How does screaming lead to pax safety.

    All that said I am glad that AA gives out the certs to recognize good service. I often request more of these from AA since I give so many out. There is nothing better than handing them to on Waitress at the end of a flight while the coworkers look on and wonder (or sometimes even ask) where theirs are.

  4. The issue is expectations.
    If an airline advertises pre-boarding drinks, in-flight meals, pony rides for kids <50 or whatever – then people will expect to receive that service. Even if the advertisement material has qualifiers next to it referring to fine print stating "as time allows, on every 29th day of February in even years".

    The worst possible outcome is when a service is advertised and then inconsistently delivered.

    This isn't an FA issue, or a customer, its a policy issue. Either offer and advertise a competitive benefit that can be provided consistently – or don't offer one. Inconsistent benefits only lead to angry FAs, and customers which will not help grow revenue.

  5. I’ve worked service industry (waiter/bartender) for a lot of years, and I’ve worked salary for a lot of years. At the end of the day, you get paid for doing your job – delivering a product or service. How the calculation is made, by the hour or by the week, doesn’t much matter. Do your job. If you can’t handle living up to the expectations of a service industry job, get out. The comments you posted here are amazingly entitled on the part of the FAs. I don’t care what YOU think your job should be. I paid for a service with an expectation. Obviously, it’s in line with what the marketer and seller of that service is, since they’re telling you to do it. Who else gets to have a job where they get to say to their employer and their customer, “I will only do what I want to do when I want to do it?” Get over yourself.

  6. @AA EXEC PLAT- really rude comment. I hope one of the AA FA’s recognize you so they can dump a sticky cocktail in your lap. You must be one miserable person to be that rude and arrogant. Nobody’s perfect in life, even you. Just because some flight attendants may have a poor attitude doesn’t mean you have to paint all of them with the same brush. At the end of the day don’t blame the FA’s blame management who allows it to happen. I’ve had some awful FA’s and I’ve had some great FA’s who really care. It’s like anywhere else, there are good people and there are bad people. FA’s are no different.

  7. Just had a regrettable experience in J on route to Asia. For the first time decided to fly something other than Cathay and I regret it. There was NOTHING I could do to get a smile out of the attendants. I was super nice always smiled and never asked for much. But I was met with the strangest demenors . As if they re mad at me! And my mistake for thinking that a light snack was something I could get anytime between the meals of a 15 hour flight . “that’s not served for a few hours , not now”. Okay.. Sorry for asking for something for my daughter since she didn’t like her dinner served 6 hours ago by this time. Was handed my desert as I left the restroom . Just came and slammed my tv without saying a word upon descending . Was told I asked for a particular entre for my daughter when in fact I pointed to mine and said she wants chicken like me. So maybe she didn’t hear don’t be rude to me! I’m not rude to you. Never again!

  8. @Anon,

    You flew AA from Dallas to Narita didn’t you? I had a lovely FA drop part of a packaged meal on my shoulder that slipped down between my seat and the cart reading on the arm rest. The package was still closed so I went to pick it up and she scolded me not to touch it as it wasn’t mine. My fault, there is probably some FAA regulation that says I’m not allowed to remove objects dumped on me.

    The two FAs I saw during that flight were generally not happy to be on that flight and treated everyone rather rudely – so it was nothing personal.

    As a customer the solution is to just think of it like a subway, you’re buying transportation only- not service. Despite the marketing, that is how the FAs and management see it, so if you just adjust your expectations you won’t get frustrated.

  9. @Mark – Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your perspective. @AA EXEC PLAT – Thank you for providing more evidence for a growing suspicion of mine. I have been trying to figure out the connection between AA Executive Platinum flyers and the rude and arrogant behavior they frequently exhibit. Where does this originate and what allows it to continue? In my experiences, people with much more money and status seem to be a bit more humble and certainly more gracious when using public transportation. There are always a few exceptions, of course.

  10. I’m a current AA (US Air side) F/A and whenever I’m up front working I always offer a beverage during boarding. Why not? I’m not going to kiss your butt, but my paycheck appreciates your business – whether you are upfront or in the rear. For the most part, most F/As I know do it without any grumble.

    Don’t worry – we complain too about all the nasty F/As. You think its bad to be with them for a few hours? Try working with them for 4 days and them yelling at you and going crazy because you put the Coke in a different place on the cart! 🙂

    Most of us are really fun and love our jobs ^_^ Sometimes with delays, we have a 13 hour duty day, 8 hour layover, and then another 12 hour duty day. So we might’ve gotten 5 hours of sleep (different time zones make going to sleep not the easiest). No excuse to be mean, just something to keep in mind when your F/A looks super tired drinking that coffee. Might of caught us on our not so flattering day 🙂

    But every airline has “those” F/As. Don’t worry—we too are waiting for the day that they leave 🙂

  11. Having worked for 3 legacy US Carriers I have to say that people who get the job in the US as Flight Attendants become super lazy.
    They hate doing the pre departure beverage service because they are simply lazy. They rather stand at the boarding gate and gossip about other Flight Attendants, the cockpit crew or passengers or who they slept with on the layover in detail or which passengers they picked up or bought them drinks at their layover stop.
    I was an International Purser for many years for United. Let me tell, you that United and American both have the laziest rudest Flight Attendants. Yes, their time on ground is paid and negotiated and perhaps it might not be as much as a flight hour however it is a negotiated rate in the Flight Attendant pay with the prospective Union.
    Flight Attendants are also paid to cook meals and serve beverages. Which moron Flight Attendant said that we are here to kiss your ass? Oh, please? How many times you have crashed in your career and had to evacuate an airplane?
    The primary job of a Flight attendant is to provide service to passengers. The job listings are in the contract and part of that job is known for a phase of the Flight before departure and it is dictated. Flight Attendants are suppose to be in their boarding positions and say greetings and the assigned Flight Attendants in the galley are suppose to prep the food and pour drinks and the aisle Flight Attendants are suppose to serve you drinks and even keep the bathroom tidy.
    Yes, It is also the responsibility of Flight Attendants to keep the bathroom tidy and clean.
    But how many Flight Attendants on US carriers, specially the lazy rude nasty mean Flight Attendants at United and American actually do this?
    For years, my stress and work load as an international Purser involved around Flight Attendants. It was always a dramatic event, just to get a crew to pour the damn water and oj. We were actually suppose to ask for the beverage of your choice. And believe me, there is time for efficient Flight Attendants to do this but AA and UA Flight Attendants are lazy and self absorbed and they think that they entitled. Please, they are there to serve you. Which “Moron” lazy US airways Flight Attendant said bring your own food and drinks and do not pee? What is the bathroom there for?
    Since most Flight Attendants do not travel as business people or regular passengers they do not understand the pain of travel. Most Flight Attendants in the US are arrogant, and rude and I am sure the American culture has something to do with it.
    That is why I never fly US Carriers if I can, if even I have to pay more I choose to fly other carriers. If I go east, I mostly choose Turkish (%1000 more polite and kind and no matter what I get a choice that wonderful fresh juice or lemonade and the raspberry with mint)..
    When I go to Asia, I choose Thai, Ana or Singapore where elegantly they choose the phrase, “As you wish” and kind terms as such. Where in the US, most Flight Attendants yell and scream while they have gravy on their uniform, with their ugly clog shoes that they wear.
    Just look at their appearance in the US? Both American Airlines and United Airlines Flight Attendants, tacky shoes and attire. Flight Attendants even get tax deductions for shoes and dry cleaning. But do you see any of them dry clean their Uniform?
    So, the question is pride and having integrity. Most Us based Flight Attendants have no pride in their own appearance. Hence, I have flown with Flight Attendants who were a hazard at weights of upwards of 300 lbs to even 400 lbs. That is ridiculous. Tell me what kind of safety professional you are, if you can not even “Save your own ass” because you are too big to fit through the overwing emergency exit or even to be able to walk down the aisle.
    Now as a business passenger I am so disgusted when I look at Flight Attendants whether I fly on American or United which I am able to avoid at most times because my trips take me to international destinations.
    Flight Attendants, argue about everything and they are the most self absorbed group of people that I have ever met in my life. They are never happy with their duration of their rest break, hence on United where they are suppose to have cabin coverage and the Purser is suppose to divide the crew into group of 3 and each must get 2 hour rest, they end up with group of two, (no cabin coverage and perfect opportunity for something bad to happy because half the Flight Attendants are sleeping on Temezapam and Ambien on their rest break) they still feel entitled to do as little as possible. On many international flight, on United and American Flight Attendants make their own rules. They are too lazy to do a separate beverage service at the beginning of a meal, that is why you often wait for an hour or an hour and half in economy before Flight Attendants show up, (after long time in the galley eating and gossiping again).. and they combine the meal service and the beverage service. That means they can get down quicker and get to their rest break, because they are simply lazy and they are not their to save your ass or anyone else’s ass! They are there to chit-chat, gossip, spit in passengers food, drop the meal on the floor and put it back on the tray and if they hate you, because you said something that they did not like, to take the visin out of their pocket and pour it in your drink, so you will end up spending your entire time in the bathroom. Flight Attendants in the US, are one of the meanest, educated, and the rudest bunch of people that I have ever met.
    I have no idea that I wasted my time, just because of silly airline benefits which I never used. Because when you fly as a standby passenger, agents and Flight Attendants treat eachother poorly. They are the most disgraceful employee bunch and I have no idea what the transition take place. They all lie, when they interview for the job, “I love people and I love to fly”….
    I was a recruiter for a long time, interviewing Flight attendants and you have no idea how many times I heard that phrase, but once they get hired and pass the probation period they become the mean girls and guys in the sky….
    Do not fly United or American if you want to have your sanity!

  12. Flight Attendants (waiters and waitresses in the sky) are the most “UNEDUCATED’ and trashiest of all people. I correct myself, Uneducated.
    They are on the plane not to serve you but to cause “DRAMA”.
    Flight Attendants are their to eat their food, gossip, and have rumors about each other to go around and around.
    They say, Telephone, Tell a Friend and Tell a Flight Attendant if you want any news to get around.
    Flight Attendants specially on Us Carriers such as United, American and Delta (Northwest had the trashiest next to United and American and now Delta)…are the most arrogant, self-entitled people.
    How many times they even perform safety functions?
    How lazy is that to get paid for a job and they can not even do their job properly which part of is to make drinks for passengers before departure?
    Even if they even elect to do that service they are too lazy to get you a coke or a sprite and instead it is just water or oj!
    Flight attendants spend hours and hours, bickering and arguing in the galley, in how to make the job easier and skip a service.
    In my recent American Airlines 6 hour flight from Miami to LAX, we were suppose to get soup with that tacky salad, the Flight Attendants refused to serve the soup as she said it was too hazardous to heat it up and put it on the tray and she was too lazy to even warm up the steak pieces that came in a tin-foil it and place it on the Salad.
    Instead they sat on their jumpseat (1L and 1R) and they gossiped the entire flight and we could here all their detailed conversation that how much they hated the pilots and if they want anything they should call and blah blah blah.. and they even complained about my girlfriend because she asked for a 2nd glass of a bloody mary and they even called her the “B” word and we could hear them.
    So, who says that we, as passengers are rude and entitled?
    Most passengers and specially frequent flyers such as Exec plat on AA or Global Services and Million milers and 1k’s at United, and Delta all are seasoned travelers and do not ask for much and if we do, it is suppose to be part of the experience?
    In what contract of carriage does it say that we are suppose to pay for a service and not get it or get abused by overpaid by waiters and waitresses in the sky…
    Yes, a senior Flight Attendant at United and American make $55-$60 dollars per flight hour.
    In how many jobs you are paid to sit around on your lazy ass, eat for hours and spread “Malicious” gossips about other co-workers, passengers and pilots?
    Flight Attendants at United are disgraceful to write eachother up all the time to get each other fired and they are the meanest people on earth.
    American and Delta Flight Attendants follow them right behind.
    i should write a book about how mean Flight attendant population and subculture can be…
    They all hate each other as well and gossip, as soon as one walks outside of the galley and then it is next and next and so on…
    Waitresses, why should I get tipped in the air? Yes, the job is different. The waitresses and waiters work hard at a restaurant. But flight attendants are there to sell sandwiches and drinks for 10 minutes and then sit on their ass on the jumpsit or sit a whole last row of seats on the airplane and spread all their gossip and trashy magazines around, read, eat and listen to music and or pay their bills and do their personal stuff.
    On how many jobs you are allowed to go to work and sit and eat all day and pay your bills or read your magazine?
    Give me a break… you trashy lazy tacky Morons… who have no pride even in your appearance… That is why you are 400 pounds and can not even fit down the aisle and have to walk sideways and your hair is all over the place.
    Even greeters at Target and Costco put lipstick on but Flight attendants at United, Delta and American are too lazy to even tidy their hair…
    It is a service job, I do not want your nasty hair in my food so put it away…
    And to those gay Flight Attendants, we know that you are all gay so you do not need to force your sexuality down our throat by wearing rainbow flags on your Uniform, wear your damn name bar… and use your real name… instead of silly names for a guy as “Cha Cha” on United…
    How unprofessional and tacky.. is that…
    Passengers and people laugh behind you…
    And Yes, Flight Attendants are there not to serve you the pre-departure Champagne because there are there to steal it for their long layover..
    How many times I see Flight Attendants stealing wine and putting cocktails miniature drinks away for their layover before landing..
    It is so ridiculous that trashy Flight attendants of AA,UA and Delta specifically have taken the job to another level.
    Also, it is disgusting how they can throw their weight around, specially after 9/11 under ..
    Oh, passengers are interfering with my Flight duty..
    Because someone asked for a second up of water…in row 39…
    How many times on AA, Flight Attendants have told me that the First Class closet is for their bags.. Which I know for a fact is a “LIE”..
    Or on a recent American Airlines flight I wanted to sit in the last row and the Flight Attendant lied to me and said that was reserved for the crew..
    Really?
    On a 3 hour flight from DFW-SFO you get rest break? How hard is to be up for 3 hours so you have to sit on your sorry lazy ass and take up to 3 passenger seats???
    Really?
    Airlines such as American, United and Delta have the worse management that is what they have lost control…. and it is all over false advertisement…
    All the services are advertised and you get “NONE.”

  13. Save my ass… haha these FAs are sooo full of crap, how often is there an emergency that REQUIRES your intervention? that is not the main purpose of your job. This is why I refuse to fly American carriers. THANK GOD or whatever that I do not live in the US, it would be plain torture to have to deal with these c**ts. They should realise that they are in service positions, and if you do not like providing good service you should be fired or get another job. Try pulling that shit in any asia carrier… good for nothing uneducated people, so ungrateful. WE PROVIDE YOU WITH JOBS, you should be happy to have a job and be working… I am very simple, I do not attempt to make conversation with you, I smile I ask for my shit, I am not demanding, but dont you give me attitude, if you throw some crap at me like I read I would take that and throw it at your face.

  14. Small wonder. I stopped flying AA a good decade plus ago and it was for all too obvious reason. Since that time the operation has further nosedived. Under NO circumstance will I ever fly AA……………. And it should be stated in equal breath I have not witnessed a US based carrier since the mid to late 1960’s who FA’s demonstrated so much as a scintilla of concern regarding REAL service AND appearance. Getting on a US based carrier these days – even international – and one would think they’re in a biker bar from the “appearance” of the FA’s…………. Sows!

  15. I agree with David wholeheartedly. I worked as an “A-Line,” or lead F/A for Delta for 7 years. As a younger, more junior crew member, I constantly had to deal with lazy FA’s skipping parts of the service so they could plop their asses down on their jumpseats and peruse the bid packet, read, or sleep. I was so thrilled to be working for an airline and I couldn’t understand why they were so miserable and cranky. Once you have a few years of seniority, its the most flexible, low stress job in the world! Typically, senior crew members will work 2 on 5 off, or just give away most of their trips. I hate flying U.S. carriers in part because of the rude, sour faced crews I have to look at. They seem to have forgotten that service, along with safety, is a basic function of their job. This pervasive bad attitude has gotten even worse, post 9-11. Now they act like hostile hall monitors, alert for any hint of passenger behavior that they can call “interfering with a flight crew.” So glad I’m out of that industry!

  16. To have a Job or Career is one thing these days …Everybody swinging from vine to vine paychecck to paycheck ..Since I was a child I was enamored by Flight Attendants on National and Northeast flying from JFK to Fort Lauderdale .The G Forces / Fan Blades / Speed Force , Blue Runway Lights and the Scent of Jet Fuel…& the Thrust the Drama and Orchestration of The Technologhy of TakeOff and Style and Charismatic Crew.
    For Decades I’ve witnessed Disturbing Inconsistencies on Legacy Carriers -/ BUT I have already flown as an F/A and will say this -/ this JOB TITLE / ROLE / CAREER is something your BORN to LOVE and PERFORM .-/ FOR LIFE -/ without ANY CONCERN of CIRCUMSTANCES.. It takes a Certain Person Born with THE DESIRE to SACRAFICE and DEVOTE merely for the LIFELONG PASSION of FLIGHT and being CHARASMATIC GRACIOUS ROLE MODEL to DEVOTE and serve All Passengers Equally and COMPASSIONATELY… YOU KNOW your going to SUFFER be subjected to many things in the Enviro -/ but it’s that DO or DIE devotion or SERIOUSLY get a 9 to 5 Desk job…
    Remember the Speed of Sound -/ 10 Miles in the Air and a 777 at 300 tons and 300 or 34 Million Per Craft -/ Woo! What a way to get around -/ Time Magic Machines…
    I will be forever grateful for my Career and every morsel of food or any promotional item given to me by the Airline .. I was Born to Fly ,Help , and Comfort with the gifts I’ve been lucky to have been born withJetBlue ,.. SOUTHWEST and VIRGIN are Exceptions …(they hire a certain caliber-/ ya got it or ya don’t) & you can’t get under the radar at their interviews. …
    If I was inflight manager these crew members would be gone…

  17. Some passengers on these flights (yes that’s you AA Exec PLAT) think they’re entitled to be treated like they’re in a 5 start resort in Bora Bora. It’s a plane and just be happy you arrive alive. If I had to choose between lousy food and lousy service and worrying for 15 hours if the pilot knew what he was doing I would choose the lousy food and lousy service. I’ve been on many flight where the flight attendants couldn’t be nicer but I spent most of the flight worrying about arriving in one piece.

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