Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A fine stew...

It’s a lousy job.

Get ‘em on, get ‘em off. Hussle up the newbies and –in-frequent fliers. “Stow your gear, and get the heck out of the way, you dopes. Move it, we got schedules to meet, and you got a hundred people waitin’ on the jetway for you to step out of the aisle.” You know the poor things just want to scream by the time the doors close and the seatbelt/life vest demonstration starts.

It’s a really lousy job, getting worse by the day.

Tough hours, away from home half the time, crappy airport hotels, crappy airport restaurants. Company bustin’ your chops to cut costs and reduce service levels at every turn. Smaller, more crowded planes. Longer flights. Shorter turnarounds. Crankier customers. Now they even want them to help clean the airplane.

Coffee, Tea, or Me? Not hardly, no more. The days of Sinatra’s magical Starry Eyed, Rarified Air are long gone. Ya, maybe the Southwest crews try to inject some humor, but even they know the whole experience of air travel just plain stinks – for passengers, crews, everyone.

But in the midst of this lousy, grating, fingernails-on-a-chaulkboard, if-you-kick-my-seat-again-some-overhead-luggage-is-going-to-shift-unexpectedly-on-your-freaking-head, world...OCCASSIONALLY a light shines, a bright surprise burst on the vast gray mediocrity of air travel. OCCASIONALLY, someone actually still gives a hoot.


You won’t realize it at first when you step into her universe, but she doesn’t think she has a lousy job. She loves being a stew. Always wanted this job since her parents flew her to Disneyworld when she was 10 years old. She beems you a non-phony smile when you enter her dominion. She’s patient and helpful with folks struggling to get seated – actually leads the way for an old man teetering to his seat and helps him find a place in the overhead for his bag – with a smile and a kind word. In the short time before the flight leaves, she memorized – yes MEMORIZES – the first names of each of her 16 first class passengers. She stops at each seat – not checking a printout – and greets them by name.

When you enter her lavatory, you begin to get a real sense of what’s happening here. She has a little stereo setup on the counter playing classical music. It’s covered in a gaily patterned silk scarf arranged ‘just so’. After take off she arrives in the aisle with hot towels – really hot – on her tray she’s got a wine glass filled with dry ice and water, bubbling nitrogen steam, just for fun. She shares a few kind words with the older couple in 4A-B – Why yes, they are on their way home to Phoenix, been visiting the kids in Dallas. She kneels down to offer some advice to the brand new mom in 6F with the beautiful, but inconsolably screaming 6 week old daughter. In minutes, the kid is sound asleep, the mom and her fellow passengers sighing in relief at the silence.

Sbe isn’t some fresh scrubbed, overly enthusiastic plebe either. Long white hair flows to her shoulders in a casual pony tail. Her deep set smile lines betray many millions of miles in the flight attendant saddle. She is a throwback. A retro. Despite labor disputes, long lines, the overall basterdization of the flying experience, she stands firm – holding court over the first class cabin of flight #AA1279, refusing to accept her lot, unwilling to accept mediocrity, unflappable, determined to provide great service despite the situation, the union rules, and the company men, despite the pressure to do less for more. Instead she gives of herself, just a little more than she needs to, just a little more than others in her profession ever do. She fights for our dignity, and in doing so, she preserves her own. In her own small way, she gives us all hope. Hope that hard work, and pride in it, matter. And, that is the kind of hope, the kind of America, we really can believe in…

7 comments:

aswooshes said...

I think Seth Godin would call your "Stew" remarkable or a Linchpin. We all can learn from this.

skyangel said...

Oh my gosh, "Charles" thank you so very much for the kind words. I say Charles because this was the name on my paper work I had memorized. Yes, I do memorize everyones name in about one minute. It's pretty simple, yet makes a big impact on my First class passengers. You should have told me you went by Kirby. You sat there so quietly next to Bob working on your laptop. I'm glad I made your flight enjoyable and hope to see you on AAother flight. Again, thank you for the kind words.

hammrr said...

sounds just like my sister

40watts said...

It is no surprize to me. That's why I married her!!!

gfagundes said...

Love it :) Thank you for sharing. It's truly unremarkable how there are still great FAs out there that treat passengers like PEOPLE and not like CATTLE.

Kirby Wadsworth said...

40W, you are a lucky man!

mike.myers said...

Same thing happened to me on a flight from BWI to DFW. Plus, at the end of the flight, I got some extra cookies wrapped in foil for my wife. And then, after the flight, while I was waiting for the train in DFW, she passed by with another FA and reminded me of the gate to my connecting flight to LAX.

She is an example to all of us in all of our jobs. I have used her story many times at work.