Flight Attendants On The Firing Line. Is It Time to Stop Alcohol Sales on U.S. Flights?

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It’s often said that a person’s real self comes out after they’ve had a few drinks, and unfortunately the people revealed within are sometimes total jerks. The best advice I can give in dealing with such idiots is to avoid them. But when you’re a flight attendant, it’s your job to deal with all passengers, especially those who are causing trouble. And when there’s alcohol involved, it makes the jobs of those required crew members difficult and sometimes hazardous, as evidenced by a spate of attacks on flight attendants by passengers who object to, well, to the flight attendants doing their job.

More often than not these days, the issue is the mask. Regardless of how you feel about the science behind masks, I hope we all agree that when there’s a regulation involved and when a crewmember instructs a passenger to comply with the rule, it’s not a pick and choose situation. You do it. Not only that, but the requirement that passengers properly wear a mask on a commercial flight should come as no surprise to anyone. But what if they don’t feel like wearing a mask? Tough luck. Drive instead, or maybe walk. Both are easy solutions.

But that’s not what some passengers do. Instead, they get on the flight and don’t wear the mask, and when a flight attendant reminds them that it’s required—remember, it’s that crewmember’s job to ensure the passengers are complying with federal air regulations—the fighting often begins because, well, these idiots don’t like being told what to do, regardless of the context. And bear in mind that these folks aren’t five-year-olds. They’re adults.

One thing that grownups can do is drink, and the airlines serving alcohol to their passengers is a tradition as old as the industry itself. For most people, that is simply not an issue. For many of them the biggest risk is that they’ll sleep through the wake-up chimes when it’s time to sit up and put your tray table up. But for others, well, they get nasty. You might have seen the viral video of a Southwest Airlines passenger punching a Southwest flight attendant in the face after being asked to put her mask on. The punched knocked two of the flight attendant’s teeth out and bloodied her face. The passenger got thrown in jail and now faces jail time and tens of thousands of dollars in federal fines for the assault.

Consequently, Southwest and American Airlines announced their intention to delay bringing back alcohol sales on their flights. It makes sense. But I don’t get the part about delaying bringing back the sales. The airlines make a bundle on the sale of alcohol to their passengers, so there’s profit motive, for sure. But the cost of that business model is high, with risk from unruly, alcohol fueled jerks doing violence on a too-regular basis to the airline employees in the cabin, as well as to fellow passengers.

Flight attendants will tell you that historically they have gotten too little respect from their employers, fellow employees and passengers. Thankfully, things have gotten better in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go. And asking passengers to go without drinks, often in the middle of the day, for a few hours, is asking very little. It would go a long way toward letting flight attendants know that their employers value them even more than the extra dough they can haul in by asking their crewmembers to sell to their customers the very thing that puts the flight attendant at greater risk of assault, while making their jobs more difficult in a dozen different ways.

From a pilot’s perspective, the care we give our fellow crewmembers isn’t an extra consideration. It’s core to the very concept of crew resource management, and the cabin crew, make no mistake, is a required, integral and critical part of the team that manages the safe conduct of a flight. If we remember that, the rest of the argument is easy.

Categories: How to Become a Pilot

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