We all know that the modern travel experience is a full-on slog -- although compared to, say, boarding a ship to Europe complete with steamer trunks and handwritten passenger ledgers, it's pretty easy stuff -- so if you don't want to make yourself and everyone around have you a breakdown, you need to keep your head and try not to sweat the small stuff.
Along these lines, we often prescribe that you cut customer service folks a little slack. They are outnumbered, single operators in a vast airline/hotel/service industry, sometimes underpaid, often powerless to solve the particular problem you have, and regularly the object of someone's wrath. They deserve some respect and courtesy.
But a rash of recent books and articles from travel employees seems to show that you might not be receiving the same benefit of the doubt from the person across the counter, or in the aisle, or serving you food. Carolyn Spencer Brown, the Editor in Chief of our sister site, Cruise Critic, notes, "These books and blogs all have one thing in common: how hospitality industry workers really hate the customers they're supposed to be hospitable to. I'm starting to find these pieces/books offensive and toxic and wonder if other travelers are starting to get sick of hearing about it?"
I had to agree. But in an effort to find out if the bad stories were crowding out the good, I did a small sampling of the most popular flight attendant blogs and recent books to look for the good in everyone.
Animus in the Air
So that I wasn't finding blogs that merely reinforced the bad-guy thesis, I got some unbiased help -- I enlisted FancyHands.com, a personal assistant service, to find me a batch of blogs written by flight attendants, and expressly requested that the site try to dig up some that were somewhat positive.
FancyHands.com came back with a half-dozen flight attendant blogs, but of only one could they say it was "the most positive we could find" -- Sara Keagle's TheFlyingPinto.com.
In the About Me section of her blog, Keagle states that she's "here to offer advice on making your travels through the friendly skies ... well, more friendly!" And she delivers pretty consistently -- although even Keagle is not immune to the lure of the negative. Her most recent post on the Huffington Post focuses on passenger misbehavior (10 Gross Things Flight Attendants Have Seen on Airplanes).
Flight Attendants at Their Best -- and Worst
Flight attendant Heather Poole's blog has shifted in large part to support her new book, "Cruising Attitude." Get it? Not "altitude," but "attitude" -- something which it sure does feel like passengers are getting a lot more of lately. She also links to a story by Airfarewatchdog's George Hobica, who used an informal survey of flight attendant acquaintances to come up with 17 Things Your Flight Attendant Won't Tell You -- 900+ words of snark, insults and condescension that could just as easily have been titled "17 Ways Your Parents Told You Never to Speak About People, the In-Flight Edition."
The intro reads, "Ever wonder what your flight attendant really thinks of you? What they'd tell you if they had the nerve? Or weren't afraid of being fired? What deep, dark secrets would they reveal about their jobs?" The article ends with this zinger: "Don't ask me where you can shove your bag. I've been waiting 12 years to tell you where you can shove it."
Poole went on Fox News to say, well, sure, some of these things are based in truth, but on the whole, we're all just trying to get along -- check out the video below. At least Poole is upbeat and consistent in that she tries to make sure she (and her audience) gets a good laugh out of the worst situations, which is certainly the right, sure, "attitude" when traveling.
Another flight attendant, Bobby Laurie, leads off with a post about how passengers ask what their drink options are:
"I run through the usual options pretty quickly (because I say it so often): Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Diet Sprite, ginger ale, club soda, orange, apple, cran-apple and tomato juice, water, coffee and tea.
"And usually, after much deliberation, which holds up the back of the airplane from receiving their drink in a timely manner, the passenger decides on water."
So even asking for water seems to be cause for a flight attendant to get ticked off enough to write a blog about it.
Returning to Poole's book, you can read some sample chapters on her blog site. Here are the titles of the available chapters:
- Chapter 2: I Never Wanted to be a Flight Attendant
- Chapter 10: Flying Freak Show
- Chapter 13: Turbulence
Okay, Turbulence doesn't sound that bad, right? Poole spends the first paragraph of the chapter on actual in-flight turbulence, using it to segue into a batch of stories about personal turbulence -- i.e., confrontations -- between passengers and flight attendants. We know it happens, and it can't be fun for flight attendants, but to focus too much on problem passengers is really a disservice to the rest of us.
Need more examples? How about these book titles: "Around the World in a Bad Mood," "Plane Insanity," "Attitudes at Every Altitude," "Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant," "99 Ways to Make a Flight Attendant Fly -- Off the Handle." Just search your favorite bookstore; you'll find more.
Sure, we all know that controversy sells books, while nice people saying nice things about other people do not (except maybe in the self-help aisle). So to some extent the mean-spirited expose is simply much more likely to make it into print. Ah, well.
Five Things You Shouldn't Wear on a Plane
Meanwhile, Back on the Ground...
While various flight attendants insult and disgust folks who fly a lot, Jacob Tomsky does the same favor for people who stay in hotels in "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality." You have probably seen the hidden-camera exposes in which hotel staff use traveler toothbrushes to clean the bathroom, or wash out the water glasses with toxic cleaners. Tomsky confirms that these tactics and more are a routine part of your hotel stays, whether you want to believe it or not.
Like Poole, Tomsky "never intended to go into the hotel business," according to the publisher's book blurb -- and perhaps he shouldn't have. Check out the video trailer for the book, which ends with "I just hate the guests; they always say that a hotel would be perfect if it weren't for the guests." Nice.
Again from the publisher: "This book (and a timely proffered 20-dollar bill) will help you score late checkouts and upgrades, get free stuff galore, and make that pay-per-view charge magically disappear." So it's $26 for the book, and another $20 any time you want to avoid having your bags smashed against the wall in the backroom by the bellhops. Good times.
What Not to Do at Your Hotel
The third pillar of the travel experience -- flight, lodging and meals -- gets the same treatment in "Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter" by Steve Dublanica. Writes the publisher, "Waiter Rant presents the server's unique point of view, revealing surefire secrets to getting good service, proper tipping etiquette, and ways to ensure that your waiter won't spit on your food."
For most folks, it is no secret that a lot of waitstaff hold customers in contempt. The cliche of the struggling actor/comedian/artist who can't stand his or her job is old and worn. But it plays directly into the same general sense that so many people in the service industry really hate the people they are paid to serve.
Do They Really Hate Us?
Of course, not all travel industry workers are so mad that they have to write a book about it -- some clearly enjoy the work and the people they meet while on the job. And reading the more positive sections of the books and blogs, it is possible to feel some compassion for these folks who have a "really weird job," as Poole put it in one interview.
But after reading the "XX Ways These People Hate Your Guts and All the Sneaky Ways They Will Try to Get Back at You Even If You Don't Deserve It," or when Tomsky states so simply that he hates the guests, compassion becomes a bit more challenging to summon. Says Carolyn Spencer Brown: "I think most travelers are pretty easy to deal with. Not all, of course. But I think that if these folks hate customers so much, they should find another line of work because they're probably not doing a great job to begin with."
If they did decide to find another line of work, there might be folks who actually want to do the job, without bringing the hate. Recently, Delta got 22,000 applications for 300 flight attendant jobs. If the work is so thankless, gross and dispiriting, why are so many people clamoring to do it?
Inevitably, columns like this one that, I admit, complain about complaining flight attendants are met with responses from FA's saying how callous the writer is, how we haven't walked a mile in their shoes, etc. And maybe the industry has changed right under their feet -- maybe they were drawn to the jobs before the days of policing huge carry-on bags, collecting fees for things that used to be free and dealing with cranky passengers shoehorned into smaller seats. A lot of hospitality and service industry workers are really put upon by their employers -- I get all that, and know that customer service and hospitality can sometimes be thankless jobs, no question.
But we're not reading blogs about bellhops or flight attendants addressing workplace wrongs -- we're reading mostly about how awful we are merely for being paying customers. And a corollary truth is that if every flight attendant or hotel employee has a "bad customer" story, so does every traveler have a "bad travel employee" story. A big difference is that few travelers blog about it exclusively.
Some also say the ranting bloggers do not represent them, and we get that too. Just as the authors of these rants usually acknowledge that most travelers are perfectly well behaved, we can guess that many service workers like their jobs and customers just fine most of the time. But the small percentage of boorish travelers and ranting bloggers gets almost all the attention, and having this animosity played up in books and media just digs us farther into our respective corners.
The question travelers should have is this: Do a significant number of workers really hold travelers -- their customers -- in as much contempt as they seem to? If so, that is really helpful information.
If not, I think it is fair to say a lot of travelers have had enough of all the offensive, often toxic whining, and want you to know that while it may be easy and sometimes lucrative to write about, it's not helping your image or your cause. And maybe one of those 22,000 applicants will be a better fit for the work. Either way, we truly want to know.
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.