Why are American Flight Attendants so Rude??!

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  • Sami

    I recently had the misfortune of travelling on several US domestic flights using various American airlines (United, American, Delta, Alaska and Southwest) and with only one exception (a Southwest flight where the flight attendants were at least nominally courteous), the rest of the flights were just plain atrocious. Most if not all of the flight attendants were either plain rude, looked deathly bored, sarcastic and unhelpful. Many had an unkempt appearance and got away with behavior that would be unthinkable on South Asian or Arab airlines. More than once, I heard attendants using the security card to shut up complaining passengers and on some flights I heard some attendants loudly making fun of passengers and in some cases some attendants were barking orders at passengers in threatening tones. Is this the norm???? To be honest I’m still shocked by what I experienced. Deplorable and plain nasty.

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    Sami, while in no way condoning rude or similar behaviour from cabin crew, I think it is salutary to read Joyce Hunter’s “Anger in the Air. Combating the Air Rage Phenomenon”. Her book, written in 2016, argues that passenger behaviour and employer policies have combined as the perfect storm which has eroded service and attitudes to passengers among cabin crew in the US and, arguably, beyond.


    Things have undoubtedly changed but just over 20 years ago I worked in the USA for 3 months and took an average of 4 flights a week, mostly on Continental as I was based in Houston. I can only recall one occasion when I had cause for complaint over a rude FA. I had asked for a drink and as she turned away I added ‘without ice please’, which she did not acknowledge, so I repeated the request which caused her to turn round and almost spit back at me :
    “I am not a dumb goddam blonde”. The chap sitting next to me inflamed the situation by saying :
    “You sure do a good imitation of being one.”

    In general I thought the service was slick, efficient, and formulaic, with very little charm or warmth, but I would hesitate to say ‘rude’. What was abysmal was the food. At the time, I wrote the following :

    Working as a contractor based in Houston, most of my travel within the USA had to be on an airline which I shouldn’t name, but Constipational Airlines may give a clue. The ‘meal’ never varied. Morning, noon or night, it was a ‘turkey’ sandwich. Not real turkey, but a slimy and almost transparently thin processed defatted flavourless saltfree zero cholesterol no sodium substitute which bore about as much resemblance to turkey meat as water does to whisky. It came in a stale roll, sometimes accompanied by a miniature carrot, vacuum packed in cellophane. In retrospect I think the carrot was only for the donkeys travelling first class. After an average of ten of these ‘meals’ a week, and feeling particularly jaded after a tough day which had ended with my explaining for the umpteenth time to a travel agent that the US dollar was not the only currency in the world, I boarded a delayed flight from Los Angeles back to Houston. Somewhere over the Grand Canyon, a blonde Laurie, or Michelle, or Candy, or Jeannie, simpered in my ear:
    “Will you be having dinner today, Sir?”.
    Something snapped inside me and I replied :
    “No thanks, I’ll have it tomorrow.” This went straight over her head, or more probably, through it.
    “I’m sorry, will you be having dinner today, Sir?, she repeated.
    “I’ll tell you what,” I said, my enthusiasm for pissing her off growing by the minute, “if by any chance, if by some remote chance, you’re serving turkey sandwiches, which are my absolute favourite, I’d love to have one. I know that this airline doesn’t often treat its customers to turkey, but maybe today’s my lucky day.”
    She selected a sandwich, opened it, examined the contents, handed it to me with one of those gleaming wall to wall toothpaste smiles that only Americans are capable of, and said :
    “Gee Sir, you are so, so lucky, it is turkey today.”
    My exclamation of, “Gosh, I can’t believe my luck” was rewarded as she handed me another sandwich, assuring me that they always carried extra. As I left the aircraft at Houston, she furtively handed me another one, whispering into my ear that it was against the rules, but they still had a few left over.
    This will always be one of life’s unsolved riddles. Was she humouring me as a potentially dangerous lunatic, or was she taken in by my performance? Out of respect for what is perhaps the world’s greatest nation, even if they run some of the world’s worst airlines, I’d like to think that it was the former, but sadly, I fear it was the latter.

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    At a price of £115 on Amazon Prime, I think I’ll give it a miss.


    https://www.vitalsource.com/ie/products/anger-in-the-air-joyce-a-hunter-v9781317181057 €43.01
    I think that is for the electronic and the paper version.

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    They have strong unions, anti-discrimination and a ridiculous seniority policy…

    The young, enthusiastic crew hired in the last 10 years are relegated to back to backs on undesirable leisure routes or between hubs.

    Meanwhile your average crew member serving in business or what’s left of first class on AA(a cabin they have given up trying in) is running out the clock to retirement and views passengers as an inconvenience.

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    I recently had the misfortune of travelling on several US domestic flights using various American airlines…..

    Sami, I do sympathise, I really do. But to me, the concept and appearance of rudeness is highly cultural. What appears rude to someone from culture A, travelling in a culture B country, may not be rude at all in my opinion. I am therefore slow to assume I am looking at rudeness in another country. Thanks for listening.


    That’s why in North America they are called Flight Attendants.


    To me it’s a perception thing ……Americans (stereotyping) tend to naturally be a bit more brash, and often identify passivity in others as a weakness rather than a strength. And unfortunately react accordingly . Ghandi definitely wouldn’t be an all American hero !!

    Out of respect for what is perhaps the world’s greatest nation, even if they run some of the world’s worst airlines, I’d like to think that it was the former, but sadly, I fear it was the latter.

    Part of the charm of Americans is their (lets call it) naïve gullibility. I remember sharing a pod on the London Eye with a group of American tourists. Pointing out towards the Gherkin, I deliberately and loudly explained to my girlfriend that it was the global headquarters of Durex !!
    ” Gee whizz ain’t that awesome ” as the Americans started to snigger at Durex’s headquarters. whilst snapping away at the building

    Even a slap and a rebuke from the better half didn’t twig : )


    I think it may also be down to the glamour element of the job being replaced, especially in America, by cabin crew in the USA becoming nothing more than bus conductors and they act accordingly. Unkempt, gum chewing, welcoming passengers whilst drinking cowfee from starbucks plastic cups, ties half way down their shirts and barking orders at passengers as if they have been given 4 gold bars. Yes they do give a safety demo of sorts.

    “move down the bus, please be seated, the bus wont move until all standing are seated” or like a theatre attendant at break time “line up line up, come and buy your ice cream”.

    I accept this is a very general statement but the role of cabin crew, in supermarket style aircraft has changed dramatically over the years – from glamour to … I am not really sure to what – yet the US crews still want to present themselves as living in days gone by…

    I know BA/VS crews are not perfect, but I do prefer and respect European crews on the legacy airlines more.

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    This is a very interesting question….and I think of it each time I fly with Aeroflot Russian Airlines.
    Same crowded planes,many times rude and uncooperative passengers…a bus of sort.
    However Aeroflot’s flight attendants manage to keep it a glamorous job by acting in glamour.
    I don’t agree with the list of changes that occurred in air service lately as an excuse to justify or create ‘ understanding ‘ to their lousey performance.

    Aeroflot’s F/A are perfectly groomed,very polite and act with humility.Passengers come first.Their appearance is their dignity.Walking around with your hair undone,no minimal makeup ,untidy uniforms,it all boils down to feeling that it’s a ‘free for all’ conduct.

    American flight attendants assume its all about THEM,and their own comfort rather than realizing it’s all about their customers well being and comfort.

    Their unions provides them with protection that facilitates doing a lousey job with no fear of consequences.

    So when it’s all about me,and ‘me’ can act and talk to passengers anyway Me feels like ,and Me won’t be punished in any way,the result is simply this one :Lousey service.

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    I do not intend this as anti-USAmerican although I am sure some will choose to see it as such, but you only have to compare the appearance of the average east/central European woman and the average USAmerican woman to understand the difference between the US carriers and Aeroflot, LOT, Tarom, etc.

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    I have not flown extensively with US airlines and probably experienced my most unpleasant flight ever on a LAX-JFK UA red eye some years ago.

    I can only speak from personal experience but i’ve also had some of the most memorable and great service for FA’s on US carriers. I find that one thing US FA’s tend to be is genuine. That can be genuinely disinterested or even rude, but it can also be genuinely LOVELY. And i’ve experienced the latter more than once. As other have said it can be a very cultural thing. I have flown many SE or ‘arab’ airlines and while the service has been professional, polite, all the boxes checked it often also lacks an element of sincerity or warmth. For me anyway. The niceties just seem a bit….forced. I’ve had US based flight attendants that have literally had me in stitches with laughter recalling some of their stories. The last time my partner and I flew AA in Business we were delighted to be given a bottle of champers at the end of the flight by the Purser. She told us that she does it EVERY flight – gives a bottle away to her favourite passenger. And we happened to win the award that day.

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    I am a bit puzzled. I stayed in USA for 3 years on assignment and did some heavy domestic travelling (4-6 sectors each month) – mostly in economy or economy plus. 90% United, others in Southwest, Delta and American. And I have not experienced a single bad behaviour from crew members. (I am not white American). Some of them are surely, but for me I found them very professional.

    And when I travelled first class (similar to business class), the services were quite good. I agree food quality is not good, normally i avoided food for short trips and just had a drink.

    I also witness many times, crew helped with suitcases (yes in USA many passengers bring suitcases as carry on) to put them on hold or at the coat storage area.

    I could be lucky, but I travelled heavy, and not seeing any bad behaviour, I will always say that “there shall not be any generalisation if crew behaviour”. There is always a few bad elements and there could be one or two bad incidents, but mostly crew of US airlines behave very professionally.

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    Inquisitive, refer to Skytrax and other airline review sites to see that my experiences were far from being unique. American airline companies have the lowest world airline scores and if you read the reviews, you would also notice that crew behavior is overwhelmingly the reason. So I guess, you were lucky!

    Also, genuine is definitely not how I would describe American attendants. The fake smiles predominate (that is if they ever smile).

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