The commercial air travel industry is headed towards catastrophe amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
There are approximately 98,700 total flight attendants in the United States, and despite the government bailout, many of them could be without a job in the near future.
But for now, most are still working, and a few have shared some crazy stories of what it’s been like amid the coronavirus.
In February, a video went viral showing a man aggressively punching the back of a woman’s seat in front of him. As previously covered here at Proud American Traveler, he was angry at the woman for reclining her seat without asking his permission.
Although it was only 6 weeks ago, it feels like a lifetime considering everything that’s happened since then.
But at the time, it ended up sparking a national debate on airline etiquette – given the limited amount of room passengers have, is it appropriate to recline your seat?
The consensus seemed to be split. One side said, “I paid for the seat and I can do what I want with it,” while the others said it is disrespectful to recline without asking the passenger behind you if they mind. And if they say “no,” then you’re out of luck.
Of course, that’s no excuse for the man who punched the woman’s seat. That’s just plain childish.
However, none of that compares to the disrespect and overall incompetence flight attendants have had to deal with since the coronavirus outbreak took over. It makes the aforementioned seem like the world’s smallest potatoes by comparison.
Passenger paranoia is palpable
In this time of turmoil, passenger paranoia is palpable – there’s mass hysteria and people have been going “bananas,” according to flight attendants.
One twitter user aptly summed it up by referencing James Cameron’s “Titanic.”
Anyone want to know what it’s like to be a flight attendant during this corona virus pandemic? Remeber how on the titanic the band continued to play? Yeah that’s all of us.. 😅
— corona shots (@brad_sheppy) March 13, 2020
If you’re not familiar with the reference – it’s one of the biggest movies of all time, so you should be – the band famously continued to play as the ship sank to keep a sense of calm among the passengers.
Well, these flight attendants are the only constant of calm while flying right now.
Flight attendants are the only constant of calm
Most of these flight attendants are remaining anonymous for fear of repercussions if their employers discovered they were making these statements.
One flight attendant said that while passengers are fervently disinfecting their seats, armrests, and tray tables before takeoff, they forget to address the overhead bins.
“I think people forget about the overhead bins, and those I feel are one of the grossest things on the plane.”
A different flight attendant says, “Every time I take off I pray I’m not going to wind up quarantined alone hundreds of miles away from home with one change of clothes.”
1. We still have to fly to high risk cities. “Wow! I’m sure glad I’m not in _____! it’s bad there.” Guess what! We still have to go there! whether we like it or not. We don’t get a say. Fly there or take a mark on your attendance 🤗
— abrienne 🌱 (@siighchedelic) March 14, 2020
Another flight attendant said the ghost town vibe in the airports was “eerily similar” to the week following the horrifying terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
“The week of 9/11, I was in Chicago for a week, and to now see the airports practically cleared out—it’s eerily similar.”
Another shared an incident about the level of paranoia of touching something.
One uncle beside me looks at me and points to call button for flight attendant.
Me: *presses it*
Me: Uncle, why u didn’t press it yourself? Any difficulty?
— Somesh Upadhyay, IAS (@Somesh_IAS) March 14, 2020
One anonymous American Airlines flight attendant spoke to Vox writer Luke Winkie about their personal experience over the last couple of weeks, saying:
“I’d say about a month ago. I had a senior working with me, and she had never, in her 35-year career, flown a domestic flight. We were going to Tulsa or something. She had only done international. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, if they’re flexing all these people…’ Flight attendants have always been a different breed. We’ve always washed our hands like crazy and checked the beds for bedbugs. But we were all pretty naive until about March 14. I had a flight, Austin to Los Angeles, on an airplane that could hold 181 people. There were 54 passengers and six crew members. I had two passengers in Business Class. That has never happened.”
But we were all pretty naive until about March 14
And given the (understandable) lack of business among the airlines, some flight attendants are in fear of losing their jobs.
“I’ve got friends at Southwest, Frontier, and American, and we’re all basically crapping our pants. Those of us that have less than 10 years of seniority are genuinely concerned that we’re going to lose our jobs for six months to a year. The Southwest CEO, Gary Kelly, sent out an internal memo saying they are in worse shape financially than they were after 9/11. That blows my mind.”
These flight attendants are literally putting their lives on the line for those who have to travel.
Nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, and truck drivers will all deserve a parade for the astounding work they’ve done to ensure we all have the things we need to survive.
But we need to add flight attendants to that list because people still have to travel, making them essential workers. So next time you see a flight attendant, thank them for all that they’ve done.