No, Not All Flight Attendants Prefer to Work In Economy…

Mar 12, 2017

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Earlier this week, The Sun’s UK edition published an article stating that cabin crew prefer working in economy over working in first or business class. The Sun, in case you didn’t know, has a reputation for shoddy journalism, often publishing articles full of alternative facts — and this piece is no exception. In the interest of preserving our collective professional image as cabin crew, allow me to set the record straight.

No, we do not largely prefer working in economy over first class, nor do we prefer working in first class over economy. Everyone has their own individual preferences, as is true with largely anything else in life. That said, I think that anyone who genuinely enjoys their job as a flight attendant enjoys working in all cabins. Each has its own pros and cons, and there are so many variables at play. A lot of it depends on the time of the flight, the route and the crowd, among other things.

Let’s start with economy, since that’s where The Sun claims we all like to work. I’ll be the first to admit that working in economy can be a pleasure for a variety of reasons. Because passengers traveling in back have lower expectations, it’s easier to please them. Something as simple as providing someone with an extra pillow or a refill of wine can make their day. The passengers in economy tend to be less demanding, which can make the job easier. Furthermore, as one of the crew The Sun spoke with said, the service in economy is more straightforward. It’s a service for 250+ instead of 30 and there are fewer variables because there are fewer options for passengers to chose from. A night flight in economy is a piece of cake because most people just want to be left alone and sleep.

Image courtesy of stock_colors via Getty Images.
Night flights can be a breeze if all my passengers are asleep. Image courtesy of stock_colors via Getty Images.

On the other hand, you’re serving 250+ passengers instead of 30 — on a daytime, transatlantic flight full of vacationers, this can be exhausting! If you’re going to a city where cruises often leave from — like Barcelona, Miami, or Sydney — this can mean a cabin full of cruise passengers, or, in other words, a large group of people who have had their every whim catered to for the last 10 days and don’t quite realize they’re not off the ship yet. Add a few rowdy children to the mix and all of a sudden, the service isn’t so straightforward. Also, regardless of how demanding your passengers are, when there are so many, it’s almost impossible to develop a rapport with any of them, which makes the whole experience feel rather robotic and impersonal. If said passengers are being very demanding, goodness help you — you now have 250 people who want their needs catered to instead of 30. Not such a dream any more, is it Heather? To me, the flight attendants The Sun spoke with sound like the stereotypically lazy American flight attendants the airlines in that country are known for — those who want to bang out the service as quickly as possible and slam the curtain shut. Well, that’s not what I signed up for and I know that the majority of my colleagues feel the same way I do. (If they didn’t, I wouldn’t still be flying!)

Now, let’s go to the front of the plane. I have worked many a flight in the premium cabins, and frankly, I usually enjoy it. The smaller number of passengers in the forward cabin and higher crew-to-traveler ratio mean that we have time to get to know our guests and develop a rapport with them. Fewer passengers also means I can easily remember names, how a particular person likes his or her coffee, or whether they prefer lemon or lime with their gin and tonic. On some routes, like New York, Tokyo, or Zurich, we’ll get the business crowd, with passengers who fly as often as twice a week and as a result, know the service inside and out, know exactly what they want and are usually a dream to work with.

So many options in premium classes vs. economy. Image courtesy of Stewart Cohen via Getty Images.
So many more service options in premium classes vs. economy. Image courtesy of Stewart Cohen via Getty Images.

I can provide a higher level of service in the premium cabin because there are fewer passengers, something any flight attendant should look forward to. If you don’t, then you are either in the wrong business or have been in the business too long and need to retire. This is exactly what you signed up for! The crew interviewed by The Sun said that in first class “there was no time to rest as you have to be able to cater to every passenger every minute of the flight…” First of all, dearie, you get legal rest breaks on long-haul flights, so you do in fact have plenty of time to rest. And when you’re not on break, you’re on duty and therefore are getting paid to cater to said passengers, no? That’s your job, is it not? I just don’t understand this mentality of complaining about doing what you’re getting paid to do.

On the down side, the passenger profile in first class can indeed be more demanding. In economy, that simple pillow or wine refill was all it took to keep a passenger happy, but it can take a whole lot more to get the same level of satisfaction up front. Also, because there are more options to chose from and more variables to the service, things can sometimes take longer. If you get a cabin full of needy passengers, yes, it can be exhausting — 30 people each wanting different things at different times, all of whom paid astronomical amounts for their tickets and therefore expect the service to match the ticket price can be quite tiring. And I need to get them what they want exactly when they want it because that’s part of the job. Service up front requires a whole new level of attention-to-detail that you just don’t see in economy, so yes, this can be a lot of work.

Establishing a good rapport with my passengers is really important. Image courtesy of DreamPictures/Shannon Faulk via Getty Images.

By and large though, it’s unfair to make such a sweeping generalization and say that all cabin crew prefer to work in one cabin over another. Each cabin has its own pros and cons, but at the end of the day, I still think this is the best job in the world. I work with a diverse group of colleagues serving an equally diverse group of passengers, and get paid to spend time in far-flung cities the world over. Who wouldn’t love that?

The flight attendant who complained to The Sun that she felt like a “sky waitress” working in first class needs a serious reality check. You’re getting paid to serve these people, are you not? Service makes up the majority of what I do on a daily basis, but I’m also a professional with extensive safety training, who, on occasion, acts as a therapist, medic, babysitter and tour guide and gets paid to stay in nice hotels and shop in foreign cities. “Sky Waitress” cheapens and degrades our professional image, Heather, but if you really feel that way, maybe it’s time to retire. I’m sure The Sun would offer you a nice job behind a desk.

Do you have any questions for Carrie A. Trey, TPG’s favorite Flight Attendant Insider? Let us know in the comments, below. 

Featured image courtesy of James Lauritz via Getty Images.

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