Tyranny of the Sky Waitresses

So, we’re in Minnesota for a wedding. Since we live in the DC suburbs and the wife and I need to be back at work Monday, that means flying and enduring the depredations of airport security and being herded about a jetliner like cattle.

While we’re not such frequent fliers that we’re awaiting our meeting with legendary captain Maynard Finch, we nonetheless fly quite a bit. Katie, our 17-month-old, has at least twenty takeoffs and landings under her belt.

Depending on what we’re doing once we land and what makes most sense economically, we either get three coach seats and have her in a car seat or get two First Class seats and share lap duty. Yesterday, we did the latter.

As we usually do when we don’t have a car seat, Kim strapped Katie into her Ergo front carrier, which not only secures her very nicely but is comfortable for mother and child. But, unlike every other time we’ve done this, the Sky Waiter comes over and tells us we can’t do it because the carrier isn’t FAA approved. We note that we’ve flown with her like that countless times, including two weeks before, on the same airliner and nobody has ever had a problem. He responds that it’s “imperative” that we obey all direction from “flight crew.”

I suppressed my natural urge to tell him that he’s not “flight crew” but a god-damned waiter and we complied with the stupid instruction, subjecting our child to unnecessary risk and discomfort because, well, there’s not really any good alternative at that point.

The point of this post isn’t to complain about a surly Sky Waiter, although I did find his manner unnecessarily insulting and officious. I’m confident that, in his mind, he was just doing his job to the best of his ability. And, hell, for all I know, he might well be right on what the FAA regulations are and all the other Sky Waiters and Waitresses who’d let us fly Katie in her carrier were the ones in error.

My problem with all this isn’t really about the Sky Waiter at all but rather with the outrageousness of the post-9/11 notion that airline passengers must submit like sheep to the whims of the waitstaff.

First, I’ve got a hell of a lot more information as to what will make my daughter safe and comfortable than they do.

Second, my wife and I, not the waitstaff, are the ones who have to live with the consequences that befall our daughter.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve reversed the presumptions of a free society with all this. Rather than prohibiting things known to be dangerous to the passengers and crew, we instead have a “list of approved electronic devices” and a list of approved equipment that we may use. If it hasn’t specifically been approved — and, of course, the incentives for bureaucracies are not to take the risk of giving their blessing to anything, since that puts the burden on them — it’s prohibited. It’s absurd and outrageous.

And, no, this isn’t an overreaction to a bad experience but rather a longstanding grievance that’s become somewhat personalized.   See, for example, “Mile High Couple Cited Under PATRIOT Act” (November 2006), “Waitresses as Air Marshals (May 2007)” or “Fly the Unfriendly Skies” (May 2008).

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Government
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sookie says:

    Tyranny is the correct word. The tyranny of small minds.

    After 9-11 far, far, far too much power was placed in the hands of as you said, essentially waiters and waitresses.

    The very big difference is if you feel abused by the staff, you can’t pay the check and leave.

  2. JKB says:

    Well, the culprit is the Plaintiffs’ Bar. May people assert they know what is best right up until something goes wrong, then it’s all the airline’s or whoever’ fault. Not that you or your wife would do that but we can’t get the idiots to wear a sign so everyone suffers.

    Worse is that the “approved” device method rules out more effective means or innovation. Fire departments use a device that can be driven through a wall or car hood and either chemical extinguishing agent or water can then be introduced without opening a door or the hood. These are great but you can’t have them on board a commercial ship because they aren’t “USCG approved”. In fact, you’ll be fined if they are discovered onboard. (caveat – it has been several years since I researched this so they may be approved by now)

  3. mike says:

    don’t blame the plaintiff’s bar – congress can change the law – juries can vote to not hold a company responsible for hot coffee – our society is to blame for the sue everyone mentality, not the lawyers.

  4. Triumph says:

    Welcome to Obama’s America where he wants to control every aspect of our lives. Regulations are idiotic. I had a flight get delayed a few weeks ago because the FCC issued some stupid rule saying a part of the engine had been recalled. They had to swap planes and it caused me to be late to the theater.

    These nanny staters need to just let us be free instead of pushing they will on real Americans.

  5. just me says:

    I don’t fly much at all, and while I am all in favor of doing what we can to make flights secure, I would love to see them do away with some of the silliness in security (I am still not convinced every passenger must take their shoes off, because one time this one guy tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb).

    I do think we have put too much power into the hands of flight crew over things that don’t matter. I am sure, if you had put up an argument, the airline could have removed you from the plane because you weren’t complying with flight crew, except that the issue wasn’t over whether or not you were carrying a bomb, but whether or not your child was at greater risk in the carrier than without. Hardly a matter of national security.

  6. Andy says:

    Wow, I have to say I think this post is really unbecoming. It’s one thing to complain about a specific incident where you think you were treated badly, but it’s something else to deride flight attendants as “sky waiters” and make yourself look like an elitist ass. Let me ask you this – since the “flight crew” do not come out of the cockpit, who is supposed to enforce the rules but the “waiters?”

  7. matt says:

    I haven’t flown in many years because of the ridiculous amount of hassles involved with flying these days..

  8. Boyd says:

    …make yourself look like an elitist ass to me. But that’s just my opinion, and I undoubtedly make myself look like an elitest ass with my own asinine comment.

    There, fixed it for you, Andy.

  9. Raoul says:

    Oh, I prefer that the passengers make their own rules- and yes- you are horribly insulting-amazing. Yes flying sucks since 9-11- but for you to take it on some minimum wage smuck-shame on you.

  10. JayR says:

    he’s not “flight crew” but a god-damned waiter

    Dude, let me spell it out for you as succinctly as I can. You. Are. A. Moron.

    They are most certainly, first and foremost, flight crew. The FAA spells out, in great detail, the number of flight crew that must be in the cabin of every flight of a given size. Besides enforcing safety regulations and keeping order, they are also there to prepare for a crash/organize an evacuation should that be necessary. (Why do you think that they ride in the rear facing seats with the 5 point restraints, except to have a slightly higher chance of living through a mishap?)

    Oh yeah, and they also serve drinks, because the airlines have decided that if they have to be there, they might as well occupy their time. But they aren’t “sky waiters.” If they were just that, then there certainly wouldn’t be flight attendants in coach anymore, because some cost cutting airlines would see to that…

  11. Triumph says:

    The FAA spells out, in great detail, the number of flight crew that must be in the cabin of every flight of a given size. Besides enforcing safety regulations and keeping order, they are also there to prepare for a crash/organize an evacuation should that be necessary. (Why do you think that they ride in the rear facing seats with the 5 point restraints, except to have a slightly higher chance of living through a mishap?)

    I love it! The Ralph Nader crazies are coming out of the woodwork when the sky waiters get criticized for being the foot soldiers in Obama’s flight towards socialism.

    The only reason we have these dingbats considered “flight crew” is because their unions control the Democrat party. The Sky Waiter Union and its friends in Congress (Kennedy, Pelosi, “Pug Nose” Waxman, Big Boy Barney Frank) pushed through FCC regulations in the name of “safety.” In reality, these cornholes have just legislated job security for union bosses.

    Former Education Secretary Rod Paige rightly called the teachers unions, “terrorists.” He should have added the Sky Waiter Union to that list. Their transgressions surpass 9/11 and Waco in their evil..

  12. JayR says:

    @Triumph: If you think these are laws passed by the current congress or in response to 9/11, rather than commonly accepted international standards, then there is really nothing I can do to help you, other than to point out that medication and therapy do sometimes help with delusions.

  13. anjin-san says:

    but a god-damned waiter

    Do you really have this much contempt for waiters & waitresses? I hope that you are just having a bad morning and are not as much of a yutz a you sound like here. Cant abide it when the servants get uppity with their betters and all that…

  14. James Joyner says:

    Andy

    Let me ask you this – since the “flight crew” do not come out of the cockpit, who is supposed to enforce the rules but the “waiters?”

    Most of the “rules” are not only arbitrary but, as in this case, not even rules. The flight attendants should make sure people aren’t endangering other passengers. It’s simply none of their business how I secure my child.

    Anjin

    Do you really have this much contempt for waiters & waitresses? I hope that you are just having a bad morning and are not as much of a yutz a you sound like here. Cant abide it when the servants get uppity with their betters and all that.

    I’ve got no contempt for waiters and waitresses, who perform a useful and honorable function. But, yes, when I’m in the role of paying customer and they’re in the role of waitstaff, they’re in fact servants and I’m their “better” and expect to be treated accordingly. Customer and waiter are not equals.

    JayR

    They are most certainly, first and foremost, flight crew.

    They’re flight crew in an emergency. There are few emergencies. If there’s a “water landing” or the oxygen masks fall, I’m prepared to follow their instructions. But, first and foremost, they hand out prepacked snacks.

  15. Patrick T McGuire says:

    we’ve reversed the presumptions of a free society with all this

    What do you mean “we”, Paleface? I stopped obeying the rules of the FAA and the TSA years ago. And this after clocking enough miles in international travel to probably go around the world two or three times. I have seen enough real security in foreign ariports to know that whatever the TSA does is a total joke. Now, if I can’t drive where I need to go, I don’t go. It’s as simple as that.

    My last flight was in March 2002. Since then, when I travel, I pack whatever I want to take with me, which usually includes a loaded .45 handgun with two spare magazines. I travel when I want, stop when I want, and don’t have some ex-buger-flipper telling me what I can or can’t do.

    But as long as you whiners continue to acquiesce to the status quo, nothing is going to change. If everyone stopped flying, the airlines, who passed off their responsibility for security to the government as a cost saving measure, would be forced to either make flying pleasurable again or go out of business. Somehow, I don’t think they would choose the latter. Until you do something besides complaining about “… the depredations of airport security and being herded about a jetliner like cattle.”, that’s exactly what you are going to get.

  16. Andy says:

    .

    It’s simply none of their business how I secure my child.

    That’s simply not true. Whether this particular person was justified in debatable, but you should be blaming the FAA and not an entire group of employees who have to interpret and enforce those rules and put up with people who treat them like servants.

  17. anjin-san says:

    I’m their “better” and expect to be treated accordingly. Customer and waiter are not equals.

    You must have missed this useful tidbit from Robert A. Heinlein:

    Noblesse oblige is an emotion felt only by the truly noble.

    Sorry James, but you are coming across like a stuffed shirt. A public rant about “sky waiters” should be beneath you.

    I recently had a terrible customer experience at a local store. Walked out of there pretty pissed. Here I am in my nice Canali suit, ready to spend some money, and this clerk is acting like I am taking up too much of her valuable time. When I got home I considered calling the manager to complain. Then I remembered that I was dealing with a poorly trained kid who might well get fired if I made that call, and that I had more important things to worry about.

  18. Steve Plunk says:

    There’s so much going here I don’t know where to start. One person with a bad attitude can usually turn a passenger against the whole industry but look at it from their point of view. Airline passengers are rude and self centered a good part of the time since their trip is the most important of all on the plane. It seems many want special treatment or a waving of rules ‘just this once’. They pack too much in the overhead bins and the smarty ones take up the bins near the front and hold everyone up when disembarking. Out of a hundred jerks on planes maybe one will be part of the crew the rest are passengers.

    We pay a little more than we did 30 years ago to fly. We sit in a chair at 36,000 feet going hundreds of mile per hour. We might even get a cocktail. Despite the convenience and price we still want more and bitch because it has to be an efficient operation to make money. Oh, and they are heavily regulated adding to the costs.

    My advice when traveling with others is to be considerate of all, realize you are not the only passenger, and appreciate what you are getting for the price. It’s not like it was in the sixties but we’re not paying like the sixties either.

    Lastly, if it’s that bad drive or don’t go.

  19. Ole Sarge says:

    Actually the term is FLIGHT PASSENGER SAFETY ATTENDANT and all that “wait-staff” BS is the airline addition to the REQUIRED duties IAW FAA regulations. That man or woman is only there IN CASE OF EMERGENCY to get every person out of the aircraft quickly and safely.

    For the every 1 in 10 that CAN keep calm and focused in an emergency, the remaining 9 MUST be ordered, directed and sometimes physically jolted to MOVE in an emergency.

    Even Air Force One has FLIGHT PASSENGER SAFETY ATTENDANTS, and in an emergency, their orders supersede even the Secret Service Details.

    I have friends that have those jobs and frankly, they are not glamorous (if they ever were). One tells us now she is GLAD (fallaciously) that the airlines are charging for baggage checking, now more than ever she is concern about overloaded overhead storage that was never designed for 40-50 pounds of luggage, let alone times 3 or 4!

    The comments about buses with “wings” is not far from the truth. Each time her airline reduces the “pitch” (space between rows of seating) it makes getting EVERYONE off that much more difficult, and increases the health hazards associated with flying.

    Nope, after hearing her tales, I’d rather drive, take a train or a boat than ever fly again.

  20. […] . . . about Stewardesses. […]

  21. Ha Nguyen says:

    I’ve worked in the same area for several years. We used to have hard-line rules about how to conduct ourselves in the work area, but lax enforcement. People were expected to use their own judgement as long as the spirit of the law was kept.

    However, some people DID not use the judgment they should have, either through overwork, carelessness or arrogance that the rules did not apply to them. I can’t say ignorance because EVERYONE has to re-read the rules every year.

    We now have now recordings blaring at us about the rules EVERY TIME we pass by the sensors. It was decided that our group needed a “Mom” to remind us because a few idiots couldn’t be bothered to follow the rules.

    My general point, is that before you blame the “wait staff” about enforcing the “rules”, you might want to think there may be a reason they have to enforce the rules now. They may have gotten blasted because a previous passenger did something stupid and blamed the airline for their stupidity.

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    May I just say that I love all airline personnel.  They are wonderful, kind, decent, hard-working and attractive people.
    And let me add that I expect nothing in return for this expression of support.  I’m not saying I would refuse an upgrade to an exit row or even to business, but I don’t mean to imply any sort of quid pro quo.
    I’m just saying:  if you have an empty seat up front, and you have to choose between me and that awful Joyner person . . .

  23. RNB says:

    Mr. Joyner, remember that adage about how a piece of writing can reveal more about the writer than the subject?  This is one of those.  And it’s not pretty.

  24. reader says:

    His second point is extremely shortsighted.

  25. TangoMan says:

    <i>It’s simply none of their business how I secure my child.</i>
    Your child could become a flying projectile if disaster falls on the plane. Reducing the risk of your child impacting another passenger makes sense.

  26. James Joyner says:

    Your child could become a flying projectile if disaster falls on the plane. Reducing the risk of your child impacting another passenger makes sense.

    Sure. But the effect of this particular instruction was to increase that likelihood, not lessen it.

    What’s safer:  My kid strapped to my wife, who’s also holding her?  Or my wife merely holding her?

  27. TangoMan says:

    <i>Sure. But the effect of this particular instruction was to increase that likelihood, not lessen it.
    What’s safer:  My kid strapped to my wife, who’s also holding her?  Or my wife merely holding her?</I>
    You have a solid point here. My fault for presuming that the instructions given to you were based on reason. I’m at a loss trying to understand the rationale for making a baby less secure.