Attitude at Altitude Part 2

by Steve Brock on August 13, 2010

Airline Cabin

Bring a good attitude along with your carry-on

Last time we looked at how just expressing our appreciation to flight attendants can stand out in the increasingly uncivil world of civil aeronautics. But sometimes, you don’t even have to say “Thank you.” Sometimes a positive attitude shines through in other ways as exemplified in a situation a few years ago. 

I am boarding an Alaska Airlines flight home to Seattle. My seat is back in Row 15, the emergency exit row. On this configuration of aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 (it is scary that I even know this), first class has four rows. At this point, they have pre-boarded those needing extra assistance, as well as first class. I’m following these groups in the third wave of elite status passengers who aren’t quite elite enough to make the forward cabin. 

When boarding, I experience a common phenomenon: No matter when you board, you will always have someone in front of you that is either: 

  • Lost (Yes, I know. The plane is a closed-ended tube. How lost can you get? I think the issue is that some people can’t figure out that the little numbers above the seats correspond to the little numbers on your ticket.);
  • Unable to fit their bag into the overhead compartment but tries repeatedly nonetheless; or
  • So preoccupied with the cell phone conversation they’re on that they just stand in the aisle, unburdening themselves of their bags but not actually stowing them or getting out of the way.

Because of this, you never walk directly to your seat unimpeded. Instead you move haltingly like your own bag does on the conveyor belt going through the security X-ray: start, stop, start, reverse a bit, start, etc. 

As I’m making my slow progression, around Row 2, I hear the flight attendant ask the woman in Row 4 if she wants her sweater hung up. The passenger in Row 4 replies, “No, it’s old. You can just wad it up and shove it.” 

I move forward five feet and then stop behind the flight attendant at the closet behind Row 4. Her back is to me as she is stowing said sweater. I say softly to her, “Don’t you just hate it when passengers tell you to shove it?’ 

I move on and barely make it to Row 6 when I hear the flight attendant’s initial snicker turn to a full-blown chortle. 

At Row 8: I can hear the flight attendant tell the sweater lady what I said. 

At Row 9: Sweater lady bursts out laughing as well. 

At Row 12: I glance back to see the flight attendant informing the whole right side of the first class cabin. 

At Row 15: I don’t catch her words, but as I’m putting my own bag into the overhead compartment, I hear a wave of laughter roll down the aisle towards me. 

What I said wasn’t that funny. OK, actually it was at the time. But only because it reflected an appreciation of the built-in tension that flight attendants feel and our own ability to laugh at it. 

But in its own way, my comment demonstrated empathy to that flight attendant, a sense that I understood her situation and somehow, in a way that went far beyond the words I actually spoke, it let her know I appreciated her and her work. 

I’m not suggesting you make bad jokes a standard practice with flight attendants  though it is tempting. Just be sensitive enough to the moment to reach out and give someone else what they need then. Sometimes that’s a word of thanks. And sometimes it’s something more…or less. You may be surprised by the results. 

And if nothing else, you might make somebody smile. 

Or even chortle.

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