Coffee, Tea, and Security


This commentary was provided by Tim Winship, Editor/Publisher of  We should all support this eminently sensible initiative.

It's an all-too-familiar scenario: The inflight meal has been served, the headsets distributed. The plane has reached cruising altitude and is on auto-pilot. And the flight attendants are... nowhere to be seen. AWOL. Missing in action.

Listen carefully, however, outside the curtained galley amidship, or peek behind the aft bulkhead in the lavatory area, and voila: a covey of cabin crew in "do not disturb" mode, coffee-klatsching the flight away.

Prior to September 11, such systemic neglect was just one among the many service lapses travelers had come to expect from an industry which has become synonymous with poor service.

The events of December 22, aboard American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami, raise this particular category of dereliction from low-grade insult to criminal negligence.

But for the fact that a flight attendant was walking the aisles of flight AA63, Mr. Richard C. Reid likely would have been successful in detonating the explosive material molded into his high-tops. Almost certainly the resulting explosion would have caused the loss of all lives on board. And adding to the human tragedy, the downing of a fourth American Airlines aircraft could well have pitched American itself into bankruptcy, and precipitated a vicious cycle of plummeting consumer confidence, leading to more bankruptcies, further eroding consumer confidence, and so on.

But for the fact that one flight attendant was doing her job...

The U.S. airlines must now move, and move quickly, to make continuous surveillance of the passenger cabin a mandatory feature of each and every commercial flight. Henceforth, flight attendants must actually be attendant -- physically present and mentally alert -- throughout the flight.

This is not an indictment of flight attendants. The failing, rather, is on the part of airline management. And it is management which must now address the problem by changing the way flight attendants' jobs are defined and their performance recognized and rewarded.

Cynics will dismiss such calls to action as naive or utopian, citing the difficulties of overcoming entrenched corporate culture and rigid union work rules. I would suggest they consider the practices of cabin crew working for Asian carriers. If Cathay Pacific, JAL and Singapore Airlines can provide their passengers continuous flight attendant service -- and oversight -- on 12-hour flights, surely American, Delta and United can do the same on four-hour flights.

Attentive inflight service is no longer "just" about the comfort of the traveling public. It's about their safety, and ultimately about the health of the industry which makes air travel possible (if not particularly palatable).

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This page last modified on July 21, 2020