Here’s the stupidest thing I have read in a while (excluding American politics, of course.)
Akbar Al Baker, the head of Qatar Airways, recently criticized the blatant flaw in America commercial aviation – the age of its flight attendants.
He seemed to mean the females, ignoring the male ones.
Customers of American lines are "always being served by grandmothers," said Akbar Al Baker, who also called American carriers “crap.”
He’s half right, but that’s not the point. He noted that female attendants on his airline have an average age of 26, as if that were the major qualification for helping customers jammed together in a tin can in the sky.
Flying from Point A to Point B is not a fashion show or beauty pageant. Style was more important back in the day when service and amenities were better, when burly, hairy passengers did not wear shorts or sweatpants and chew on nasty-smelling fast food out of a paper bag.
Failing United even had thugs drag a bloodied passenger from a flight after he was randomly selected for termination by overbooking.
It’s all a good reason for staying home, which I do, after 50 years of travel. But one thing I know is that flight attendants could make things slightly better, and that your chances of expertise were often in direct ratio to a decade or three of experience.
Older attendants have been there and done that. When the airlines created havoc by charging for luggage, the attendants dealt with so-called carryons with a sense of authority and a feel for space. This is a generalization, but they did not get flustered. Solve the problem.
Many older attendants seemed to know stuff, could even drop a quip, if it looked like you might get it. I am blessed with being able to sleep on planes. Gone before the wheels leave the ground. One time I slept through a three or four-hour flight. Woke up on touch-down. An older attendant nodded and said, “very impressive.”
That was in coach. (The Times did not subsidize business travel for peons like me.) But when my wife was escorting children from India for adoption by others, her aunt – who worked at a great airline named Pan-Am; perhaps you have heard of it – often arranged an upgrade.
Those attendants saw her lugging one, two, once even three babies, and they found corners with more space and provided water, towels, food, whatever she needed. They were the best.
We all know that top executives, to please stockholders, have turned American carriers into hellish avatars of capitalism – your pass or your few extra dollars qualify you for a few more precious inches.
Airlines no longer respect family groups by encouraging agents to play with the computer to put families together. Pay a stipend – or sit in a middle seat surrounded by strangers. Tough. You should be rich. Your fault.
I’m not comparing attendants of Qatar with attendants on American carriers. Different cultures. I’ve seen uniformed attendants from the Emirates at the U.S. Open tennis, where their company was a sponsor -- their outfits fashionable, their demeanor modest, their posture superb, their smiles lovely; they represent their part of the world well.
But jammed into a torture chamber at 30,000 feet, wishing for one small favor with a touch of intuition, I’m opting for 40, 50, whatever. Older attendants notice stuff. Isn’t that what “service” means?
PS: Mr. Al-Baker recently issued an executive-style walking-back, or apology. Too late. We know what he thinks. See:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: