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Fruit Loops And Crying Travelers: The Trials Of Flight Attendants


Air travel can be stressful - think tedious check-in, long TSA lines, crying babies, cranky passengers. Who would willingly submit themselves to life in these sometimes unfriendly skies? The good folks who make sure we are safe and well hydrated. On this week's Winging It - the life of a flight attendant.

Gailen David was a flight attendant for 24 years. He now co-hosts a travel show called "Take Off With The Savvy Stews." You can see it on Destination America and Hulu. Even though he left his job as a flight attendant a few years ago, there are some passengers he just can't forget.

GAILEN DAVID: One comes to mind where it was a passenger that was very, very difficult about their carry-on luggage and the fact that they had to have it on at all costs. And the fact that we wanted to check one of the bags. As the trip went on, it was one issue after another. And he ended up breaking down.

MARTIN: Oh, no.

DAVID: I thought that I was dealing with someone that was going to just come after me, and actually he was very combative. But he ended up breaking down and just crying. And that's one of the lessons that I learned when I was a flight attendant is that so much that's going on does not have to do with me. And if you can just give them a little bit of room and a little bit of credit that something is affecting them, usually the situation can get diffused.

MARTIN: I have to say, though, I have flown on airplanes and encountered a lot of flight attendants who are less understanding, less patient. Do you ever lose your patience?

DAVID: Oh, yeah. That's what I say. I wish I could go back and do it over because I did really freak out on some people.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DAVID: And I think that we're just dealing with so many things at play. When you look at the economic situation that flight attendants find themselves in where they're in a job that they have invested so much in, and what's happened is their pay has been rolled back. Plus, seats are getting, you know, packed into airplanes, passengers are being charged for everything. And the flight attendants are the ones that have to deliver that message time and time again to the customers. That this is - you don't get this. You don't get that. You have to pay for this. You have the pay for that. So the flight attendants are getting it from all different directions.

MARTIN: You have to have thick skin.


MARTIN: I don't suppose you want to share a story of losing your patience. Do you remember a particular episode? What triggered it?

DAVID: Yeah. It was during the dot com era where all these people had so much money. The planes were packed, and I used to say, you know, New York to Los Angeles. I would say where do these people get all this money? Business class is full. First class is full. And this family came on the airplane. And at the last minute, and they sat down. And they were just so snippy with me. Their kids were throwing Fruit Loops around the cabin. And there were crayons. And the parents just didn't even care. And then they were standing in the aisle blocking the carts while we're trying to serve. And when I asked them to sit down, they freaked out on me. The father and I were yelling at each other going up the aisle. It was extreme. And then I got to the front, and the mother looked over at me and said whatever happened to something special in the air? What ever happened to the customer is always right? And I was, like, you were the one that started this. So I actually took some time off after that flight.

MARTIN: Are there some tips or things you can share for passengers to make the overall experience more pleasurable? Things you perhaps - you should just be aware of, things maybe we shouldn't do.

DAVID: I like to call it jet-icate. It's walking on and not having these huge carry-on bags and clogging up the aisles when the flight attendants are under pressure to get everybody on and get that door closed. Every once in a while when I have extra time, and I can pick up maybe some brownies from Starbucks. When I have walked on the airplane and done a nice thing for the flight attendants, who a lot of times do not have time to get something to eat when they're working a 12 hour day because the airlines don't give them food. And they usually don't have time to go and grab food. So it's only if there are leftovers on board that they get something to eat. So when I have done that, let me tell you something. I have been treated like a rock star.

MARTIN: That is a good tip. Gailen David is a former flight attendant. He now co-hosts the TV show "Take Off With The Savvy Stews." Gailen, thanks so much for talking with us.

DAVID: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.