“If you two can’t behave I’m going to turn this plane around and go back!” In my mind, this is how the conversation must have gone between a United Airlines captain and his flight attendants on a recent trip to Chicago. The flight was delayed because two of the flight attendants were engaged in a heated dispute after one crew crossed their legs and brushed the other. Days later the same scene replayed out on an American Eagle flight when one of the flight attendants was using her phone instead of helping out with her pre-departure duties. The other FA requested over the PA that everyone, including the other flight attendant, needed to turn their electronic devices off. An argument between the two ensued and the captain was forced to return to the gate. The dispute resulted in a four-hour delay for the passengers. All too often crew lose their cool and it becomes a jungle up there at 35,000 feet. I am no exception.
Tight working conditions, hypoxic environment, work stress, lack of sleep, cultural misunderstandings, the list is endless on what causes trolley dollies’ attitudes to turn turbulent and make them go from sweet to sour in a matter of seconds.
Disputes that I’ve had the privilege to witness at my previous and current airline were usually a result of crew overstepping their place in the chain of command. An example of this would be if an economy crew member were to go into the first class cabin and take something without first offering a sign of submission and a polite request to their senior first class crew members. This would no doubt lead to a first class bitch fit and the junior crew leaving the cabin with their tail tucked between their legs. Much like the animal kingdom, order in the cabin crew team revolves around seniority and food.
Once on a flight at my former airlines, I was working in a position lower than my trained first class rank. I entered the first class territory to take some coffee without asking the cabin’s alpha female, AKA the Galley Queen. Since the beginning of the flight she had been busy marking her territory with a pissy attitude. There was no need for me to be submissive as we are of equal status in the airline kingdom. I could tell from her body language she didn’t feel this way. Since I was working on the other side of the curtain in business class, she must have deemed me of lesser stature. I was bored on this night flight and in the mood to dance with danger so I kept antagonizing the power struggle.
I decided on that flight, only the food offerings in first class were good enough for me, so I kept coming to take. She finally had enough and decided to let her french manicured claws out. Embarrassing for her, she ambushed me when I was lending a helping hand.
I passed by a first class gentlemen and took notice he was done with his breakfast and was waiting for the dirtied bone china to be cleared. The crew responsible for removing the plates was busy selling duty-free. Being the nice fly guy that I am, I offered to pitch in. I asked the Galley Queen where the large silver trays were, as I could only find plastic trays in her galley (being first class material I only serve or clear using a silver tray, plastic reminds me of economy). She pointed me in the direction of the tray closet. As I figured, none were prepared for use. I came back and asked, “Any LINED, silver trays?” Unaware as to why I was asking she responded with, “Aren’t you a first class crew member?” “Yes!” I proudly confirmed. She made her swipe. “Then you should know where the trays and liners are found!” Giving her that look flight attendants often use as they walk by in a hurry that says I don’t have time for this, I leapt into my counterattack. “I was trying to help you do your job, as you seem to not be doing it, but now I won’t bother. Goodbye!” The curtains parted and I vanished into the dark business class cabin.
I had defeated the alpha crew member! The first class territory was now mine to roam free. As I passed through the galley she stayed quiet and I made my espresso in silence without having to hear her deep sighs.
Thinking back on this, I have realized just how similar flight crews are to a lion pride. Both are made up mainly of females. There will only be a few males thrown in to protect the territory (or aircraft) and handle the strong jobs like fighting off, or restraining, unruly attackers (or passengers).
In both groups, there is an Alpha, the king or queen of the group (the purser or cabin service director) and a few betas (cabin seniors). The betas are lesser leaders of the pride that will soon become alpha (purser) themselves.
In the lion pride there are head hunters. Mostly lionesses, they lead the hunts and eat the best meat from the kill. In the crew order these would be the first class members. They too are mostly female and the most senior and well trained of the cabin servers. They lead the service by offering the best food and presentation. Once their passengers are finished dining they enjoy the creme de la creme of in-flight leftovers. From lobster to filet mignon, they are well fed.
In the lion pride the hunters are the next in line. These are lions that follow the example and lead of the head hunters. In the cabin these would be the crew working in business class. They offer a premium service as well, however, not as good or as polished as the first class crew. Their food is also prime choice but not as many options as the crew in first class enjoy.
At the end of the order comes the omega lions. These are the pride members that are the last to do anything. From eating to drinking they have to wait for their seniors to go first. They are pushed around by the higher ranking lions. They feel as if they are often neglected from the pride. You guessed it… the economy crew members. Usually the youngest of the group. They lack the experience and finesse of the senior crew which often results in them getting pushed around by their passengers and sometimes senior crew. This causes them to feel like they’re not respected by those they serve and neglected by their team. They only get to eat crew meals or whatever choices are left over from their customers. Sometimes the senior crew will bring back whatever premium food is left after they’ve had first pick. Even when it comes to sleeping they have to wait last to check into their hotel rooms.
But as in lion prides, all crews aren’t the same. Each airline has its own rank structure and chain of command that’s followed by the members of the cabin team. For this Fly Guy, after defeating a more seasoned head hunter, I feel like my mane is coming in perfectly and soon I will start my climb to become a beta leader, and one day take my role as an Alpha Fly Guy.