Flight attendants — they put your life first
by Susan Estrich
July 10, 2013 09:59 PM | 7397 views | 9 9 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Back in the old days, it was “coffee, tea or me.” Flight attendants were stewardesses. They wore sometimes stylish and sometimes just plain bizarre suits or dresses. They were all young and thin and single and definitely not pregnant. That’s what male travelers (and most of the travelers were male) preferred.

And that was the argument the airlines made when they got sued for discrimination. They claimed that being young and thin and female was “job related,” a business “necessity” even, and they produced all kinds of studies showing that passengers really did feel more comfortable with stewardesses they could flirt with.

The reason the airlines ultimately lost, the reason you see flight attendants who are old and male and feel no need to flirt, is because the courts ruled that making passengers feel comfortable is not the primary job of a flight attendant.

And, by the way, it’s also not making sure you get a good dinner or a stiff drink the minute you sit down.

Flight attendants are there for safety. They are trained for the moment no one ever wants to experience, the moment passengers on Asiana Airlines experienced last week at San Francisco International Airport, the moment when safety is all that matters.

In the days since, there has been much talk about the actions of the “flight crew” — including the revelation that the pilot was “training” on the flight.

But there has been nothing but praise for the flight attendants — in the case of Asiana, high heels and pencil skirts and all — who carried people off of the plane, dealt with a chute that had wrongly inflated inside the plane and, in short, did what they were trained to do: save lives, not make drinks.

I fly a lot and have for many years. And over the years, I’ve seen life get harder and harder for the women, and now the men, too, who “serve” the passengers. They have more of us to deal with and fewer goodies to give us; we are tired and overbooked and cranky. The food is terrible, and there isn’t enough of it (to quote Woody Allen), and you have to pay for it, to boot. It takes forever to get a drink. There’s no blanket. There’s no outlet. The Wi-Fi doesn’t work. The seat won’t go back. There’s a line for the bathroom.

When I was a kid, I thought airports were incredibly glamorous places. I thought flying was exciting. I would get all dressed up to “travel.” It would never occur to me to complain.

These days, it occurs to me all the time. Traveling brings out the worst in many of us. I’m guilty, too. Ask my kids.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy like the Asiana crash to remind us that airplanes are not hotels and restaurants that happen to have wings, and flight attendants are not traveling waiters and waitresses or front desk clerks at the hotel in the sky.

When lives are on the line, their job is to put us first. That’s what the flight attendants on the Asiana flight did, and that’s what that overworked man or woman greeting you at the front of the plane or serving you your soda will do if, God forbid, they need to. They will put your life first. Their instincts, honed by training, will be to save you. They are ready to do it every time they get on a plane, and for that every one of us who travels for work or play owes them a debt of gratitude.

So if you happen to be on a plane this week, maybe it’s a good time to sit back and thank the flight attendant — not for the orange juice or the pillow, but for being ready.

Susan Estrich is a law professor in Southern California.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Sky 1
July 14, 2013
Really, Luek Instead of appreciating the article for what it is, you have to talk about suing someone. In an accident like this one its a miracle only 3 lives were lost. Besides if some of the idiot passengers had listen to the crew in regards to leave carry on luggage behind..maybe those few extra seconds people took to get bags from over head lockers and from under seats in this emergency might have saved more lives and could have stop a few from burns etc. So if its ok to sue the flight attendants, one should be allowed to sue individuals who wasted precious time for personal belongings over fellow human life. I guess my fendi and gucci bag is worth more than someones life.

Another issue is that the Purser or lead flight attendant had a broken tail bone but still did her job and evacuated that plane and then carries an injured man to safety...while injured. She didn't take her carry on bags with her or stop to record the chaos or take pictures and post on twitter or facebook...they crew did what they were trained to do. Assist passengers in an emergency.

Typical American attitude...sue happy. Lives were lost, I pray for the families and the badly injured. Maybe you should reread the article and get what the write was saying.
July 14, 2013
those two fa's didn't die because the flight attendants did not do their job. in fact, there could have and probably would have been MORE deaths had it not been for the flight attendants doing their job. only two perished in a major crash. and i don't know the laws in asia, but people would sue the airline not the individuals! and it happens all the time.
July 13, 2013
What kind of stupid question was that LUEK? The fatalities were not a result of the flight attendant duties.
July 12, 2013
So, if the courts in their infinite wisdom have ruled that flight attendants are there to ensure the safety of the passengers can the families of the two passenger fatalities from this incident sue the indiviual flight attendants for not doing their job one?
July 13, 2013
Oh - absolutely! Kind of like when people die in a fire and the families can sue the firefighters. Like that.
July 14, 2013
Luek ~~ The Flight Attendants did their job! The two fatalities, as unfortunate as it is, had already been ejected from the aircraft. There is no way anyone could have assisted them. Please be more positive in what this crew did to save and rescue so many lives!!
Shirley the stew
July 14, 2013
are you for real? I believe those 2 young girls were killed on the ground and possibly from flying debris. The flight attendants are usually the last ones off the plane and are instructed to check the cabin before evacuating. I often think of saying when a passenger is being really rude "so if you keelover right now with a heart attack do you really think I would want to perform CPR on you until paramedics arrive?!"
July 14, 2013
Are you for real.....if you or a loved one been on flt. #214 & been one of the 305 that did get out you would be of a different opinion .....Do us all a favor....travel by mule.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides