The Bad and the Ugly of Manners in Aviation

The Bad and the Ugly of Manners in Aviation

This is a bit of a different style post for Flightess here, but I think it’s one that needs to be talked about in the community of Corporate Flight Attendants. If you’ve been in this industry for some time, you probably have a few stories yourself of how the negative actions of others have impacted you in some way. I know I do.

I’m so grateful that Andreea Stefanescu from The School of Manners is here to share some insight around this topic. It’s a good wake up call for everyone, myself included, to lead with kindness and empathy in every interaction we have with our industry colleagues.

Andreea Stefanescu, The School of Manners

“Ten years ago I moved from being a web designer, in a male dominated environment, into becoming a flight attendant, in a female dominated environment after a bet with my colleagues. Yes! You read that well…

I was not the typical “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a flight attendant” story. In fact, I never even imagined becoming a flight attendant, nor really thought I could ever be one if it wasn’t for my dislike of the word “impossible“ and wanting to follow up on a challenge my male colleagues launched. Sometimes life has a way of placing you exactly where you are supposed to be… so here I was exactly 4 weeks after making a bet with my colleagues, googling 3 of the best Middle Eastern airlines in the world, landing in Dubai as a flight attendant on one of the top airlines in the world that I have literally never heard of as of one month prior to a full recession in 2009.

I used to admire flight attendants so much. I would look at them with the admiration that most watch the angels of a Victoria’s Secret show. So feminine, so graceful, so beautiful, and in the eight low cost airline flights I’ve been on in my entire life prior to this, I would struggle to hide my stare of admiration.

The benefit of aviation not being your childhood life-long dream is probably having zero expectations. I had no idea what was ahead of me and I got the chance to fall in love with the job while doing it and to learn it with an open mind and heart. I was an IT geek, an introvert who went from facing a computer screen to facing over 400 strangers from different parts of the world daily. And as an introvert I was very sensitive to people, from how they feel to how different they are culturally. I was fascinated with the experience and absorbed it all like a sponge. Some people join for sight-seeing… I did a lot of people-seeing.

My journey moved fast – from Economy, to Premium Cabins, to Business Promotion Crew, to Cabin Supervisor, to Corporate Flight Attendant, and lastly to Lead VIP Flight Attendant.

Aviation teaches you many lessons, opens your mind to a world of opportunities and realities, matures you in ways that no other career could, forces you to face your fears, and to rely on others with your life. There is no career that turns team members into family faster, and yet just like most families, aviation hides a tough reality behind all the glamour.

No… this is not another article where we reveal the lavatory duties, cleaning tasks, long hours, time away from the family, and all of the “reality checks” that have been revealed many times by now.

And believe me… they are not half as painful and damaging as the one I am going to address now—why we don’t speak up—but instead cover up for the bullying in aviation. Why do we promote the idea, for aspiring young girls joining, that they need to toughen up if they want to survive? To throw their emotions under the rug, in the trash compactor… and tell them to just be quiet and put up with it.

When I left aviation I promised myself I will not be quiet; I will fight to bring back humanity, kindness, and consideration into the work place. This article marks the beginning of this mission.

Seniority, excellence in service, fierce competition, tips, stress… is never an excuse for rudeness! Crew treating other crew in demoralizing, undermining, bullying manners under the false pretense that putting others down makes them look superior. It does not.

Rudeness is deeply rooted in a place of insecurity. That is why, sadly, the higher and faster some women grow in aviation, without any time to build on their skills and self-esteem as professionals in the field… the worse bullying can become. Some may feel insecurity that someone could steal their job or ardently compete for their position.

Cecilia Harvey, a London based researcher named this “The Queen Bee” syndrome of female dominated environments. Where women believe that only by putting another female down can they maintain their job and position. This is toxic, unhealthy competition that is no good for anyone. Growth never happens while trying to put someone down—growth only happens by supporting each other to become better so you can then improve your own skills. This type of negative behavior is even more damaging to you as a professional in aviation, where your guests will pay even more attention to how you treat your colleagues and entourage, rather than how you treat them.

People sense tension and bullying, and instead of thinking of you as a supervisor who is a talented professional with more experience… they will only see your unprofessional demeanor and ugly manners.

Customers witnessing incivility are 4 times more likely to walk away from the company and never choose to fly with you again. 

Further studies show that rudeness actually decreases our performance and focus, endangering the safety of everyone in case of an emergency on board by 50%!

Rudeness damages our ability to think and our decision making process by 40% if it happens to us, and 20-30% if we witness it around us, so we are impacting the entire environment when we act this way!

So next time you put a colleague down, remember the damage that you are actually causing by trying to bring your ego into a confined space, 40,000 ft in the air, where you all count on each other with your lives, not just your service.

Don’t get me wrong, bullying in the workplace happens everywhere and not everyone is like this in this industry, however, it’s essential for all of us to raise awareness and build a community where we learn to lift each other up, rather than tear each other down. Yes, aviation can be competitive, but putting someone down, who is better suited for the job, will not improve your skills in any way.

So for those who have been caught in these types of situations, or may not even be aware that they are guilty of this type of behavior, I have made a list of potentially harmful bad manners that we should all start checking out of our carry on before our next flight:

Gossiping and Intimate Topics of Conversation

Let’s face it… this is sometimes the number one hobby in the galleys. Some of you may even roll your eyes reading this and at the idea of ever stopping. What else is there to talk about other than gossip and intimate relationships, right!?

So I’ve made a starter list:

  • The actual trip plans
  • New tricks you learned from Flightess
  • The service
  • New books
  • Store recommendations/good catering
  • Makeup
  • Holiday plans
  • Astrology
  • Food recipes
  • Fitness
  • DYI ideas
  • Cocktails and wines
  • Cultural tips (if the person is from a different heritage)
  • Instagram accounts and Apps
  • Netflix series

… and these are just from the top of my mind. Not saucy enough?! Well, the problem with bonding over the ”saucy” negative stuff is that the human mind remembers more the face of the person talking than assimilating the bad with the person being talked about.

It’s also a universally known fact that the one gossiping to you will also end up gossiping about you. So in time, you will ruin your reputation, and that very “tight friendship” based on gossip will turn into the person tagging you as the “gossiper” to everyone else. So leave the dirty laundry out. Believe me, no matter how much we prefer to think differently, the world of aviation is too small and reputations can easily be ruined.

Whispering, Talking in a Different Language, or Talking Loudly on the Phone

In the absence of any other information, our brain naturally reverts to the negative. It’s the way our brain has evolved to protect us and keep us alive . Be considerate to your fellow colleagues. Both whispering and speaking in a different language that the person cannot understand are equally rude. The same goes for talking loudly on the phone in the presence of others, forcing them to be witnesses to a one-sided conversation while they share the ride with you to the hotel. Wait until you get some privacy—and have all the loud chats you want—in any language you want.  We all miss someone and have important calls, but the world will not collapse if you extend a few minutes of consideration towards your colleagues. If you really must take a call, keep it brief, quiet, and at least apologize.

You Never Look Good Trying to Make Someone Else Look Bad!

This is probably the worst, because most people excuse it with, “I was just saying.” “You are too sensitive.” “You have to be tough to survive in this industry.” “It’s just my opinion.” “I was trying to teach you/help you.” “I heard it myself and wanted to share it with you…” (in public in front of everyone)… and so on.

There is a big difference between helping and genuinely being there to support your team member, and putting them down, or giving an opinion or advice when no one has asked for it.

So… Before You Talk, THINK: Is It True? Is It Helpful? Is It Inspiring? Is It Necessary? Is It Kind?

If not… then check your ego and keep your kindness in the carry on because “Service” is not a one man spotlight show, it’s more like a team choreography.

Show Respect! Do Not Let Stress Dehumanize You

Working with people can be one of the most challenging, stressful, unpredictable jobs to ever have, but it can also be one that brings the most rewards. It’s a choice that we make every day. And yes… the choice is ours. Keep a journal, breathe, count from 100 backwards in your mind while focusing on service. There are so many techniques meant to assist us regarding handling our thoughts and emotions before we allow them to control us. Emotions are normal. Stress will happen. It’s not stress that is bad… and stress can happen to the best of us… but it’s the way you react to stress that can make it dangerous or harmful, and that is a choice. Stress does not excuse rudeness! So if you’ve ever lost your temper with a crew member for whatever reason… please apologize as soon as possible and mean it. Which means there is no “but” to excuse it.

Magic Words Are Still Magic at 40,000 ft. as Much as They Are on the Ground

Just because your colleague is paid to do a job, doesn’t mean you have to order them around without any eye contact or extending common courtesies such as, “please, thank you, may I, or excuse me”… this is not a robot… this is a human being that deserves the same level of respect as your guests, flight crew, engineers, cleaners, catering staff, and truly any other human being! Bad manners do not make someone look sophisticated like a diva, but instead they make a person look rude, like a hermit who just came back from the wilderness.

Be Considerate and Do Not Take Advantage of People

Hiding in the restroom, slacking on the job, or treating others like they are supposed to work for you is as rude as ghosting someone. Nobody owes you anything and entitlement, bad mouthing the organization, job, tips, salary, or whatever it is you feel like spreading negativity about, creates such a toxic work environment that it might as well be classified as plane hijacking. Hope the good manners special forces comes and gets you before you take the whole trip down with you.”

Always be kind,

Andreea Stefanescu

Learn more about Andreea on her website: The School of Manners

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