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I can only imagine what it feels like for a flight crew to step onto an airplane for work these days.
Tension, anxiety, a sense of foreboding, and outright fear must be just part of the feelings flooding their bodies and brain as passengers file onboard.
"Is it this one? Is this guy going to cause trouble?"
"This woman already looks inebriated. Is she going to start an incident?"
"His mask is down below his nose, do I say something now or leave it alone and hope he fixes it?"
It reminds me of stories my father and cousin used to tell. My dad was a prison guard, back in the day when they were still called prison guards instead of corrections officers. He would talk of how you could never take a break, mentally or physically, not for one minute of an eight-hour shift. And my cousin was a police officer, who once told me that responding to a call for a domestic dispute made him the most apprehensive. You just never know what you're walking into or how families are going to respond if you have to separate them, he said.
I can't help but think that, in some ways, the same kind of heightened awareness has existed for our amazing flight attendants for the last 18 months.
More than 5,000 incidents on airplanes have been logged since the pandemic began last year. Most of them have been centered around the mandated wearing of face masks, a good portion of those being arguments over political and personal freedoms - like your flight attendant has the power to make an immediate decision to overrule the federal government - and some of them fueled by alcohol.
It is a toxic combination, to say the least.
As I have said many times in personal columns, you do you. You want the vaccine? Get it. You don't want it? Don't. This is neither an endorsement of the mask mandate nor an indictment.
Rather, it's a column in praise of our flight attendants. Suddenly, it is flight attendants who have been thrust knee-deep into the B.S. and forced to take on yet another of their already numerous roles as a de facto police officer who must bear the brunt of the anger.
It's one thing to try to settle a dispute about seat assignment or somebody in front of you reclining their seat.
It's quite another to be punched in the face and suffer broken bones in the name of a paper face mask.
But there they are, manning the frontlines. As if traveling isn't stressful enough.
You know, it's interesting. A week or so ago I wrote a column that basically made the case that only something dramatic and over-the-top would be the ultimate punishment and solve this sad chapter - banning an unruly passenger who commits physical violence from flying on any airline, not just the one where the incident took place.
I received a message, a nice message mind you, not filled with vitriol, that suggested I should have also written that flight attendants can bring this on themselves sometimes. That, even before the pandemic and these incidents, flight attendants had something of a 'God complex,' the kings and queens of their domain, and their attitudes and condescension sometimes contributed to the problems.
I can only speak for myself. As someone who has spent 35 years in journalism, many as a sportswriter, now as a travel writer, I have taken hundreds upon hundreds of flights. I have never encountered a rude flight attendant. Not once. Not even when I needed personal help or assistance, either on the plane or from a gate agent in the airport.
We should embrace these men and women, as well as our captains and co-pilots, for the efforts they are putting forth in the face of this pandemic. Being forced to come to work under the kinds of stresses similar to prison guards and police officers is not acceptable, no matter what your personal or political beliefs are.
Rich Thomaselli has written for TravelPulse since 2014 and has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. His work has...
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