Simon Calder: We are rotten travellers, so BA staff are right to complain
Monday 03 November 2008
You will know, or can imagine, how lousy you feel at the end of a long-haul overnight flight. After a dozen hours or more at altitude from Asia, Africa or America, everyone and everything on board a plane is in poor shape. And if you think the experience is unwholesome from the passenger's perspective, imagine how it feels, as a member of cabin crew, to have your working environment trashed by thoughtless, untidy people whose civility evaporates with every fitful hour in flight.
The big surprise is not that Virgin Atlantic cabin crew and British Airways ground staff should wish to bitch about unwholesome passengers; this is something they have done, in private, for years. What is remarkable is that the airlines' managers should castigate their employees for venting via Facebook some of the many frustrations of working in the industry.
Virgin Atlantic has dismissed 13 cabin crew who branded passengers as "chavs" on the social networking site. In my experience, Virgin's staff are always friendly and forgiving while on duty. If they choose to disparage some of us when out of uniform, who can blame them? Some of BA's ground staff at Gatwick have created their own forum for getting their own back at the passengers who clench passports and tickets in their teeth and hand the saliva-sodden documents to check-in agents.
"We will be talking to the individuals concerned involved about their disappointing and unwise comments, which are completely unrepresentative of the vast majority of hard-working staff at London Gatwick," said a spokesman for BA.
Why bother? The term "long-suffering" could have been invented to describe the people who work in aviation. As a nation, we are the world's greatest passengers, numerically speaking, and some of the worst in personal behaviour. I have been employed at Gatwick in several capacities. While frisking passengers you become intimately aware of differing standards of personal hygiene; and when you see, from a cleaner's perspective, the condition the average aircraft cabin is left in after a long flight, you need some means of assuaging your sense of revulsion. Facebook could provide the answer.
With fares, passengers have never had it so good. Conversely, in terms of working conditions, aviation staff face increasing demands from management and passengers. Give them a break.
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