It’s time to be grateful.
For the courtesy, even when (especially when) it is feigned or forced. For the big, brassy hellos as we all file onto the plane, and the smaller, lines-around-the-eyes goodbyes as we all file off again, having gotten to know one another a little better. For the canned speeches over the in-flight PA—always somehow invested with a fillip of real feeling—and the limp theater of the safety demonstration, the long-suffering puff into the tiny tube on the life jacket. For the metallic backstage atmosphere of the galley, where they sit with thrillingly off-duty faces next to plastic glasses of trembling cold water. In the air, they are charming threshold guardians; on the ground, they rush past us in a chatty flock while we’re stuck in the customs line. It’s time to be grateful for flight attendants.
I recently flew from Boston to London. The airport, the plane, and the flight attendants themselves were sorely afflicted with the subvirus of emptiness. The rituals were observed—the drinks trolley was trundled up and down the aisle; sad snacks were handed out—but the interactions were mask-muffled and the faces unreadable. None of those little flourishes or raised eyebrows. None of those soothing noises. We were strangers to each other. A great body of flight-attendant knowledge, of shrewdness and sympathy, saucy percipience, long acquaintance with every sort of passenger—Foot-in-Aisle Man, Sir Talks-a-Lot, Princess Wi-Fi—seemed to have been rendered inert.