The union representing United Airlines flight attendants has complained that United’s resumption of snack and alcohol sales onboard creates a “toxic environment” that does not prioritize the safety of flight attendants.
United Flight Attendants: Toxic Environment Created By Onboard Snack and Alcohol Sales
Last week, Live and Let’s Fly reported that United would resume buy-on-board sales on more routes starting next month.
Those include United’s longer Hawaiian and transcontinental routes.
In addition to snack boxes and other snacks being offered for sale, a number of alcoholic drinks will also be available for purchase.
When writing my article, I reached out to the Association of Flight Attendants for comment. A spokesperson told me:
These are extremely limited routes and service is being reinstated along with COVID travel precautions. Purchases will utilize contactless payment to minimize touch points between crew and passengers.
Signs of recovery have emerged as vaccinations go up and infections decline. We all must keep up important COVID safety and health measures to ensure these trends continue.
I was a bit surprised by the response, thinking there would be more pushback. As the AFA seemed onboard with the re-introduction of service, I decided not to write a separate story.
United Flight Attendant Union Firmly Against Onboard Snack and Alcohol Sales
But not more than a week later, the AFA is now decrying the restoration of service onboard. In a note to flight attendants, the AFA argued that it is still not the right time to resume snack and alcohol sales:
The new addition of snacks and the rollout of alcoholic beverages in particular, creates an even more difficult situation for working crew. In addition to already prolonged contact with passengers, reports are that United’s sales software is glitchy creating frustration for both crew and passengers alike, and we are now providing more opportunities to remove masks for eating and drinking.
We’ve said this before, but introducing alcohol to this mix creates even more problems. In addition to having the mask off longer to consume alcoholic beverages, it’s a fact that alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgement and creates a toxic environment for Flight Attendants already struggling with mask compliance.
While we are on the road towards recovery with vaccinations and federal mask mandates, we are not yet at a place where the sale of food and particularly alcohol, amidst a continuing pandemic is the right decision. United wants to “meet the needs of our passengers,” they should also more importantly “meet the safety needs of their Flight Attendants.
We cover many alcohol-related stories of passenger misbehavior on Live and Let’s Fly and I am inclined to agree with the flight attendants here when it comes to alcohol. While alcohol is far too big a revenue generator for airlines to leave off the table permanently, alcohol overconsumption is often the root of onboard misbehavior. In an era in which flight attendants have become mask enforcers, this creates an added layer of stress. However, it is also true that the vast majority of passengers consume alcohol responsibly onboard.
I’m not sympathetic to the outcry over snacks, as passengers can already bring onboard whatever food and non-alcoholic drink they want and consume it without their mask. Should a passenger who did not properly prepare be forced to suffer onboard a 10-hour flight to Honolulu?
As for United’s contactless payment system, I’ve only heard good things about it from both passengers and cabin crew members. Eliminating the option of swiping cards seems like a generous concession United has provided flight attendants. Furthermore, since access to united.com and the United app are free over United’s wi-fi network, passengers can add their credit card information onboard (though would have to pay for wi-fi service to download the United app).
United flight attendants are not happy about the resumption of buy-on-board service on several additional routes next month. The AFA contends this is dangerous and will further exacerbate mask compliance issues.
What do you think about the flight attendant position? Is now the time to restore more onboard service or should airlines wait a bit longer before selling snacks and alcohol onboard?
> Read More: United Airlines Restores Buy-On-Board Service To More Routes, Introduces New Menu
What do the flight attendants think their job is? Hint–it’s not for my safety. Pilots, mechanics and flight controllers have 99.9999% of the responsibility for the safety of any given flight. The job of a flight attendant is to assist the passengers and make their flight as enjoyable as possible. This means providing whatever the company decides to offer in terms of beverage or food, assisting with luggage and so forth. If the job is to demonstrate how to buckle my seat belt, the now ubiquitous safety video has taken oven that role. I know the flight attendants don’t want to hear this, but it is the reality.
What they mean to say is that serving drinks and snacks involves actual work that impedes on their time playing Candy Crush in the galley or gossiping about other crew members.
Absolutely spot on. This is the truth they don’t want to accept. It’s like calling the guy who dumps my trash a “sanitation engineer” because he told me his degree is in “custodial arts” lol. You’re there to make my experience more comfortable and that’s it. Cheers.
Replace the flight attendants with vending machines on the planes and the atmosphere will be much less toxic. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve been treated like crap by flight attendants who were seemingly looking for something, anything to be mad about over the years. I don’t even make eye contact with them anymore and I’ve stopped asking for anything because as a group they clearly hate their jobs and the passengers.
Rarely do I reply here, and I always enjoy and look forward to Matthews experiences and spot on reviews while sharing his love of flight and travel.
However, after reading the first three posts demeaning flight attendants and their duties I had to.
In short, they don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about. Not even one.
Thank you Matthew for shedding some reasonable light on the situation at United.
” Only on United” would we see this dribble, now. Do we even need United that is the question one has to ask even before the Covid mess their service was at best marginal, attitudes of FA’s some of the worst in the airline industry and planes to match that lousy attitude.
@ Charles McCain. I respect your opinion. As I also respect Matthew’s support here for flight attendants. However, many of us have a differing take on the subject. Many flight attendants (mostly senior) are entitled, over paid, and like to fantasize about being first responders. I have said it before, retire them all and fill he job with Starbucks employees/training and you will find the service level increase dramatically.
This article highlights just another example of how many “work” to do as “little” as possible and have no pride in their profession or career. Are there good ones, of course…I actually find the regionals have the best these days, lol.
So, remember, if someone disagrees with you this does not blankly justify your statement of, “they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.” In fact, it’s entirely possible that we might just know better than you.
And here we go as I predicted. Did you EVER think it was going back to normal? Having flight attendants onboard creates a toxic environment too. How about we just allow competition from foreign airlines domestically…..I’ll be happy with that.
There’s a lot of doublespeak when it comes to COVID. People talk about safety and how smart they’re being, but in reality they’re probably breaking a lot of rules. SNL did a funny skit about it.
DEN and ORD have opened to indoor dining and are basically open. IAH is 100% open. I’m guessing FAs from those bases don’t just stay at home and quarantine at their residence when they’re not working.
UA assures us flying is safe, and the FAs agree with that, until they have to provide more service. Let’s get real, they like limited onboard responsibilities and wish to keep it that way as long as they can. In a sense, I can’t blame them, but it sucks for the passenger experience.
Flight attendants are an integral part of commercial flying.
They perform a number of duties central to ensuring passengers are safe participants in the operation of a flight. They also facilitate the boarding and disembarkation of passengers. To say flight attendants do not perform this role is shortsighted and insulting.
However, equally myopic is the notion that safety is the only role that flight attendants are there to play. Flight attendants CLEARLY perform a customer service function. They are the front line in addressing irregular business operations, customer complaints and even processing onboard sales.
I am resentful of situations where flight attendants choose to emphasize the former while ignoring the latter. It’d be similar to a hotel manager claiming the primary function of his/her job is to perform an Environmental Health and Safety role and ensure an evacuation plan is implemented where guests are safe in the event of a disaster.
Yes, it’s an important part of the job. Yes, it’s a proportionally larger part of the job for flight attendants compared to other service industry professions.
No, it’s not the only important part of the job. No, it’s not such a big part of the job that the service aspect comes in a perpetual second place.
Of course they don’t want to do this …. this would mean they would actually would have to “work” … god forbid that.
Covid-19 was the perfect solution for the AFA. As usual they will lead the way in the dumb-it-down to nothing department in the name of “safety”, “toxic environment” and every other negative buzzword they can think of. Most people want and need even a little service onboard. If the AFA does not want to serve food why are they saying that passengers bringing their own food and beverages would be “safe” as mask removal is a large part of the problem for them? Any number of passengers cannot always grab a bite at the expensive airport vendors while juggling carry-on, strollers, luggage, walkers, etc. Common sense and service are two words that should be removed out of the dictionary. This is really going too far. Are countries, governments, health agencies supposed to just wait around for FA’s to feel comfortable and base everything on that?
While I think that some of the prior comments are unnecessarily condescending toward flight attendants, I do think that this is just an attempt to rationalize doing less work. If personal safety is their concern as seems indicated, then wearing a N95 mask should help a great deal until they can get vaccinated.
@Stuart: your comment about playing Candy Crush and gossiping is spot on. I sat many times on the first row of the plane and that is exactly what they do when not serving food and drinks.
Wake up and it is time to step UP and provide service
The majority of flight attendants are okay. We tend to remember the sizeable minority : aggressive, unpleasant, incompetent, apparently misanthropic, sour. It’s the inability of airlines to get rid of the latter that poisons to public attitude to the entire profession.
In this example, I’m reminded of how QANTAS FAs responded in the early years of the HIV/AIDS : refused to distribute/collect hot towels and other DNA-containing material, for fear of getting the virus, even though the scientific advice was that this risk was infinitesimally small ( …and given the huge proportion of FAs who contracted HIV, any risk was far more likely to be to the passengers….)
I think the AFA is well off it’s rocker to claim that alcohol creates a “toxic environment” on board. They are also doing their members a significant disservice because over the top nonsensical statements like this dramatically reduce their credibility.
Union leadership really just likes to complain in most cases but imagine if everyone had to take a breathalyzer before being allowed to board a plane. I bet we’d have fewer fights and issues onboard. Instead, many FA’s will overserve rude or problem passengers in an attempt to placate them or get them sleepy so they don’t have to deal with them. I’m surprised we don’t see more liquor liability claims from drunk driving accidents after flights.
I don’t buy that this is about safety. Where is the science behind that? “Prolonged contact” with passengers is the problem, so they just avoid attending to passengers? How does that make sense at this point? As lockdowns end and people get vaccinated, I think customers will expect flying to become more normal, and airlines will not be able to just say “no” to food and drink on board. Anyway, F still gets beer and wine, so one more reason to avoid economy.
If the service on US airlines continues to deteriorate, some of them may find it tougher to recover then they think.
Only problem is with your last sentence. They don’t have to “recover”. Bailouts number 4,5,6,7 & 8 will ensure that they don’t really have to care what passengers want.
So, more accurately, AFA complains about serving drinks. The AFA doesn’t in any way represent the beliefs or opinions of the majority of flight attendants. It’s an anti worker organization we are forced to pay money to in order to keep our jobs. It’s legal extortion, and they have a habit of making statements many of us find embarrassing and demeaning. Don’t equate flight attendants with AFA.
News flash: United flight attendants create a toxic environment on board.
If these were normal times I would agree with most of the comments. However these are not normal times and after taking quite a few flights during the pandemic I am inclined to agree with the AFA on this issue and no I’m not a flight attendant and I don’t work for United Airlines.
During this entire pandemic the number of fights onboard aircraft has skyrocketed, the number of verbal altercations between passengers has skyrocketed, flight attendants are constantly having to remind passengers to keep their mask on, or make sure it covers their nose in addition to their mouth. Flight attendants at every carrier from American, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, United, and many other carriers have become more like referees trying to keep a delicate peace when all it takes is one thing to set off one or more passengers on board. Look at what just happened this week on an American Airlines flight a fight broke out while deplaning all because one passenger thought another passenger jumped in front of them to exit the aircraft. Something as ridiculous as you getting off the plane ahead of me turned into a major fight. A passenger last week had his ear bitten off on a United Airline flight, there have been hundreds of incidents, fights and verbal altercations like these over this past year. All of this without alcohol, now throw alcohol into the mix and you potentially have a powder keg at 35,000 feet.
Are some of United’s flight attendants the worst in the industry? They absolutely are but that doesn’t mean the concerns the AFA is raising about the resumption of alcohol sales are any less valid. There are more passenger incidents at altitude now days than there have been in the history of commercial aviation and the only people talking about it are flight attendants. I think it is wrong to simply dismiss these concerns simply because they are being raise by an airline whose flight attendants have a terrible record.
Wow… Interesting how quick people are to belittle the flight attendants job while a vast majority of you can’t seem to figure out how to open the restroom door on a plane..
And there’s always the eager f/a willing to help instead of sitting there and snickering…..yeah right. We can do just fine without them.
@stuart, with all due respect. I graduated the American Airlines flight Academy pilot training at DFW class 79/11. I’m now retired.
I might know a little bit.