Standing in the back galley of an aircraft during a particularly busy boarding process, two flight attendants watch in puzzled annoyance people failing at the process. They can’t find their seats, they stow their bags sideways in the bins, taking up two spaces—or worse, puffy side down and flat side up in the air, making it impossible to close the overhead. They mosey down the aisle, no sense of urgency, they crowd one another.
One flight attendant turns to the other.
“This is what you get with $60 fares.”
Sometimes it’s $80 fares and sometimes it’s $30 fares, but no matter the number, the meaning remains the same.
Every flight attendant has heard some iteration of this phrase. You may have even said it yourself. I’m here to argue against doing it from here on out.
I know, I know, ‘Why so serious?’
But many of us in the aviation industry have slipped into perpetuating this classist idea, not even realizing it. Truthfully this catch-phrase has always bothered me.
For clarity, we are not talking, in this piece, about judging people for taking advantage of the low fares during the Pandemic. Pandemic travel is a separate issue, that maybe I’ll take on in a separate piece. But this low-fare diss that we are talking about today has been around long before Corona, and will last much longer too. Unless enough people read this.
So here we go.
Why you should stop dissing low fares.
“This is what you get with $60 fares.”
On its face, this low-fare commentary may seem like simple, harmless, common sense. These people do not know how to behave on a plane because they don’t do it often.
At its core, though, lies an unsaid sentiment. These people do not deserve to be here. They’re trash.
“But Toni, that’s not what I mean when I say it.”
Isn’t it though? When you get right down to it?
What we are saying,
when we reference cheap fares, is that the people moseying down the aisle wouldn’t be here were it not for those discounted tickets. And when we “That’s-what-you-get” about it, we imply that their mere presence is an undesired outcome. A consequence of those low fares.
As if we’re just “asking for it” when we start allowing people with less money to fly.
It is interesting to hear this kind of commentary thrown around by people who are, by definition, labor workers. Flight attendants making classist remarks like the one above hits the same chord as poor, uneducated, uninsured people voting against their own interests and in favor of tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy. As if voting that way makes them somehow better poor people. As if looking down on passengers for taking advantage of cheap airfare makes our little flight attendant salaries any bigger.
I’d encourage you to ask yourself: Do you believe that only wealthy people should travel?
Really, think about it.
Chances are you don’t consider yourself wealthy, because by your standards you aren’t. By someone else’s standards you might be.
For people who cannot afford a $100 airplane ticket for themselves, or $300 or $600, as they were in pre-COVID times, the opportunity to fly can be a life-changing event. Maybe this is the first time that someone can afford to take their family away on a vacation.
Should this experience be reserved for those in white-collar, high-paying jobs? Pay full-price or stay home?
Do those with less money deserve less leisure?
Growing up, my family didn’t have much money. It was my single mother, my brother and I, and the only traveling we did was to Tennessee to visit my aunt and uncle, and later my cousins. We traveled there in all different ways. We took a Greyhound bus the first year. It was a long ride, and after sleepless nights and being unable to even use the restroom without terror of her two small children being abducted, my mom decided that was our last bus ride.
We rented a car one year and drove, my Auntie Da (The best woman who ever lived) coming along. It was an adventurous ride, complete with a hefty speeding ticket up front and lots of battleship and workbook activities in the backseat.
We flew all together a couple times, my little family and I. Other years, my brother and I flew as unaccompanied minors, shipping off to spend long, lazy summers with my aunt and uncle in Dyersburg.
A $60 fare would have allowed my mother to see her sister more than once a year. To come down with us and spend a week, rather than sending us on our own and staying home to work. It would have allowed her to consider taking us somewhere else sometime. But the consideration did not exist.
What would that have been like? The three of us venturing to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell? To Austin to Eat Barbecue? To Chicago to see the Bean and feel shrunk and overwhelmed by the skyline? To the California coast, the vast Pacific Ocean? It was not even a consideration.
The first time I traveled for real was in college, when I studied abroad in Australia. That trip changed the course of my entire life. Imagine all the ways things could have gone, had that course been shifted earlier. Had I known the joy of an unfamiliar place, the thrill of overcoming trepidation to delight in my new surroundings. The ability to see a different way of living. The value in pushing past my comfort zone.
Travel is education. It is moving, eye opening. It invites new perspectives. Motivates us to strive.
Indeed, it is the cure to the problem of ignorance. The remedy to inexperience.
Imagine all the ways things could go differently for others, if given that same opportunity.
How dare any of us judge who is deserving of that?
Do not in one breath disparage people for being poor
and in the next deny them the opportunity for better.
I know someone is reading this and thinking
“It’s not about them being poor, it is about the behavior.” And I can see why you’d think that. You’re not mad at every person on a cheap fare, right? Just the bad ones.
But this only strengthens my point. If not everyone using a discount fare is a problem passenger, then the problems are not because of the fares. stop blaming the discount fares. Stop blaming poverty.
I have seen enough of humanity to know that it is not only those folks at the bottom of the economic totem pole who have manners to learn. I have seen enough of the flying public to know that wealth and abundance do not a good person make. Do not a good flyer make. West Palm Beach- La Guardia is easily one of the worst routes in all of North America. We know it is true. And you know what the typical passengers on this route have in common? Money. Plenty of it. Yet, we do not talk about how the price of their fare caused their bad behavior.
My little family was on the cusp of poor when we traveled to Tennessee in a Greyhound bus and then on an airplane. We were both poor and very well behaved.
Blame people’s entitlement. Blame people’s lack of manners. Blame the decline of decorum in our society. But don’t go after cheap fares as if the poorest among us are the worst offenders.
They are not.
This is not meant to be an attack. I know some of you ‘don’t mean it this way’. Don’t realize the sharpness of the blade of your words. But know that every time I’m in the galley with you, each time you utter this low-fare low-blow, this is what I hear.
“Poor people shouldn’t be here.”
Maybe you haven’t taken the time to examine your words before now. For this phrase is thrown around in airplane shop-talk so much that it starts to sound like a normal thing to say. Harmless enough. It is quite possible you heard it long ago and have simply been echoing ever since. It’s possible that it is just a means of conversation—bonding with your crew when you have nothing real to say.
But your words have weight.
I’d ask that if you don’t believe poor people to be inherently worse people, please don’t talk like they are. On the airplane or anywhere else.
My feeling is when we start equating the price of a ticket with the quality of a person, we are on a very bleak road.
This is not just a flight attendant problem.
There is a way that we in America enact these little unconscious methods of ostracizing poor people. We assume people have less because they work less. That they are poor because they’ve made bad decisions. Moral failings. But I’ve made plenty of bad decisions and I have everything I need and more. Many of you have made plenty of bad decisions, financial and otherwise, and still don’t feel the sting of people judging your every move, deciding how deserving of opportunity you are.
Implying you shouldn’t be here because you paid too little for your ticket.
This is a problem in broader society. But I hear this on the airplane so often without any real thought, this low-fare catch-phrase, that this is what I want to address specifically.
Dear Flight Attendants, respected colleagues,
If your parents took you on family vacations as a child, shut up about low fares. You’re very lucky. Count your blessings instead. (For the vacation and the family.)
If you only work part time because your spouse can support both of your living expenses, then shut up about the low fares. You’re not in a position to worry about the cost of groceries so don’t worry what others are spending on their airfare.
If you have had the pleasure of strolling down streets in faraway lands, in different countries and continents, then please stop talking about the low fares. Have a little gratitude and a little humility, too.
For one thing, you fly for free. Because of this, many of us get to live above our means. To galivant around the world, taking on a lifestyle far more extravagant than our modest salaries could afford without the perks. We are not better than people buying cheap airfare. In fact, we get the cheapest seats in the house.
Gratitude, man. Many people, especially Americans, will never leave their home country. Will never even see most of that country. Instead of worrying about what other people paid for their ticket (none of your business, by the way) think about how lucky you are to have seen as much as you have. To have widened your perspective so much. To not be that person you went to high school with who never left, who only knows the inside perimeter of the tiny bubble they inhabit. The one who, despite this fact, believes that they know everything. You know the one.
And next time you want to say the thing about the cheap fares, instead try silently congratulating the first-time flyer. Because now maybe they won’t be that guy either.
We are lucky. Our job is the coolest. We get to travel often. We get to live above our means because of the perks of our job. We get to meet people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and ages and identities of every kind.
AND we get to be a part of bringing new people into the fold. Introducing them to this lifestyle we’re so enamored with. First-time fliers and seldom-fliers, wannabe travelers and weekend explorers. Kids and adults and everything in between. Each one of our flights is special to someone. Every takeoff could be the shift in course that one person needs.
Travel, exploration, perspective. They are big, lofty ideas, not finite commodities. There is room for everyone at this table. And aren’t we lucky to be hosting?
Let’s keep this in mind and try to be better, to live up to our own lofty ideals.
I hope you all have a happy weekend and safe travels very soon.