While promoting the launch of a new Doha – Dublin route, Qatar Airways CEO Al-Baker made a seemingly left-field statement about flight attendants on U.S. carriers:
“By the way, the average age of my cabin crew is only 26 years, so there is no need for you to travel on these crap American carriers. You know you are always being served by grandmothers at American carriers.”
My first reaction was to laugh. As far as misogynistic humor goes, this is up there with Trump’s tweet about Mika Brzezinski’s facelift. Then I thought, “What is this, a Britney Spears video? Who cares what the flight attendant looks like?!” Let’s be clear: What makes American carriers “crap” isn’t the age of their flight attendants but the terrible seats and customer service. Both of these are a result of poor leadership, not unattractive flight attendants.
In general, I’m irked by the constant focus on women’s appearances. Across the board, women are largely judged by their appearance while men are judged on competence.
But when it comes to air travel, does it really matter if flight attendants are young and pretty? Does it impact their work ethic or customer service skills at all? Obviously, no. Few people care whether male flight attendants are good looking. I certainly don’t think anyone worries about whether their pilot looks like George Clooney.
Al-Baker’s comment isn’t totally unexpected considering Qatar Airways, like most non-American airlines, places importance on the appearance of (mostly female) flight attendants. In addition to being trained on safety procedures and customer service, Qatar Airways flight attendants have strict rules governing their lives…and makeup routine.
I still find it absurd that an airline CEO would put such a huge emphasis on female flight attendants’ appearances. Especially when that CEO comes from a culture where women are praised for covering up their beauty from the prying eyes of strange men. I find Al-Baker’s “grandmother” comment even more absurd, considering his culture’s reverence for elderly matriarchs. You would think these factors would inform a less misogynistic attitude towards women.
I’m all for airline employees presenting a professional appearance. But I don’t think flight attendants need to be young and attractive to do their jobs well. What I want from a flight attendant, whether male or female, is good customer service and a pleasant demeanor. I know a lot of people are still harboring fantasies of the 1950’s flight attendant with the perfectly coiffed hair, form fitting uniform, manicured hands, and youthful polished appearance. I think it’s outdated and irrelevant to the job. And the times. What’s going to help U.S. carriers compete with Asian and Middle Eastern airlines? A better product and exceptional customer service. Al-Baker should have aimed his criticism towards industry-wide poor leadership that is trickling down to negative passenger experiences, rather than placing the blame on the appearance and age of flight attendants.
But I want to hear from you. Do you think flight attendants need to be young and pretty to provide a better in-flight experience?
HT: Gary Leff
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