The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I’m not one to name names, but certain things ask for a call-out. As an international student who’s lucky enough to go home twice a year, I’m a frequent flyer and have spent many an hour waiting for my flights at airports around the world. I’m no stranger to delays, airports that are less than friendly, and traveling for 27 hours to reach my final destination. I have my favorite airlines, and for the most part, I stick to them and go about my trips seamlessly. With a global pandemic on our hands that we just can’t seem to wipe off, however, the airlines that are currently flying in and out of my hometown and the airport closest to campus are limited. I’ve had to make do with airlines I may not necessarily love but do what has to be done.
Typically I take two flights along with a layover in between (because that’s how long my journey back is), and for the first time ever I flew an American airline all the way through. I didn’t think much of it and was prepared for a flight as typical as the rest with maybe a few bumps along the way. Unfortunately, I was in for a surprise. For me, the longest flight is the most stressful. If you end up with a bad seat or uncomfortable neighbor, that’s kind of it — you’re stuck. Having picked out a seat that was in the very last row, I was part of this mess as my seat didn’t recline back at all. For a shorter flight, I wouldn’t have minded, but for 16 painstakingly long hours, I was hoping to sleep. The problems started when I requested a seat change. I waited until we were comfortably in the air to not overwhelm the already busy flight attendants who were preparing for takeoff. I got a quick quip back about how seats were all paid for and we weren’t allowed to switch. I politely asked for any change, even a middle seat (the ones that are typically NOT paid for since they’re so undesired) but I was met with the same exasperated shaking of the head and told that while they weren’t occupied, I still wasn’t allowed to take them. Chalking it up to catching them at a bad time, after some time I asked another steward the same question, noticing multiple seats, aisle, middle, and window free. I got the same eye-roll response of how seats were paid for and I should have been informed of that at check-in. Now I really do understand certain regulations with safety in mind, but I also know that this is something that I’ve done before. In fact, on some flights, I’ve gotten upgrades once the flight has taken off, based on how empty it is; but this clearly didn’t seem like the flight for that.
The next issue arose when I asked for headphones for the in-flight entertainment. Once again I was met with a slight of, “Well didn’t you already get them?” I apologized saying I might have missed the walk around with the headphones, but multiple people around me piped up to share that they too hadn’t received them. The flight attendant took a deep breath and said that they’re probably out of them, walking away. I had to ask a couple more attendants before I finally found one who seemed to have a spare set on them.
Throughout the flight, I was met with little patience and courtesy. When choosing meals, they served two options, and I heard multiple people ask what they entailed. This is a normal question for a flight attendant, one that they are expected to know the answer to. Their responses were, curt, and vaguely mentioned that they were not responsible for knowing, just that there were two options and that there was a “long row” of people waiting so they had to hurry. At the very least, long-haul flights tend to have menus with descriptions of the meals. This is especially helpful when people aren’t as familiar with English, again a common occurrence on international flights. On this flight, however, attendants sounded exasperated when people couldn’t understand them.
This continued for the whole journey, and I was even handed a meal without asking my preference because they were out of options. Now, I’m not too picky, but when I asked if it contained beef, a specific item that I do not eat in line with my faith, I was met with an “I don’t know” before the attendant left me and my unidentified meat breakfast tray. Now, this isn’t to say it was the worst flight ever. It’s to point out the attitude that the staff had in a relative sense.
Let me explain; the next flight I took was the same airline but it happened to be from the East Coast to the West Coast. The sudden shift in attendants was shocking. I was preparing for another flight of curt remarks and sighs for anything people requested, but I was met with kind staff who went above and beyond what was asked and were pleasant all around. It was clear to me that it had more to do with the point of departure for the flights rather than the airline themselves.
My first flight flew out of India, whereas my second flight flew out of New York. It was clear to see the preference and patience that the staff had for the very same people, just based on their travel itinerary. I know people can have bad days and working as air staff can be a taxing job but it’s surprising that such a small thing can make such a huge difference. My first flight probably made it seem like I was an Indian girl traveling from a huge developing nation that stereotypically contains people who aren’t familiar with the English language (a fact that is extremely untrue), whereas my second flight made it look like I was flying from coast-to-coast; just someone going back to campus after the holidays. This could all just be conjecture, but I truly believe that such microaggressions and hostility are very easy to catch when you’re on the receiving end. It’s also these very microaggressions that perpetuate inequity and in 2022, we really don’t need to be carrying that kind of baggage, not at airports and not anywhere else (pun very much intended).
I wish I could say the end made up for the way, but this was also the first flight ever where I’ve had my baggage bumped and bruised. Actually, that puts it a little too lightly, my hardshell suitcase had a giant crack across the front splitting it open from the top when I received it at the baggage carousel – and it got many stares. It really was the icing on top of the very inadequate and disappointing cake that was my entire travel journey, but that’s a story for another time.