Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Once upon a time we called them “Flight Stewardesses”, nowadays they are referred to as Flight Attendants

Opinion
No photo 'Age before beauty'
CTALK By Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) Updated December 27, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (9) View comments

Once upon a time we called them “Flight Stewardesses”, nowadays they are referred to as Flight Attendants. Once upon a time they were mostly females, nowadays there are as many males as there are females. Once upon a time they were mostly young, pretty and charming, nowadays the “young once” are struggling to keep their jobs and their dignity.
While flying somewhere between Bangkok and Manila on Philippine Airlines, I found myself reflecting on the on-going struggle of PAL management and their flight crews regarding the concept of “early retirement”.
Presumably, the issue is water under the bridge since the Department of Labor has ruled against the early retirement age idea of PAL. Unfortunately, a government ruling does not tell “us” the passengers; what to do with our long established ideas of what “Stewardesses” or Flight Attendants are suppose to look like or how young they are suppose to be.
A government decision does not make us realize that our notion or expectations about age and looks have actually become leaving breathing biases that blinds us from appreciating the real purpose, service and value of a “Flight Attendant”. In fact we never even consider that all of us add to the “customer expectations” and collective bias “that flight attendants should be young”.
Ever since the “dancing FA’s” and the controversy about early retirement age, I have heard more and more people speak out against sexist policies of the airlines. But no one among the politically correct anti-sexist activist would openly admit that privately, they all harbor a bias that turns them off when they see an “old” or non-sexy flight attendant.
While on board PR-730 to Bangkok, I could not help but notice one of three senior FA’s who I assumed was a very senior purser doing a performance audit. True to form, my long established expectation of what a flight attendant was “suppose to look like” automatically kicked in. it was not long before I began to pay special attention and make a biased assessment of the person in terms of age, looks and whether she was fit to perform the duties of an FA.
Half way through my unsolicited critical assessment, I realized that this person was performing a difficult job and I was assessing her based on absolute bias for her age and appearances because the airline industry had brain washed us a long time ago that FA’s were supposed to be “Hotties”.  
As I watched the senior FA, I saw a professional who brought value and quality to the service. She had empathy that broke down barriers, public relations skills that made people appreciate the crew and she still had the core strength that allowed her to perform physically demanding work.
Like other flights, I have always appreciated the service and the warmth of Filipino Flight Attendants. It is their warmth and sincerity that makes our travel a pleasure, not their age. Their able and constant attention puts us at ease, not their vital statistics. It is their caring face that tells us we chose the right airline to fly, and not just another pretty face in shorts to drool at.
There are no diplomas for experience, it requires living through them and that takes time. It comes with age, so does wisdom and good judgment.
 So the next time you’re on a plane and you see a much “older” flight attendant, try to remember, she’s the one who will serve your food, tidy up the toilet, address your needs and in case of an unforeseen landing or medical emergency she might even save your life.
So the next time the bias starts acting up, just remember the “A” in FA stands for “Attendant” not “Age”.
* * *
If the Philippines lag behind in terms of tourist arrivals, it is not because of slogans or airports.
Bangkok has a huge international airport jammed and packed with tourists who immediately complain about the long lines and slow processing at their immigration counters because people get stuck at a choke point between two public areas. So it’s not about the looks, it’s about the service and convenience.
Thailand has a huge airport because it was a necessary requirement when the country made the decision to prioritize tourism as a priority program. The Philippines must first decide if Tourism will be a priority program instead of prioritizing the airports in the hope of attracting tourists.
In terms of destinations our first and usual mistake is making “Manila” or Metro Manila as the port of destination or gateway for tourists. Sorry but what we call tourists spots in Metro Manila are just places of historical or cultural interests mostly for Filipinos. They are not designed or developed to meet the needs or concerns of a FOREIGNER.
In comparison to Bangkok, Metro Manila would have an equal number of “potential” tourist spots. But the difference is that Thailand invested time and money to make the city and the country attractive and convenient for tourists. By attractive we mean accessibility, affordability and safety.
In the Philippines, NAIA 1 remains the same, Fort Santiago looks the same, Intramuros has had been developing but not for purposes of tourism, Divisoria has become worse, and Roxas blvd has gone from static to deteriorated, and as well know Luneta is now linked with hostage taking than tourism. From Marcos to Aquino, our tourist spots have remained physically and visually the same.
In the mean time, our real destinations are left to private sector development and promotion because they are outside Imperial Metro Manila. Once again what we have, is a need to redefine our perspective and priorities. More than our “Smile” we need a product to sell.

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