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ATW Editor's Blog

“Friendly Skies”, but blame Brazil if you bump your head


On a recent flight from Washington DC to Austin, Texas, I encountered something that shows customer service in the air means different things to different people.

It was a United Airlines Embraer 175 and I got an upgrade. As soon as the first-class cabin filled, and while we were still at the gate, the flight attendant grabbed our attention. I’m going to paraphrase here, but this is pretty close to what she said:

“Everyone in this cabin, listen up! My name’s XXX, and I will be looking after you today. I will be serving lunch, so if you want lunch you need to know that if you are sleeping when I by, I am not allowed to wake you. The universal sign for if you want lunch but may be asleep is to put your table down.

Now, this is an Embraer. It’s made in Brazil. The thing about Brazilians is that they are short. That’s why the overhead bins are low, so watch your head.

And I’ve done this trip back and forth and believe me, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Not dangerous, but very bumpy. So keep your seat belt fastened. And you can take that from someone who spent two years in a wheelchair after encountering turbulence. But I’m still here.”

I will call this flight attendant Listen Up. As it turned out, there was almost no turbulence but I do believe Listen Up meant well and her presentation was a stab at good humor. But honestly? And ‘Brazilians are short’?! That may be a little down-home joke suitable in a Texan bar, but what if one of us had been Brazilian? I doubt Listen Up has traveled to Brazil. Some in the cabin laughed at the “presentation” but it seemed to me a bit of an awkward laugh.

Maybe Listen Up is illustrative of what United calls “friendly skies” but what others might call “behind the times”.

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