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As United Airlines Brings Back Pre-Departure Beverages, Flight Attendants Sigh and Say ‘At Least Pay Us’

As United Airlines Brings Back Pre-Departure Beverages, Flight Attendants Sigh and Say ‘At Least Pay Us’

United Airlines officially brought back its pre-departure beverage service on Tuesday and flight attendants have responded with weary indignation at the reintroduction of the traditional onboard welcome for Business and First Class passengers.

Pre-departure beverages are one of the most looked forward aspects of air travel for some passengers, especially leisure travelers who only truly count their vacation as underway once a flight attendant has offered them a glass of (slightly warm) fizzy wine.

But while passengers might love a pre-departure beverage, for flight attendants the pre-departure beverage service is near-universally hated. And to add insult to injury, flight attendants at U.S.-based airlines are expected to do it for free.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) has objected to United’s move back to pre-pandemic normalcy on the grounds that the service could increase the risk of Covid infection just at the moment that case rates across the United States are starting to rise again.

Flight attendants on the frontlines agree with that argument but are just as much annoyed at the extra workload as they are concerned that the resumption of pre-departure beverage service could put them at greater risk.

To put it simply, offering pre-departure beverages is a real pain and it’s a job that even crew at international airlines who get paid to do it don’t enjoy.

The problem is that pre-departure beverages are an extra and very time-consuming job on top of a long list of other important jobs that all have to be completed within the few minutes before passengers board or during the boarding process.

Of course, all these jobs take time but a delayed departure is not an option. Once boarding is complete, the doors need to be shut as quickly as possible to achieve an on-time departure. Woe betides the flight attendant who delays departure for failing to complete their pre-departure tasks.

Before boarding gets underway, security and catering checks need to be completed, the cabin readied and the pre-departure drinks actually poured – because, naturally, none of this is done before flight attendants arrive at the aircraft. And, obviously, all of this needs to be with as few crew as possible and under stopwatch conditions.

Then comes the actual service. As the flight attendant union points out, crew are expected to weave in and out of passengers who are boarding the aircraft and traipsing through the cabin.

Getting back to the galley for refills becomes a game of ‘Ninja Warrior’ fighting against a constant tide of passengers while simultaneously trying to avoid getting sideswiped by suitcases and rucksacks.

Inevitably, at least one passenger will knock over their drink, requiring a rush for napkins and careful removal of shards of glass from the carpet. Others will be disappointed with the choice of pre-departure beverages on offer – for now, United is only offering still water and sparkling wine.

Some passengers, though, will put in special requests – something that the airline hasn’t factored in but will make the flight attendant look bad if they politely decline.

It’s not necessarily a ‘hard’ job but it’s an added stress at what is already the most stressful part of the flight for most flight attendants. And to think, flight attendants at U.S. airlines aren’t even getting paid until the last door is shut. No wonder they would prefer the pre-departure beverage service to go the same way as inflight peanuts.

View Comments (3)
  • As someone who’s flown first a few times, I can assure you that flight attendants aren’t that abused due to getting some drinks before takeoff. Heck, half the people in first decline it anyway. But if it’s such a burden, those who don’t wish to serve drinks pre-takeoff should avoid the lead position on the team. I’m sure there are other flight attendants who will gladly take their place, no thanks to the union griping or this article shilling for them. Just remember that without the first class passengers paying the equivalent of 3 or 4 economy seats in exchange for some early drinks, you won’t need to serve ANY drinks because the high margin revenue will dry up.

  • Just do your bloody jobs boys & girls and stop moaning and complaining. Christ, we as passengers are sick of hearing it. If you don’t like your job, you know what to do, get the hell out and let someone who does enjoy flying and looking after the passenger victims do it. We as taxpayers have baled the damn airlines out again and again. You should all be grateful you have a job. Whinge, Whinge, Whinge, Moan, Moan, Moan

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