Americans are funny in the ways they find to "appropriately" air their dirty laundry. When I was a child, it was an unspoken rule in our home that you not "air your dirty laundry" related to family dysfunction, even when I think most people knew there were problems. I think when people believe they will receive pity or understanding related to injustices, they are much more comfortable in "airing" that which may otherwise be seen as shameful. I'm not sure the "airing" is necessarily right or wrong, but perhaps how it is done is more what I am pondering.
I finally flew for the first time in almost three years, a record length of time since my first flight in 1997. Flying within North America with American companies reminded me how wonderful the Asian companies were and how spoiled we were when flying international. This time we flew on United Airlines -- no warm or cool cloth to wash your face, no slippers or movies or even meals for that matter. You're lucky to get some drinks and a cookie or tiny pretzels. And as the one stewardess explained, we were cramped on Boeing 737s, one flight was for nearly 3 hours. Those jets were made to be shuttle planes for short stints from city to city. Now because of company cutbacks, they are using the 737s for full capacity and longer flights. The service people need to work harder because they don't have the carts and cabinets that the larger jets provide for kitchen supplies and storage on longer flights. This was one of several references to company problems I heard on this trip. I was surprised how open the captains and service personnel were about their job problems.
In fact as we were sitting at the gate ready to depart on the last leg of our return flight, a young women in the row in front of us nearly had a panic attack when the captain explained in technical detail that our "APU (auxillary power unit) was overheating" and so he needed to shut down our electricity and airflow for some time. He also explained that the extreme hot weather in Denver, CO, caused lots of problems for airplanes so we would have to do some unusual things to actually get off the ground and conserve energy. Though he kept giving detailed updates, he consistantly failed to state the fact that this problem did not affect our ability to fly nor did it compromise our plane's safety. The woman in front of us kept asking questions about what the captain meant until the steward suggested that she leave the plane. In the end, she talked to the captain herself and seemed ok after that.
What nearly cost the woman her flight was the fact that the captain was irritated by the lack of personnel on the ground to get the plane ready. He wanted the passangers to know that United is not doing a good job in service and in paying/providing benefits to its employees. A person next to me mentioned that another captain on another plane, after waiting on the tarmac with a full plane for so long, announced that his shift was over and that they would be returning to the gate until another pilot could be found. He was not going to work overtime if he wasn't going to get paid for it.
While I sympathize with the United Airlines employees, I found it interesting how they were so open about their problems. In many respects, the USA is known for it's emphasis on personal rights, human rights and employee rights. We uphold fair practices and expect that people will not blame someone for demanding their rights. So I suppose it is not surprising, then, that they aired their dirty laundry, perhaps to vindicate themselves and invite pity for the injustices which they felt they suffered.
But in a twisted way it ends up benefiting the company. While I am sure a number of people will speak up about problems they encountered on the flight, I think a lot of people felt bad for the crew. I didn't hear any complaints on the flight about service. We all just made the best of the tight quarters, few bathrooms (even when having to change a messing diaper!) and limited ammenities. What I find ironic is that in the end, our pity and compliance ends up helping United Airlines save money!