Confessions of a Taiwanese Flight Attendant

Confessions of a Taiwanese Flight Attendant
Photo Credit: Lordcolus @Flickr CC BY 2.0
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“Ding.” The service light goes on.

I stoop down and ask, “How may I help you, miss?”

“Why are all the Taiwanese sitting in the back, while the foreigners are all up in the front?”

“I’m sure the seating wasn’t arranged intentionally. Please allow me to explain. The tickets you purchased were group tickets, so I believe the travel agency had a hand in the seating arrangements. Furthermore, this isn’t something a flight attendant can assist you with. Would you mind acknowledging the ground crew after we land?”

“You pamper foreigners, but what about us? You used both of your hands to serve them drinks, but were only willing to serve us with one.”

“I apologize. But I must have handed your drink to you with one hand because my other hand was busy. I apologize if I made you feel uncomfortable.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m very displeased with the discriminating seating arrangements and the way you assist us. What gives you the right to discriminate Taiwanese people?”

This is a conversation I had with a furious Taiwanese passenger. She made it clear a complaint was going to be made because I hadn’t served her drink with both hands. I helplessly apologized again, and handed her a customer service survey.

“Forget about it. There’s no point in getting worked up with the impulsive Taiwanese.” Flight attendants often encourage each other like this. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel a bit dismayed.

Many of the aircrew is familiar with how Taiwanese customers lose their temper when they don’t get playing cards, how they insist on getting gifts on their birthdays, how they demand first-class service (pillows, blankets, ice-cream and other items) and so on.

One of my colleagues received a complaint, “I’m grateful that the flight attendant took the initiative to help me with my luggage, but my feelings were hurt because her smile vanished when she was assisting me.”

What this passenger might not know is we risk getting injured every time we help passengers with their luggage. If a hundred customers request this service, we might get hurt a hundred times. People also block the aisles and delay the boarding time.

Up to this point, don’t you think it is a bit unreasonable to ask for the flight attendant to keep a smile on her face?

Looking back on when I first entered the company, I thought I would like Taiwanese passengers more. But now Taiwanese customers and travel groups have become the two things flight attendants fear most.

Photo Credit: PENG HSIEN-YING@Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Remember the day Taiwan opened up to Chinese tourists? From then on, domestic airlines have increased the amount of flights to China and back, and the Chinese have since become one of our largest target consumers. With Chinese visitors flowing into Taiwan, night markets, shopping districts, and other tourist attractions have become must-go sites for them.

With the emergence of this phenomenon, many people have complained that since Chinese tourists have been permitted to visit Taiwan, traffic has become crowded and sightseeing locations have been destroyed and polluted. What were once quiet tourist attractions have also become much noisier because of the Chinese visitors.

Someone once asked me if the Chinese passengers are as uncontrollable as seen in the media? I have to say, they do have unflattering manners.

We always take a deep breath before boarding and tell ourselves to be calm and patient when we know there are going to be Chinese passengers on the flight. As expected, the passenger cabin becomes a deafening marketplace once every one is on board.

“Please sit down!”

“Please make some space and let passengers pass!”

We need to try and raise our voices to the point we’re louder than them. Only then do they settle down a bit.

Throughout the flight, they put food trays in their bags, crunch on nuts noisily, and randomly press the service bell out of habit. To maintain the quality of the flight, we often need to ask them in a serious tone to follow the rules.

Take-off and landing is when they are most uncontrollable. Maybe it’s because they’re eager to look at the scenery, but they always unbuckle their seatbelts and leave their seats when the plane is racing on the track.

Flight attendants all have a strong sense to protect the passengers. If we see someone leave their seat at the wrong time, we will firmly ask them to sit down, especially to Chinese passengers because they have a certain nature; they immediately forget what we just said.

To me, the way passengers look at me before leaving the plane is their grade for my service. Surprisingly, the ones that usually give me a high score are those who are scolded by me from start to finish.

“Thank you! See you around!”

“Goodbye, pretty Taiwanese lady!”

“Your service was excellent! See you next time!”

How do you have the heart to get angry with these disobedient but gullible Chinese tourists?

From the standpoint of the service industry, Chinese tourists are like naughty children without manners. Your whole body will ache and you will get a sore throat after servicing them, but when assisting Taiwanese customers you feel exhausted psychologically.

We yell at Chinese tourists and ask them to obey the rules, but they don’t care about our attitude. On the contrary, they say goodbye to us heartily.

But even if I’m stooping down and patiently explaining the Taiwanese customer’s misunderstandings of the airline, she still feels humiliated and throws a tantrum in the cabin.

Even if a flight attendant helped a passenger with their luggage, the customer still filed a complaint because she wasn’t smiling.

I can’t help but think; we complain about how the scenery of Alishan and Sun Moon Lake have changed after the island opened up to the Chinese, and how the tourists are unruly and reckless to the point they damage the sights of Taiwan, but how do we rate our own thoughtfulness? Do we give the attendants the respect they deserve?

Photo Credit: Randy Yang @Flickr CC BY ND 2.0

What’s interesting is, no matter how hard companies attempt to improve their customer service and grow closer to consumers, many of them still try their best to pull away from us.

Consumers are used to placing themselves before us. No matter what they ask, the status of the attendants can never surpass them. Even if the attendants are treated disrespectfully, they do not have the right to retort. They don’t understand how our relationship is actually equal. What they pay for is our service, not our dignity.

Not only do Taiwanese passengers hold the belief that whoever pays is the boss, but they also have fragile feelings. Take the lady in this story for example; upon boarding, she thought the seating arrangements were discriminating; therefore she loudly criticized us on the plane for humiliating our own people. Many people say the Taiwanese are humble, but is it reflected in how we treat others?

The average Taiwanese believes that you need to be loud to be heard. Do the Taiwanese have a habit of turning modesty into arrogance? And do they believe that the only way they can build a sense of dignity and superiority is through verbally abusing people? If we really think we are better than others, then why are we afraid of being looked down on and feel the need to criticize others to make ourselves feel better?

We have all heard the saying, “The best scenery Taiwan has to offer is the people.”

I still believe that the Taiwanese are very amiable and gracious. But if we defame ourselves beforehand and become too arrogant, are we still the best scenery?

It is only when we bury our delicate feelings and reflect on our kindness can Taiwan really become Formosa.

Translated by Olivia Yang