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By Family Member of A Flight Attendant

Recently on Facebook, almost everyone seems to agree with an article posted on The News Lens. The story is titled, “Confessions of A Taiwanese Flight Attendant,” and are the thoughts of a flight attendant working in a Taiwanese airline company.

After reading it in detail, I felt deeply upset and needed to express my opinions. Maybe it’s because I’m the husband of an employee within the same airline company, so I have some knowledge of Ms. Lee’s words, yet my views on the topic are entirely different.

Ms. Lee starts off by sharing some of her personal experiences, and then she goes on to criticizing Taiwanese passengers on their excessive demands and constant complaining. She concludes everything in one sentence, “Taiwanese customers and travel groups have become the two things flight attendants fear most.”

After that lesson of morale, Ms. Lee shifted from the topic “the unruly Taiwanese,” a name for the Taiwanese used among Ms. Lee’s co-workers, to the citizens of China. Ms. Lee uses “mainland travelers” to describe Chinese passengers, but I feel this is disrespectful. I prefer using “the Chinese” or “Chinese passengers.”

Ms. Lee first diminishes the Chinese and then praises them. She says Chinese customs are quite off-putting and they speak in a peevish way. But because they heartedly bid farewell to Ms. Lee upon ascending, it makes her less angry, as even though they don’t obey the rules, they are merely innocent and mischievous.

From the standpoint of the service industry she says, “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.”

After comparing both groups of passengers, she reflects, “Taiwanese people complain the unruly and reckless behavior of the Chinese damages the sights of Taiwan. But how do we rate our own thoughtfulness? Do we give the attendants the respect they deserve?”

Ms. Lee points out that 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 them. She feels Taiwanese consumers think very highly of themselves. 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. Ms. Lee says, “Taiwanese customers always fail to understand that the relationship is actually equal. What they pay for is our service, not our dignity.”

Perhaps too many Taiwanese customers have hurt Ms. Lee’s dignity. Besides criticizing the Taiwanese on their arrogant consumer behavior, she also mentions they have very delicate feelings that get hurt easily.

Ms. Lee believes Taiwanese people have a tendency to turn modesty into arrogance. They believe they can build a sense of dignity and superiority by verbally abusing people. “But if we defame ourselves beforehand and become too arrogant, are we still the best scenery?”

In the end, she admonishes Taiwanese people should put away their delicate feelings and reflect on their own kindness. Only then can Taiwan really become Formosa.

An unnerving sight: Taiwanese flight attendants being ashamed of Taiwanese passengers.

Different ethnic groups have a different culture and personality. Each has their weaknesses and traits along with the space to improve.

Taiwanese feelings are delicate. It’s not that you cannot criticize anyone, but criticism should be reasonable and based on facts. Most importantly, you shouldn’t generalize or have biased views on people based on your personal experiences.

Regarding work ethics, Ms. Lee’s public confessions on working as a flight attendant in a well-known Taiwanese airline company may seem just, but are in fact open for discussion. Her actions will undoubtedly affect the status of the company.

Going back to the beginning of Ms. Lee’s story, she says a couple of Taiwanese female passengers were complaining about why their seats were in the back of the plane, while foreigners were positioned in the front.

Ms. Lee answers, “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?”

Honestly speaking, I don’t think Ms. Lee’s words were reasonable. Isn’t it only fair for passengers to ask to such a question?

After the aircraft lands, people seated in the front of the plane leave first. People in the back have to wait for a long time, which is why people prefer sitting up front. Ms. Lee stresses, “The seating wasn’t arranged intentionally,” so people wouldn’t have any misconceptions.

Although in-flight service had nothing to do with this problem, the passengers weren’t even able to communicate their problem and needed to acknowledge the ground crew after landing. But the passengers were merely asking a question. They didn’t demand to change their seats. So why did Ms. Lee say, “This isn’t something a flight attendant can assist you with?”

Do Taiwanese tourists really make excessive demands?

As for tourists questioning the way Ms. Lee treats Taiwanese and foreign passengers, her words again give the impression she’s merely acting nice. Ms. Lee explains herself by saying her other hand was busy.

Was Ms. Lee not able to wait until both of her hands were free before she served drinks? Why were both of her hands free when she was servicing foreigners? Every tourist has the right and freedom to complain.

Another issue raised by Ms. Lee is a complaint one of her colleagues received after helping a tourist with their luggage.

The passenger says, “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.” Ms. Lee replies, “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?”

Didn’t the tourist thank the attendant for willingly helping with the luggage? The reply Ms. Lee gives is based on the assumption that passengers demand the flight crew to help with their luggage. Perhaps this passenger was indeed a bit nit-picky, but what airline company doesn’t put up with unreasonable customer complaints? Some even deliberately provoke receiving complaints. What staff member never received a complaint when working in an airline company for a long time?

It seems that Ms. Lee’s claim, “Taiwanese traveling groups or Taiwanese passengers are what flight attendants fear most,” is largely based on personal experience or rumors. She might be able support this statement if companies start classifying passenger complaints and then reach the conclusion that Taiwanese travelers indeed tend to be more demanding. Wouldn’t that be fairer to Taiwanese passengers?

After that, Ms. Lee speaks about the misbehavior of Taiwanese tourists. “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.” The manners of these Taiwanese people make her feel hurt and scared.

Excuse me, but have you ever really considered the reason Taiwanese people have such demands? And are they really too demanding?

Photo Credit: Jetstar Airways @Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Jetstar Airways @Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Take a good look at yourself before you criticize others.

Please allow me, as someone who’s been the husband of a flight attendant for over twenty years, to reveal some of the unwritten rules within a Taiwanese airline company.

Ms. Lee hopes the Taiwanese can be more civilized. But in reality, flight crews should take a good hard look at themselves.

If relatives or friends of the crew are on board, they might enjoy excellent first-class service, even in the economy class. Orders for pillows, blankets, ice-cream, drinks and other excessive demands would have been met. But once regular passengers find out, they will not only think of this kind of behavior is being generous at the expense of the company, but also start making similar requests.

As for a small birthday gift, if the airline company has related non-negotiable rules, there won’t be such a huge dispute.

There should also be enough playing cards in stock to give to passengers. I can understand passengers getting angry over some people getting cards while they don’t.

Since there is the Chinese saying, “one should show respect to customers,” it seems only fair that consumers place themselves in a higher position while the service staff takes on a more humble attitude. No matter what kind of customers you’re dealing with, whether they are foreign, Taiwanese or Chinese, everyone should be treated equally. Ms. Lee boldly reveals she scolded Chinese tourists, yet patiently treated Taiwanese passengers. That doesn’t sound like she knows how to treat foreigners.

Ms. Lee believes, “Taiwanese customers always fail to understand that the relationship is actually equal. What they pay for is our service, not our dignity.”

But I hope she understands that if the service is inadequate, it will hurt the customer. Poor service often harms the dignity of customers and is an unfair trade, especially when discrimination is obvious.

As Ms. Lee continuous to stress equality and dignity, I believe she should also regard different services as equals.

The salary of flight attendants is slightly higher than that of other service industries. Their outward appearance is also neater and you can take advantage of your position by traveling to all kinds of places. But does that mean their dignity is more valuable than that of other service industries, even so much to think their relationship with consumers is completely equal?

I still remember when my wife was a rookie in the airline company. Many of her colleagues selfishly addressed themselves as high-class attendants. That title puzzled me at first. What is a low-class attendant? How high-class are you? Higher than your customers?

Whose delicate feelings are you hurting?

I will also share an in-flight story.

My wife had been working at the company for several years. After she got off work one day, she dragged her exhausted body to the door entrance. She hadn’t even put down her luggage before she started complaining, “Taiwanese people really have no manners.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“A couple of older Taiwanese men and women were talking really loudly on the plane, as if the flight cabin was their home. They kept complaining and asking questions, acting very arrogantly and annoying everyone around them.”

I let her calm down first and handed her a cup of water. Then I gave her my opinion.

“Older people often have more trouble hearing, so they need to speak louder in order for them to understand each other. They might not even be aware of it themselves. Also, some of these people don’t travel abroad by plane very often and may not be aware of the rules on flight. Both of us are Taiwanese. In the eyes of your co-workers, our parents may be just as uncivilized as the older people you complained about. They may have the same actions and use the same words as them. Would you get angry at them as well? You probably get many older foreign passengers who are returning to their hometown. I don’t believe they would act any different than Taiwanese travelers of the same age. But you and your colleagues wouldn’t think these people are as annoying as the Taiwanese, and will treat them better, even to the extent that you secretly pity them.”

My wife was at loss for words.

“Your colleagues, especially those who are Chinese, understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Many fathers of your coworkers might be veterans, but because your colleagues are prejudiced, they refuse to empathize with these older people, and even worse despise them. But why do you let your colleagues influence you or go along with everything they say?”

Twenty years ago, I would have been very optimistic about the way Taiwanese people are treated on flights. I never anticipated that someone like Ms. Lee would think Taiwanese passengers or groups create fear among flight attendants. I hope this view on Taiwanese passengers is only limited to a small groups of flight attendants. If not, I call on Taiwanese people to refuse flying with this company, as we make people like Ms. Lee afraid, and we hurt their superior delicate feelings as well as humiliate their dignity.

Even if many Taiwanese people nod and smile upon leaving the plane, or even thank the in-flight staff (just not as loudly as Chinese people would), flight attendants still believe how Taiwanese passengers hurt their feelings is far more serious than the physical injuries Chinese travelers cause.

Photo Credit: Chris OBrien@Flickr CC BY 2.0

Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang