I utilize public transportation to get to and from work at Frankfurt International Airport and run into a LOT of uniformed airline personnel, particularly from Lufthansa and United. United has a crew base in Frankfurt and therefore has a lot of FRA-based FAs who take the S-Bahn to the airport.
Sadly, the difference between the average appearance of a Lufthansa and United flight attendant is astounding--there is no other way to put it. We all take note of how others dress and put themselves together and I take particular note of how airline professionals do. I have been watching intently for the last five months and the United folks simply should be ashamed of the way they look.
Two weeks ago I observed a particularly revealing juxtaposition. I was at Konstoblerwache station in central Frankfurt on my way to the airport and noted two UA FAs (both, oddly, with Belgium pins on their shirts and speaking in Flemish) who looked like they had just rolled out of bed (maybe they had, but it was 19:30). The guy was unshaven and his his shirt was hanging out from the back of his pants. His tie was loose, his trousers were much too short, and his shoes were scuffed. His female colleague was not much better. She was just wearing a short-sleeved shirt that she had not bothered to iron, and you could see the hem marks on her pants from 20 feet away. Her shoes were also heavily scuffed in the front and her hair was messed up.
Standing nearby were two Lufthansa FAs. In stark contrast, their uniforms were neatly pressed, hair groomed, makeup applied, and shoes nicely shined.
I really wanted to take an up-close shot and post it here, but it would have been too obvious: I used the arriving train as a diversion and snapped the picture from a distance. You'll have to trust me that they looked as bad as I describe above. I thought about confronting the two UA FAs but elected to hold my tongue, reasoning that it actually was not my business and that lecturing them on a crowded train might be uncomfortable for all three of us.
I planned to write up a scathing blog post immediately, because the incident reflected what I had been observing all year, but I decided to hold off and observe for two more weeks--just to make sure emotions would not cloud my analysis.
But over the last two weeks, I have observed more of the same, which leads me to this post tonight.
I know times have been tough at United. I know the front-line staff has given up a lot and not received much back in return. I know that many FAs are locked into their career and have no other viable options if they chose to resign. But come on people, can't you show just a little bit of pride in your occupation?
Many--most I'd say--UA folks do take a few extra minutes to make sure they are looking sharp, but many also do not and that does not reflect well on the airline. Over the last two weeks I have observed dozens of LH employees aboard the S-Bahn and have gone out of my way to try to find one that is dressed sloppily or ungroomed. In all honesty, though, I have not found one, not even one! That says a lot.
I served in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and wore a uniform quite often. Naturally, that makes this subject more touchy for me, but it simply comes down to taking pride in what you do. My shoes were always shined and my uniform pressed not just because that was what regulations prescribed, but because I wanted to and because through my uniform I represented something much bigger and more important than me alone. I submit that FA uniforms also represent something much bigger and more important.
This is not the sort of issue you write to UA in a complaint letter, but I am going to make it a point that someone at UA and the Association of Fight Attendants sees this. I do not intend this post to be a hatchet job on United FAs. As you'll hear next week, UA's FRA-based crews have treated me extremely well in my frequent travel between Frankfurt and Washington Dulles. I have flown airlines from all over the world and still prefer UA's crews over most. But it is essential that UA, the AFA, and the FAs themselves (and to be fair, pilots are guilty of looking sloppy as well) examine this issue now.
Morale will not suddenly improve overnight, but if the UA folks started emulating the Lufthansa folks a bit more when it comes to dress and appearance (and not in other ways, as I will blog about tomorrow), I think they would find morale would go up and they would start enjoying their jobs more, even as CEO Jeff Smisek mulls over seeking more concessions from his "team members" that have already given up so much.