Isn’t U.S. air travel awful? In the airport security lines, you’re treated like a convict after the gate slams shut at Sing Sing. Then you board the plane–to find your seat littered with crumbs and dandruff left over from the last passenger who sat there. But your worst air experiences are likely to be your encounters with the stewardess…er, “flight attendant,” a snarling, barking middle-aged harridan who reminds you of your least favorite grade-school teacher.

On the last vacation flight to California that my husband and I took–on Continental–the poor passenger sitting next to us made the mistake of falling asleep before the “beverage service,” the monstrous, aisle-blocking “cart” that traps you for hours in the back of the plane should you happen to get up. At any rate, our fellow passenger woke up just as the cart had passed our row. She begged the flight attendant for a glass of water. She was ignored. Finally, my chivalrous husband took over and shouted, “We need some water here!” The flight attendant’s response was, finally, a plastic cup of the stuff–plus a reprimand: “You didn’t ask for it when you should have.”  

Mark Steyn expresses some similar thoughts on his web page:

“In recent years, my flights to the Middle East have begun with a little US Airways twin-prop down to Boston or New York — no ‘cabin service’ at all; they don’t have any on their bigger planes either, but at least on the twin-props there’s no hatchet-faced ‘flight attendant’ in shiny stretch pants and flat shoes shuffling along the aisle doling out mini-bags of mini-pretzels to remind you of all the ’cabin service’ you’re not getting. In Boston or New York, I switch to Virgin — much better: proper ‘trolley dollies’ in bright smart red skirts and heels and the best kind of peppy Estuary English accents that make you feel like you’re Austin Powers and they’re at least prepared to pretend you’re shagadelic. And then in London, for the final leg (as it were), it’s Royal Jordanian to Amman — bliss: ‘air hostesses’ in dapper stylish uniforms that, like Singapore and the other great Asian airlines, are an artful combination of native elements from local culture and retro cool from our own….

“US air travel is the exception that proves the rule about American service: in a Welsh restaurant or Austrian department store, I long for American waitresses and sales clerks. But on USAir or NorthWest or Continental, I pine fondly for Royal Jordanian or British or Thai Airways. I yield to no-one in the amount of derision I’m willing to heap on ‘Old Europe,’ but, if it’s a choice between Delta and Air France, or United and Lufthansa, I’m with Jacques and Gerhard in wanting to put as much distance as possible between me and the arrogant bullying unilateralist Yank, if only when airborne and pushing a cart of Clamato cans….

“US airlines look just awful, beginning with the shiny shapeless prison-warden garb of their staff, the product of some malign combination of unionization and feminism. I’m not being sexist here — if you want to see America’s worst-dressed gay men, take a plane; when the networks have exhausted every other lame makeover reality-show concept, they should do ‘Queer Eye For The Fly Guy.’”

What has gone wrong? I think it’s not only the “malign combination of unionization and feminism” but what happens when that malign combination hits market competition in our non-government-run U.S. airlines. The carriers can’t compete by offering the nicest service and the best-looking air hostesses, because anti-discrimination laws forbid the hiring of people on the basis of youth and attractive appearance. So they compete strictly on price, which means relentless cost-cutting, with the result that flying in the United States is the airborne equivalent of taking a bus in the United States.

Frankly, even as a woman, I miss the old sexist days, when stewardesses were stewardesses: pretty young things in cute mini-suits and little heels who oozed attention onto everyone–because who knew? They might end up marrying one of the passengers. Why does feminism have to mean the triumph of the ugly and the surly?