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Arts & Entertainment

A Flight Attendants Union President Tells You How to Behave This Winter

Lyn Montgomery, president of the union of Southwest’s flight attendants, has something to tell you holiday travelers.
By Tim Rogers |
Lyn Montgomery, president of the union of Southwest’s flight attendants
Marc Montoya

You’re a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. Which one could better defend a village of flight attendants from an evil space pirate, a parliamentarian or a Mandalorian?[laughs] Probably a Mandalorian. Our organization fosters education for parliamentary procedures. For people who really do it, it’s like a law degree. For me, it’s a way I educated myself to be a better leader.

Tell me your raunchiest pilot joke. Oh, I stay away from those things.

How about a PG-13 pilot joke? I don’t think there are any PG-13 pilot jokes. [laughs]

You graduated from Hockaday in 1988. That happens to be the same year I graduated from Cistercian. Who do you think was a better wide receiver for the Hawks, me or Fred Hartnett? It was absolutely you! I did not know you went to Cistercian. That is awesome.

As the union boss for Transportation Workers, Local 556, how many cartons of black-market cigarettes could you have delivered to my house tomorrow? [laughs] Absolutely none. None. My biggest job is to be the advocate for approximately 17,000 Southwest Airlines flight attendants. They’ve been frontline workers through all of this. They’re incredibly burned out. They’re in crisis fatigue. We need the operation to stabilize. All flight attendants know they are going to be asked to work an extra day once in a while, right? You know there are going to be interruptions. But when it happens consistently, as it has over the last 20 months, it takes a really deep toll, both mentally and physically.

You’ve worked at Southwest for almost 27 years. Why has passenger misbehavior grown so bad recently? I blame it on the effects of COVID and the state of the nation. Before September 11, we had what was called “air rage.” People were very angry and very frustrated due to flight cancellations and delays. After September 11, people became compliant. But it’s reared its ugly head again, with the effects of COVID and the mask mandate and flight cancellations and delays and with passengers not getting food or drink onboard the plane like they used to.

Has cutting off the alcoholic drinks helped? It absolutely has helped because of course alcohol inflames these types of situations. We hope that they continue not to sell alcohol onboard until some of these situations get cured.

Have you ever been at work—you know, like 7 miles above the earth, flying at 500 mph—and flown into a sharknado and the beverage carts hit the ceiling and you’ve got angry passengers bitching about having to put on their masks, and have you ever thought, You know, I should have found an easier line of work, like being a cop? [laughs] I’ve always kind of thought of a flight attendant as sort of like a butler. Like we tell you, “This is the right thing to do on a plane. This is how you should behave.” But then, we like to serve you with a smile. Then also, we’re like nurses, because if you fall over, we’re going to help you. So, you know, it’s amazing the breadth of what we have to do with a smile on our face.

A lot of folks are going to be in the air for the holiday season. What’s the one thing you want to tell them? Oh, OK. Let’s see. That your flight attendants are there to direct you, to keep you safe, to take care of you, and to get you to your destination on time. Hopefully, if we do that, along the way we can also have a little bit of fun.

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