My Most Major Minor First Class Annoyance

Many airlines invest hundreds of millions of dollars in improving their premium cabin products. This comes both in the form of hard and soft product improvements.

New first class seats can often cost a quarter million dollars each, not to mention the marginal cost of operating them, given that they typically take up more real estate than old first class seats. And soft product improvements aren’t cheap either, when you factor in how many first class seats many airlines operate in a given day.

That’s why it sort of kills me when airlines mess up aspects of the premium cabin experience which they could easily improve for free. Literally, free.

Let me give two examples, based on my flights from Los Angeles to New York to Frankfurt over the past week.

I flew from Los Angeles to New York on the 5PM American flight, which lands in New York at around 1:30AM. That’s sort of a late flight, though I like it since it’s not quite a redeye, but also allows me to spend most of my day on the ground in LA.

American-A321

The flight time was less than five hours. I had dinner aboard, and then managed to get some shuteye, starting with about three hours left to New York. You’ve gotta love American’s fully flat first class seats, after all.

Sundae

A full 75 minutes before landing the cabin lights were turned all the way up, and the flight attendant makes a drawn out announcement over the PA (as loud as she possibly could) about how they’re about to collect the Bose headphones. Then about five minutes later she turned the lights all the way down again.

Even with eyeshades and earplugs, I woke up, and I couldn’t easily fall back asleep. It just blows my mind that something like that had to be done 75 minutes before landing, as opposed to at the top of descent. That’s true both for the people who were trying to watch movies, as well as the people who were trying to sleep.

Fast forward to the New York to Frankfurt flight on Singapore Airlines. The flight was 7hr10min. I went to bed with about five hours to go to Frankfurt, and told the crew I didn’t want breakfast.

Singapore-Suites

90 minutes before landing I stumbled to the bathroom half asleep to tinkle. And I guess the crew was too attentive (in a way) for their own good, since when I returned to my seat two minutes later, it was in the full upright position with all the bedding gone, and my window shades were drawn all the way up.

The Singapore Suites seat is one which actually “folds over” to turn into a bed, so you can’t easily turn it back into a bed. When I was seated the crew asked if I wanted breakfast. I said “nope,” and then kind of looked at them to see if they caught onto the fact that I wasn’t thrilled with them undoing my bed so early (though I guess it still wasn’t as bad as that time I flew China Southern from Guangzhou to Tokyo Narita…).

Bottom line

I’m not meaning to whine, but rather point out a really easy area of improvement for airlines in premium cabins. The single greatest thing an airline can offer in a premium cabin is the ability to get rest. And while flat beds, pajamas, etc., all help with that goal, it’s sad when the simple things are overlooked.

I get that crews have a “checklist” to go through before landing, but it would be great if they did it on a more agreeable schedule, as opposed to whenever it’s convenient for them.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Comments

  1. Really does sound a little like a “whine.” Maybe you carry some preprinted stickers next flight to leave on the bed “have gone to tinkle – will return soon – please do not touch bed.”

  2. From all the stories I’ve read on this site and others the short answer to your legitimate complaint is that they just don’t care, as with all things business today they just want your $ and once they have them it’s all over

  3. Did they make an announcement that the crew is their primarily for your safety for good measure?

  4. The early collection of headphones (which i don’t take anyway) on AA flights is VERY annoying especially on an overnight flight.

    I get it to a certain degree when the pilot expects significant turbulence and wants FAs seated early.

    But if AA is really so concerned about theft that each one must be separately accounted for then there is something wrong with the headphone solution. And frankly I would prefer a CX-like solution.

    No value add to Bose when it cuts down on sleep time.

  5. Sounds like the crew needs a basic lesson on human biology if they think every time someone gets up in the middle of the night to “tinkle” they are ready to get up for the day and have all of their bedding removed! Wow! I would be a little bit upset to be honest. They should have asked first, no doubt about it!

  6. If you’re ExPlat like me, you know that most (not all) AA flight attendances don’t care about customers. The ‘Bose’ crap has been going on since the beginning of this practice.
    They would rather collect everything & get done with there work 60mns before landing, so they can chat, look at there cellphones or read magazines they ‘collected’ from customers… We know it’s happening & that’s the ‘NEW’ AA to you !
    And don’t get me started with the time it takes to get lunch or how it is served…
    No wonder, the Big 3 in the Emirates will end up winning the competition when it comes to International. I’m flying West Coast to Europe at least 7 times a year… And I’m starting to think flights via Dubai will make sense, even if that’s adding 4 hours 😉

  7. For the AA crew, as with all US carriers, I just assume the crew is lazy and wants to make things as easy as possible for you. If you were to challenge them on this, I’m betting that instead of apologizing, they would start throwing out one of two words in their response: “FAA” or “Safety”, which is horseshit.

    As for the SQ crew, my guess is that they were actually trying to read your intentions by your actions, and made the wrong call.

  8. Well, life just sucks in the elite. I’m not too happy being in steerage, either, but it gets you safely from point A to point B, even without the complementary Bose headphones.

  9. First Class is a cross between a luxury hotel room and a room in the hospital. A shared one, at that.

  10. Everybody take a deep breath.

    You pay more to be upfront (miles, points, $$$ doesn’t matter) you deserve MUCH better treatment.
    Yes, you get safely from point A to B but I agree that small changes in the staff attitude go a long way.

    It is no different than going to an expensive restaurant only to be served lukewarm red wine, your plate cleared before the others have finished and neglectful service.

    It takes very little $$ to improve service but it is a culture change, it is very hard to do in a large institution/company.

    I think Ben brings up very valid points. Great customer service does not cost much. At the end of the day, we will forgive the quality of the food or wines if the service on board was great. We will forgive if the steak was not a perfect medium if the service was great.

  11. I too find the early collection of the Bose headsets on American very annoying. On one recent flight, at least they passed out standard earphones as a substitute. On the other, they didn’t, leaving us First Class passengers unable to enjoy our video entertainment for more than an hour of the cross-country flight. I find this unacceptable when we pay for First Class. American needs to find a better solution.

  12. I’ve taken to giving back the Bose to AA FAs before takeoff. This after being woken up about 6 months back on a JFK-LHR overnight about 75 minutes before landing to give it to them.

    The give is totally not worth the get. I have in-ear noise cancelling headphones that do that job.

  13. I agree with Ben on this. I was woken up on an Etihad business class flight two hours before descent to Toronto to collect headsets. Now I only use my Beats and the headsets were sitting untouched where they normally would have been, my beats around my neck, eye mask on face, and the lady asked me for my headset. I told her that I hadn’t even opened it and she forced me to open the packaging and hand it to her. After that, unable to go to sleep, I stayed up for the extra 1.5 hours that I normally would have spent sleeping and it really left me a little cranky. There was no need to wake me up when clearly the Beats around my head indicate that the other headphones weren’t used.

  14. I agree with Rami. You pay for more, you should get more – especially when the “more” doesn’t cost more.
    When I go to a local diner for $4.00 eggs and they’re not cooked perfectly as ordered, I eat them. If I order whole wheat toast but get rye, it’s no biggie. But if I’m in a fancy shmancy hotel and paying $20.00 for them, then no, I’m not willing to push aside the runny part that didn’t get cooked, and I’ll ask for the toast I ordered if the wrong order is brought. I’m never rude or demanding, but at those prices, I should get a perfect order.
    Airlines are no different.
    I’ve had this issue with headphones, and I now just bring my own, as it’s annoying to have them taken away while I’m still watching a movie, or using them to cancel out noise while napping, when it’s 90 minutes from landing.

  15. While I am not surprised at what happened on that awful AA with their fat, lazy and old, very old American stewardesses who are all about mememe@me.com I am totally surprised at SQ. I would have made them reset the bed. Fuck them. The airlines constantly amaze me these days, it’s all about them, they have forgotten about the passengers who pay the bloody bills.

  16. Last time before take off they wanted to pass out the menu 187 AA ORD PEK…

    Me, I want a pre departure drink, and could care less about ordering food for a flight that might not even depart on time..

    3A. deserves a drink, not a menu..I paid for a lie flat to sleep, not eat..,and I have my own Bose..

  17. The headphones incident is a legit annoyance, whine-worthy, but not something easily fixed.

    The bedding issue is rather surprising. I think it would only be appropriate to remove the bedding if they were at the point where they were preparing people for landing, and would have to do it anyway. I think that’s more than just a whine; a genuine complaint. You could always ask for the bedding to be removed, if that was your intent.

  18. Hey Ben… a question (maybe for an article, or maybe it’s too simple to answer): What’s the difference between “hard” and “soft” products. What do you mean by that? I see this referred to all the time, but I’m not really sure what you mean. Thanks!

  19. Totally agree. Surely the least important aspect of any flight is the breakfast. If you have the time upon arrival a better offering is available in an arrivals lounge. If not, then a quality takeaway option should suffice for the limo etc.

    Early clearing of the cabin is for the benefit of the crew not the pax. The best experience I have had was with La Compagnie; who for all their other failings only awoke me 20 min before arrival. The other airlines need to learn more efficient ways of clearing the cabin so those who wish to maximise the zzzzzzzzz can achieve that.

  20. Flew AC from YYZ – LHR last Sunday night. Ticked the box on the (relatively new) breakfast forms that I didn’t want to be woken up to eat. The in-charge gently woke me when we were already on the way down, apologized at doing so because “it looked like you were sleeping so soundly” and still offered to get me a quick cup of coffee.

  21. Completely agree. I hated that on my ANA flights announcements were made 90 minutes before landing. On JAL it was a bit better, 60 minutes, but also when I went to change in the lavatory they took my bed away. If you have to ask or they offer to make up your bed, the same should apply when unmaking it.

  22. @Todd;
    Usually hard product is the plane itself, the seat, the monitor, the bathrooms, the aisles etc….
    The soft product is the food, service, movie/TV options, bedding etc….
    I don’t think there is a definite rule of what is hard or soft.

    Ben will correct me if I misspoke.

    @Robbo;
    No need to use the f*** word or be nasty to get your message across. Otherwise the rest of us would appreciate if you troll somewhere else.

  23. What started as a trend to improve my business class experience would help: I bring my own bose headphones, and I bring my own bedding (3/4″ thick yoga mat, flat sheet, and travel tempurpedic pillow). While not ideal to carry all of this extra stuff, it oddly solves your annoyances. 🙂

  24. Agree with Robbo re SQ; I would have insisted they re-set the bed for you. The problems at AA could be resolved if they had a Flight Services Manager, or whatever, who strictly supervised the heifers who are charged with delivering the service. Fat chance, I suspect. You comments are definitely NOT a whinge or a whine; the green-hued readers here who fly Y should be ignored.

  25. “While I am not surprised at what happened on that awful AA with their fat, lazy and old, very old American stewardesses who are all about mememe@me.com I am totally surprised at SQ. I would have made them reset the bed. Fuck them. The airlines constantly amaze me these days, it’s all about them, they have forgotten about the passengers who pay the bloody bills.”

    I fly constantly on US airlines and never had an issue with a flight attendant even in coach. Then again, I’m not looking for my next girlfriend on the plane. If you want to ogle skinny, young stewardesses, find a way to time travel your way back to 1970.

  26. I was also really surprised to find on a SFO-JFK flight in business class on AA’s A321T that they collected the Bose headphones so early, robbing you of usage for about a quarter to a third of the flight time. They even give you crappy, non-noise-cancelling earphones (to keep) after they collect the Bose, which I suppose on one hand is a nice touch but on the other just shows how stupid the whole situation is. How do all the other airlines with Bose headphones handle this?

    Also, totally agree re: unnecessary and unnecessarily loud announcements on night time flights. Was on a three-hour China Southern redeye in business class a few years ago, on which the FAs proceeded to announce loudly over the PA, by passenger name, each and every duty-free order that was now ready for pick up. After half a dozen or so I told them, “Seriously, you can’t tell that people are trying to get some shut-eye on a flight that leaves at 1 am in the morning?” And the apologized and stopped the announcements. But really amazing that they needed to be told this.

  27. There you go, Americans assuming what the rest of us are thinking. Like, totally awesome. Like.

    No one’s looking for a girlfriend dude, or in the case of the American based airlines, a boyfriend either. Jeez, of all the places I would look for a girlfriend, the last would be an American based airline. Too loud, too fat, to hideous LOL.

    What you have forgotten dude, is the stewards and stewardesses are there for our safety, at least that’s how they justify their positions. Dude.

    And I don’t think lazy, fat, overweight, old American stewards and stewardesses with huge chips on their shoulders are going to save anyone in the case of emergency, let alone themselves. Dude.

    We know and understand you Americans will always accept the mediocre and expect the rest of the world to do the same. But luckily for us, our standards are much, much higher and we expect those in the service and hospitality industries to do just that. Serve and be hospitable.

    Sadly, service and hospitality when it comes to US based airlines, those 2 words are an oxymoron.

    And you my friend are a moron.

    How funny and sad at the same time.

  28. The loud boorish announcements on AA are like those made endlessly in supermarkets all over the world (between the muzac). Did AA do a supermarket recruitment sweep sometime? Their pay is probably similar to a checkout chick’s paypacket!

  29. I’ve never actually had this problem. I mostly fly Air France for my short trips (an Asian fifth freedom on the 777), and they wisely attach the headphones to the seats permanently, giving you the headphones covers instead, when in business. And while they’re not great quality, it’s acceptable. I do find it unacceptable crews collect headphones 90 minutes out on a five hour flight though.

  30. @robbo:
    US Airways to Europe has the strangest mix of flight attendants I’ve ever seen.
    BUT…….
    Merka’s the greatest country in the World. FREE SODA REFILLS while everyone else pays. That’s 40% of my real-World CPI calculation.
    Who could want more?
    Think not?
    Well, NSA is recording the content of your thoughts too.

  31. @ Todd — Totally agree with Rami. “Hard” product is ultimately anything which is attached to the plane, like the seat, onboard amenities, entertainment, etc. Soft product is anything which varies flight to flight, like the service, food, drinks, etc. Hope that makes sense!

  32. Having consistent, top notch service is not “free”, though it certainly has very low hard costs. But the training and supervision needed to ensure such service would be very expensive. Especially if they are to read your mind about what your idea of proactive service is–(unmake the bed? Or leave it alone?)

  33. Not sure why people here keep saying that AA can’t change their idiotic 90 min prior to landing headphone prototcol. Why not? It’s stupid and done because they are lazy. Or don’t offer those headphones then if you don’t trust your premium pax. It’s called making service a priority, which of course is a non-starter these days. Unfortunately, I did grow up in the 1970/80s and it was different then (I didn’t say “better”). However, the entire experience these days has been whittled down to a glorified bus ride in the sky, and the US airlines lead the way (though are by no means the only offenders). Let’s all remember that.

  34. Sometimes when I’m trying to sell a $9,000 luxury suite, I like to train my employees to ensure that you could actually get more sleep with a $900 window seat in E+ and a $2 Ambien.

  35. Funny how this turns into a debate…it is really quite simple:
    1) first class or business class costs more
    2) if the flight is in the evening and lands in the morning it is most likely that the reason the more is being paid is for a lie flat bed that can allow for real sleep.
    3) People who want real sleep want real sleep…not breakfast (unless the flight is 14 hours).
    4) crew…let them sleep until 45 minutes prior to landing. Ask them early in the flight “do you want breakfast?”
    5) gentle nudge…wake up.
    6) customer happy. The end.

  36. Lucky,
    I will be traveling on American from ORD to PEK and I have noticed the past couple of days, that the flight has been delayed until the following morning and also it has gotten canceled. What do I do. I go from BOS to ORD and then have a 5 hour layover but I don’t want to get to Chicago and then sit in the airport for 24 hours or sit in the airport for 30 hours, if it got canceled. How do I go about contacting American airlines to see if I could switch to Bos to DFW?
    Thank you

  37. Also, anyone know why they must have the volume of the PA through the headphones be twice as loud as it needs to be? I always almost lose my hearing and have to yank the headphones off!

  38. “There you go, Americans assuming what the rest of us are thinking. Like, totally awesome. Like.

    No one’s looking for a girlfriend dude, or in the case of the American based airlines, a boyfriend either. Jeez, of all the places I would look for a girlfriend, the last would be an American based airline. Too loud, too fat, to hideous LOL.

    What you have forgotten dude, is the stewards and stewardesses are there for our safety, at least that’s how they justify their positions. Dude.

    And I don’t think lazy, fat, overweight, old American stewards and stewardesses with huge chips on their shoulders are going to save anyone in the case of emergency, let alone themselves. Dude.

    We know and understand you Americans will always accept the mediocre and expect the rest of the world to do the same. But luckily for us, our standards are much, much higher and we expect those in the service and hospitality industries to do just that. Serve and be hospitable.

    Sadly, service and hospitality when it comes to US based airlines, those 2 words are an oxymoron.

    And you my friend are a moron.

    How funny and sad at the same time.”

    Like totally omigod fer sure… I’m not even American as you keep assuming in your overlong rant, er post. Apparently, your high standards don’t apply to actually thinking before you write something as obtuse as flight attendants needing to be attractive to do their jobs.

  39. “@Robbo;
    No need to use the f*** word or be nasty to get your message across. Otherwise the rest of us would appreciate if you troll somewhere else.”

    A troll would be a lot more skilled at insulting people without getting egg all over his face.

  40. Never mind all that. I’m just amazed that someone still uses the word “tinkle” 🙂

  41. To me, these seem like bigger annoyances than ‘they ran out of Krug” or “they didnt have a mother-of-pearl spoon for the caviar.” Those luxuries are nice of course but isnt the main upsell of J/F travel the ability to get a good night sleep in a flat bed seat? Rather than better food and priority boarding?

    I’m sure most people in F on a late LAX->JFK flight have worked a whole day in LA and will need to hit the ground running in NYC the following morning (with a 130 arrival youre not going to be sleeping in your apt or hotel until 230-3) so the focus really should be on letting people sleep and relax. The extra 30-45 minutes of sleep is critical on what will likely be a rough night for the passenger anyways.

    Similarly on the NYC->FRA flight (tho i guess there some folks would be continuing on to SIN, but even then i’m sure they’d still want to relax knowing theres another 12 hours of travel ahead of them).

    I dont view this as whining at all. I think these are examples of how airlines can improve their service.

  42. Ben,
    It’s getting worse, isn’t it? You post and the flames erupt.

    Your complaints are relevant and interesting and they’re exactly the kind of stories I want to see in your blog. For this one reader, this post was worthwhile. Now, on the substance:

    1. AA collecting headphones too early. My solution is to bring my own. It’s an unsatisfactory solution but I love my QC15s and on the regional flights at each end of my trip the carrier won’t give me decent headphones, so I tolerate their bulkiness in my luggage and mitigate their bulk by foregoing frivolities like underwear.

    2. What happens while we tinkle. I know what I’ll do in the future (but I didn’t think of it until I read your post, so thank you). I’ll tell a crewmember early in the flight “I want to sleep as long as possible. Please don’t close my bed”. When I get up to pee (which happens many times during a flight) I leave a debris field all over the bed, as a discouragement. But I agree with your complaint, in that one shouldn’t have to take special measures. They should close your bed when you want them to; they should know what you want. They should be Helen Mirren in Gosford Park, not Louise Fletcher in Cuckoo’s Nest.

    I already tell FAs things other’s don’t, when flying in a premium cabin. When offered drinkies, I don’t just decline, I say “thanks very much, I won’t be drinking any alcohol on this flight, but I LOVE tea!” My experience has been that US and Canadian airlines often dislike instructions like this, because it gives them the uncomfortable feeling that I think they’re servants (Is that wrong?).

    I’m bored with the flamers who criticize you when you discuss “first world problems”. This is a forum for precisely that. Please ignore suggestions that you should only write about situations that economy fliers will encounter. Such writings would be useless to me and to most of your readers.

  43. Robbo, you’re observations are correct. Most of our FA’s attitude, incompetence and physique reflect most of the passengers they “serve.”

  44. the truth is, you’ll never get consistently good service from the United States culture. It’s just how it goes, unless they’re working for tips or working in a 3 Michelin star restaurant where servers make six figures. Or in the case in the USA where the you’re dealing with unionized work forces… you collectively bargain that the flight attendants cannot make the announcements or take the headphones until time-x. Then you’ll have to give a concession to the union for asking for that. The truth is most U.S. based customers don’t care for the same reason that people buy U.S. cars. Go figure.

  45. this is where BA is excellent – on East Coast to Europe you can choose to have dinner at the lounge and maximise sleep time. On those flights noise and in flight announcements really are kept to a minimum and they serve the last meal just over an hour before landing. The cabin prep for landing is at 40mins. I can take that. I would be annoyed like you were Ben – no doubt about it.

  46. Totally agree with you, Ben! While I appreciate that AA offers Bose headphones (a clear competitive AAdvantage), I am annoyed by the early collection of these on some flights.

  47. Totally agree Ben!

    I have numerous times sat dumbfounded, wondering why the Bose headsets had to be collected so early.

    On one American flight from Europe they distributed cheap disposable ear buds during collection, allowing the movie to continue. On a few they turned off the in-flight entertainment, leaving me wondering how to find the movie and the time to finish it later, angry at the non-service oriented bean-counter policy box heads who mandated their asinine rule to the poor harried FAs, leaving me stewing for the final hour.

    I love those flights where the in-flight entertainment continues to the gate and have more than once finished a movie while rolling in. I’ve wondered if they forgot, or broke some rule, but it left me feeling happy and complete, having started the movie with an estimate of flight time remaining.

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