United Airlines flight attendants are worried that a new inflight announcement will create unrealistic expectations for passengers when it comes to bathroom cleanliness. I think they have a valid point.
United flight attendants don’t have to clean bathrooms
For context, it’s important to understand that flight attendant job duties differ around the world, and on some level it reflects the quality of the overall passenger experience on various airlines:
- In first class on top carriers like All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, the lavatories are cleaned or tidied after just about every use
- On Emirates A380s there’s a dedicated shower attendant for the first class shower suite, and they also periodically go around the plane to thoroughly clean all bathrooms
As you may have guessed, it’s a different story at most airlines in the United States, regardless of how long the flight is, and what cabin you’re traveling in. If you’ve ever taken an ultra long haul flight on a US airline, you’ve probably found that the lavatories at the end of the flight look like what I’d imagine sort of a scat play and golden shower kink den would look like, or something.
For example, at United Airlines flight attendants are responsible for tidying lavatories, but not for cleaning them. While lavatories are supposed to be cleaned between flights (by cleaning crews), during flights the crew’s responsibility is limited to:
- Wiping up standing water on the counter
- Restocking supplies
- Picking up loose paper towels
- Ensuring the trash flap is closed
Crews are not responsible for:
- Wiping up liquid on the floor
- Disinfecting the flush button, door handles, toilets, or other commonly touched surfaces
United flight attendants concerned about “unrealistic expectations”
AFA-CWA, which is the union representing United Airlines flight attendants, has expressed concern about some changes to United’s inflight announcements. Specifically, United has allegedly added an announcement soliciting passenger feedback on the cleanliness of lavatories, telling passengers to let a flight attendant know if a lavatory “needs attention.” As the union describes this:
For example, should a passenger inform a Flight Attendant that a lavatory “needs attention” and that “attention” requires intervention that would extend beyond the scope of our traditional tidying duties, there could be a resultant, unrealistic expectation that Flight Attendants will clean the lavatory.
This concern was brought to the attention of management, which stated that lavatories should be taken out of service if they require service beyond what’s in the scope of the flight attendant contract.
What’s my take on this?
- Given how the contract is written, I can understand why the flight attendants are concerned that this could create unrealistic expectations, since crews aren’t actually supposed to clean lavatories
- I do find it a bit ridiculous that airlines haven’t worked out a way to have bathrooms cleaned a bit on long haul flights; that being said, the flight attendants can’t be faulted for this when it’s not in their contract
United flight attendants aren’t happy about a new inflight announcement telling passengers to inform the crew if there are any issues with the lavatory. The problem is that the flight attendants contract doesn’t require them to clean lavatories, but rather only to tidy them. As a result, flight attendants are concerned that this creates unrealistic expectations.
I think the flight attendants are right to be concerned here. I do think US airlines need to find a way to have lavatories cleaned inflight (whatever form that comes in), at least on long haul flights, but that’s not something crews can be blamed for.
What do you make of this United lavatory situation?
(Tip of the hat to Paddle Your Own Kanoo)