So how, specifically, might issues relating to diversity affect you in your day-to-day life as Cabin Crew?
Here are a few examples!
One of the most obvious cultural differences is language, and even if you speak another language there can be issues with incorrect pronunciation or commonly confused words.
A crew member on a flight from Glasgow to Alicante had a potential flare up with a young female Spanish passenger, who was asking if it was possible to be switched to an empty seat near the rear of the aircraft with more leg room.
When asked why the passenger replied “estoy embarazada” which the crew member assumed meant ‘I’m embarrassed’ – she was perplexed as to why this would be a reason for the passenger wanting to switch seats.
However with the help of a fellow crew member it was explained that “Embarazada” actually means ‘pregnant’ not ‘embarrassed’ – an easy mistake to make for a non-Spanish speaker!
The passenger was in the early stages of pregnancy and didn’t look obviously pregnant, but was suffering from leg cramps and just wanted to be able to stretch out a little.
This is a light hearted example but as we’re sure you can imagine there is the potential for much more difficult misunderstandings on flights.
Dangers of Stereotyping
Stereotyping is a common issue, and a lot of the time this can be addressed by simply spending a little time researching different countries and cultures.
Some stereotypes can be relatively harmless, such as thinking that all Scotsmen wear kilts, but you should always be careful when making assumptions as these can sometimes cause offence.
There are more harmful kinds of stereotypes however, and this can cause huge issues. An extreme case of this was the dismissal of member of British Airways crew in September 2017.
The crew member was on a flight from London to Nigeria, and prior to flying uploaded a video to her Snapchat account making remarks about the Nigerian passengers who would be on the flight, based on some very ignorant stereotyping.
It’s unclear how on earth she thought that this was acceptable, but the video went viral and British Airways faced an enormous backlash over her discriminatory, offensive and obscene remarks.
It’s really important to understand that there are huge cross-cultural differences in non-verbal communication – gestures or body language.
In certain parts of the Middle East and South America the ‘thumbs up’ gesture can also be interpreted as a rude gesture – as some cabin crew have found out in the past when they have merely been attempting to reassure a passenger or be friendly!
Eye contact is another tricky area – whereas across much of Western Europe and America direct eye contact is an indication of expressing interest in what the other person is saying, in Latin America and Africa too much eye contact can be seen as hostile.
Touching and personal space issues are also something to be careful of. Whereas a friendly hand on the arm or shoulder of a passenger may be thought of by crew as normal, to an individual from certain religious or cultural backgrounds this contact may cause them to feel uncomfortable or in some cases offended.
Phew, it’s a bit of a minefield isn’t it?!
The best thing to do is to research where you’re flying to, and adapt your behavior accordingly – this goes for the crew you will be flying or interacting with too.
It’s something you’ll get more and more used to the more you fly – and perhaps you’ll make a passenger’s day that bit better by showing your interest in and respect of their unique customs!