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Arlie Hochschild, “Feeling Management: From Private to Commercial Uses”

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Feeling Management: From Private to Commercial Uses

Arlie Hochschild

Chapter Six, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983. [PDF]


If they could have turned every one of us into sweet quiet Southern belles with velvet voices like Rosalyn Carter, this is what they would want to stamp out on an assembly line.
Flight attendant, Delta Airlines

On PSA our smiles are not just painted on.
So smile your way From LA To San Francisco
PSA radio jingle

When you see them receiving passengers with that big smile, I don’t think it means anything. They have to do that. It’s part of their job. But now if you get into a conversation with a flight attendant . . . well . . . no. . . I guess they have to do that too.
Airline passenger

When rules about how to feel and how to express feeling are set by management, when workers have weaker rights to courtesy than customers do, when deep and surface acting are forms of labor to be sold, and when private capacities for empathy and warmth are put to corporate uses, what happens to the way a person relates to her feelings or to her face? When worked-up warmth becomes an instrument of service work, what can a person learn about herself from her feelings? And when a worker abandons her work smile, what kind of tie remains between her smile and her self?

Display is what is sold, but over the long run display comes to assume a certain relation to feeling. As enlightened management realizes, a separation of display and feeling is hard to keep up over long periods. A principle of emotive dissonance, analogous to the principle of cognitive dissonance, is at work. Maintaining a difference between feeling and feigning over the long run leads to strain. We try to reduce this strain by pulling the two closer together, either by changing what we feel or by changing what we feign. When display is required by the job, it is usually feeling that has to change; and when conditions estrange us from our face, they sometimes estrange us from feeling as well.

Take the case of the flight attendant. Corporate logic in the airline industry creates a series of links between competition, market expansion, advertising, heightened passenger expectations about rights to display, and company demands for acting. When conditions allow this logic to work, the result is a successful transmutation of the private emotional system we have described. The old elements of emotional exchange – feeling rules, surface acting, and deep acting – are now arranged in a different way. Stanislavski’s if moves from stage to airline cabin (”act as if the cabin were your own living room”) as does the actor’s use of emotion memory. Private use gives way to corporate use.

In the airline industry of the 1950s and 1960s a remarkable transmutation was achieved. But certain trends, discussed later in this chapter, led this transmutation to fail in the early 1970s. An industry speed-up and a stronger union hand in limiting the company’s claims weakened the transmutation. There was a service worker ”slowdown.” Worked-up warmth of feeling was replaced by put-on smiles. Those who sincerely wanted to make the deeper offering found they could not do so, and those who all along had resisted company intrusions on the self came to feel some rights to freedom from it. The job lost its grip. When the transmutation succeeded, the worker was asked to take pride in making an instrument of feeling. When it collapsed, workers came to see that instrument as overused, underappreciated, and susceptible to damage.

Behind the Demand for Acting

”A market for emotional labor” is not a phrase that company employees use. Upper management talks about getting the best market share of the flying public. Advertising personnel talk about reaching that market. In-flight service supervisors talk about getting ”positive attitude” and ”professional service” from flight attendants, who in turn walk about ”handling irates.” Nevertheless, the efforts of these four groups, taken together, set up the sale of emotional labor.

The purpose of Delta Airlines is to make a profit. To make a profit, Delta has to compete for passenger markets. Throughout the postwar years, for example, Delta competed with Eastern Airlines for markets along routes they both serviced. (It now shares 80 percent of its routes with Eastern.)1 The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), established in 1938 in recognition of the national importance of air transport and the threat of monopoly, was granted authority to control market shares and prices. Until 1978 it established uniform prices for airline tickets and sharpened competition by offering parallel route awards. Companies competed by offering more frequent flights, more seats, faster flights (fewer stops), and – what is most important here – better service. After 1978 the airlines were deregulated and price wars were allowed.2 Yet a brief price war in 1981 and another shake-out of weaker companies has been followed by a general rise in prices. As it was before deregulation, service may again become a main area of competition. When competition in price is out, competition in service is in.3

The more important service becomes as an arena for competition between airlines, the more workers are asked to do public relations work to promote sales. Employees are continually told to represent Delta proudly. All Delta workers once received, along with their paychecks, a letter from the president and chairman of the board asking them to put Delta bumper stickers on their cars. The Delta Jogging Club (which included two vice-presidents) once ran a well-publicized 414-mile marathon from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, to commemorate Delta’s first commercial flight. Virtually every employee is asked to be ”in sales.”

But of all workers in an airline, the flight attendant has the most contact with passengers, and she sells the company the most. When passengers think of service they are unlikely to think of the baggage check-in agent, the ramp attendant, the cabin clean-up crew, the lost and found personnel, or the man down in commissary pouring gravy on a long line of chicken entre’es. They think of the flight attendant. As one Delta official explained: ”For each hour’s work by a flight attendant, there are 10.5 hours of support time from cabin service, the billing department, maintenance, and so on. Altogether we spend 100 hours per passenger per flight. But the passenger really has prolonged contact only with the flight attendant.”

As competition grew from the 1930s through the early 1970s, the airlines expanded that visible role. Through the 1950s and 1960s the flight attendant became a main subject of airline advertising, the spearhead of market expansion.4 The image they chose, among many possible ones, was that of a beautiful and smartly dressed Southern white woman, the supposed epitome of gracious manners and warm personal service.5

Because airline ads raise expectations, they subtly rewrite job descriptions and redefine roles. They promise on-time service, even though planes are late from 10 to 50 percent of the time, industrywide. Their pictures of half-empty planes promise space and leisurely service, which are seldom available (and certainly not desired by the company). They promise service from happy workers, even though the industry speed-up has reduced job satisfaction. By creating a discrepancy between promise and fact, they force workers in all capacities to cope with the disappointed expectations of customers.

The ads promise service that is ”human” and personal. The omnipresent smile suggests, first of all, that the flight attendant is friendly, helpful, and open to requests. But when words are added, the smile can be sexualized, as in ”We really move our tails for you to make your every wish come true” (Continental), or ”Fly me, you’ll like it” (National). Such innuendos lend strength to the conventional fantasy that in the air, anything can happen. As one flight attendant put it: ”You have married men with three kids getting on the plane and suddenly they feel anything goes. It’s like they leave that reality on the ground, and you fit into their fantasy as some geisha girl. It happens over and over again.”

So the sexualized ad burdens the flight attendant with another task, beyond being unfailingly helpful and open to requests: she must respond to the sexual fantasies of passengers. She must try to feel and act as if flirting and propositioning are ”a sign of my attractiveness and your sexiness,” and she must work to suppress her feelings that such behavior is intrusive or demeaning. Some have come to see this extra psychological task as a company contrivance. A flight attendant once active in Flight Attendants for Women’s Rights commented: ”The company wants to sexualize the cabin atmosphere. They want men to be thinking that way because they think what men really want is to avoid fear of flying. So they figure mild sexual arousal will be helpful in getting people’s minds off of flying. It’s a question of dollars and cents . . . Most of our passengers are male, and all of the big corporate contract business is male.”6

The advertising promises of one airline tend to redefine work on other airlines as well. So although Delta’s advertising has assiduously avoided explicit sexualization of the role, Delta’s flight attendants must cope with the inflated image of the flight attendant put out by other companies. There may well be an economic pattern to sexual innuendo in these ads: the economically marginal companies seem to aim a sexual pitch at the richest segment of the market, male businessmen. United Airlines, which was ranked first in revenues in 1979, has not attached suggestive words to the female smile; but Continental, ranked tenth, and National, ranked eleventh, certainly have. But in any case, when what Doris Lessing has called a fantasy of  “easily available and guiltless sex” is encouraged by one airline, it is finally attached to air travel in general.

As the industry speed-up and union pressure have reduced the deep acting promised and delivered in American-based companies, there are signs that the same corporate logic that reached its nadir in the 1950s in the United States is now emerging abroad. Fortune, in an article about Singapore International Airlines entitled ”An Airline Powered by Charm” (June 18, 1979), notes:

[SIA’s] advertising campaign glamorizes the cabin hostess as ”the Singapore girl” . . . To convey the idea of in-flight pleasure with a lyrical quality, most SIA ads are essentially large, soft-focus color photographs of various hostesses. In a broadcast commercial a crooner sings: ”Singapore girl, you look so good I want to stay up here with you forever.” [The chairman of SIA has said] ”We’re fortunate in having young people who get a Western education, speak English, and still take an Asian attitude toward service.”

This may be the service-sector version of a ”runaway shop,” including not only runaway-shop labor (”with an Asian attitude toward service”) but ”runaway” imagery to advertise it.

We might add that the first, and nonsexual, significance of the advertised smile – special friendliness and empathy – can also inflate the expectations of passengers, and therefore increase their right to feel disappointed. Ordinary niceness is no longer enough; after all, hasn’t the passenger paid for extra civility? As every flight attendant knows well, she can expect to face surprisingly deep indignation when her expressive machine is idling or, worse yet, backfiring.

Behind the Supply of Acting: Selection
Even before an applicant for a flight attendant’s job is interviewed, she is introduced to the rules of the game. Success will depend in part on whether she has a knack for perceiving the rules and taking them seriously. Applicants are urged to read a pre-interview pamphlet before coming in. In the 1979-80 Airline Guide to Stewardess and Steward Careers, there is a section called ”The Interview.” Under the subheading “Appearance,” the manual suggests that facial expressions should be ”sincere” and ”unaffected.” One should have a ”modest but friendly smile” and be ”generally alert, attentive, not overly aggressive, but not reticent either.” Under ”Mannerisms,” subheading ”Friendliness,” it is suggested that a successful candidate must be ”outgoing but not effusive,” ”enthusiastic with calm and poise,” and ”vivacious but not effervescent.” As the manual continues: ”Maintaining eye contact with the interviewer demonstrates sincerity and confidence, but don’t overdo it. Avoid cold or continuous staring.” Training, it seems, begins even before recruitment.

Like company manuals, recruiters sometimes offer advice on how to appear. Usually they presume that an applicant is planning to put on a front; the question is which one. In offering tips for success, recruiters often talked in a matter-of-fact way about acting, as though assuming that it is permissable if not quite honorable to feign. As one recruiter put, it: ”I had to advise a lot of people who were looking for jobs, and not just at Pan Am. . . And I’d tell them the secret to getting a job is to imagine the kind of person the company wants to hire and then become that person during the interview. The hell with your theories of what you believe in, and what your integrity is, and all that other stuff. You can project all that when you’ve got the job.”

In most companies, after the applicant passes the initial screening (for weight, figure, straight teeth, complexion, facial regularity, age) he or she is invited to a group interview where an ”animation test” takes place.

At one interview session at Pan American, the recruiter (a woman) called in a group of six applicants, three men and three women. She smiled at all of them and then said: ”While I’m looking over your files here, I’d like to ask you to turn to your neighbor and get to know him or her. We’ll take about three or four minutes, and then I’ll get back to you.” Immediately there was bubbly conversation, nodding of heads, expansions of posture, and overlapping ripples of laughter. (”Is that right? My sister-in-law lives in Des Moines, too!” ”Oh wow, how did you get into scuba diving?”) Although the recruiter had simply asked each applicant to turn to a neighbor, in fact each woman turned to her nearest man ”to bring him out.” (Here, what would be an advantage at other times – being the object of conversational attention – became a disadvantage for the men because the task was to show skill in ”bringing out” others.) After three minutes, the recruiter put down her files and called the group to order. There was immediate total silence. All six looked expectantly at the recruiter: how had they done on their animation test?

The recruits are screened for a certain type of outgoing middle-class sociability. Sometimes the recruitment literature explicitly addresses friendliness as an act. Allegheny Airlines, for example, says that applicants are expected to ”project a warm personality during their interview in order to be eligible for employment.” Continental Airlines, in its own words, is ”seeking people who convey a spirit of enthusiasm.” Delta Airlines calls simply for applicants who ”have a friendly personality and high moral character.”

Different companies favor different variations of the ideal type of sociability. Veteran employees talk about differences in company personality as matter-of-factly as they talk about differences in uniform or shoe style. United Airlines, the consensus has it, is ”the girl-next-door,” the neighborhood babysitter grown up. Pan Am is upper class, sophisticated, and slightly reserved in its graciousness. PSA is brassy, funloving, and sexy. Some flight attendants could see a connection between the personality they were supposed to project and the market segment the company wants to attract. One United worker explained: ”United wants to appeal to Ma and Pa Kettle. So it wants Caucasian girls – not so beautiful that Ma feels fat, and not so plain that Pa feels unsatisfied. It’s the Ma and Pa Kettle market that’s growing, so that’s why they use the girl-next-door image to appeal to that market. You know, the Friendly Skies. They offer reduced rates for wives and kids. They weed out busty women because they don’t fit the image, as they see it.”

Recruiters understood that they were looking for ”a certain Delta personality,” or ”a Pan Am type.” The general prerequisites were a capacity to work with a team (”we don’t look for chiefs, we want Indians”), interest in people, sensitivity, and emotional stamina. Trainers spoke somewhat remotely of studies that indicate that successful applicants often come from large families, had a father who enjoyed his work, and had done social volunteer work in school. Basically, however, recruiters look for someone who is smart but can also cope with being considered dumb, someone who is capable of giving emergency safety commands but can also handle people who can’t take orders from a woman, and someone who is naturally empathetic but can also resist the numbing effect of having that empathy engineered and continuously used by a company for its own purposes.The trainees, on the other hand, thought they had been selected because they were adventurous and ambitious. (”We’re not satisfied with just being secretaries,” as one fairly typical trainee said. ”All my girlfriends back in Memphis are married and having babies. They think I’m real liberated to be here.”)

The trainees, it seemed to me, were also chosen for their ability to take stage directions about how to ”project” an image. They were selected for being able to act well – that is, without showing the effort involved. They had to be able to appear at home on stage.

The training at Delta was arduous, to a degree that surprised the trainees and inspired their respect. Most days they sat at desks from 8:30 to 4:30 listening to lectures. They studied for daily exams in the evenings and went on practice flights on weekends. There were also morning speakers to be heard before classes began. One morning at 7:45 I was with 123 trainees in the Delta Stewardess Training Center to hear a talk from the Employee Representative, a flight attendant whose regular job was to communicate rank-and-file grievances to management and report back. Her role in the training process was different, however, and her talk concerned responsibilities to the company:

Delta does not believe in meddling in the flight attendant’s personal life. But it does want the flight attendant to uphold certain Delta standards of conduct. It asks of you first that you keep your finances in order. Don’t let your checks bounce. Don’t spend more than you have. Second, don’t drink while in uniform or enter a bar. No drinking 24 hours before flight time. [If you break this rule] appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal, will be taken. While on line we don’t want you to engage in personal pastimes such as knitting, reading, or sleeping. Do not accept gifts. Smoking is allowed if it is done while you are seated.

The speaker paused and an expectant hush fell across the room. Then, as if in reply to it, she concluded, looking around, ”That’s all.” There was a general ripple of relieved laughter from the trainees: so that was all the company was going to say about their private lives.

Of course, it was by no means all the company was going to say. The training would soon stake out a series of company claims on private territories of self. First, however, the training prepared the trainees to accept these claims. It established their vulnerability to being fired and their dependence on the company. Recruits were reminded day after day that eager competitors could easily replace them. I heard trainers refer to their ”someone-else-can-fill-your-seat” talk. As one trainee put it, ”They stress that there are 5,000 girls out there wanting your job. If you don’t measure up, you’re out.”

Adding to the sense of dispensability was a sense of fragile placement vis-a-vis the outside world. Recruits were housed at the airport, and during the four-week training period they were not allowed to go home or to sleep anywhere but in the dormitory. At the same time they were asked to adjust to the fact that for them, home was an idea without an immediate referent. Where would the recruit be living during the next months and years? Houston? Dallas? New Orleans? Chicago? New York? As one pilot advised: ”Don’t put down roots. You may be moved and then moved again until your seniority is established. Make sure you get along with your roommates in your apartment.”

Somewhat humbled and displaced, the worker was now prepared to identify with Delta. Delta was described as a brilliant financial success (which it is), an airline known for fine treatment of its personnel (also true, for the most part), a company with a history of the ”personal touch.” Orientation talks described the company’s beginnings as a family enterprise in the 1920s, when the founder, Collett Woolman, personally pinned an orchid on each new flight attendant. It was the flight attendant’s job to represent the company proudly, and actually identifying with the company would make that easier to do.

Training seemed to foster the sense that it was safe to feel dependent on the company. Temporarily rootless, the worker was encouraged to believe that this company of 36,000 employees operated as a ”family.” The head of the training center, a gentle, wise, authoritative figure in her fifties, appeared each morning in the auditorium; she was ”mommy,” the real authority on day-to-day problems. Her company superior, a slightly younger man, seemed to be ”daddy.” Other supervisors were introduced as concerned extensions of these initial training parents. (The vast majority of trainees were between nineteen and twenty-two years old.) As one speaker told the recruits: ”Your supervisor is your friend. You can go to her and talk about anything, and I mean anything.” The trainees were divided up into small groups; one class of 123 students (which included three males and nine blacks) was divided into four subgroups, each yielding the more intimate ties of solidarity that were to be the prototype of later bonds at work.

The imagery of family, with mommies and daddies and sisters and brothers, did not obscure for most trainees the reminders that Delta was a business. It suggested, rather, that despite its size Delta aspired to maintain itself in the spirit of an old-fashioned family business, in which hierarchy was never oppressive and one could always air a gripe. And so the recruit, feeling dispensable and rootless, was taken in by this kindly new family. Gratitude lays the foundation for loyalty.

The purpose of training is to instill acceptance of the company’s claims, and recruits naturally wonder what parts of their feeling and behavior will be subject to company control. The head of in-flight training answered their implicit question in this way:

Well, we have some very firm rules. Excessive use of alcohol, use of drugs of any kind, and you’re asked to leave. We have a dormitory rule, and that is that you’ll spend the night in the dormitory. There’s no curfew, but you will spend the night in the dormitory. If you’re out all night, you’re asked to leave. We have weight standards for our flight attendants. Break those weight standards, and the individual is asked to resign. We have a required test average of 90 percent; if you don’t attain that average, you’re asked to resign. And then we get into the intangibles. That’s where the judgment comes in.

From the recruit’s point of view, this answer simply established what the company conceived of as ”company control.” In fact, this degree of control presupposed many other unmentioned acts of obedience – such as the weigh-in. Near the scales in the training office one could hear laughter at ”oh-my-god-what-I-ate-for-dinner” jokes. But the weight-in itself was conducted as a matter of routine, just something one did.

The need for it was not explained, and there was no mention of the history of heated court battles over the weight requirement (most of them so far lost by the unions). One flight attendant commented, ”Passengers aren’t weighed, pilots aren’t weighed, in-flight service supervisors aren’t weighed. We’re the only ones they weigh. You can’t tell me it’s not because most of us are women.” Obviously, discussions of this issue might weaken the company’s claim to control over a worker’s weight. The trainers offered only matter-of-fact explanations of what happens to the weight gainer. If a flight attendant is one pound over the maximum allowable weight, the fact is ”written up” in her personnel file. Three months later, if the offender is still one pound over, there is a letter of reprimand; if another three months pass without change, there is suspension without pay. People may in fact be fired for being one pound overweight. Outside the classroom, of course, there was a rich underground lore about starving oneself before flights, angrily overeating after flights, deliberately staying a fraction over the weight limit to test the system, or claiming ”big bones” or ”big breasts” as an excuse for overweight. (One wit, legend has it, suggested that breasts be weighed separately.) Officially, however, the weigh-in was only a company routine.

The company’s presumption was supported by several circumstances. It was difficult to find any good job in 1981, let alone a job as a flight attendant. There was also the fact that Delta’s grooming regulations did not seem particularly rigid compared with those of other airlines, past and present. Flight attendants were not required to wear a girdle and submit to the ”girdle check” that Pan American flight attendants recall. There was no mention of a rule, once established at United, that one had to wear white underwear. There was a rule about the length of hair, but no mention of ”wig checks” (to determine whether a worker had regulation hair under her wig), which were used by several companies in the 1960s. There was no regulation, such as Pan Am had, that required wearing eyeshadow the same shade of blue as the uniform. There were no periodic thigh measurements, which PSA flight attendants still undergo, and no bust-waist-hips-thighs measurements that formed part of an earlier PSA routine. In an occupation known for its standardization of personal appearance, Delta’s claims could seem reasonable. The company could say, in effect, ”You’re lucky our appearance code isn’t a lot tighter.” Under a more stringent code, those who could be judged a little too fat or a little too short, a little too tall or a little too plain, could feel pressured to make up for their physical deviations by working harder and being nicer than others. Some veteran workers ventured a thought (not generally shared) that companies deliberately tried to recruit women who were decidedly plainer than the official ideal so as to encourage workers to ”make up for” not being prettier.

The claim to control over a worker’s physical appearance was backed by continuous reference to the need to be ”professional.” In its original sense, a profession is an occupational grouping that has sole authority to recruit, train, and supervise its own members. Historically, only medicine, law, and the academic disciplines have fit this description. Certainly flight attendants do not yet fit it. Like workers in many other occupations, they call themselves ”professional” because they have mastered a body of knowledge and want respect for that. Companies also use ”professional” to refer to this knowledge, but they refer to something else as well. For them, a ”professional” flight attendant is one who has completely accepted the rules of standardization.

The flight attendant who most nearly meets the appearance code ideal is therefore ”the most professional” in this regard. By linking standardization to honor and the suggestion of autonomy, the company can seem to say to the public, we control this much of the appearance and personality of that many people – which is a selling point that most companies strive for. At the other extreme, workers were free of claims over their religious or political beliefs. As one Delta veteran put it: ”They want me to look like Rosalyn Carter at age twenty, but they don’t care if I think like she does. I’m not going to have power over anyone in the company, so they lay off my philosophy of life. I like that.”7

Between physical looks and deeply held belief lies an intermediate zone – the zone of emotion management. It was particularly here, as the head of in-flight training put it, that ”we get into the intangibles.” The company claim to emotion work was mainly insinuated by example. As living illustrations of the right kind of spirit for the job, trainers maintained a steady level of enthusiasm despite the long hours and arduous schedule. On Halloween, some teachers drew laughs by parading through the classroom dressed as pregnant, greedy, and drunk passengers. All the trainers were well liked. Through their continuous cheer they kept up a high morale for those whose job it would soon be to do the same for passengers. It worked all the better for seeming to be genuine.

Trainees must learn literally hundreds of regulations, memorize the location of safety equipment on four different airplanes, and receive instruction on passenger handling.8 In all their courses they were constantly reminded that their own job security and the company’s profit rode on a smiling face. A seat in a plane, they were told, ”is our most perishable product – we have to keep winning our passengers back.” How you do it is as important as what you do. There were many direct appeals to smile: ”Really work on your smiles.” ”Your smile is your biggest asset – use it.” In demonstrating how to deal with insistent smokers, with persons boarding the wrong plane, and with passengers who are sick or flirtatious or otherwise troublesome, a trainer held up a card that said ”Relax and smile.” By standing aside and laughing at the ”relax and smile” training, trainers parried student resistance to it. They said, in effect, ”It’s incredible how much we have to smile, but there it is. We know that, but we’re still doing it, and you should too.”

Beyond this, there were actual appeals to modify feeling states. The deepest appeal in the Delta training program was to the trainee’s capacity to act as if the airplane cabin (where she works) were her home (where she doesn’t work). Trainees were asked to think of a passenger as if he were a ”personal guest in your living room.” The workers’ emotional memories of offering personal hospitality were called up and put to use, as Stanislavski would recommend. As one recent graduate put it:

You think how the new person resembles someone you know. You see your sister’s eyes in someone sitting at that seat. That makes you want to put out for them. I like to think of the cabin as the living room of my own home. When someone drops in [at home], you may not know them, but you get something for them. You put that on a grand scale – thirty-six passengers per flight attendant – but it’s the same feeling.

On the face of it, the analogy between home and airplane cabin unites different kinds of experiences and obscures what is different about them. It can unite the empathy of friend for friend with the empathy of worker for customer, because it assumes that empathy is the same sort of feeling in either case. Trainees wrote in their notebooks, ”Adopt the passenger’s point of view,” and the understanding was that this could be done in the same way one adopts a friend’s point of view. The analogy between home and cabin also joins the worker to her company; just as she naturally protects members of her own family, she will naturally defend the company. Impersonal relations are to be seen as if they were personal. Relations based on getting and giving money are to be seen as if they were relations free of money. The company brilliantly extends and uses its workers’ basic human empathy, all the while maintaining that it is not interfering in their ”personal” lives.

As at home, the guest is protected from ridicule. A flight attendant must suppress laughter, for example, at seeing a passenger try to climb into the overhead storage rack, imagining it to be a bunk bed. Nor will she exhibit any idiosyncratic habits of her own, which might make the guest feel uncomfortable. Also, trainees were asked to express sincere endorsement of the company’s advertising. In one classroom session, an instructor said: ”We have Flying Colonel and Flying Orchid passengers, who over the years have always flown Delta. This is an association they’re invited to join. It has no special privileges, but it does hold meetings from time to time.” The students laughed, and one said, ”That’s absurd.” The trainer answered, ”Don’t say that. You’re supposed to make them think it’s a real big thing.” Thus, the sense of absurdity was expanded: the trainees were let in on the secret and asked to help the company create the illusion it wanted the passengers to accept.

By the same token, the injunction to act ”as if it were my home” obscured crucial differences between home and airplane cabin. Home is safe. Home does not crash. It is the flight attendant’s task to convey a sense of relaxed, homey coziness while at the same time, at take-off and landing, mentally rehearsing the emergency announcement, ”Cigarettes out! Grab ankles! Heads down!” in the appropriate languages.

Before takeoff, safety equipment is checked. At boarding, each attendant secretly picks out a passenger she can call on for help in an emergency evacuation. Yet in order to sustain the if, the flight attendant must shield guests from this unhomelike feature of the party. As one flight attendant mused:

Even though I’m a very honest person, I have learned not to allow my face to mirror my alarm or my fright. I feel very protective of my passengers. Above all, I don’t want them to be frightened. If we were going down, if we were going to make a ditching in water, the chances of our surviving are slim, even though we [the flight attendants] know exactly what to do. But I think I would probably – and I think I can say this for most of my fellow flight attendants – be able to keep them from being too worried about it. I mean my voice might quiver a little during the announcements, but somehow I feel we could get them to believe . . . the best.

Her brave defense of the ”safe homey atmosphere” of the plane might keep order, but at the price of concealing the facts from passengers who might feel it their right to know what was coming. Many flight attendants spoke of enjoying ”work with people” and adopted the living room analogy as an aid in being as friendly as they wanted to be. Many could point to gestures that kept the analogy tension-free:

I had been asked for seconds on liquor by three different people just as I was pushing the liquor cart forward for firsts. The fourth time that happened, I just laughed this spontaneous absurd laugh. [Author: Could you tell me more about that?] Part of being professional is to make people on board feel comfortable. They’re in a strange place. It’s my second home. They aren’t as comfortable as I am. I’m the hostess. My job is really to make them enjoy the flight. The absurd laughter did it, that time.

Others spoke of being frustrated when the analogy broke down, sometimes as the result of passenger impassivity. One flight attendant described a category of unresponsive passengers who kill the analogy unwittingly. She called them ”teenage execs.”

Teenage execs are in their early to middle thirties. Up and coming people in large companies, computer people. They are very dehumanizing to flight attendants. You’ll get to their row. You’ll have a full cart of food. They will look up and then look down and keep on talking, so you have to interrupt them. They are demeaning . . . you could be R2-D2 [the robot in the film Star Wars]. They would like that better.

This attendant said she sometimes switched aisles with her partner in order to avoid passengers who would not receive what the company and she herself wanted to offer. Like many others, she wanted a human response so that she could be sincerely friendly herself. Sincerity is taken seriously, and there was widespread criticism of attendants who did not act ”from the heart.” For example: ”I worked with one flight attendant who put on a fake voice. On the plane she raised her voice about four octaves and put a lot of sugar and spice into it [gives a falsetto imitation of ‘More coffee for you, sir?’]. I watched the passengers wince. What the passengers want is real people. They’re tired of that empty pretty young face.”

Despite the generous efforts of trainers and workers themselves to protect it, the living room analogy remains vulnerable on several sides. For one thing, trainees were urged to ”think sales,” not simply to act in such a way as to induce sales. Promoting sales was offered to the keepers of the living room analogy as a rationale for dozens of acts, down to apologizing for mistakes caused by passengers: ”Even if it’s their fault, it’s very important that you don’t blame the passengers. That can have a lot of impact. Imagine a businessman who rides Delta many times a year. Hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars ride on your courtesy. Don’t get into a verbal war. It’s not worth it. They are our lifeblood. As we say, the passenger isn’t always right, but he’s never wrong.”

Outside of training, ”thinking sales” was often the rationale for doing something. One male flight attendant, who was kind enough to show me all around the Pan American San Francisco base, took me into the Clipper Club and explained: ”This club is for our important customers, our million-mile customers. Jan, the receptionist, usually introduces me to some passengers here at the Clipper Club. They go in the SIL [Special Information Log] because we know they mean a lot of money for the company. If I’m the first-class purser for one leg of the journey, I note what drink they order in the Clipper Club and then offer them that when they’re seated in the plane. They like that.” The uses of courtesy are apparently greater in the case of a million-mile customer – who is likely to be white, male, and middleaged – than in the case of women, children, and the elderly. In any case, lower-income passengers are served in segregated ”living rooms.”

”Think sales” had another aspect to it. One trainer, who affected the style of a good-humored drill sergeant, barked out: ”What are we always doing?” When a student finally answered, ”Selling Delta,” she replied: ”No! You’re selling yourself. Aren’t you selling yourself, too? You’re on your own commission. We’re in the business of selling ourselves, right? Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

In this way, Delta sells Southern womanhood, not ”over their heads,” but by encouraging trainees to think of themselves as self-sellers. This required them to imagine themselves as self-employed. But Delta flight attendants are not making an independent profit from their emotional labor, they are working for a fixed wage. They are not selling themselves, they are selling the company. The idea of selling themselves helps them only in selling the company they work for.

The cabin-to-home analogy is vulnerable from another side too. The flight attendant is asked to see the passenger as a potential friend, or as like one, and to be as understanding as one would be with a good friend. The if personalizes an impersonal relation. On the other hand, the student is warned, the reciprocity of real friendship is not part of the if friendship. The passenger has no obligation to return empathy or even courtesy. As one trainer commented: ”If a passenger snaps at you and you didn’t do anything wrong, just remember it’s not you he is snapping at. It’s your uniform, it’s your role as a Delta flight attendant. Don’t take it personally.” The passenger, unlike a real friend or guest in a home, assumes a right to unsuppressed anger at irritations, having purchased that tacit right with the ticket.

Flight attendants are reminded of this one-way personalization whenever passengers confuse one flight attendant with another (”You look so much alike”) or ask questions that reveal that they never thought of the attendants as real people. ”Passengers are surprised when they discover that we eat, too. They think we can go for twenty hours without being allowed to eat. Or they will get off the plane in Hong Kong after a 15-hour flight – which is a 16- or 17-hour duty day for us – and say, ‘Are you going on to Bangkok?’ ‘Are you going on to Delhi?’ Yes, right, sure – we go round the world and get sent back with the airplane for repairs.” Just as the flight attendant’s empathy is stretched thin into a commercial offering, the passenger’s try at empathy is usually pinched into the narrow grooves of public manners.

It is when the going gets rough – when flights are crowded and planes are late, when babies bawl and smokers bicker noisily with nonsmokers, when the meals run out and the air conditioning fails – that maintaining the analogy to home, amid the Muzak and the drinks, becomes truly a monument to our human capacity to suppress feeling.

Under such conditions some passengers exercise the privilege of not suppressing their irritation; they become ”irates.” When that happens, back-up analogies are brought into service. In training, the recruit was told: ”Basically, the passengers are just like children. They need attention. Sometimes first-time riders are real nervous. And some of the troublemakers really just want your attention.” The passengeras child analogy was extended to cover sibling rivalry: ”You can’t play cards with just one passenger because the other passengers will get jealous.” To think of unruly passengers as ”just like children” is to widen tolerance of them. If their needs are like those of a child, those needs are supposed to come first. The worker’s right to anger is correspondingly reduced; as an adult he must work to inhibit and suppress anger at children.

Should the analogy to children fail to induce the necessary deep acting, surfaceacting strategies for handling the ”irate” can be brought into play. Attendants were urged to ”work” the passenger’s name, as in ”Yes, Mr. Jones, it’s true the flight is delayed.” This reminds the passenger that he is not anonymous, that there is at least some pretension to a personal relation and that some emotion management is owed. Again, workers were told to use terms of empathy. As one flight attendant, a veteran of fifteen years with United, recalled from her training: ”Whatever happens, you’re supposed to say, I know just how you feel. Lost your luggage? I know just how you feel. Late for a connection? I know just how you feel. Didn’t get that steak you were counting on? I know just how you feel.” Flight attendants report that such expressions of empathy are useful in convincing passengers that they have misplaced the blame and misaimed their anger.

Perspectives elicit feeling. In deep acting, perspectives are evoked and suppressed in part through a way of speaking. One way of keeping the living room analogy alive is to speak in company language. In a near-Orwellian Newspeak, the company seems to have officially eliminated the very idea of getting angry at the passenger, the source of revenue. Supervisors never speak officially of an obnoxious or outrageous passenger, only of an uncontrolled passenger. The term suggests that a fact has somehow attached itself to this passenger – not that the passenger has lost control or even had any control to lose. Again, the common phrase ”mishandled passenger” suggests a bungle somewhere up the line, by someone destined to remain lost in the web of workers that stretches from curbside to airplane cabin. By linguistically avoiding any attribution of blame, the idea of a right to be angry at the passenger is smuggled out of discourse. Linguistically speaking, the passenger never does anything wrong, so he can’t be blamed or made the object of anger.

In passenger-handling classes one trainer described how she passed a dinner tray to a man in a window seat. To do this, she had to pass it across a woman sitting on the aisle seat. As the tray went by, the woman snitched the man’s desert. The flight attendant politely responded, ”I notice this man’s dessert is on your tray.” The dirty deed was done, but, the implication was, by no one in particular. Such implicit reframing dulls a sense of cause and effect. It separates object from verb and verb from subject. The passenger does not feel accused, and the flight attendant does not feel as if she is accusing. Emotion work has been accomplished, but it has hidden its tracks with words.

Company language is aimed not only at diffusing anger but at minimizing fear. As one Pan Am veteran recalled:

We almost turned upside down leaving Hong Kong. They call it an ”incident.” Not an accident, just an incident. We went nose up and almost flipped over. The pilot caught the plane just before it went over on its back and made a big loop and dropped about 3,000 feet straight down and then corrected what happened. They pulled out at 1,500 feet over the harbor. We knew we were going to die because we were going nose down and you could see that water coming. I was never really afraid of flying before, but turbulence does shake me up now. I’m not as bad as some people, though.

The very term incident calms the nerves. How could we be terrified at an ”incident”? Thus the words that workers use and don’t use help them avoid emotions inappropriate to a living room full of guests.

Finally, the living room analogy is upheld by admitting that it sometimes falls down. In the Recurrent Training classes held each year for experienced flight attendants, most of the talk was about times when it feels like the party is over, or never began. In Initial Training, the focus was on the passenger’s feeling; in Recurrent Training, it was on the flight attendant’s feeling. In Initial Training, the focus was on the smile and the living room analogy; in Recurrent Training, it was on avoiding anger. As a Recurrent Training instructor explained: ”Dealing with difficult passengers is part of the job. It makes us angry sometimes. And anger is part of stress. So that’s why I’d like to talk to you about being angry. I’m not saying you should do this [work on your anger] for Delta Airlines. I’m not saying you should do it for the passengers. I’m saying do it for yourselves.”

From the beginning of training, managing feeling was taken as the problem. The causes of anger were not acknowledged as part of the problem. Nor were the overall conditions of work – the crew size, the virtual exclusion of blacks and men, the required accommodation to sexism, the lack of investigation into the considerable medical problems of flight attendants, and the company’s rigid antiunion position. These were treated as unalterable facts of life. The only question to be seriously discussed was ”How do you rid yourself of anger?”

The first recommended strategy is to focus on what the other person might be thinking and feeling: imagine a reason that excuses his or her behavior. If this fails, fall back on the thought ”I can escape.” One instructor suggested, ”You can say to yourself, it’s half an hour to go, now it’s twenty-nine minutes, now it’s twenty-eight.” And when anger could not be completely dispelled by any means, workers and instructors traded tips on the least offensive ways of expressing it: ”I chew on ice, just crunch my anger away.” ”I flush the toilet repeatedly.” ”I think about doing something mean, like pouring Ex-Lax into his coffee.”9 In this way a semiprivate ”we-girls” right to anger and frustration was shared, in the understanding that the official axe would fall on anyone who expressed her anger in a more consequential way.

Yet for those who must live under a taboo on anger, covert ways of expressing it will be found. One flight attendant recalled with a grin:

There was one time when I finally decided that somebody had it coming. It was a woman who complained about absolutely everything. I told her in my prettiest voice, ”We’re doing our best for you. I’m sorry you aren’t happy with the flight time. I’m sorry you aren’t happy with our service.” She went on and on about how terrible the food was, how bad the flight attendants were, how bad her seat was. Then she began yelling at me and my coworker friend, who happened to be black. ”You nigger bitch!” she said. Well, that did it. I told my friend not to waste her pain. This lady asked for one more Bloody Mary. I fixed the drink, put it on a tray, and when I got to her seat, my toe somehow found a piece of carpet and I tripped – and that Bloody Mary hit that white pants suit!

Despite the company’s valiant efforts to help its public-service workers offer an atmosphere perfumed with cheer, there is the occasional escapee who launders her anger, disguises it in mock courtesy, and serves it up with flair. There remains the possibility of sweet revenge.

Collective Emotional Labor

To thwart cynicism about the living room analogy, to catch it as it collapses in the face of other realizations, the company eye shifts to another field of emotion work – the field in which flight attendants interact with each other. This is a strategic point of entry for the company because if the company can influence how flight attendants deal with each other’s feelings on the job, it can ensure proper support for private emotion management.

As trainers well know, flight attendants typically work in teams of two and must work on fairly intimate terms with all others on the crew. In fact, workers commonly say the work simply cannot be done well unless they work well together. The reason for this is that the job is partly an ”emotional tone” road show, and the proper tone is kept up in large part by friendly conversation, banter, and joking, as ice cubes, trays, and plastic cups are passed from aisle to aisle to the galley, down to the kitchen, and up again. Indeed, starting with the bus ride to the plane, by bantering back and forth the flight attendant does important relational work: she checks on people’s moods, relaxes tension, and warms up ties so that each pair of individuals becomes a team. She also banters to keep herself in the right frame of mind. As one worker put it, ”Oh, we banter a lot. It keeps you going. You last longer.”

It is not that collective talk determines the mood of the workers. Rather, the reverse is true: the needed mood determines the nature of the worker’s talk. To keep the collective mood stripped of any painful feelings, serious talk of death, divorce, politics, and religion is usually avoided. On the other hand, when there is time for it, mutual morale raising is common. As one said: ”When one flight attendant is depressed, thinking, ‘I’m ugly, what am I doing as a flight attendant?’ other flight attendants, even without quite knowing what they are doing, try to cheer her up. They straighten her collar for her, to get her up and smiling again. I’ve done it too, and needed it done.”

Once established, team solidarity can have two effects. It can improve morale and thus improve service. But it can also become the basis for sharing grudges against the passengers or the company. Perhaps it is the second possibility that trainers meant to avoid when in Recurrent Training they offered examples of ”bad” social emotion management. One teacher cautioned her students: ”When you’re angry with a passenger, don’t head for the galley to blow off steam with another flight attendant.” In the galley, the second flight attendant, instead of calming the angry worker down, may further rile her up; she may become an accomplice to the aggrieved worker. Then, as the instructor put it, ”There’ll be two of you hot to trot.”

The message was, when you’re angry, go to a teammate who will calm you down. Support for anger or a sense of grievance – regardless of what inspires it – is bad for service and bad for the company. Thus, the informal ways in which workers check on the legitimacy of a grievance or look for support in blowing off steam become points of entry for company. ”suggestions.”

Behind the Supply: Supervision

The lines of company control determine who fears whom. For flight attendants, the fear hierarchy works indirectly through passengers and back again through their own immediate supervisors.10 As someone put it, ”Whoever invented the system of passenger letter writing must be a vice-president by now.” Any letter from a passenger – whether an ”onion” letter complaining about the temperature of the coffee, the size of a potato, the look of an attendant, or an ”orchid” letter praising an attendant for good service – is put into the personnel files. These letters are translated by base supervisors into rewards and punishments. Delta flight attendants talked about them as much as they talked about the reports of those in the official line of authority – the senior attendant on the crew, the base supervisor, and the plainclothes company supervisors who occasionally ghost-ride a flight.

In addition to the informal channels by which passenger opinion passes to management and then worker, there are more formal ones; company-elicited passenger opinion polls. The passenger is asked to fill out a questionnaire, and the results of that are presented by letter to the workers. As one male flight attendant, seven years with United, describes it:

We get told how we’re doing. Twice a year we get sent passenger evaluations. They show how United, American, Continental, and TWA are competing. Oh, passengers are asked to rank flight attendants: ”genuinely concerned, made me feel welcome. Spoke to me more than required. Wide awake, energetic, eager to help. Seemed sincere when talking to passengers. Helped establish a relaxed cabin atmosphere. Enjoying their jobs. Treated passengers as individuals.” We see how United is doing in the competition. We’re supposed to really get into it.

Supervision is thus more indirect than direct. It relies on the flight attendant’s sense of what passengers will communicate to management who will, in turn, communicate to workers. (For the indirect ”bureaucratic” control more common to the modern workplace, see Edwards 1979: ch. 6.) Supervisors do more than oversee workers. At this juncture in Delta’s history, the fear hierarchy bends, and supervisors must also pose as big sisters in the Delta family – bigger but not by much. These largely female, immobile, and nonunionized workers are not greatly feared by underlings, nor much envied, as the comment of one flight attendant suggests:

It’s not a job people want very much. Some girls go into it and then bounce right back on the line. The pay is an inch better and the hours are a whole lot worse. And you have to talk oat-meal. My supervisor called me into her office the other day. I’ve used seven out of my twenty-one days of available sick leave. She says, ”I don’t want to have to tell you this. It’s what I have to tell you. You’ve used up too much of your sick leave.” She has to take it from her boss and then take it from me – from both ends. What kind of a job is that?

Supervisors monitor the supply of emotional labor. They patch leaks and report breakdowns to the company. They must also cope with the frustrations that workers suppress while on the job. As one Delta base manager explained: ”I tell my supervisors to let the girls ventilate. It’s very important that they get that out. Otherwise they’ll take it out on the passengers.” So the supervisor who grades the flight attendant on maintaining a ”positive” and ”professional” attitude is also exposed to its underside. For example, one flight attendant recalled coming off a long and taxing flight only to discover that her paycheck had been ”mishandled.” She said she told her supervisor, ”I can’t take this all day and then come back here and take it from you! You know I get paid to take it from passengers, but I don’t get paid to take it from you. I want my money. I just got my teeth cleaned three months ago.Where’s my check? You find it!” What is offstage for the flight attendant is on stage for the supervisor. Managing someone else’s formerly managed frustration and anger is itself a job that takes emotional labor.

Achieving the Transmutation

To the extent that emotion management actually works – so that Bloody Marys do not spill ”by accident” on white pants suits, and blowups occur in backstage offices instead of in airplane aisles – something like alchemy occurs. Civility and a general sense of well-being have been enhanced and emotional ”pollution” controlled. Even when people are paid to be nice, it is hard for them to be nice at all times, and when their efforts succeed, it is a remarkable accomplishment.

What makes this accomplishment possible is a transmutation of three basic elements of emotional life: emotion work, feeling rules, and social exchange.

First, emotion work is no longer a private act but a public act, bought on the one hand and sold on the other. Those who direct emotion work are no longer the individuals themselves but are instead paid stage managers who select, train, and supervise others.

Second, feeling rules are no longer simply matters of personal discretion, negotiated with another person in private, but are spelled out publicly – in the Airline Guide to Stewardess and Steward Careers, in the World Airways Flight Manual, in training programs, and in the discourse of supervisors at all levels.

Third, social exchange is forced into narrow channels; there may be hiding places along shore, but there is much less room for individual navigation of the emotional waters.

The whole system of emotional exchange in private life has as its ostensible purpose the welfare and pleasure of the people involved. When this emotional system is thrust into a commercial setting, it is transmuted. A profit motive is slipped in under acts of emotion management, under the rules that govern them, under the gift exchange. Who benefits now, and who pays?

The transmutation is a delicate achievement and potentially an important and beneficial one. But even when it works – when ”service ratings” are high and customers are writing ”orchid” letters – there is a cost to be paid: the worker must give up control over how the work is to be done. In Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974) Harry Braverman argues that this has been a general trend in the twentieth century. The ”mind” of the work process moves up the company hierarchy, leaving jobs deskilled and workers devalued.11 Braverman applies this thesis to physical and mental labor, but it applies to emotional labor as well. At Delta Airlines, for example, twenty-four men work as ”method analysts” in the Standard Practices Division of the company. Their job is to update the forty-three manuals that codify work procedure for a series of public-contact jobs. There were no such men in the 1920s when the flight engineer handed out coffee to passengers; or in the 1930s when Delta hired nurses to do the same; or in the 1940s when the first flight attendants swatted flies in the cabin, hauled luggage, and even helped with wing repairs. The flight attendant’s job grew along with marketing, becoming increasingly specialized and standardized.

The lessons in deep acting – acting ”as if the cabin is your home” and ”as if this unruly passenger has a traumatic past” – are themselves a new development in deskilling. The ”mind” of the emotion worker, the source of the ideas about what mental moves are needed to settle down an ”irate,” has moved upstairs in the hierarchy so that the worker is restricted to implementing standard procedures. In the course of offering skills, trainers unwittingly contribute to a system of deskilling. The skills they offer do not subtract from the worker’s autonomous control over when and how to apply them; as the point is made in training, ”It will be up to you to decide how to handle any given problem on line.” But the overall definition of the task is more rigid than it once was, and the worker’s field of choice about what to do is greatly narrowed. Within the boundaries of the job, more and more actual subtasks are specified. Did the flight attendant hand out magazines? How many times? By the same token, the task to be accomplished is more clearly spelled out by superiors. How were the magazines handed out? With a smile? With a sincere smile? The fact that trainers work hard at making a tough job easier and at making travel generally more pleasant only makes this element of deskilling harder to see. The fact that their training manuals are prepared for them and that they are not themselves entirely free to ”tell it like it is” only illustrates again how deskilling is the outcome of specialization and standardization.

Sensing this, most of the flight attendants I observed were concerned to establish that theirs was an honorable profession requiring a mastery of ”real” skills. I was told repeatedly that there was a law school graduate in the incoming class at the Training Center and that a dentist, a librarian, and a botanist were serving on line. At the same time, they generally expressed frustration at the fact that their skills in rescue and safety procedures were given soft play (how many tickets can you sell by reminding passengers of death and danger?) whereas their function as meal servers was highlighted. As one flight attendant put it eloquently:

I have a little bit of pride in what I do. Of course I’m going to haul ass and try to do everything I conceivably can to get that breakfast for 135 people completed in forty minutes. That means that 135 people get meal trays, 135 people are supposed to have at least two beverages, 135 trays are collected and restowed. You can imagine how many seconds we have left to give to each passenger. But what kind of condition does that put me in when I finally reach the jump seat at the end of the flight, the time when a crash is relatively more likely? And do I even notice that man slumped over in his seat? That’s really my job.

Thus because passengers see them – and are encouraged by company advertising to see them – as no more than glamorous waitresses, flight attendants usually resented the appearance of working at a low level of skills, and had to cope with this resentment. But the ways in which these two functions – managing rescue operations and serving food – are combined, and the relative priority given to each, cannot be influenced by the workers or even the trainers. Such things are determined by management.

The Transmutation That Failed

When an industry speed-up drastically shortens the time available for contact between flight attendants and passengers, it can become virtually impossible to deliver emotional labor. In that event, the transmutation of emotion work, feeling rules, and social exchange will fail. Company claims about offering a smile ”from the inside out” (Delta) will become untenable. The living room analogy will collapse into a flat slogan. The mosaic of ”as if” techniques will fall to pieces, and deep acting will be replaced by surface displays that lack conviction.

This is approximately what has happened in the US airline industry. Flight attendants who had worked during the 1960s spoke, sometimes nostalgically, sometimes bitterly, of a ”before” and an ”after” period. In the ”before” period they were able to do what they were asked to do, what they often came to want to do. As one twenty-two-year veteran of Pan American reminisced:

On those old piston-engine Stratocruisers we had ten hours to Honolulu. We had three flight attendants for seventy-five passengers. We had a social director who introduced each of the flight attendants personally and asked the passengers to introduce themselves to each other. . . We didn’t even use the PA system, and we had a vocal lifeboat demonstration. There was more of the personal touch. The plane had only one aisle, and we had berths for the passengers to sleep in. We used to tuck people into bed.

There was time to talk to passengers. Layovers between flights were longer. Flights were less crowded, the passengers more experienced and generally richer, the work more pleasant. Descriptions of flying today are much different:

Now we have these huge planes that can go forever. I mean, we have twelve-hour duty days, with 375 people to tend [on the Boeing 747]. The SP [Special Performance plane] is smaller, but it can go fifteen or sixteen hours without refueling. We used to fly with the same people, and there were fewer of us. We would just informally rotate positions. Now you come to work all set to argue for not working tourist class. When we go down the rows, we avoid eye contact and focus on the aisle, on the plates. People usually wait for eye contact before they make a request, and if you have two and a quarter hours to do a cocktail and meal service, and it takes five minutes to answer an extra request, those requests add up and you can’t do the service in time.

The golden age ended sometime after the recession of the early 1970s when the airlines, losing passengers and profits, began their campaigns to achieve ”costefficient” flying.12 They began using planes that could hold more people and fly longer hours without fuel stops. This created longer workdays, and more workdays bunched together.13 There was less time to adjust to time-zone changes on layovers, and less time to relax and enjoy a central advantage of the work – personal travel. Like the airplane, the flight attendant was now kept in use as long as possible. Pan American shortened its port time (the time before and after flights) from one and a half to one and a quarter hours. One American Airlines union official described the result of the speed-up:

They rush us through the emergency briefing . . . They’re even briefing us on the buses getting out there. When you get on the plane, you just start counting all the food and everything and start loading passengers. They’ll shut the door and pull away and we’ll find we’re twenty meals short.
Now if we worked in an auto assembly line and the cars started to come down the line faster and faster we’d call it a speed-up. But on the airplane they give more passengers to the same crew. They ask us to do a liquor service and a dinner service in an hour, when it used to be an hour and a half . . . and we do it. Now why is it we don’t call that a speed-up?

With deregulation of the airlines, the price of tickets dropped, and the ”discount people” boarded in even larger numbers.14 Aboard came more mothers with small children who leave behind nests of toys, gum wrappers, and food scraps, more elderly ”white-knuckle flyers,” more people who don’t know where the restrooms, the pillow, and the call button are, more people who wander around wanting to go ”downstairs.” Experienced business commuters complain to flight attendants about the reduced standard of living in the air; or worse, they complain about less experienced ”discount” passengers, who in turn appeal to the flight attendant. The cruise ship has become a Greyhound bus.

The companies could increase the number of flight attendants, as the unions have asked, to maintain the old ratio of workers to passengers. One union official for Pan American calculated that ”if we had the same ratio now that we had ten years ago we would need twenty flight attendants on board, but we get by with twelve or fourteen now.” One reason the companies have not done this is that flight attendants cost more than they used to. With regulations that assured their removal at age thirty-one or at marriage, flight attendants used to be a reliable source of cheap labor. But since the unions have successfully challenged these regulations and also secured higher wages, the companies have chosen to work a smaller number of flight attendants much harder. While some flight attendants find it hard to refute the corporate logic, others continue to question why this female labor was so cheap to begin with.

In the early 1980s there has been a super speed-up. The vice-president for In-Flight Service at United Airlines explained the economic background of this: ”United has to compete for the travel market with low-cost, nonunion planes, with companies with lower overhead, who only lease planes – companies like PSA, Pacific Express, Air California.” In response to this greater competition, United instituted its Friendship Express flights. After only a year and a half, such flights accounted for 23 percent of all United flights.

On Friendship Express the fares are lower, the service is minimal, and the seating is ”high density.” It is not unusual for a flight attendant to handle a thousand passengers a day. The ground time is limited to a maximum of twenty minutes. (One United flight attendant said, ”We don’t send Friendship Express flights to St. Petersburg, Florida, because with the number of wheelchair passengers there, we couldn’t make our twenty minutes deboarding time.”) With such limited groundtime, four segments of travel can be squeezed into the time of three. There is no time to clean the cabin or replace supplies between trips: ”If you’re ten lunches short on the Friendship Express, well you’re just out ten lunches. You have to live with the complaints.” But the old ways of handling complaints are no longer available. Faced with disappointed passengers, the flight attendant can no longer give out free decks of cards or drinks. The main compensation for mishaps must be personal service – for which there is virtually no time.

The recession has required United, like many airlines, to lay off baggage checkers, gate personnel, ticket personnel, and managers. Lines are longer. Mishaps multiply. There are more ruffled feathers to soothe, more emotion work to be done, but fewer workers to do it. The super speed-up has made it virtually impossible to deliver personal service. Even those who have long since abandoned that ideal – passengers as well as airline workers – find the system stressful.

Management, however, sees no escape from the contradictory policy of trying to meet the demand for emotional labor while promoting conditions that cut off the supply. The companies worry that competitors may produce more personal service than they do, and so they continue to press for ”genuinely friendly” service. But they feel compelled to keep the conveyor belt moving ever faster. For workers, the job of ”enjoying the job” becomes harder and harder. Rewards seem less intrinsic to the work, more a compensation for the arduousness of it. As one veteran of thirteen years with Pan Am put it:

The company did, after all, pay relatively good salaries and give us free or reduced rates for air travel. There was a seniority system, so the longer you flew, the better most things got – vacations and layovers got longer and more pleasant. The fact that none of us was really happy on the job didn’t matter – that wasn’t why we were flying. We were flying for money, men, adventure, travel. But the job, the work on the plane, was the most strenuous, unrewarding, alienating concentration of house work and waitresstype drudgery to be found anywhere.

Before the speed-up, most workers sustained the cheerful good will that good service requires. They did so for the most part proudly; they supported the transmutation. After the speed-up, when asked to make personal human contact at an inhuman speed, they cut back on their emotion work and grew detached.

Responses to the contradiction

The slowdown is a venerable tactic in the wars between industrial labor and management. Those whose work is to offer “personalized service” may also stage a slowdown, but in a necessarily different way. Since their job is to act upon a commercial stage, under managerial directors, their protest may take the form of rebelling against the costumes, the script, and the general choreography. This sort of protest occurred in many airlines throughout the 1970s as flight attendants set up independent unions to name and give voice to their accumulated resentment and discontent. [* These unions have fought for many things: higher wages, more soft-time trips, better health and safety regulations, and larger crews. What is directly relevant here is that they have challenged company regulations affecting whole territories of the body and its adornment, regulations on facial make-up, hairstyles, undergarments, jewelry, and shoe styles.]

For a decade now, flight attendants have quietly lodged a counterclaim to control over their own bodily appearance. Some crews, for example, staged “shoe-ins.” (“Five of us at American just walked on the job in Famolares and the supervisor didn’t say anything. After that we kept wearing them.”) Others, individually or in groups, came to work wearing an extra piece of jewelry, a beard a trifle shaggier, a new permanent, or lighter make-up. Sometimes the struggle went through the official machinery—a company “write up” of the offending worker, the filing of a grievance, and a negotiation between the company and the union. Sometimes, as in the case of body-weight regulations, the issue was taken to court. At other times a series of quietly received worker victories was followed by a company crackdown.

Workers have also—in varying degrees—reclaimed control of their own smiles, and their facial expressions in general. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “to smile” is “to have or take on a facial expression showing pleasure, amusement, affection, friendliness, irony, derision, etc., and characterized by an upward curving of the corners of the mouth and a sparkling of the eyes.” But in the flight attendant’s work, smiling is separated from its usual function, which is to express a personal feeling, and attached to another one—expressing a company feeling. The company exhorts them to smile more, and “more sincerely,” at an increasing number of passengers. The workers respond to the speed-up with a slowdown: they smile less broadly, with a quick release and no sparkle in the eyes, thus dimming the company’s message to the people. It is a war of smiles.

During a slowdown, it becomes possible to mention the personal cost of smiling too much. Workers worry about their “smile-lines.” These lines are seen not as the accumulated evidence of personal character but as an occupational hazard, an undesirable sign of age incurred in the line of duty on a job that devalues age.

The smile war has its veterans and its lore. I was told repeatedly, and with great relish, the story of one smile-fighter’s victory, which goes like this. A young businessman said to a flight attendant, “Why aren’t you smiling?” She put her tray back on the food cart, looked him in the eye, and said, “I’ll tell you what. You smile first, then I’ll smile.” The businessman smiled at her. “Good,” she replied. “Now freeze, and hold that for fifteen hours.” Then she walked away. In one stroke, the heroine not only asserted a personal right to her facial expressions but also reversed the roles in the company script by placing the mask on a member of the audience. She challenged the company’s right to imply, in its advertising, that passengers have a right to her smile. This passenger, of course, got more: an expression of her genuine feeling.

The slowdown has met resistance from all quarters and not least from passengers who “misunderstand.” Because nonstop smiling had become customary before the speedup occurred, the absence of a smile is now cause for concern. [* Even in normal times, less frequent smilers had to work at reassuring others that they were not cold or unkind just because they didn’t smile more often.] Some passengers simply feel cheated and consider unsmiling workers facial “loafers.” Other passengers interpret the absence of a smile to indicate anger. As one worker put it: “When I don’t smile, passengers assume I’m angry. But I’m not angry when I don’t smile. I’m just not smiling.” Such workers face the extra task, if they care to take it up, of convincing passengers that they are not angry. This may mean working extra hard at doing thoughtful deeds, as if to say, “I’m as nice as they come, but you won’t get what you expect from my face. Look for it in other ways.”

The friction between company speed-up and worker slowdown extends beyond display to emotional labor. Many flight attendants recalled a personal breaking point. Here are three examples:

I guess it was on a flight when a lady spat at me that I decided I’d had enough. I tried. God knows, I tried my damnedest. I went along with the program, I was being genuinely nice to people. But it didn’t work. I reject what the company wants from me emotionally. The company wants me to bring the emotional part of me to work. I won’t.

The time I snapped was on a New York to Miami flight. On those flights, passengers want everything yesterday. There’s a constant demand for free decks of cards. One woman fought for a free deck and groused when I told her we were all out. Finally I happened to see a deck under a seat, so I picked it up and brought it to her. She opened her purse and there were fifteen decks inside.

I thought I’d heard them all. I had a lady tell me her doctor gave her a prescription for playing cards. I had a man ask me to tell the pilot to use the cockpit radio to reserve his Hertz car. I had a lady ask me if we gave enemas on board. But the time I finally cracked was when a lady just took her tea and threw it right on my arm. That was it.

Workers who refuse to perform emotional labor are said to “go into robot.” They withhold deep acting and retreat to surface acting. They pretend to be showing feeling. Some who take this stance openly protest the need to conduct themselves in this way. “I’m not a robot,” they say, meaning “I’ll pretend, but I won’t try to hide the fact that I’m pretending.” Under the conditions of speed-up and slowdown, covering up a lack of genuine feeling is no longer considered necessary. Half-heartedness has gone public.

The new flight attendants’ union at American, Pan American, and United has apparently decided that their best strategy is to emphasize the crucial safety and rescue skills of their members and to give a lower priority to the issue of emotion work and personal service. The companies, on the other hand, continue to emphasize service as the key to beating out their competitors. Yet what the workers are withholding and what the companies are demanding are seldom talked about in clear or precise terms. As one flight attendant put it:

I don’t think anybody ever comes right out and says to her superior, “I won’t put my emotions into this job.” The superiors know that you don’t want to, and you know what they want. And so we say a lot of things to each other that really don’t convey what we’re talking about at all. They talk about a “more positive attitude” and say you could have acted more positively. You say, “Well, I’ll do better next time,” but you think to yourself, “I’ll do it the same way next time.”

Periodically, the companies tighten their service regulations. As one veteran put it: “The more the company sees the battle, the tougher they get with their regulations. They define them more precisely. They come up with more categories and more definitions. And more emotionalizing. And then, in time, we reject them even more.”

Inevitably, a few workers will not close ranks and will insist on working even harder to serve passengers with genuinely sincere feeling. Some want to please in order to compensate for a “flaw”—such as age, fatness, or homosexuality—that they have been made to feel guilt about. [* By some accounts, the company’s play on our culture’s devaluation of age in women made older female workers feel obliged to “make up” for their age by working harder. There were some stories of direct harassment of older female flight attendants. One supervisor was reported to have asked a woman to take off her jacket and hold out her arms; he then remarked on the “unsightliness” of the flesh on the under side of her upper arms. Although the woman was personally distressed by this, another flight attendant and union official remarked: “They make us think age is a personal flaw. Actually, they just don’t want to pay our pensions.”] Some want revenge on certain co-workers. Some are professional “angels” to whom the company eagerly points as good examples. Under slowdown conditions, they become the “rate-busters” who are resented by other workers.

One response to the slowdown, it is said, has been that companies have considered seeking cheaper labor by lowering the minimum age and educational requirements for new recruits. In another response, Pan American has shown interest in recruiting more Asian-American women. According to company officials, Pan Am wants them “for their language skills.” According to union members, it wants them for their reputed submissiveness, their willingness to perform emotional labor: “They would love nothing better than to get rid of us and fill the plane with loving, submissive Japanese women. But for one thing, regulations prevent them from going to Japan, so they go for Japanese-American women. And there the joke’s on Pan Am. Those women are so used to being browbeaten that they are a lot tougher than we are.”

What is distinctive in the airline industry slowdown is the manner of protest and its locus. If a stage company were to protest against the director, the costume designer, and the author of a play, the protest would almost certainly take the form of a strike—a total refusal to act. In the airline industry the play goes on, but the costumes are gradually altered, the script is shortened little by little, and the style of acting itself is changed—at the edge of the lips, in the cheek muscles, and in the mental activities that regulate what a smile means.

The general effect of the speed-up on workers is stress. As one base manager at Delta frankly explained: “The job is getting harder, there’s no question about it. We see more sick forms. We see more cases of situational depression. We see more alcoholism and drugs, more trouble sleeping and relaxing.” The San Francisco base manager for United Airlines commented:

I’d say it’s since 1978, when we got the Greyhound passengers, that we’ve had more problems with drug and alcohol abuse, more absenteeism, more complaints generally. It’s mainly our junior flight attendants and those on reserve— who never know when they will be called up—who have the most problems. The senior flight attendants can arrange to work with a friend in first class and avoid the Friendship Express altogether.

There are many specific sources of stress—notably, long shifts, disturbance in bodily rhythms, exposure to ozone, and continual social contact with a fairly high element of predictability. But there is also a general source of stress, a thread woven through the whole work experience: the task of managing an estrangement between self and feeling and between self and display.

Emotional labor and the redefined self

A person who does emotional labor for a living must face three hard questions that do not confront others, the answers to which will determine how she defines her “self.”

The first one is this: How can I feel really identified with my work role and with the company without being fused with them? This question is especially salient for younger or less experienced workers (since their identities are less formed) and for women (since a woman is more often asked to identify with a man than vice versa). For these groups, the risk of identity confusion is generally greater.

To address this issue successfully, the worker has to develop a working criterion for distinguishing between situations that call on her to identify her self and situations that call on her to identify her role and its relation to the company she works for. To resolve the issue, a worker has to develop the ability to “depersonalize” situations. For example, when a passenger complains about the deprivations of the Friendship Express, a flight attendant who cannot yet depersonalize takes it as a criticism of her own private shortcomings. Or when a passenger is delighted with the flight, such a worker takes the compliments as a reflection on her own special qualities. She would not, for example, take such a compliment as a sign that a strong union stand has improved the ratio of workers to passengers. She interprets events so that they easily reflect on her “true” self. Her self is large, and many events reflect on it.

All companies, but especially paternalistic, nonunion ones, try as a matter of policy to fuse a sense of personal satisfaction with a sense of company well-being and identity. This often works well for awhile. Company emphasis on the sale of “natural niceness” makes it hard for new workers to separate the private from the public self, the “at-ease me” from the “worked-up me,” and hard to define their job as one of acting. In a sense, the two selves are not estranged enough. Such workers do not have the wide repertoire of deep acting techniques that would enable them to personalize or depersonalize an encounter at will. Without this adaptability, when things go wrong (as they frequently do), they are more often hurt, angered, or distressed.

At some point the fusion of “real” and “acted” self will be tested by a crucial event. A continual series of situations batter an unprotected ego as it gives to and receives from an assembly line of strangers. Often the test comes when a company speed-up makes personal service impossible to deliver because the individual’s personal self is too thinly parceled out to meet the demands made on it. At this point, it becomes harder and harder to keep the public and private selves fused. As a matter of self-protection, they are forced to divide. The worker wonders whether her smile and the emotional labor that keeps it sincere are really hers. Do they really express a part of her? Or are they deliberately worked up and delivered on behalf of the company? Where inside her is the part that acts “on behalf of the company”?

In resolving this issue, some workers conclude that only one self (usually the nonwork self) is the “real” self. Others, and they are in the majority, will decide that each self is meaningful and real in its own different way and time. Those who see their identity in this way are more likely to be older, experienced, and married, and they tend to work for a company that draws less on the sense of fusion. Such workers are generally more adept at deep acting, and the idea of a separation between the two selves is not only acceptable but welcome to them. They speak more matter-of-factly about their emotional labor in clearly defined and sometimes mechanistic ways: “I get in gear, I get revved up, I get plugged in.”

They talk of their feelings not as spontaneous, natural occurrences but as objects they have learned to govern and control. As one flight attendant, who had come to her own terms with this issue, explained: “If I wake up in a sunny mood, I spread it around to the crew and passengers. But if I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, all depressed, I keep to myself on the flight until I’m out of it. The way I think of it, when I’m on, I’m out; when I’m down, I’m in.”

Yet workers who resolve the first issue often find themselves brought up more sharply against a second one. While they have the skills of deep acting, they can’t always bring themselves to use them. “How,” the second question goes, “can I use my capacities when I’m disconnected from those I am acting for}” Many flight attendants can’t bring themselves to think of the airplane cabin as their living room full of personal guests; it seems too much like a cabin full of 300 demanding strangers. The closest they can come to a bow from the heart is to disguise their feelings through surface acting. Many of them want to do deep acting but cannot pull it off under speed-up conditions, and so they fall back on surface acting.

For this reason, a new issue becomes central for them: whether one is “being phony.” If a worker wants to put her heart into the work but can only lend her face to it, the risk for her lies in thinking of herself as “phony.” Among flight attendants, this word came up with surprising frequency. It was common to hear one worker disparage another for being phony (for example, “She just laid it,on in plastic”). But workers also seemed to fear that disparagement themselves; it was common to hear a sentence begin, “I’m not a phony, but….” Talk about phoniness was serious because it was usually seen not merely as an instance of poor acting but as evidence of a personal moral flaw, almost a stigma.5

Thus the third issue arises: “If I’m doing deep acting for an audience from whom I’m disconnected, how can I maintain my self-esteem without becoming cynical?” There were those for whom the issue of phoniness—and self-esteem — was resolved by redefining the job. Although some blamed themselves for phoniness, others saw it as surface acting necessary and desirable in a job that positively calls for the creation of an illusion. The editors of an unofficial flight attendants’ newsletter, the Pan Am Quipper, described this stance succinctly: “We deal in the illusion of good service. We want to make passengers think they are having a good time. It is dangerous to take any of the abuse seriously; it is dangerous to take the job too seriously. Quipper is about laughing it off.”

To keep on working with a sense of honor a person has to stop taking the job seriously. On one side, hard experience forces the worker to associate less and less of herself with the job, while on the other side the job is whittled down to “maintaining an illusion.” It is no longer the sincere smile or the person that is now “phony.” What is phony is the “good time.” And it is the work it takes to bring off the illusion of a “good time” that becomes the problem. It is as if the Quipper’s editors, like the workers they speak for, are forced to say, appropriately enough, “the job is the problem, not us.” Then, for extra protection, there is the added message, “it’s not serious not attached to us.”

When a worker is asked to do deep acting for a great many people who are totally out of her control, she is put on the defensive. The only way to salvage a sense of self-esteem, in this situation, is to define the job as “illusion making” and to remove the self from the job, to take it lightly, unseriously. Less of the job reflects on the self; the self is “smaller.” But then so is the job. Neither the passenger nor the worker is really having “a good time.”

While some workers distance themselves from the job by defining it as “not serious,” others distance themselves from it in another way. For them, the job remains serious; but they are not seriously in it. When they cannot bring themselves to define phoniness (or surface acting) as either a necessary virtue or a feature of the job, they may “go into robot.” They use their faces as masks against the world; they refuse to act. Most of those who “go into robot” describe it as a defense, but they acknowledge that it is inadequate: their withdrawal often irritates passengers, and when it does they are forced to withdraw even further in order to defend themselves against that irritation. In either case—whether she with draws by performing the work as if it were unserious or withdraws by not doing the emotional job at all—the worker is on the defensive.

In relation to each issue, emotional labor poses a challenge to a person’s sense of self. In each case, the problem was not one that would cause much concern among those who do not do emotional labor—the assembly line worker or the wallpaper machine operator, for example. In each case, the issue of estrangement between what a person senses as her “true self” and her inner and outer acting becomes something to work out, to take a position on.

When a flight attendant feels that her smile is “not an indication of how she really feels,” or when she feels that her deep or surface acting is not meaningful, it is a sign that she is straining to disguise the failure of a more general transmutation. It indicates that emotion work now performed on a commercial stage, with commercial directors and standardized props, is failing to involve the actors or convince the audience in a way that it once did.

When feelings are successfully commercialized, the worker does not feel phony or alien; she feels somehow satisfied in how personal her service actually was. Deep acting is a help in doing this, not a source of estrangement. But when commercialization of feeling as a general process collapses into its separate elements, display becomes hollow and emotional labor is withdrawn. The task becomes one of disguising the failed transmutation. In either case, whether proudly or resentfully, face and feelings have been used as instruments. An American Airlines worker said: “Do you know what they call us when we get sick? Breakage. How’s that for a ‘positive attitude’? Breakage is what they call people that go to the complaint service to cancel for illness.” Or again, as a San Francisco base manager at United remarked ruefully: “And we call them bodies. Do we have enough ‘bodies’ for the flight?” Feeling can become an instrument, but whose instrument?


1 For a detailed picture of the Delta-Eastern competition in the postwar period, see Gill and Bates (1949: 235).

2 The Airline Deregulation Act, passed by Congress in October 1978, provided for abolition of the CAB by 1985, after the transfer of some of its functions to other agencies had been accomplished. In 1981 the CAB lost all authority to regulate the entry of air carriers into new domestic markets.

3 Despite fierce competition in some arenas, airlines cooperate with each other. According to the airlines, flying is safe but, in fact, airplanes occasionally crash. When they do, the efforts of their public relations offices call for surface acting and sometimes border on illusion making. For example, the head of Delta’s public relations office received a call during my office visit. ”A crash in Mexico City? Seventy-three died? It was a DC – 10, too?” He turned to me after hanging up. ”After that last Eastern crash, I was getting 150 calls a day. We don’t have any DC – 10s, thank God. But I try to keep the press off of Eastern’s back. I say, ‘Don’t mention those planes.’ Eastern does the same for us when we’re in trouble.”

4 When an airline commands a market monopoly, as it is likely to do when it is owned by a government, it does not need to compete for passengers by advertising friendly flight attendants. Many flight attendants told me that their counterparts on Lufthansa (the German national airlines) and even more on El Al and Aeroflot (the Israeli and Russian national airlines) were notably lacking in assertive friendliness.

5 A black female flight attendant, who had been hired in the early 1970s when Delta faced an affirmative action suit, wondered aloud why blacks were not pictured in local Georgia advertising. She concluded: ”They want that market, and that market doesn’t include blacks. They go along with that.” Although Delta’s central offices are in Atlanta, which is predominantly black, few blacks worked for Delta in any capacity.

6 Many workers divided male passengers into two types: the serious businessman who wants quite, efficient, and unobtrusive service; and the ”sport” who wants a Playboy Club atmosphere.

7 Delta does officially emphasize ”good moral character,” and several workers spoke in lowered voices about facts they would not want known. They agreed that any report of living with a man outside marriage would be dangerous, and some said they would never risk paying for an abortion through the company’s medical insurance.

8 Most of the training in passenger handling concerned what to do in a variety of situations. What do you do if an obese passenger doesn’t fit into his seat? Make him pay for half the fare of another seat. What do you do if the seat belt doesn’t fit around him? Get him a seat-belt extension. What do you do if you accidentally spill coffee on his trousers? Give him a pink slip that he can take to the ticket agent, but don’t commit the company to responsibility through word or action. What do you do if you’re one meal short? Issue a meal voucher that can be redeemed at the next airport.

9 Most anger fantasies seemed to have a strong oral component, such as befouling the troublemaker’s food and watching him eat it. These fantasies inverted the service motif but did not step outside it. No one, for instance, reported a fantasy about hitting a passenger.

10 At Delta in 1980 there were twenty-nine supervisors in charge of the 2,000 flight attendants based in Atlanta.

11 Braverman (1974) argues that corporate management applied the principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor and systematically divided single complex tasks into many simple tasks so that a few parts of the former complex task are done by a few highly paid mental workers while the remaining simple parts of the task are done by cheap and interchangeable unskilled workers. To management, the advantage is that it is cheaper and there is more control over the work process from the top, less from the bottom. Braverman applies this thesis to factory work, clerical work, and service work, but he fails to distinguish between the kinds of service work that involve public contact and the kinds that do not (p. 360).

12 Between 1950 and 1970 the annual growth rate of airline companies was between 15 and 19 percent. In 1970 growth slowed, and air traffic grew about 4 percent annually. Periods of financial hardship have led to the failure of weak companies and increased concentration. Of the thirty-five airlines regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) the largest four – United, TWA, American, and Pan American – earned 43 percent of the 1974 revenues (Corporate Data Exchange 1977: 77).

13 Companies are trying to eliminate ”soft-time trips” and increase ”hard-time trips.” A hard-time trip is one on which the flight attendant puts in more than her projected daily quota of flying hours. On a soft-time trip she works below that quota. In cases where a flight attendants’ union – as at American Airlines – has won the right to per diem pay for nonflying time, the company is correspondingly eager to eliminate occasions on which the workers can use it.

14 In 1979 discount fares accounted for 37 percent of Delta’s total domestic revenue from passenger service.

Braverman, Harry (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Corporate Data Exchange, Inc. (1977) Stock Ownership Directory. No. 1. The Transportation Industry. New York: Corporate Data Exchange.
Edwards, Richard (1979) Contested Terrain: The Transformation of the Workplace in the Twentieth Century. New York: Basic Books.
Gill, Frederick W. and Gilbert Bates (1949) Airline Competition. Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University Printing Office.
Stanislavski, Constantin (1965) An Actor Prepares. Trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. New

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  1. December 22, 2013 at 1:51 am

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