Settling back into my seat, I grimaced as the loud speaker went
into feedback mode and began to screech, boring a hole into my skull
as I received my hundredth lesson on how to properly fasten a seat
belt. This was merciful treatment compared to the things to which I
would later be subjected: a squirely little girl in the seat next to
me who could not sit still, and an extremely inquisitive young lad
behind me who had learned how to talk but had not yet mastered the
finer points of volume control...
Baby, please sit still.
* I proceed to get head-butted and elbowed *
Don't kick the nice man's seat, honey.
Because it's not nice.
Do you want me to read you a book and ask you questions about
every single page so you can shout answers at the top of your
In any case, something unusual proceeded to happen, and the flight
attendant's voice bubbled up from my unconscious mind to the
If you are traveling with a young child, or someone acting like
one, please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting them. Should
you be traveling with multiple young children, now is the time to
choose your favorite.
I looked around the cabin, wondering if I had hallucinated this,
but in fact other people were chuckling. It was an amusing break from
the typical mundane drone of pre-flight "education", though I wondered
if it violated the regulations of the humorless folk at the FAA.
"Well, that's cool," I thought, "I have a flight attendant with a
sense of humor, so maybe this will be a semi-tolerable
Sitting in the terminal, waiting for my connecting flight, I noted
a particularly perky Southwest employee managing boarding for an
aircraft. He reached to unfasten the gate, as if with giddy
anticipation, and then said to the passengers: "on your mark, get
set... GO!" I figured that the poor fellow had had a little too much
coffee, and was just trying to work it out of his system. Shortly
thereafter I boarded my flight, thinking little of it.
In the event that our flight should become a cruise, you will
find that your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device, and as
you kick and paddle your way to the nearest beach you can rest assured
that your flight crew will be following you close behind, bringing the
peanuts and alcohol.
At this point, the part of my brain that can do statistical
calculations went into gear. I began to wonder what fraction of the
population of Southwest flight attendants were both outgoing and in
possession of a developed sense of humor, and what the odds were that
I would get two such people as attendants on consecutive flights.
Did I mention that my trip had not one but two connecting flights?
On the third leg of the journey, I had yet another flight crew armed
with their own battery of jokes.
For those of you have haven't ridden in a car, this is how you
fasten a seat belt.
By now I felt I could safely stow my Chi-Square tables in the
overhead bin and outright assume that something larger was at work
In the case that you are not completely satisfied with today's
service, please note the locations of the emergency exit rows.
Now mind you I'm no stranger to the phony cordiality demanded of
employees by image conscious corporations. It's really not a big
deal, though I do get irked by the girl at Taco Bell who utters
"HellohowareyoumayItakeyourorder?" with such rapidity as to make it
approximate a single sentence that can't so much as be troubled with a
comma-splice. However, Southwest's campaign of humor exhibits a level
of conscious planning that goes far beyond making employees smile as
they ask if the customer would like fries, put on a tie even though
they are selling mediocre hamburgers, and refer to clients as "guests"
despite the fact that they are being made to stand in a line for
something better described as a "food unit" than a "meal".
Given the consistent quality of the jokes to which I was
subjected, it stands to reason that these remarks, seemingly off the
cuff in individual cases, were researched and focus group tested en
masse. The ones that passed muster were then practiced diligently by
flight attendants whose job it now is not just to serve the in-flight
beverages, but also to be amateur comedians. I was beginning to think
that maybe Southwest had written a database driven graph algorithm to
guarantee that no passenger would ever be subjected to the same joke
twice, but then one of the third-leg flight attendants (who may later have been
fired for all I know) repeated a joke that I'd heard on the first leg
of my trip.
Certainly there is value to having the employees of a business act
in a professional and somewhat consistent manner, as it makes for an
experience that is comfortable on the part of clients, but the level
of rehearsal exhibited by Southwest employees is indicative of a
degree of control that disturbs me. Personally, I dislike targeted
advertising when surfing the web, deeming it an unwelcome attempt by
content providers to get inside of my head. Similarly, I find
scripted humor, developed and tested in a corporate think tank for
every employee/client interaction, to be nauseating and appalling.
The first set of jokes was highly entertaining, novel as it was, the
second one demeaning, evoking a sense of being patronized in an
obsequious way, and by the time the third one rolled around I was well
on my way to annoyance.
Southwest isn't going to lose my business because of this idiocy.
They have it because of low fares, and force-marching their employees
through comic routines will do little to affect my choice of carrier.
They are, however, wasting their "research" dollars and undoubtedly
humiliating their employees. I suggest they stop.
While the phrases themselves were well-crafted specimens of humor,
delivered with carefully practiced inflection of the voice, the eyes
of the pressganged comedians were cold and dead.