Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It's a new day. 

Your first flight is 6.30 a.m. and you know that if this one doesn't leave on time, it's going to wreck not only your day, but a lot of other people's.

So you and your bleary eyes get on the plane, prepare everything and offer some (possibly) fake smiles to the first passengers who get on board.

But are all these passengers for real?

As Lewis Lazare reported in the Chicago Business Journal, American Airlines is employing so-called "service analysts" to check up on how Flight Attendants are doing their job.

As far as some experienced Flight Attendants are aware, says Lazare, this is a new thing.

These service analysts aren't part of the cabin crew. They're not supposed to lift even a fingernail to "assist" with service.

But sometimes they apparently do.

Which leaves Flight Attendants quietly -- or less so -- fuming that these busybodies are telling them what they're doing wrong, perhaps in front of passengers.

Lazare says the terminology these service analysts use to describe what they do is "performing a work-along."

You might imagine that they'd be like teaching assessors, seated at the back of the class. 

Some appear to be a touch more active.

I asked American who these service analysts are and what their true function is supposed to be. An airline spokesperson told me: 

From time to time, members of our flight service team ride along on flights to ensure our planned service is running smoothly and as designed, but we have not increased these rides recently.

Perhaps, then, it's merely the internal complaints about the ride-alongs that have increased.

That may be so. They're not, though, a new thing. A long-time American Airlines Flight Attendant told me that the service analysts used to be known among cabin crew as Ghost Riders in the Sky.

Some are members of management from a base other than the crew's home base. Others might even be outsourced "experts."

Often, I'm told, they operate in secret. Sometimes, they introduce themselves.

Sometimes, too, they're held in contempt by Flight Attendants, who regard them as failed Flight Attendants who somehow got promoted and are now "spying" on those who can actually do the job just fine.

The question, though, is how these service analysts choose, as American puts it, to ensure the planned service.

And surely at least some passengers might see and hear what's happening.

American has been concerned for some time that its cabin service isn't consistent. 

A suggestion within the airline is that less experienced Flight Attendants are the ones who are being most scrutinized, because they either don't follow the Onboard Service Manual or even don't know what's in it.

The airline told me, however, that not only do they get on-board training, but also "two rounds of company-wide customer service training we initiated last year."

However, a long-time American Flight Attendant told me:

The new recruits to the Flight Attendant ranks are of the 'Entitled' misbelief clan.

They were referring, you'll be stunned to hear, specifically to millennials.

It seems that some of the more senior Flight Attendants also resent having the expectation placed upon that they'll "train" the newer recruits. One told me:

We don't want to be unpaid in-flight instructors, while we're doing the real job.

American isn't alone in having difficulties with maintaining service standards. 

It doesn't help, though, when the airline's CEO Doug Parker believes that customers' prime desire isn't service, but simply to get to their destination on time.

Teamwork among Flight Attendants is hard as it is.

They may not know each other, nor have they ever flown together before. And there really is no customer service "boss" on most flights.

There is, though, one part of this that causes me to struggle.

I can understand sending anonymous "passengers" on flights to report back on what they saw.

I see less benefit in these service analysts actively participating in service. Indeed, Lazare says that one pilot was so incensed that he told a service analyst to keep their nose out of it. 

Yes, during a flight.  

I worry that, one day, a (real) passenger will leap up to defend a Flight Attendant against a service analyst. 

That would be a novel form of inflight entertainment, wouldn't it?

Published on: Dec 16, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.