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

That simmering sound you hear coming from the galley of your United Airlines flight may not be a lovely hot meal.

It may be Flight Attendants' emotions boiling over.

No, not on the side. During flights.

You see, the Chase MileagePlus United Explorer Card is so exciting that United wants to tell you about it while you're having dinner.

Or trying to sleep.

So it's now made the peddling of credit cards by its Flight Attendants compulsory.

Flight Attendants weren't happy about this.

They know that other airlines have been doing this for a while. They thought, however, that United wouldn't stoop quite so low. 

How excessively hopeful they were. 

I've now obtained the rules according to which United Flight Attendants have to sell these cards.

They make for edifying reading.

Here's the most pungent stricture:

You cannot discuss pricing or fee information, including the annual fee, the no foreign transaction fee or the interest rate.

You might think that at least some of this would be useful information, as a Flight Attendant is trying to earn their $100 commission by garlanding you with an application form and hoping you'll fill it in.

Yet the airline forbids its Flight Attendants from imparting these details. (The fee, for example, is $95, but waived in the first year.)

I asked the airline why. I confess I was amused by the answer.

A United spokeswoman told me:

Flight attendants do not discuss the fees and rates associated with the card because they would need to read the disclosures that you typically see/receive when you apply for a credit card before they answer those questions from each customer.

I can think of few greater entertainments than a Flight Attendant standing for five minutes in an aisle and declaiming small print demanded by lawyers. 

The Flight Attendants are, though, allowed to talk about the supposed benefits of the card.

For example, the glorious bonus of cardholders having their first bag checked for free. Their companion gets one free checked bag, too.

Oh, and you also get two United Club passes a year, Priority Boarding benefits and two miles per dollar on tickets purchased from United.

It's entertaining that the lawyers don't require small print restraint on these fine benefits, but they do on, well, the arguably less beneficial aspects.

You'll be glad to hear there's more.

"Only English is used when speaking with customers about the MileagePlus Explorer Card." says the rulebook.

Chase sends mystery shoppers, posing as rapt, presumably awake customers, to check that the Flight Attendants are following the sales spiel, including the language rule.

I asked United about this, too. I remain fascinated by the reply:

The Explorer card onboard announcements are in English but if a customer speaks another language and the flight attendant speaks that language as well, they can refer the customer to the Chase website for more information about the card.

But not talk to them in a foreign language about the card itself? 

Might this be because the spy -- I mean, mystery shopper -- won't be able to overhear what's being said? But how would they ever know what's being said if it's being said in, say, Polish?

Flight Attendants are also forbidden from admitting they get an incentive from selling a card and, unlike your friendly local bank, they're not allowed to "screen for eligibility."

That's a lot of rules. You'll imagine, I'm sure, that many of the other airlines upon whose planes you've heard credit card sales pitches, demand their Flight Attendants do all this.

It seems not all. Southwest Airlines insists it doesn't tell Flight Attendants what to do, or even to sell its credit cards at all. An airline spokesman told me: 

None of our inflight announcements are compulsory except those regarding Safety of flight and those mandated by either the TSA or FAA. The magic of Southwest is in freeing our Flight Attendants to be themselves within those guidelines.

One United Flight Attendant told me they believed the credit card machines that United staff now use turn over passenger information to Chase. United told me: "We don't collect customer information from our onboard credit card machines."

Of course Flight Attendants will accept that sales is now another part of their job.

One told me last week: "As usual, Flight Attendants will be good little soldiers and make it work because that's what we do."

Indeed, during United's rather glorious Second Quarter earnings call, airline president Scott Kirby said that credit card sales are already on the up and Flight Attendants would be ordered to make sales announcements "indefinitely."

Indefinitely. Rather like the period so many Americans' carry their credit card debt.

Published on: Jul 22, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.