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

Laugh. Weep. Laugh. Weep.

Such are the most prominent expressions of emotions when it comes to airlines.

They manage to do such silly things at times that you really wonder who's doing the managing.

The excuse, of course, is the desperate desire to make money.

The result, however, is a certain level of distaste among passengers and even their own employees.

The latest little niggle comes courtesy of United Airlines, the Friendly-Unless-You're-In-Our-Way Skies.

It's decided to compel its flight attendants to sell credit cards to passengers.

No, not any old credit cards. United's branded credit cards that make United rather more money than you might imagine.

Now, oh downtrodden United passenger, you can look forward to your harassed, occasionally unmotivated flight attendant acting like your bank teller with slightly less of a smile and a considerably reduced sense of timing.

Of course, United isn't the first to do this.

As Skift reports, American Airlines adores waking the enervated and the inebriated in order to make an announcement about the airline's branded credit card.

I fear it's a little like online ads that follow you around and, even when you've already bought something, keep on asking you to buy more.

I once asked a Zappos executive about these things. She told me she understood how annoying they were, but they work.

Alright, I'll buy one! Just let me get back to sleep!

 I asked United why, oh, why it was making flight crews do this. A spokesman told me: 

We are introducing a new training program for our co-branded credit card that is especially designed for Flight Attendants, as this work group has the most engagement with our customers. Our Inflight crew are effective ambassadors, who can best communicate to our customers in the moment the benefits of the United Explorer card.

Because I like to give my mirth girth, I asked United flight attendants how they felt about having something so attractive being "especially designed" for them.

One offered me words of forceful onomatopoeia. I translate them as: "I really don't like this."

Another offered: "It was one thing when we were asked to volunteer to promote the card application on the flight, but to make it mandatory? It's just overkill."

Yes, there was a time when this behavior was optional. 

Now, flight attendants will get $100 if they manage to get one of the squeezed and bleary-eyed to sign up for their Exploration.

This is twice as great an incentive as they used to get during voluntary times.

Perhaps, though, this simply reflects the notions of airline president Scott Kirby, who tried to get employees to compete in a game show for their bonuses instead of having those bonuses guaranteed for good work.

One flight attendant did, however, offer me a fascinating societal perspective on the new credit card sales drive, one that hadn't struck me.

"On the one hand, we have Basic Economy tickets which should appeal to flyers who might be on a budget. Now we have to shove a credit card application in their faces and encourage accumulation of debt," they said.

There's actually a tension between what airlines are asking flight attendants to do most of the time and this sudden lurch into sales.

Increasingly, a flight attendant's job revolves around policing the passengers and making sure the plane leaves on time. 

It's almost as if now they'll have to change personalities a little and become cheery hawkers.

"As usual, flight attendants will be good little soldiers and make it work because that's what we do," one United flight attendant told me, with a heaped tablespoon of resentment.

Published on: Jul 15, 2018
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