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Can flight attendant have their real feelings? Discover female flight attendant emotional labour

Can flight attendant have their real feelings? Discover female flight attendant emotional labour
Author: Naomi Chin
2 Commentries
Abstract: The purpose of this conference paper is to have a deep understanding of how contemporary female flight attendant experience the emotional labour at work and apply previous literatures to compare if emotional labour always has negative impact on flight attendant’s well being. In order to provide realistic and comparable arguments, an online video interview has been conducted with a female flight attendant who is currently working at an international airline with 4 years experience to gather in depth and up to date information.

Keywords: Female flight attendant, Emotional labour, Surface acting, Deep acting, Emotional display rules

Flight attendant has been assumed as an easy job with superior benefits and opportunities and naturally ideal for women to use their instinctive skills on this job, however, as this is not a normal nine to five occupation and flight attendants are working in an unusual working environment, academics have identified the hidden effects behind this job and defined flight attendant as a highly emotional demanding occupation.

In a competitive service industry, “customer is the king” (Hochschild, 1983, 86) has been stated as the core service concept. Especially in the airline industry, increasing of low cost airlines increased the competition, to differentiate products and services and satisfy passengers’ expectation, flight attendant as the frontline worker play a key role to deliver standard and high quality of services to passengers. Accordingly, as frontline workers directly interact with customers on a daily basis, flight attendant also defined as emotional workers, which request to control and suppress their emotions at work (Korczynski, 2007; Hochschild, 1979) and it has been demonstrated that “the more directly interaction with customers, the more frequent to engage emotional regulation and request higher emotional effort by employees” (Kinman, 2009, 121).

After Hochschild (1983) researched on female flight attendant and defined the concept of emotional labour as a commercialised emotion management process involves surface acting, which modifies facial and bodily emotion through faking, suppressing and altering real emotions and deep acting, which modifies individual’s inner feelings to comply organisation’s emotional display rules to express appropriate emotion to passengers in the airline industry, academics have increased awareness on female flight attendant and more studies have expanded Hochschild’s thesis (Allen et al, 2014; Ashforth and Humphrey,1993; Cheung and Miu, 2015; Gabriel and Diefendorff, 2015; Grandey, 2000; Hochschild, 1983; Hsu, 2012; Kinman, 2009; Lee et al, 2015; Lu and Liou, 2015; Magdalene, 2012; Peng, 2009; Preston, 2013; Smith and Lorentzon, 2005; Taylor and Moore, 2015). In general, many viewed that flight attendant have a strict emotional display rules stipulated to follow and flight attendants have direct interactions with passengers in long working hours which easily increase the emotional dissonance between personal and occupational emotion (Allen et al, 2014; Cheung and Miu, 2015; Gabriel and Diefendorff, 2015; Hochschild, 1983; Hsu, 2012; Lu and Liou, 2015; Lee et al, 2015; Magdalene, 2012), as a result, it is believed that emotional display rules are the driving force increase flight attendants engage emotional labour and more often apply surface acting to comply emotional display rules at work by suppressing of express personal emotions which increase negative impact on job satisfaction, wellbeing and performance. Arguably, some academics viewed that emotional labour enables to enhance job performance, acting as a coping strategy for flight attendant to distance from personal and occupational situation to protect themselves in high emotion demand situations and deep acting has a relevantly less negative impact on flight attendants’ well being (Goodwin et al, 2011; Judge et al, 2009; Magdalene, 2012; Smith and Lorentzon, 2005), however, it has been argued that emotional labour only benefits organisations to achieve its business objectives, as flight attendant emotions are restricted by emotional display rules, although flight attendants may perform well, they usually apply deep acting at work to survive in today’s job insecurity society (People Management, 2009).

When apply the concept and the thesis of emotional labour in the contemporary flight attendant workplace, an interview with a female flight attendant who has 4 years work experience and currently working at an international airline demonstrated that rather than emotional display rules, working environment and job satisfaction also impact the use of emotional labour. Although academics and literatures have justified flight attendants are more often experience emotional labour, the interviewee clarified that the use of emotional labour is not always negative to flight attendant’s well being and how individual view and use of emotional labour is differ. Interviewee on this paper illustrated that she is satisfied with her job as this is her dream job and she understand ensure passengers’ safety, provide a good standard of services, attending passengers and distance personal emotion at work is her job roles and responsibilities, although dealing with disruptive passengers is more likely to happen and fake emotion may exist in different situations on flight attendant’s daily activities, when flight attendant has positive view of the airline and satisfy with the job, the pressure comes from passengers and the working environment can do nothing to degrade individual’s performance and the interviewee has viewed emotional labour as a pushing factor to make herself feel more motivated on her job, these findings show that rather than comply emotional display rules, job satisfaction is the key force impacts how individual use emotional labour and how they perform. Additionally, as working under pressure has been illustrated as the nature of flight attendant workplace and previous studies have widely identified negative impact of surface acting, to maintain a healthy working environment to increase flight attendants’ job satisfaction, it is suggest that airlines should increase monitoring and communicate with flight attendants to show support and ensure flight attendants have the correct way to release their personal emotion.

Grandey, A. A. (2000) Emotion Regulation in the Workplace: A New Way to Conceptualize Emotional Labour, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5 (1) 95-110.

Hochschild, A. (1979) Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American journal of sociology, 85 (3) 551-575.

Hochschild, A. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Commentary for 'Discover female flight attendant emotional labour'
Author: Victoria Stevens
This particular discussion paper is interesting to me as emotional labour was discussed by many academics alongside aesthetic labour within my research topic. Cabin crew is a job I have been interested in for a number of years hence the interest towards this topic. The writer starts off by discussing the importance of the customers, the introduction of low-cost airlines has had an impact on the airline industry in terms of competition resulting in high demands from cabin crew. This was outlined in Spiess et al (2004) article regarding emotional and aesthetic labour used for a competitive advantage. This is very closely linked to aesthetic labour as cabin crew are required to look and appear a certain way, the writer has explained very well the underlining causes for emotional labour using direct academic quotes.

The writer has used Arlie Hochschild an academic mentioned in many relating articles for example Warhurst et al (2009) in the article regarding emotional and aesthetic labour in service roles. The writer provides a definition of the term by Arlie Hochschild well known for their discussion on emotional labour, the paper continues to discuss the interaction between customers and flight attendants with ‘emotional display rules’, the writer identifies the negative impacts of this in terms of job satisfaction, well-being and performance. On the other hand argues the positive impacts of emotional labour creating a very well designed argument, the paper continues to highlight that this only benefits the business similar to that of aesthetic labour among cabin crew and the fact appearances are good for business.

The writer then discussed the results of their primary research, an interview conducted with a flight attendant of 4 years. The answers given by the attendant show a positive impact from emotional labour as job satisfaction and wanting to work as cabin crew will provide a very good standard of customer service which is essentially the aim of the job. Furthermore, includes the fake emotion created in specific situations similar to Tsaur et al (2013) findings regarding fake smiles and tones of voice preventing crew from being themselves. Overall, the writer has highlighted that job satisfaction and the working environment impact how cabin crew perform emotionally, underlining that airlines must support and communicate with crew. The only recommendations I have was to explain a few of a terms a little further for example ‘surface acting’ as I am not sure what it means, apart from that very well done!

Spiess, L. and Waring, P. (2004) Emotional and Aesthetic Labour, Cost Minimisation and the Labour Process in the Asia Pacific Airline Industry. Employee Relations, 27 (2) 193-207.

Tsaur, S. and Tang, W. (2013) the Burden of Esthetic Labour on Front-Line Employees in Hospitality Industry. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 35 19-27.

Warhurst, C. and Nickson, D. (2009) ‘Who’s Got the Look?’ Emotional, Aesthetic and Sexualized Labour in Interactive Services. Gender, Work and Organisation, 16 (3) 385-404.
Further discussion on the conference paper
Author: Ksenia Palmu
The question in the topic of this conference paper attract my attention and I wanted to know, can the flight attendant have their real feelings? In my opinion, they can, but more important is in what manner they express their feelings. The nature of the flight attendant job include unusual working times and continuous contact with the customers. Academics state that the airlines expect appropriate emotional display rules for the members of the flight crew as it is straight related to the satisfaction of the customers and airline performance (Lee et al., 2015). The rules can be seen as a tool to follow the corporate objectives and the regulations for the emotional behaviour that is extremely important in the airline industry as the failure of delivering wrong emotions can cost company its reputation and impact on the quality of the service.

As the author stated, the flight attendant job is emotionally highly demanded and the discussion is straight related to the emotional displays, customer experience and job performance. Airline industry falls under the category of service industry and the performance of the employees is a crucial factor in the company success. Just like in every other customer and service related job, flight attendants are continuously in a contact with the clients and customers form their opinions based on the received services thus emotional displays of the employees including their gestures, behaviour and expressions play the key role in the customer experience (Lee et al., 2015).

The interview of the author proved that job satisfaction has also a significant role in the performance and the emotional display rules does not have a negative outcome. However, academics suggest that emotional display rules are usually associated with deep or surface acting and conducted interview above confirms this fact. This kind of acting is a part of an everyday routine and can have outcomes in terms of burnout and job performance; the rules suggest that employee must show only positive emotions and it can lead to emotional dissonance, stress, health issues, emotional exhaustion, turnover and decrease in quality of service (Lee et al., 2015). Despite the fact that emotional display rules can have negative outcomes, they are also proved to have positive effects on the job performance and loyalty of the employees (Imm et al., 2011). The emotional display rules are essential if the company wants to reach high levels of service quality and airlines must keep investing in training and management to reach best possible results. Proper training and professional knowledge will help flight attendants to deal with the negative emotions and avoid situations that can lead to conflicts.

List of Reference

Imm Ng, S., Sambasivan, M., Zubadaih, S. (2011) Antecedents and outcomes of flight attendants’ job satisfaction. Journal of Air Transport Management 17(5) 309-313.

Lee, C., An, M., Noh Y. (2015) The effects of emotional display rules on flight attendants’ emotional labor strategy, job burnout and performance. Service Business 9(3) 409-425.