Along with the reduction in service came a reduction in the number of flight attendants on board most aircraft.
Sometimes it's not just a lack of stuff, it's also a lack of staff. The minimum staffing on a US carrier is determined by FAA safety regulations. The FAA does not concern itself with whether or not passenger service is good or bad, or whether the airplane has one, two, or three cabins, but only with whether or not there is enough staff to evacuate the airplane in an emergency.
Let me use 757s and 733s or 4s as examples. Lots of airlines operate the 75 and 733 or 4, so it's familiar to most people. The cabin configurations will vary slightly from airline to airline, but they're pretty typical ball park figures.
Most airlines that operate the 75 do so in two cabins. F/C usually has 20 odd passengers and coach somewhere in the neighborhood of 160. Therefore, the airplane is certificated for and can operate with four F/As.
These airlines often operated the 75 with five, sometimes six if there was meal service in both cabins. They are now operated with four. If there's nothing but beverage service in both cabins, this arrangement is not too bad because you've got one working F/C and three working coach. However, when there is a meal in F/C, two of the four work F/C leaving two to work 160 passengers in coach. This is an 80:1 working ratio. Bad for the flight attendants. Bad for the passengers. Bad all the way around.
A 733/4 is virtually always operated by the major carriers in two cabins. Typically 12 in F/C and 136 in coach. This means one F/A for F/C and two for 136 in coach. Sometimes the F/C F/A can get to coach to lend a hand (usually trash pick up) and sometimes not. It depends on how demanding the passengers in F/C are and whether or not there's still some kind of food up there. In the coach cabin that's a 68:1 working ratio. Not good for anyone.
As a point of comparison, SW
operates 733s with 150 pax in an all coach configuration and three F/As. This is a 50:1 working ratio. Perfectly reasonable. JetBlue operates 320s with 156 pax in an all coach configuration and four F/As. This is a 39:1 working ratio. Absolutely outstanding.
Delta's spin off, Song, is a 75 with 199 pax, all coach, and four F/As. That's a hair under a 50:1 ratio. Again, perfectly reasonable.
And......for anyone who's wondering: Flight attendants who work for the Big Six do not make more money than the ones working for Southwest and jetBlue. They used to make a little more money, but not anymore.
Also.......for F/As who work these all coach airplanes and think you could do so and so in F/C and then run to coach. You couldn't.
I can remember passengers complaining to me about Eastern Airlines. At that time EA
was operating 99 pax DC-9s with two F/As. One for F/C and one for coach. The coach cabin had around 85 passengers. At that time I was working an all coach long 72 with 164 pax and 4 F/As. We did very good service. Instead of beating up the EA
F/A along with him, I would point out that she was trying to work somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 pax alone and I had about 40-45, so, of course, on the same flight segment, I could do more for each passenger. ("More" can mean anything from a second cup of coffee to a short conversation to finding him another barf bag to making sure his pillow had a clean cover.) And....it was the same flight segment because we were in direct competition with EA
. I would note that it was very sad that EA
's management had been making poor financial decisions for so long that they could no longer properly staff their airline and seemed to have no concern for passenger service....and ".......could I get you another cup of coffee?" (Beeeeeeg smile)
I figured those EA
flight attendants had enough problems without me contributing to them by encouraging someone to be nasty to them the next time he had to ride on EA
. I put the monkey on the back of the people it belonged on.
I've seen on this board (not in this discussion) the idea expressed that an airplane has to have a flight attendant for every floor level exit. This is not true. 733s have four floor level exits and normally operate with three F/As. 320s have four and usually operate, in two cabins, with three.