New journal article

Announcing a new publication by Dr Barbara Clark, founder 0f You Say Tomato!

Appearing in the academic journal Pragmatics and Society (link opens in new window), Dr Clark’s article, ‘Flight attendant identity construction in inflight incident reports’ draws from her PhD research. Dr Clark’s analysis shows that flight attendants use language strategically when describing inflight incidents which they have experienced, when reporting these incidents to aviation authorities.

The incident reports are characterised by:

  • Heavy focus on flight attendant safety duties and activities’
  • Flight attendant proactivity in order to lessen or even avoid incidents’
  • Use of industry-sanctioned terms instead of colloquial, intracrew terms, e.g., Captain not bus driver.
  • Use of us and them language that is counter to industry training practices which promote a united inflight team view of pilots and flight attendants.

One effect of the incident reports is to counter the stereotypes of flight attendants as weak, stupid, inflight waitresses, or sexual objects. Instead, the reports show flight attendants as being proactive, strong, safety-focussed, and working hard to be vital members of the inflight crew.

In some ways, this portrayal of flight attendants is unsurprising: after all, they are writing the reports themselves, so it’s in their best interest to show how important and good at their jobs they are.

But the reports are quite revealing in the large use of us and them language. This dichotomy is exactly the opposite of flight attendant training, which includes the international communication and interaction standards of Crew Resource Management (CRM), which exhorts flight attendants to think of themselves and pilots as parts of an inflight team.

Whilst it may be impossible to always consider (and refer to) pilots as us (for example, when discussing tasks or incidents in the aircraft cabin), the extent to which pilots were referred to as they, them, or their indicates that more work needs to be done in airline training courses and CRM manuals to address the pervasive separation and distancing of pilots and flight attendants. Us and them talk can be a symptom of a larger issue, which could impact more than employee relations.

If you’d like a copy of Dr Clark’s article, or if you’d like to talk about us and them language in your organisation, please get in touch: