Memo To: Larry Kellner, CEO, Continental Airlines
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: An Inspiration in the Air
You may not have heard of her, but Ivana Maine is a flight attendant on your Lisbon/Newark route. I was on the flight this morning after two days at a NATO workshop, to which I’d been invited to make a talk on the global economy. Some important things happened to me in Lisbon and I was feeling pretty good as I boarded Flight 65 departing Lisbon at 10:15 a.m., but I was not prepared for Ivana. In 48 years of flying, since I was 20 years old and flew from La Guardia to Burbank on the way to the fall 1956 semester at U.C.L.A., I’d never encountered a flight attendant like Ivana. She was an inspiration, and I decided to write to you about her in this “memo on the margin.” By “margin” I mean the place where all change takes place, something new, no matter how small. In my “memos” on this website, I try to offer comments on events that represent change, in one direction or another in the U.S. or world economy, and Ivana fit the bill perfectly.
My vantage point was from the first row of business/first class and I was the first aboard, so I was in a position to watch the plane fill up with a few hundred passengers. The woman who greeted me cheerfully as I stepped into the plane said “Good morning, good morning, welcome!” which I was not used to hearing and thought it was very nice, but probably due to my first-class status. What followed absolutely blew me away. This little woman, not more than five feet two inches, bubbled and bustled for the next 20 minutes as the plane filled up, greeting everyone who came aboard just as she had greeted me, her “Good mornings” and “Welcomes!!” filling the cabin like music. At first I thought she would tire of the exclamations as she moved up and down the aisle, or that they would begin to sound perfunctory, but from first to last she was greeting each passenger with as much enthusiasm and spontaneity as she had greeted me.
I’d never seen anything like it, and I could see the passengers filing into coach respond with smiles and nods. It was unlike anything I’d experienced on the thousand flights over my 48 years. This was far beyond “exceptional service,” the far end of the bell curve as ratings go of the very best workers in the service industries. I’d watched her during the flight and was amazed at the joyousness she showed in attending to the passengers in the smallest detail. When I saw she had a moment I caught her eye and she came over with a smile to see what I wanted, and I simply asked her how it was she was so happy. “But this is my home,” she laughed, holding her hands out to the cabin, “and you are my guests. I am happy to come here, I really look forward to coming here when I wake up in the morning, to be a part of this.” And she clearly felt it and meant it. If it were the custom to give flight attendants gratuities, I thought, it would make sense that Ivana would put on a show to increase her income.
But that wasn’t it, and the experience of watching her reminded me of the pure joy everyday, ordinary people can feel by throwing themselves into their work, getting out of it far more than a paycheck at the end of the week. I recalled reading Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving” sometime in the 1950s, in which he wrote of the deep satisfaction, a love of a kind, that men feel for each other in working on a common endeavor, like building a bridge or a skyscraper. To earn the appreciation of your fellows by doing your work well is priceless, and Ivana clearly was drawing on an even deeper pool of satisfaction, asking nothing in return for her hospitality, a clean expression of virtue being its own reward. At the end of the 7-hour flight, I told her I was going to write to you with this commendation, but I knew I would have to do more than simply fill out a card noting her exceptional service, because this was more a song of humanity. She is Portuguese, I gather, telling me she had worked for many years for Varig, the Brazilian airline, and has been with Continental for the last eight. How wonderful, I thought, it everyone could be so enthusiastic about “work” after so many years at it, and it occurred to me that many more than we imagine feel that way, but they don’t express it as Ivana does.
The experience for me was “on the margin,” even eclipsing the good news I’d gotten from Professor Mendo Henriques, the organizer of the NATO workshop, that my 1978 book, “The Way The World Works,” was going to be translated into Portuguese and published, the very first foreign translation, and that it would be made available not only in Portugal, but also in Brazil and Angola and Mozambique. It was something nice to bring back home with me, but not quite on the margin as the experience of Ivana’s way of turning an airplane into a home, with me and the other passengers her guests. In 48 years of flying, this was a wholly new experience.