Remember the last time you were passing through an airport on a trip from A to B and ran into some issue that required the assistance of an airline employee? Or maybe there was no issue: you just went to the counter, checked your bags in, then headed to the gate and boarded.

Think about all those friendly or not-so-friendly airline people you dealt with. Remember how you probably thought of them as these highly-trained, all-things-air-travel-proficient professionals? Can you still feel your instinctive tendency to rely on them to find you the best seat, to sort out your delayed flight, to arrange some booking error or to immediately single out the terrorist in the line and point him out to the police?

Well think again. They were most probably on a $10 or $11 hourly wage and in all likelihood, didn’t give a damn. That’s right, these travel professionals and customer service knights were possibly earning 11 bucks an hour. For reference, MacDonald’s crew make about $7.50 an hour. They too, get benefits, but no travel perks.

What do I base my rant on? Well I recently came upon a recruiting ad by Air France for JFK-based Passenger Service Agents. Your typical airline gofer.

The salary is $10.50/hr, going up to $11/hr after six months. Prospective employees must anticipate a 10-year background check, or roughly one year checked per dollar/hour paid. Do they check 20 years of their managers’ past? Any way, for that price, here’s what’s expected of the hires, as per Air France’s 7 Service Standards:

1. Be willing to help customers and be attentive to their needs
2. Be involved and proactive
3. Be courteous and friendly
4. Be impeccably dressed and well-mannered
5. Deliver a high level of expertise
6. Provide relevant information regularly
7. Create a welcoming environment

In order to provide the above, employees will:

– Maintain a high standard of safety and security according to the Air France safety policy while executing (your) duties
– Ensure that all work areas are functional (check-in, lobby, gate, baggage)
– Adhere to the Air France company Uniform Book & Grooming Standards
– Remain calm, cool and professional during crisis and times of stress
– Be enthusiastic about offering assistance where needed in all areas of passenger services
– Have the ability to lift at least 50 lbs
– Have the unique opportunity to speak French on a day-to-day basis, if (you) are French bi-lingual*

* Now that’s hilarious! Short of anything else to offer, Air France actually sells the opportunity to speak your own language as a benefit!

All that for a whooping $11 an hour. Wow. Air France is giving its front-row customer service duties to the hands of poor bastards who will bring $440 home a week, or little more than $300 after tax. $1,200 or $1,300 miserable dollars a month.

Think about that the next time you head to the Lost Luggage counter. And if you actually get your luggage back, sigh in amazement. Think about it, too, every time you receive a courteous smile or some help from an airline employee, because they provided these almost for free.

Your incredibly complicated ticketing issue that took 20 minutes to resolve earned them a gross $3.67. The simple smile when scanning your boarding pass lasted about 10 seconds and was worth 3 cents. If there was no smile and the boarding pass was torn out of your hand, could you really complain?

Are you a manager? An employer? How much do you think the smile of your front-line staff is worth?