Yesterday an American Airlines flight attendant grabbed a passenger’s stroller and reportedly nearly hit her baby in the process.
The altercation may have happened because the passenger, from South America, might not have understood the flight attendant’s initial instructions, that she couldn’t store the stroller in the overhead bin.
A passenger started taking video on American Airlines flight 591 yesterday from San Francisco to Dallas as the woman cries asking for her stroller back.
A different passenger approaches and asks the flight attendant’s name, presumably so he could file a complain about the man’s behavior towards the mother. Passengers tell other members of the crew that this flight attendant “grabbed the woman’s stroller.”
As the video approaches nearly two minutes in the man who asked the flight attendant’s name has watched all he can, gets up and intervenes. The flight attendant flails at him and orders “you stay out of this.”
AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her. AA591 from SFO to DFW.
The passenger who took the video wrote on Facebook that the airline “in-voluntarily escorted the mother and her kids off the flight and let the flight attendant back on, who tried to fight a passenger.”
American Airlines has suspended the crew member and shared this statement.
We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.
The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”
If nothing else, the United Airlines incident where a passenger was dragged off and bloodied by police after refusing to give up his seat for a crew member has taught airlines better crisis communication — not to apologize for having to re-accommodate customers as United CEO Oscar Munoz initially said in that instance, but to disavow the behavior immediately.
That said, the claim that “patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care” are things that we can expect across the board from the airline’s crew is — to put it mildly — a stretch (though hardly unique to American).
Ron Lieber has a great New York Times piece this morning on flight attendant training to manage conflict. It’s a good long-ish read on the verbal judo it takes for crew to deal with myriad passengers from all different backgrounds and the situations they face. He opens with the increasingly conflict between passengers and flight attendants.
He shares some stories of successful management of difficult situations, offering up one where a passenger sitting next to me brought her own wine in a to-go cup from an American Airlines club.
But ultimately I think the most important point is that training of individual flight attendants is helpful, but the culture and airline instructions that have developed over the past 16 years have led to an escalation of passenger customer service challenges to potential security threats.. quickly. And he allows me to make that case.
Mr. Leff has been vocal about how airlines have watered down the definition of potential security risks — and not in a good way. “They’ve created a space in which you’re asking crew to evaluate what constitutes a threat,” he said. “Which could include refusing instructions, whatever those may be, which gradually gets interpreted as talking back to a crew member or just being rude, which may be unintentional.”
Here, he points to another blogger who was asked to leave a flight for taking pictures of the seat back in front of him. His eviction was based on a very loose reading of a no-photographing-the-crew rule and a reportedly false accusation that he did not comply with a flight attendant’s order to put down his phone camera.
Mr. Leff also has a friend, he said, who ran into a flight attendant recently who threatened to summon law enforcement when the friend asked the flight attendant to be careful of the delicate items she had placed in the overhead bin.
…Mr. Leff was quick to note that he does not know precisely which borderline passenger behaviors should be declared removal-worthy. “But I also think that airlines have allowed consideration of the question to take a back seat,” he said, “where they are too quick to tell people to call law enforcement and don’t draw a line in the right place or invest enough in the customer-service element.”
Airlines have placed flight attendants in impossible adversarial roles with passengers. But Lieber’s piece ends on a hopeful note — the example of Delta empowering flight attendants to award miles on the spot for customer inconveniences (hardly a new idea as any recipient of United’s kits that led to various levels of compensation can attest). Giving flight attendants more tools to diffuse situations is a good start, any given effort may not be successful, but airlines need to experiment, evaluate results, and iterate to shift from a mindset that leads to so much conflict with customers.