Does American Airlines Really Have the Rudest Employees?

Photograph ©istockphoto.com by Otmar Winterleitner.

A survey recently released concludes that American Airlines is the airline with the rudest employees in the United States.

The survey further implies that larger legacy airlines generally have employees which are ruder than employees of low-cost carriers.

I momentarily thought about posting a poll on FlyerTalk to see if the opinions of FlyerTalk members match those of the survey — until I immediately realized how that would largely be little more than a waste of time.

Rudeness of airlines does not correlate with an airline in particular — although it is possible that employees could be adversely affected if an airline is struggling with financial difficulties and an uncertain future.

American Airlines currently does fall into that category. As an example resulting from tension due to numerous and extensive delays on a flight which was eventually cancelled, there was this reported incident where flight attendant Jose Serrano allegedly announced that passengers can get off of the aircraft “if you have balls, this is your time — otherwise, you’re going to have to fly with Jose.”

Then there was the incident of the flight attendant who was removed from the aircraft as a result of erratic behavior which caused a disturbance — but rudeness was certainly not a factor.

However, I would argue that rudeness by airline employees caused by uncertainty is not acceptable or valid behavior, based on personal experience. I had flown regularly and frequently as a passenger on Continental Airlines in the midst of its second bankruptcy in the 1990s and do not recall the flight attendants being rude. In fact, I experienced quite the opposite: I recall that they treated me well. The same is true with Delta Air Lines in flights before it emerged from bankruptcy in April of 2007, as well as Northwest Airlines and United Airlines when they endured bankruptcy reorganization.

On the other hand, I would surmise that individual events could affect airline employees — such as this incident where a gate agent for American Airlines allegedly called the police on a passenger who supposedly touched his wrist during boarding. Was the gate agent dealing with a personal issue at home, or under review by his employer? Were passengers rude to him before this incident occurred, causing him to be in a bad mood?

No matter what are the answers to those questions, there is no reason for an airline employee to be rude — but are there exceptions to that dictum? What if you were an airline employee who was being recorded on video by a customer without your consent, as shown below?

Was that United Airlines employee rude, or did she act professionally? Moreover, was the customer rude to her?

What about if you are a telephone reservations agent who is told by a customer during a call who hoped that she and her family would “die in a plane crash” for not being able to seat all of the members of the family of the customer together on a flight?

I do not believe that a degree of rudeness can be associated with an airline in general — and I further do not believe that the employees of American Airlines are any ruder than employees of other airlines in the United States.

Rather, I will posit that rudeness emanates from customers who are rude to airline employees — especially those airline passengers with grand delusions of self-importance. I have personally witnessed incident after incident where fellow passengers were downright rude to airline employees for no reason — sometimes with unintentional consequences.

So — how can rudeness exhibited by airline employees be mitigated?

Simple. Be nice to them.

When a flight attendant takes drink orders before departure, the passenger next to me will more often than not grunt his or her drink order. I will usually say something to the effect of “May I please have a glass of juice?” Also, saying “thank you” whenever an airline employee completes a task is virtually effortless and goes a long way — yet surprisingly few people use it.

I cannot tell you how many times I have brightened the day of a gate agent or a flight attendant right after they dealt with a difficult customer — and in a few cases where the airline employee was actually in tears. Sometimes simply smiling and showing genuine empathy is all it takes to drain any chance of rudeness away. There are even times I am unexpectedly treated better than usual, such as boarding an otherwise packed flight so that I can arrive at my destination earlier, getting an upgrade, or receiving extra food with my meal.

My advice? Rudeness begets rudeness. Break the chain and spread some cheer — and be polite.

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Comments (Showing 9 of 9)

  • bwiadca at 5:22pm December 20, 2012

    Yes. And that’s why I swore in 1997 to never set my foot on any AA or American Eagle flight. To AA employees I was one step below ‘dunk’. That’s how they took care of me in 1997 at JFK.
    Many times AA was about 50% cheaper than the competition on the same route, but I gladly paid more just to avoid AA.

  • diburning at 8:17pm December 20, 2012

    I think US Airways may have them beat…

  • mach92 at 10:18pm December 20, 2012

    I have flown 2 million miles on AA. Every airline has rude employees. For the most part it’s like anything else in life. Treat people the way you want to be treated. I always say please and thank you. I ask nice and get nice. This works in any service industry. I think all of us in the world could be a little more friendly.

  • matsonjb at 7:58am December 21, 2012

    I saw this yesterday, a foreign traveler was asking the GA if it was her time to board, and didn’t understand english that well. She was in group 7 and it was Group 4 and I was behind her. The GA berated her and told her to move back and learn english…I stood their in awe by the audacity of the GA, that was further revealed when the GA told me that the foreigner should go back to her country. I shook my head at the GA and boarded…

  • zgscl at 8:11am December 21, 2012

    First of all, I find American, Delta, and Southwest to have the best employees. They have all gone out of their way to help me or my family on a number of occasions, sometimes staying after their shifts to help (specifically on American).

    Secondly, I always am very respectful and grateful to the airline employees that I come across (bear in mind that they get paid less than they should and have mostly lost lots of benefits over the years that they thought that they should get). Many of the flight crews have thanked me for being so polite, and I have always gotten outstanding service. As mach92 said, you get what you give.

  • daslax at 8:43am December 21, 2012

    There is a difference among airlines – some airlines both train and empower their employees to deal with irregular ops, while some seem woefully unprepared for anything but the most mundane of activities. For the latter, it leads to frustration from customers and an inevitable impression that the employee just dosen’t care or is being rude. In my experience, AA falls into the second category. Judging on day-to-day activities when nothing goes wrong, I can’t say anything wrong about AA, but in the circumstances where I needed help they were terrible and far less effective than other airlines.

  • alexbellamy at 5:52am December 22, 2012

    A bit simplistic Brian. Your article only applies to people who are rude to staff – and those people don’t tend to self identify.

    What about staff who are genuinely rude to polite customers?

  • Brian Cohen at 11:39am December 22, 2012

    Every airline has staff that are rude to customers. The point of what I wrote is that rudeness should not be generalized to a particular airline.

    If an airline employee is rude to me, I try to stop the chain of rudeness and be polite and civil. It almost always works — and besides, being rude back to the airline employee accomplishes little, if anything.

    For the few airline employees who continue to be rude to me, I try not to let it ruin my day and rationalize that something about which I do not know is troubling them…

  • AirFlow at 11:27pm December 22, 2012

    Maybe I just dont’ fly much, but I’ve never really experienced a rude airline employee on an initial first contact.
    I’ve seen aloofness, and maybe indifference, but never outright rudeness. Which is really amazing given the daily onslaught of the unprepared, the tardy, and the pompous, all clammering for their rightful place in the sky. And, it better be on time too!
    It seems to me that the daily challenges of the airline employee are dictated by unforeseen
    circumstances such as weather, mechanical delays, and connecting flights that don’t arrive / depart when they’re supposed to. I just think they put up with a lot of undeserved attitude from the flying public. As mentioned in a previous comment: try and be friendly; a smile, and a supportive and understanding comment goes a long way towards neutralizing the pressures of the moment. Overall, I think they do a great job, considering the circumstances and the demands of the flying public. In fact, I’m surprised the airlines don’t have a free shuttle from the airport to the Greyhound station for the disenchanted.

    AA: My favorite.

    The Video: How come we don’t see the prelude to the video. What happened – that the counter person wasn’t talking to ” First Class Smiley Guy”. We don’t get to see the “why”.
    I find the video unadmissible in court. Actually, I wouldn’t talk to him either.

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