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.