That’s how it could be portrayed if a situation I’d been in years ago happened today. It would come with accompanying video of me removing their articles from the overhead bin as they begged me to reconsider, and I’d (quietly and apologetically) refused. However, even if the facts came out following a loud and angry call for my head on a platter and a boycott of my airline, it would likely still cast a dark shadow that would take the public relations department years to rebound from.
The reality of the above situation is a lot less interesting, and no one on the plane that day took issue with what happened, but things could have been different. During boarding, a gentleman’s portable oxygen concentrator started sounding a loud alarm. I’d gone over to check on him and his wife, and they said they were trying to fix it. When I’d returned a little while later, the loud beeping hadn’t stopped. It turned out the alarm was indicating a dead battery. I’d asked them to insert a replacement, and that one had turned out to be dead as well. I’d felt terrible doing it, but I had to remove the passengers because he did not have enough oxygen to fly with. They were able to catch a flight to Mexico the next morning, after sufficiently charging the batteries.
Can you see how this might be sensationalized if someone filmed or tweeted about me out of context?
As flight attendants, pilots and gate agents, we all have to make some unpopular decisions. Deservedly or otherwise, not one of us has been spared from a passenger or two of ours who declares that they’ll “never fly this airline again!” But these loud declarations are spreading to social media, which has a habit of making fact of partial stories. The most recent event to be given this treatment – the AA stroller fiasco – has multiple accounts of what really happened coming forward. Some of them have her in the back of the aircraft screaming at the initially professional and calm flight attendant (unlike the footage shown later in the incident) and refusing to comply with his requests to leave the stroller by the door of the aircraft. Others start with the flight attendant being confrontational the entire time and starting the fracas.
But you know what? I wasn’t there. I can’t say for sure. And neither can most of you.
I agree that bad and troubling behavior needs to be called out. In this case, I think we can all agree that the behavior we are shown of the flight attendant is inexcusable. But did the mother make it any better? Does the first class passenger who involves himself by shouting a threat at the flight attendant? In this current climate of passengers vs. airlines, crews have been noticing an increasingly defiant attitude toward the enforcement of rules, with people’s fingers constantly on their cell phones, ready to record at a moment’s notice. It makes it much more difficult to react in a calm and measured manner when one is being threatened in this way.
I’ve been the victim of a situation where a passenger of mine posted on my airline’s Facebook page about me. If one were to believe his account, I’d truly sounded like evil incarnate. But fortunately for me, he’d begun getting mouthy to a gate agent because I hadn’t allowed him to do something that he was not allowed to do in the first place, and several passengers within earshot were aware that he was planning to, and did, demand a free flight and my termination. Those passengers warned me and immediately sent my company their accounts of the situation and commended my handling of it. But, if he’d kept his mouth shut, I might be on the news or out of a job.
I can’t defend the bad behavior of anyone in any of these video accounts. Neither I nor my colleagues make the best decisions 100% of the time. But neither do passengers. People don’t always want to be told what to do. Some people want to have something to complain about in order to demand travel credit or even just a free drink. People don’t have the best motivations all of the time, and it’s becoming a war zone out there. While perhaps what we need on our side is more focus on customer service and conflict resolution, the traveling public also needs to realize that it isn’t a “the customer is always right” environment. There are specific rules in place to guarantee as best we can the comfort and safety of everyone onboard. When things devolve into demands made with a finger on the record button, travel is going to become an unthinkable nightmare. We will see – and are seeing – more aggression, more delays (thanks to taking the time to resolve incidents while still on the ground), and perhaps LESS customer service. Good flight attendants like this one are almost afraid with passengers because we feel like situations are being instigated at the drop of a hat.
Let’s stop being judge, jury and executioner at home – on either side. These stories don’t always have a hero and a villain; rather, they seem to highlight poor behavior and judgment on ALL sides. Airline employees need to remember how best to de-escalate or prevent situations from happening, but we also can’t allow people to gain sainthood without knowing their role in them. There’s always more to every story, and it’s not always found in a 30-second video clip.