Social media has been an amazing customer service tool in the last five or so years, with Twitter and Facebook being the first stop for many when problems arise. And should companies still fail to live up to their promises after contact is so publicly made, it can then become a public relations nightmare when onlookers chime in, and often eventually this leads to some kind of happy ending for the complainer. In some respects, it’s a great platform to ensure accountability – in others, a soapbox on which some spout slanderous, one-sided, heavily-edited stories in order to hold companies hostage until the desired outcome is achieved, whether it’s right or not. Telling the difference between the two isn’t always easy when you’re in the audience.
The heavily documented David Dao incident on United Airlines was the first of several incidents in close succession that involved passengers filming the situations once they’d been well underway. I’m not here to debate which parties were in the wrong in those events, but it did inarguably lead to a cell phone-based empowerment culture of ‘taking back the skies,’ leaving many well-meaning gate agents and flight attendants pushed to the edge by bullying passengers who want the impossible, ready to record as soon as a bead of sweat becomes visible on the brow of the targeted employee.
Of course, this has led some flight attendants more likely to choose their battles when it comes to enforcing the rules onboard in order to avoid conflict – a dicey proposition not just for safety reasons, but because, should the FAA catch us not following the letter of the law, we may be responsible for paying enormous fines…all while suspended from duty or potentially fired. There’s no easy route, and it feels like we are set up to lose either way.
But one company feels like they’ve found a solution. Guernsey-based airline Aurigny has opted to outfit their customer-facing employees with body cameras that can be activated when trouble arises. The video, once the wearer has begun filming, may not be viewed or edited by that person. A spokesperson for the airline said that while most of their clientele are model passengers, recent incidents have brought about a desire for a second perspective in the event of a potential viral video PR nightmare.
As a flight attendant, I can appreciate the idea of potential backup should I feel cornered (which I don’t often at all), but oftentimes that support comes in the form of surrounding passengers. Times are tense enough in the skies as it is right now, and I can’t imagine that flyers’ knowledge that I’m wearing a body camera wouldn’t turn the heat up several degrees on that. Headlines like, “____ Airlines Kicked _____ Off The Plane For No Reason,” a daily occurrence earlier this year, are losing their punch now, and it’s starting to make sense to public that airlines and their employees typically do not like to make trouble and paperwork for themselves, much less lose passenger loyalty. If it doesn’t make sense, there’s usually more to the story.
The CEO of the body camera manufacturer, Edesix Ltd., predicts that Aurigny will be the first of many airlines in the near future to equip staff onboard and on the ground with the wearable technology to prevent passengers from bullying and threatening employees. However, I don’t see this being a valid solution. Both sides of a conflict can start video at will, so neither perspective would be the entire one. And I don’t want to be in an environment where my passengers will automatically view me as an opponent. I have been painted in a bad light by passengers who have had ulterior motives, but the truth has always come out via witnesses when I know I’ve done the best job I’m able to do – though admittedly maybe I’ve raised my voice at times when I should have instead stopped and taken a breath. I have done this for years and am confident I can continue to do my job this way for years to come. But if body cameras are the future of flying, it might be coming time to hang up my wings.