American Airlines was the latest big carrier to make headlines with an onboard incident, after a flight attendant was filmed allegedly striking a mother with a stroller while trying to wrest it from her. The airline reportedly promptly announced an internal investigation, suspended the flight attendant, and upgraded the family in question to first class for the remainder of the flights on their international trip, compensation likely valued in the five figures.
Before this, it was United Airlines in the headlines, mostly for the ejection of a passenger who refused to yield his seat. While United was likely within its rights, the incident was handled poorly enough from a public relations perspective that United refunded the tickets for every single passenger, a substantial and impressive dollar volume of compensation.
Larry Olmsted, a writer with Forbes shared his experience after a Delta flight during which he was repeatedly stuck and bruised by an utterly unapologetic flight attendant but the resolution of his incident was much different from these cases.
In his words,
“In all my years of flying I have never experienced nor seen anything quite like what happened on my 15-plus hour Delta flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta two years ago. Sure, I have left plenty of flights feeling mentally battered, but I had never deplaned physically bruised by a flight attendant.
“Since I was flying coach on one of the world’s longest routes, I selected the best seat in advance, using my frequent flyer status to secure 44C, a bulkhead aisle seat with a huge amount of legroom. I’ve flown similar seats many time without drama, but the very first time the cart came by, the flight attendant slammed it into my video screen, deployed from the armrest, which then returned to its storage position, swinging down tomahawk style, straight into my shin, hard enough to leave a visible bruise and make me wince in surprise.
“That was almost as shocking as what happened next. Seeing my surprised and visibly disturbed reaction, the flight attendant could have done several things, the most obvious of which would have been to apologize. But instead he shrugged and literally said, “That’s going to happen about ten times this flight – bad plane design,” and kept going like it was nothing.
“His responses demonstrated that smashing Delta passengers was a normal routine for him, and I wonder how many others had to experience this for him to develop such a blasé attitude. I was irate and wrote to Delta demanding a refund for the flight, which to me seemed quite reasonable. The company’s response? The email I received (very promptly) “sincerely apologized” and promised to “share your comments with our In-Flight Service team” because “Feedback like yours will help us improve our process and customer experience.”
“Finally, as a “goodwill gesture” – which is distinctly different from an apology or admission that the incident was not normal Delta status quo – they offered me 5,000 bonus miles because, “Your Medallion loyalty to Delta is greatly appreciated.” How greatly did they value my years of buying tickets? The general accepted rate for valuing frequent flier miles is one to two cents, but savvy users can sometimes leverage three. So we are talking five, ten, maybe fifteen bucks which I refused as insulting (they then made a final offer of $50). A passenger struck while wrestling a stroller gets first class fights for her family, every United passenger got reimbursed full fare for witnessing a traumatic incident, and after being struck hard five times by an idiotic flight attendant I got offered a few dollars in miles.”
The difference between the two scenarios? There was no video capturing the flight attendant’s behavior while the United Airlines and American Airlines incidents were filmed by the passengers. The axiom, “the customer is king” is one that is constantly disregarded by airlines and now it is up to travellers to ensure that they get the services they paid for.
If an airline, or a hotel, or any entity you are paying money to for your trip treats you in a way that you don’t think is right, documenting it with video may fix your problem immediately, and at worst it gives you more ammunition to make things right in the future.