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Air Rage: Readers Speak Out

As a gate agent for a major airline, I take great exception to some of the verbiage you use in describing how we "abuse" and "mislead" the traveling public. What you seem to forget is that I want the same thing you want, and that is for you to get on the plane and leave. The faster I can accomplish that, the better off we both are. Some passengers feel they can get on whenever they want, and that we will hold the plane for them. Guess what? We don't. No matter how much you pay for your ticket, it did NOT include the right to physically and verbally abuse me, and never will. If you decide to throw your ticket jacket at me, I will refuse to check you into one of my planes. If you decide you want to break security, for which we can be fired, I will stop you. That is my job. I will shut the jetway door and not let you on. If you continue to persist in that type of activity, the crew will throw you off, rather then let you get into a metal tube, climb to 37,000 feet, and move at 500 MPH, and endanger me and the other 150 people with you. If I break your bag, I will fix or replace it. If the flight is delayed, I will try to reroute you, if it is possible, and there is room. Demand and scream all you want about the meeting that you have to be in 12 minutes after your scheduled arrival where ever you are going. It will do no good. Reality does not change. Your inability to accept it is the problem. What do I owe you for your money? I owe you a ride to your destination, on schedule, and with baggage you may have checked in. That is all...

We live with what we have, and we try to make it better. Sometimes we win, other times we don't. You have many tales of woe from passengers about how we treat them. Did you ever ask them what precipitated the problem to start with? You might be surprised that it starts with lost keys, misplaced tickets, dead batteries in cars, traffic, or the cop that stopped them on the way to the airport. And WE get blamed for those also. I would be happy to swap war stories with you anytime.

Joe Hall
Kingwood, TX


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Dear Mr. Hewitt:
As a former five year employee of Continental Airlines, I have been watching the recent developments in the air industry with avid interest; all the while thinking to myself, "Thank God I got out of that industry."

During my last two years with the airline, I worked at the airport in Tampa, and I can add another cause to what's going on in the present climate--it's not just the trickle down problems from the corporate level. The management staff was more than incompetent; none of them should have been in a position to either manage people or resolve customer problems. There was one supervisor who flatly refused to come out of her office when there was a problem with a passenger--her favorite quote was "Do what you want--I don't give a rat's a**." This same supervisor was unable to either book a reservation; she did not know how to run a ticket; she did not know how to work a gate position; she didn't know how to check in a passenger. She is still working at the airport, and I seriously doubt that her front line skills have improved since then.

Another problem that caused airline employee frustration was the "rules," as you pointed out. Before every shift came on, these supervisors would meet with the employees to reinforce the rules of the airline in regards to certain matters. When an employee would be confronted with a disgruntled passenger, with no recourse except to explain the rules over and over again, with no other options, the supervisor would end up being called, and when the supervisor would eventually show up, the supervisor would then agree to let the passenger break the rules; further humiliating the employee who in most cases would have been happy to break the rules in the first place. This policy made the employee look like a fool; made the passenger wait longer than necessary to get what they needed take care of (and therefore created a situation where the passenger got angry for no reason, since he was going to be given what he wanted); and also taught the passenger an invaluable lesson--the louder and angrier you get, the more likely it is that you're going to get what you want.

Continental also "empowered" its agents at the airport, giving them the authority to bend the rules on an as needed basis; however, this policy was not defined. None of the agents knew exactly what it was they could or could not do...

The Tampa airport had fifty-three departing flights. At one point we had close to seventy. When we had seventy flights, frequently the ticket counter only had four agents scheduled to work during the peak time. Four people to check in over two thousand passengers in a two hour period. Is it any wonder that mistakes were made with the baggage? Under the best of times, the check in process was a nightmare. If a flight canceled or was delayed, the process slowed down almost ridiculously. Frequently, we were so busy that the ticket counter agents could not even take breaks; we were often thrown into mandatory overtime. There were days when I worked as many as thirteen consecutive hours without a break. The amount of supervisors the airport was allowed was based on headcount of employees rather than passengers. The entire time I worked there we never had more than four supervisors who were required to cover all hours at the ticket counter and the gate. Frequently, we had days where there was only one supervisor on duty to handle all areas of the airport operation. I was frequently on the side of the passengers as an employee, and did everything I could to help them out. As a result, I ended up getting fired.

Yet again, the problem is not all due to the airlines either. Sometimes passengers make ridiculous demands... Is it any wonder that airline employees are frustrated and angry and NOT willing to work with passengers?

Frankly, the only solution I can think of to make things improve is to take all of the bigwigs with their six and seven figure salaries out of their ivory towers and throw them on the front line for a week or two...

That'll be the day.

Gregh121

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Plenty of Blame To Go Around

Ed,

I was an air traffic controller for five years and feel the FAA's responsibility for this mess is more than meets the eye. The lead time for the current situation was such that the FAA needed to update far earlier than it thought. Combine that with budget cuts, general bureaucratic problems and the like, they should have started to deal with the problems they knew were coming. The old ATC system had computers that could be programmed and fixed only by people either dead or retired. This is not good!

So much for opinions,
Lyle Van Horn, DrVH

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I travel somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 miles per year on scheduled airlines. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I don't think the level of service is that awful. I listen to passengers complain about food (or the lack thereof), cost, fare rules, delays, and employee attitude. Generally I hear them doing this in a loud, abusive fashion. I think too many fliers forget that transportation is the product that the airlines are selling. They are not restaurants. They are not babysitters for their children. They have no control over the weather, and they are subject to the whims of the FAA. Of course our elected representatives, sensing a popular issue, are quick to talk about passengers' rights, neglecting their own responsibilities to overhaul the antiquated and increasingly dangerous air traffic control system. The tax money collected on your ticket should, it would seem, be spent on improving the system. The shell game played in Washington, however, has a different set of rules.

I would agree that the airlines are their own worst enemies. There are rude and incompetent employees. There is too much labor strife. The fare rules are incomprehensible. On the other hand, listening to the current debate about airline performance, air rage, etc. reminds me that America seems to have an affinity for piling on. Our duly elected representatives are only too happy to stand in front of us and tell us that our rights are being abused. Of course we, like sheep, are joining the mob yelling, "Yeah, that's right! "We're being abused!" I agree, but the abuse I'm getting from the airlines pales in comparison to the one I am getting from Washington.

When our Congress dedicates as much effort to fixing the FAA and the air traffic control system as it does to telling us we're not getting a square deal from the airlines, then I'll be ready to jump on the bandwagon. In the meantime, I guess I'll put up with the odd delay and count myself fortunate that I can get on a plane in Dallas, arrive in Atlanta two hours later, and have paid about $200. It just doesn't seem that bad to me...but maybe I just have low expectations.

MikeG IPM

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Passengers Speak Up

I will never forget the treatment my daughter and I received on flight bound for California. The head stewardess took a disliking to us and bullied us whenever she could. She was loud and very arrogant.

(A story recounting incident where a flight attendant refused to help a non-English speaking passenger, and how the writer was accosted for insisting she be helped, snipped)

My heart was pounding to have a main stewardess bully and humiliate us while we were in the air. We felt helpless.

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The handicapped traveler has it even worse than the regular guys. And they have it bad enough. But you're right. There's a herd mentality among passengers, and it's the airlines who have forced us into it. There's no kindness or courtesy. There's not even simple decency.

Just one more element in a very complex problem.

Susan M.

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From Cilla1001:

I enjoyed your article very much. I fail to understand why overbooking a flight is not fraud. There are only so many seats on any given aircraft. If you sell more than you have, it would seem that you are defrauding people. If I have one car to sell, and I draw up 2 bills of sale and collect money from 2 people for the one car, I go to jail. Why is this practice not only allowed, but commonplace in the airline industry. The excuse I hear is a high number of "no-show" travelers. Not a valid excuse....you have their credit card numbers...bill them for the flight. If I fail to show up for a medical or dental appointment without calling and canceling, I'm charged a fee. Couldn't the airlines do this also? It seems to me that they do- if you book a non-refundable flight and fail to show for it, you still pay for the flight. It's an insane way to do business. Of course, as it stands, they have all the power and they make all the rules. Sad, isn't it?

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I did not see a reference to excessive alcohol in the air as a contributing factor of bad behavior. It is no small matter. Please address this in the future because it is very much dismissed as a contributing factor and guidelines should be established

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Titled: Lies after lies by airline crew attendants

I agree with you fully that no one has a right or privilege to take law in his or her own hand but when you see how airline staff treat the passengers, I leaves a lingering sour taste in your mouth.

(story snipped)

Most of people are good people no matter who they are but there are few who have no shame, moral or standards to treat the way they wanted to be treated themselves.

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Hi Ed,
Believe me, I've personally experienced the airlines totally exaggerating this "gate rage" issue to suit their own purpose.

(harrowing story snipped)

This is why I have a serious problem with feeling sorry for airlines. I have been constantly flying on business for the past nine years, and have every frequent flyer card imaginable. I have never had one other problem with any other airline. I don't have a criminal record and have never been arrested for anything. They made me feel like a criminal.

I am absolutely certain that the airline industry is tops in this country for worst in customer service. On top of that, they feel that they can get away with this shabby treatment, because they have plenty of money to defend any legitimate legal action taken against them.

I have experienced dozens of major airline screw ups in the past nine years, but this kind of abuse cannot go unchecked.

PS. Not every airline experience has been unpleasantly have had many good flights with competent employees. The main point is that I have had too many negative experiences out of the many times I have flown.

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Nice job on your recent article regarding the airlines abuse of their "customer" or should I say "cargo."

My biggest complaint is what appears to me to be outright lies told to passengers by pilots.

(story about flight that leaves an hour late, then miraculous arrives on time snipped)

Pardon me, but if it smells like BS, it is. I strongly suspect the schedules for virtually all flights have a built-in "BS" factor and I wish the airlines would just be honest about it. Hey, if the winds are in our favor and there is a legitimate logistical problem with arriving at our destination an hour earlier, at least let passengers enjoy the airport restaurants instead of sitting on the plane for an hour.

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