First United Airlines, and now this. An American Airlines flight attendant on a Friday evening flight from Dallas to San Francisco is accused of hitting a passenger with a stroller, while she was holding her baby. The video starts with the passenger in tears, sobbing in the front cabin while other passengers continue to board. Fortunately the child escaped impact. (H/T to Jalopnik)
Update: An alternative view has been offered by at least one passenger, suggesting that the woman in question attempted to bring her stroller on board even though it was already tagged to be gate checked (strollers must always be gate checked). It’s still not clear how this led to tears, but at some point there was a tug-of-war with the stroller between the female passenger and the flight attendant. One version of events is that the woman pulled the stroller hard and hit herself, rather than the employee hitting her.
This update would cast more blame on the female passenger than the video and its commentary first suggested. However, American Airlines has not completed its investigation, and we still don’t really know what happened before the video starts.
I think that American Airlines’ original statement still has merit under this alternative scenario. If an employee and a passenger are engaged in a scuffle over a stroller, that shows a lack of “patience and empathy.” I stand by my position that it was the responsibility of all employees on the plane to de-escalate the situation. If the woman refused to gate check her stroller, I say let her go to her seat and confer with colleagues to determine the best solution, perhaps asking her to leave the plane. Fighting over luggage in the galley is still inexcusable behavior for an employee.
It’s not clear exactly what happened — it was almost certainly an accident — but the incident led to another altercation on the plane when a passenger in first class got up to confront the flight attendant. And that’s where things got ugly. Passenger Surain Adyanthaya shared the video on Facebook late Friday night. (Skip ahead to 0:35 to see other passenger get up for the first time, and to 1:45 when he gets up a second time to confront the flight attendant.)
The male flight attendant’s behavior toward the male passenger seems unusually aggressive and does not reflect any remorse for what might have happened earlier. It’s not hard to believe that he may also have been acting carelessly earlier.
This story is still developing. I’ve tried to avoid drawing too many conclusions, but it should be obvious that–whatever happened–the subsequent argument is totally out of line. An employee is egging on a customer, daring him to throw the first blow. If an employee can’t remain calm under pressure on the ground, I’d hate to see what he does in the air. It seems like poor judgement on someone’s part that the flight attendant was still allowed to join the flight. Perhaps everyone involved should have been escorted off until the facts of the situation were better understood.
American Airlines has released the following statement, originally published on Jalopnik:
We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.
The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.
I think that’s a great response and much better than what we originally saw from United Airlines last week. Remember my commentary that the real issue in United’s situation was a lack of customer service, by which I mean ruthless adherence to rules even in situations that deserve an exception. United’s employees were “just following orders.”
But American’s situation is not a problem with policy. It’s a rogue employee with a bad attitude, and these are found at all airlines. In this case, what matters is the service recovery. It seems the employee has now been suspended pending an investigation and the woman was upgraded. That’s about as good as it gets for now. If more news surfaces, I’ll be sure to update the post.