The Internet has been abuzz with a wacky story from a recent American Airlines flight. To summarize, a flight attendant blew up at a first-class passenger when he asked for orange juice. It seems something was up with the flight attendant—perhaps just a bad day, or some sort of private issue—because she was allegedly terse and impolite with other passengers.
But it was the OJ request that, for whatever reason, pushed the situation over the edge. And that edge included a written violation for the passenger, which accused him of "threatening, intimidating, or interfering" with a flight crewmember. These violations are typically reserved for passengers who are violent or abusive, and require a thorough investigative follow-up.
I don't want to dwell too much on the details, because so far we've only gotten the passenger's side of the story (if you want more details, Consumerist has the initial story). American is looking into the issue, but so far has only apologized to the passenger and others on the flight who spoke to airline officials after landing. If, and when, American releases its findings, and we have a more complete sense of what happened, I'll update here.
So for now, a more useful response to this incident is to remember that airline crew have endured quite a bit over the past few years. For as much degradation of service we've seen as passengers, flight attendants have dealt with serious changes to their hours and compensation. Says flight attendant Heather Poole, writing for Gadling, "Flight attendants work ten hour days without a break, not even a meal, yet any type of complaining to the airline by an employee may guarantee a front row seat at the front of the unemployment line." No erosion of benefits or quality of life excuses an unjustified verbal (and legal) attack at innocent passengers, but the orange juice incident is also the exception to the rule.
Most flight attendants love their job, and in most cases the drawbacks (poor pay, rude passengers, and exhausting schedules) fail to outweigh the positives. But there are a few bad apples, and if you find yourself dealing with one who exhausts every bit of patience you possess, here are a few things you can do:
- First, don't escalate the situation! Given their role in maintaining the safety of those onboard, flight attendants retain a substantial amount of protection. If you turn angry or worse, you could find yourself in serious trouble, even if the flight attendant technically "started it."
- Talk to your seatmates and to find out if they're seeing what you're seeing. The passenger above had six other passengers testify on his behalf after the flight, which gives his side of the story credibility.
- Speak to an airline official immediately upon landing. Ideally, ask a different flight attendant to have an airline official meet you at the gate.
Readers, I don't want to pick on flight attendants, but I would like to know if you have any suggestions for dealing with airline crew that might be having a bad day. And if you have a positive story about a flight attendant or pilot, please feel free to share!
**UPDATE, December 15** Delta has reportedly offered Gold status (get it? Orange juice is kind of gold-colored) to anyone on the flight who was "offended by the treatment they received" from the flight attendant. Obviously this is meant to needle American, but won't current Delta Gold elites be a bit miffed that their hard-earned status is being used as a cheap marketing ploy?
**UPDATE, December 16** American issued the following statement today:
"We are in the midst of a thorugh investigation. We do not just speak with the customers filing the complaint. We are also talking to all the crew members, not just the flight attendant in question. When the investigation is complete we will take any appropriate action as necessary."
Should be interesting!