Flying the Not-so-Friendly skies
Like every airline, American Airlines has a “slogan” or “advertisement tagline”. The current one for AA is “The World’s Greatest Flyers Fly American”. Various other AA sayings over the years include: “Going for great”, “Be yourself. Nonstop”, “We know why you fly”, “The On-Time Machine”, “No other Airline gives you more of America, than American”, “Something special in the air”, “At American, we’ve got what you’re looking for”, “We’re American Airlines. Doing what we do best”, “Our passengers get the best of everything”, “It’s good to know you’re on American Airlines”, and “Fly the American Way.”
Sorry American, but I don’t think you’ve delivered on those tagline promises … especially during my trip home from Japan. Having a flight attendant yank my earphones out of my ears and then show no remorse for her actions does not qualify as “going for great”, “something special”, “what I’m looking for”, “the best of everything”, or “doing what you do best.”
I have flown on numerous airlines since 1979 and put in over 125,000 business miles between 1990 and 2000. I have another 50,000 or so personal or business miles from 2000 until the present day, so I am no stranger to flying or what flight etiquette is expected of not only me, but also from airline employees. Many of my good friends and high school classmates went to work as flight attendants and pilots. At no time have I EVER had an issue with flight attendants until today.
So how did this particular customer service fiasco start? It happened on our return flight from Haneda to LAX — AA Flight 26 — which departed 4:45 p.m. (20 minutes late but time was made up in the air and landed on time). We were in seats 15A and 15B (premium economy). I told AA in advance at the time of making the reservations via their on-line system that I was hard of hearing. While boarding not only the flight from LAX to Haneda but also this flight home, one of the other flight attendants acknowledged my disability as we were seating. We were offered drinks and the freebie earphones as we reached cruising altitude. I typically don’t take the earphones and opt for closed captions on the movies, but I decided I’d take them this time in case hubby (who opted out) changed his mind or in case his personal earphones weren’t working.
An hour later, the drink and meal carts were rolled out, and I looked at the menu choices posted on the side of the cart. They said “Beef” or “Chicken”. Since I read lips, I responded back to the flight attendant’s question of “which one?” with “Beef, please.” She said “We don’t have beef”. ummm … huh??!! I then looked at my husband on my left and asked him to clarify (beef had been switched out for pork). Just as I turned my head toward him, the flight attendant yanked the earphones out of my ears and said “THERE! … MAYBE that will help you hear what I have to say!” I said “I am almost deaf on that side and my husband is my ears.” Hubby told her I wanted the Chicken, and she just dropped it down onto the tray instead of handing it to me with a nice “AA smile”.
About 2 hours later, I got up to use the restroom and she was by the mid-cabin exit door. I apologized for my hearing issue and she shot back “Not my problem. I’m so sick and tired of people like you.” She went back to the galley and we didn’t see her again until the second meal was served about an hour before landing.
What is a Sky Hag?
The Single Dude’s Guide to Life & Travel™ describes Sky Hags as “old, ugly, and ill tempered stewardesses” and “swamp monsters who staff our nation’s carriers.” My flight attendant was somewhere in her late 50’s and ill tempered. She was not necessarily physically ugly, but her attitude definitely was. The reason these people are still in a customer service situation instead of in the unemployment line is simple … money and seniority. “Since the industry is so strapped for cash these days, nobody ever hires stewardesses anymore. Instead, they just keep the ones they already have, and when layoffs come they always fire the ones with the least seniority. So every round of layoffs the average stewardess gets older and uglier. Sky Hags have been flying for years, and seen all sorts of shit, and so after years of mistreatment by their employers and customers, they’re bitter and often nasty”, and because of that seniority, they often get to choose their routes. Granted, Single Dude’s comments about “seeing a little eye candy” (aka young, good-looking females) are from an unmarried man’s point of view; but, the issue with angry employees who are responsible for your comfort and safety at 36,000 feet is more than disconcerting no matter their age, marital status, or gender.
Airways Brewing concurs, and they describe their Sky Hag IPA beer as follows:
She hates you and her job. But, she gets to go to Paris twice a month. This beer’s as bitter as she is. An abundance of Northwest “C” Hops give this beer its bite.
With a description like that, it’s no wonder AA doesn’t serve Sky Hag on its flights. Bitter is a good description of my flight attendant, and I have absolutely ZERO clue what set her off. I was not disruptive, and there were no PA announcements nor turbulence at the time of the incident. The poor drink cart flight attendant came around later and indicated her shock about what she had witnessed; and she said, “She’s been in a really bad mood all day.” I told her it wasn’t her fault, but now two of us on the plane (the Sky Hag and I) were in a bad mood.
I reported the problem to AA, and I gave them 7 days to respond. I did not demand a refund, nor did I threaten them with a lawsuit. My only request was that they do something about this particular flight attendant (reprimand, retrain, drop in seniority, termination, early retirement, … whatever works to get the message across).
American Airlines’ Response
8 days later … May 31:
Dear Mrs. S:
Thank you for contacting Customer Relations about the difficulties you encountered while traveling from Haneda on May 22. I have reviewed the problems you reported, and appreciate this opportunity to respond.
I am concerned about the flight attendant behavior you described and hope you will accept my apology for the disappointing service you received. We work hard to provide professional, courteous service to our customers, and it is clear we fell short when you traveled on flight 26 to Los Angeles.
In your email you mentioned our Reservations personnel was notified that you are hard of hearing. I have reviewed your reservations and our flight records and have not located this information. Nevertheless, we expect all of our colleagues to extend polite and considerate assistance to our customers. From what you’ve reported, it appears our flight attendant could have handled your situation more appropriately.
We take these matters very seriously. Let me assure you that your feedback is very important since it provides us with a measuring tool for customer satisfaction. Your comments have been documented and made available to the appropriate management personnel in Flight Service for an internal review. I am confident that improved service will be the ultimate result.
Mrs. Schoelles, while I know you are disappointed with our service, I hope you will give us another opportunity to prove traveling on American can be a pleasant experience. I know we can do a great deal better.
My Response to AA and the Sky Hag
Yes, you fell short in providing professional, courteous service; and your Sky Hag definitely could have “handled the situation more appropriately”; and, yes, you can do a “great deal better.” Other than those admissions, and referral to Flight Service management for an “internal review”, what are you going to do about THIS particular flight attendant? Allow her to continue flying knowing she has physically assaulted a disabled customer? How many times has this happened in the past, and how many more times does it need to happen in the future before you say “enough is enough” and kick her to the curb with her luggage? I understand there needs to be confidentiality with respect to personnel issues, but customers need to know that they will not have to worry about meeting up with this person should they fly on American (or any other airline for that matter).
Furthermore, what makes your apology hollow is your implication that I did not notify AA about my hearing issues when making my on-line reservations. Per the AA website:
When booking on aa.com choose “special assistance required” when filling out your passenger details, there you can:
- Request wheelchair service
- Request individual assistance if you have a hearing, vision, cognitive or developmental disability
- State if you’re traveling with any electric medical equipment or a service animal (notice is required within 48 hours of your flight
Let a gate agent or flight attendant know if you need help hearing important flight updates. Also, open captioning for safety videos is available.
I did both of these (chose “special assistance required” and notified gate and boarding personnel), plus I utilized the closed captioning on all videos when available. What you American Airlines don’t seem to comprehend, is there is a break in communication somewhere between your reservation system, flight services, and customer relations departments. You did not indicate exactly HOW you are going to address this communication breakdown issue.
Although you are confident in your own ability to provide better service in the future, I don’t share your optimism. Will this incident impact my choice of airline? More than likely, yes … or at the least until you live up to your taglines and your own hype.