The Customer isn’t Always Right

Airlines have been coming under scrutiny lately, with the latest incident happening on board an American Airline flight. In this instance, an airline attendant attempted to take a passenger’s stroller to check it into the cargo hold. According to the rules listed on American Airlines’ website, each ticketed customer is allowed one small, collapsible stroller, which must be checked at the gate. Strollers are too big for the overhead and could become a dangerous obstacle if not secured.

However, on this particular flight from San Francisco to Dallas, fellow passengers report that the passenger was reluctant to part with the stroller and when a male flight attendant jerked it out of her hands, he narrowly missed hitting the baby. The woman began to cry and a male passenger stood up and threatened the attendant. Eventually, the airline escorted the woman and her children off the plane and later upgraded her to first class. The attendant was removed from duty. The belligerent would-be hero remained on board.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in retail management and I always made it a motto with my employees to “treat employees the way you’d like them to treat customers.” That doesn’t mean that customers are always easy—some can be rude, abusive and manipulative—and airlines get more than their share. But when I reached out to two American Airline employees to try to understand their workplace culture, I was told that they’re ingrained with the motto, “the customer is always right” and to “inform” rather than “enforce” rules.

The enforcer in any situation is supposed to be the pilot, who is the final word aboard the plane, much the way ship captains were back in the day. However, on the video the captain just stands there and watches and doesn’t seem to intervene.

I feel that this is completely unfair to the flight attendants. Their job isn’t just passenger comfort—it’s passenger safety. They’re charged with making sure that everyone aboard arrives at their destination alive and safe. This is a case where it should be imperative at times for the customer NOT to be right, when the security of all on board must come before comfort and convenience.

Given that, the fact that American Airlines is punishing this employee for trying to do his job is unwarranted. Since I wasn’t there I can’t comment on his interaction with the passenger, but the fact that he was trying to keep everyone safe meant he was doing his job. If you can’t support your employees in that circumstance it means that you don’t stand by your values.  

Photo credit: NBC News