Another great moment in airline service: Flight Deck Fights

The system strikes again! Actually, that’s not quite true about the latest viral video to emerge from the modern commercial-flight experience, because American Airlines learned a very valuable lesson from United’s Oscar Munoz over the last week or so. The smartphones popped up after one of their attendants allegedly got violent with a passenger, yanking away a stroller and hitting her with it, while nearly hitting one of the babies traveling with her. Fellow passenger Surain Adyanthaya picked up the action while the sobbing mother asked for her stroller back and the bemused pilot watched — and then another passenger decided to tell off the attendant.

This … is not exactly how I learned customer service in my youth:

Hmmm. Seems American Airlines hasn’t done much training on de-escalation for their attendants. I’m not sure where this gentleman learned the “stabbing your finger at a customer and barking orders” technique, but don’t expect it to catch on. It all but confirms that this attendant shouldn’t have been on that flight in the first place, and certainly not after this incident … but American let him do so.

It’ll be his last flight for a while, anyway. Management at American Airlines has a much better sense of impending disaster than their competitors do at United. It didn’t take long for the airline to let everyone know the difference either, as ABC News reports:

American Airlines was quick to react — 20 minutes after the plane landed in Dallas. It apologized for the incident and said the flight attendant had been grounded. The woman and her family were also upgraded to first class.

“We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts,” the Dallas-based airline said in a statement. “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 statement continues, “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.”

ABC later interviewed the videographer and the man who confronted the attendant. The latter seems to have some regret for his role in the incident, or at least for the attention it’s now drawing:

He might have had more than just regrets had the situation escalated a little further. Federal law has jurisdiction on what happens in commercial aircraft, and assaults on flight attendants result in serious legal trouble. Generally speaking, it’s not a great idea to intervene in an already tense situation to express how you’d like to make it even more tense, but in this case it did provoke the flight attendant to react on camera in a way that apparently parallels the earlier incident. He also turned out to be prescient; the passenger warned the attendant in the video that “you’ll be in the news!”

American Airlines management took the correct action as soon as they learned of the incident, although the flight attendant should have been left at the gate after what happened in this video. The pilot should have seen the risk of having this employee serve on the same flight and exercised his authority to have the attendant replaced. That was a powder keg, and American’s fortunate it didn’t get worse in the air.

Finally, perhaps it’s time for the major airlines to consider what their industry is doing to both its customers and its employees. Their commercials depict flying as a serene, relaxing jaunt, but that’s increasingly a bitterly comedic satire on the actual experienceCommercial air travel has become more and more uncomfortable and tense. Both passengers and crews feel increasing pressure from packed flights with smaller spaces, and the security measures from TSA only exacerbate the poisonous environment. Passengers and employees are beginning to snap, and the ubiquitous nature of smartphones guarantees that every incident will go viral — because their customers don’t like them. They just have very little choice in airlines.

Until the industry rethinks its direction, this will be the new normal, and executives will get a lot of practice at apologizing and minimizing.