You could be mistaken for thinking that the whole travelling public had turned against their Flight Attendants. The men and women who are there to keep you safe have suddenly become pariah figures. It’s hardly surprising I suppose. What with passengers being dragged off planes and strollers getting snatched from mothers.
It’s all become slightly hysterical. Not a day seems to go by without some new report of Cabin Crew misdemeanours hitting the headlines. Of course, this only started a couple of weeks ago. That was when Dr David Dao was forcibly removed from a United Airlines plane for having the audacity to be sitting in the seat he paid for.
The 69-year-old physician was left bloodied and battered. His attorney claimed Dao had lost two front teeth, suffered a concussion, a broken nose and sinus injuries. With litigation on the cards, the case could have dragged on for years.
When United suddenly announced that it had amicably settled the case, it took the world by surprise. The airline has refused to say how much it has agreed to pay Dr Dao but CNN estimates the sum to be “well north of a million dollars“.
The aviation community was quietly hoping that the story would quickly fade away. United Airlines personnel had never been directly involved in Dr Dao’s forced removal but the implication that airline employees were responsible remained throughout. How dare Flight Attendant’s treat their customers so badly.
“Strollergate” Didn’t Help
Unfortunately, any hope of this particularly nasty narrative dissipating went out the window when a Flight Attendant for American Airlines snatched a stroller from a female passenger. To make matters worse the Flight Attendant then got into a heated verbal argument with a First Class passenger. The whole incident was captured on camera and shared around the world.
Now, Flight Attendants are complaining of passengers treating them with disdain and animosity. It’s said to be especially rough over at United Airlines, where passengers seem to be taking great relish in blaming Flight Attendants for the Dr Dao incident. One United Flight Attendant wrote about a passenger who threatened him for seemingly no reason. If that wasn’t enough, the passenger then filed a complaint against the Flight Attendant.
Airlines are Partly to Blame
In part, the corporate greed of the airlines can be partly blamed for this sorry state of affairs. With low-cost carriers and price comparison tools, passengers have voted for what they want – cheap flights. The legacy airlines, like United and American, have driven down ticket prices (and upped profits) by cramming more seats on their aircraft and stripping away the extras that passengers once enjoyed. That’s created what some have called a nastier and meaner flying environment.
And guess who’s caught in the middle – The Cabin Crew. Bob Ross, the President of the AA Flight Attendants union, APFA has said his members are suffering. Their job has “become more challenging due to tight schedules, overcrowded planes, shrinking seats, and limited overhead bin space. All of these factors are related to corporate decisions beyond the control of passengers and Flight Attendants.”
The media has smelt blood and similar stories are being relentlessly pursued. The headline writers don’t have to work too hard – Simply fill in the blank: “Passenger kicked off flight for _____”.
Delta Boots Passenger for Using the Bathroom
First, there was the case of Kima Hamilton. A 39-year old Delta Air Lines passenger who just needed to use the toilet when his flight was delayed taking off by 30-minutes. Hamilton told reporters a Flight Attendant told him not to use the toilet but when things got desperate he just had to go. Hamilton was booted from the flight after initially refusing to go.
His complaints got short shrift from Delta, however. A spokesperson said of the incident: “Our flight crews are extensively trained to ensure the safety and security of all customers. It is imperative that passengers comply with crew instructions during all phases of flight, especially at the critical points of takeoff and landing,”
Did British Airways Treat a Passenger Like a ‘Slave’?
Then there was the ‘slave’ incident aboard a British Airways flight from London to Jamaica. The sensational headline in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper read: “British man thrown off diverted BA flight from London to Jamaica over ‘upgrade’ is revealed to be a CANCER sufferer, 65, who ‘was handcuffed, covered in a blanket and treated like a slave'”
The passenger, Kwame Bantu, had apparently wandered into the Business Class section because he was in pain but refused to return to his seat in Economy. Flight Attendants and the Captain attempted to negotiate with him but he didn’t budge. He was forced back to his original seat then restrained with straps and handcuffs.
Jo Stoney, a fellow passenger intervened because of the “alarming” way she saw Bantu being treated. She told the Daily Mail: “The way they restrained him was absolutely preposterous.”
“Caring for our customers is our highest priority”
In the end, the flight diverted to Terceira in the Azores where both Bantu and Stoney were offloaded.
British Airways has said of the incident: “Caring for our customers is our highest priority and we continue to investigate all the circumstances surrounding this incident.”
Describing the events, the spokesperson said: “We take great care to handle these difficult situations as sensitively as possible. Our cabin crew and one of our pilots repeatedly asked a customer to return to his booked seat in economy after he sat in our business class cabin without permission. He repeatedly refused, verbally abused crew members and disturbed other customers.”
The Public Don’t Hate Flight Attendants
But here’s the thing – In both the Delta and British Airways incidents the public reaction was muted at best. The stories faded into the background as quickly as they appeared. In reality, air travellers don’t hate Cabin Crew. They know Flight Attendants have a tough job and passengers too have a responsibility to behave in an exemplary way.
After the American Airlines incident, there were calls to ban passengers filming Flight Attendants. Clearly, this was meant with the best of intentions but it completely misses the point. Cabin Crew shouldn’t be trying to cover up bad behaviour.
When Flight Attendants act within their powers and as a team, they are backed up by management and the public. The United and AA incidents were PR disasters – and for good reason. Air travellers were rightly outraged but there’s no appetite for hating flight attendants simply for doing their jobs.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.