Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

American tries to learn from United’s mistakes in passenger confrontat­ion

- By Mae Anderson

Associated Press

NEW YORK — Another day, another cell phone video of a conflict on an airplane.

American Airlines said it grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontat­ion with a passenger on a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth.

Spokeswoma­n Leslie Scott says the airline is looking into whether the male flight attendant violently took away a stroller from the female passenger just before she boarded a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas. He has been removed from duty in the meantime.

In an age of cell phone videos and social media, airlines are learning the hard way that it is essential to deescalate tense situations that occur during air travel, even as there are more passengers, less room and fewer flight attendants than ever before.

The incident comes less than two weeks after video of a man being violently dragged off a United Express flight sparked widespread outrage .

United initially blamed its passenger, David Dao, before finally apologizin­g days after the incident, fanning the public’s fury. American, by contrast, seems to have learned from United’s mistakes: it immediatel­y said it was sorry, that it had grounded the flight attendant while it investigat­es the incident, and that it had upgraded the passenger involved and her family to first class.

“American doesn’t want to become the next United, but then, United didn’t want to become the next United,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “No airline wants to be seen as being anti-consumer or anti-passenger.”

Smartphone cameras and social media are shifting power to consumers who can share customer relations gaffes with the world. They’re increasing­ly making confrontat­ions with customer-facing staff headline news, making it harder for companies to sweep complaints under the rug. The faster companies own up to mistakes, the quicker they can do damage control.

American’s fast reaction to the incident could be helpful, said brand consultant Allen Adamson, CEO of BrandSimpl­e.

“The quick reaction will prevent it from escalating further, but it won’t mitigate the perception among fliers that flying is becoming a less enjoyable experience every day,” he said.

In the case of the American flight on Friday, a video that passenger Surain Adyanthaya posted on Facebook shows the sobbing woman holding a small child and saying, “You can’t use violence with baby.”

Later, an unidentifi­ed male passenger confronts the flight attendant, telling him, “You do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.” The flight attendant responds with, “Hit me. Bring it on.”

Another passenger on the flight, Olivia Morgan, told the New York Times that the flight attendant nearly hit the baby with the stroller when he jerked it away from the woman. Ms. Morgan, an executive with an educationr­elated nonprofit, said when she complained about the woman’s treatment, the flight attendant pointed his finger in her face and yelled, “You stay out of it.”

Traveling is stressful under any circumstan­ce, and conflict resolution training is an essential part of being a flight attendant, Mr. Harteveldt said.

At the same time, passengers should also be respectful of flight attendants — who often work long hours — as well, he said.

A union that represents American Airlines flight attendants said in a statement that not all of the facts are known about the incident so there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment. If a passenger threatened a flight attendant, that would be a violation of federal law, said Bob Ross, president of The Associatio­n of Profession­al Flight Attendants.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States