As you probably have discerned, I am not having a good week on the road.
Today I am in Tucson, Arizona for less that 24 hours at a lovely resort that I will get to enjoy essentially not at all. Getting here, however, was the ethics adventure, or perhaps ethics breakdown is the better term.
My flight was supposed to start boarding at 4:30, but for some reason unclear to the assembled, did not. It was a real mob, a full flight, and as always at Reagan National , people were jockeying for position. They were also confused; a neighboring American gate was also boarding, and the announcements sounded like they were coming from our gate. Suddenly a gate attendant—is that what they are called?—came running up, and pushed through the crowd, sporting a big grin, why, I have no idea.
He grabbed the microphone and said, “All right, everybody, we’re ready to board American flight 2766 to Phoenix!” and nothing else. “I guess they’re boarding everyone!” someone said, and there was a mad rush for the lane. “No no no!” the new arrival said. “First class only!” ” Did he say ‘first class only’ before?” I asked the young women standing next to me. “No,” she said, confirming my belief, “but then I can’t tell what he’s saying anyway.” True enough: the guy mumbled and didn’t seem to know how to use a mic. Then the VERY CLEAR announcement from the adjoining gate boomed out: “Now boarding Group 2!”
Again a mob of my flight’s passengers rushed the gate, and the young man with the grin shouted “NO! Get back! Now we are boarding the Platinum, Gold, Silver, American Plus, Bronze Bonus, Flying Potato passengers only!” Or something like that. He was barely heard, and the announcement from the nearby gate washed over it. “Now boarding groups 1,2 and 3!” More confusion. Another American employee at the our gate took the mic, a young woman. “AH!” I thought. “She obviously knows how to do this.”
No, she didn’t. You know that woman in “Jaws” who sees the shark in the lagoon and shouts “Shark! A shark!” so weakly that I have never been able to figure out why Spielberg cast her? The American lady made THAT woman seem like Ethel Merman by comparison. Her mouth moved, but nothing came out. “What did she say?” “What was that?” Everybody was asking everyone else if they could figure out who was supposed to go next. Then the guy who arrived late started shouting at us!
“We have not called the priority levels or group 1 yet! You are blocking passengers from accessing the gate! Move out of the lane.” From next door: “NOW BOARDING ALL GROUPS!!”
More chaos and confusion. Eventually I moved through to the jetway; I have no idea if they called my group or not. There were four attendants at the gate, an older man checking the boarding passes, the mute, the jerk who shouted at us (Rule: if crowd gets out of control, it’s the crowd controllers who usually are at fault), and a women in a uniform who was standing to the side looking like this was funny to her and otherwise doing nothing. I assumed she was a supervisor…a bad one. So I went up to her, and said, not entirely pleasantly, “This is the most incompetent boarding process I have ever seen. It’s inexcusable.”
She looked at me indignantly and said, in some kind of Hispanic accent, “This is America, sir! If you want to make a complaint, contact management. I’m just an employee,”
Wait..WHAT? Now I have to deal with an arrogant Hispanic American with a chip on her shoulder? Is she going to lecture me on white privilege? “This is America”? What the hell does that have to do with anything? “I’m complaining to YOU, because management’s not here,” I replied. “Obviously, there is no management. You represent American, and here and now, you are responsible as American’s agent. And this is outrageous.”
“You can’t talk to me like that!” she said. Her position was that on-site complaints diminished her personal dignity, and how dare I ask her to do anything…after all, this is America. I just walked up the jetway. She was obviously worthless. Her perception of her job, it seems, was to look like she was supervising, but it was considered bad taste to actually call her to account for the clown act right in front of her.
So I tried again. On the way to my seat, I cornered a flight attendant, and told her what was going on. Two fellow passengers chimed in to support my account. She, unlike Miss This Is America, actually did something. She went out to the gate, and later, after an interminable seating process that had us 30 minutes late taking off, the older man came into the plane and apologized to the passengers for the confusion. “I hope this didn’t spoil your American flying experience,” he said lamely.
I’ve got the gate, the flight and the time, and American Airlines is going to get a thorough account from me.
You know, Donald Trump’s hotels are very well run; I’ve stayed at a few. Maybe he can begin to re-instill the values of competent service, a polite workforce, effective training, and management in an increasingly unprofessional workplace culture in which employees behave as if they have a right to their jobs, and customers asking them to actually do them well are jerks and bigots.