Meltdown At Gate 43

american

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.

26 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Daily Life, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, U.S. Society, Workplace

26 responses to “Meltdown At Gate 43

  1. James Flood

    Make America(n Airlines) Great Again!

  2. Every boarding experience I’ve ever had:

  3. Rick M.

    Why feed into the cattle call?

    My first commercial flight was on a DC-3 with my parents. We “lined up” behind a rope before boarding. For years airplane travel was treated like a luxury cruise where you dressed up and service was impeccable. Deregulation and subsequent price wars have obliterated that unless you are traveling overseas.

    I was a business traveler for a few years, but that was well back in history – over four decades – so I can understand the hectic pace, but that doesn’t mean you become part of the problem.

    On a recent trip to North Carolina we left Boston (BOS) and few to New York (LGA) and on to Charlotte (CLT) before driving to Asheville. The aircraft would be smaller regional aircraft – A Boeing 717 and a CRJ900. So upon arrival, I go to the podium and “Volunteer” my luggage for travel. The airline will then tag it to my final destination. No worries. Do this all the time to avoid the idiotic hustle for an overhead.

    Why rush?

    We generally wait unless going First Class. Our seats are not going anywhere and my wife has a snail’s pace so we just spend an extra 15 minutes to finish off a snack or read.

    We each have credit cards tied into air rewards so luggage is no issue. We can fly all legacy carriers and not be concerned about the robbery know as a luggage fee. Also – if you use air miles – and we have them into six figures – check the requirements for First Class. We are going to Jamaica and I booked the trip using air miles. An economy ticket was 35,000 and FC was 40,000. Not unusual to see this.

    Problems at airports can be minimized and some of it has to do with your own personality and altering a lifetime of herd mentality.
    I have a son who is a Captian with a legacy carrier and the stories he can tell! We also avoid using his privilege when we travel, but that is another story.

  4. blzp

    Jack, didn’t you get the memo? White guys are not allowed to complain anymore. They are also not allowed to point out when someone has failed or erred in anyway. My husband is a physician who has learned this the hard way. At least not under the Obama administration. Especially white guys who have a plane ticket to a lovely resort.

  5. You and my wife are polar opposites when it comes to “results”. But you are pretty in sync for “expectations”. So…we probably need to sit you down with her to learn some methods that will help you achieve better results.

  6. Rick M.

    I enjoy the occasion splurge and last week it was the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The service at the Inn was exceptional and what you would expect at any four and five star resorts. If Trump can bring that to the wotld of government he’ll get an apology from me. Too many politicans forget who the customer is.

  7. “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?”

    Boobs.

  8. Wayne

    As I see it Trump is wise enough to know that if his hotels aren’t well run people will see the reviews and go someplace else. On the airlines, you are treat like cattle nowadays as they know, once you have bought your ticket, they’ve got you. My mother who was a stewardess prior to ww2, used to talk about how people were so much better treated then.

    • Other Bill

      Yep, the Greyhound of the Sky is what we have now. But I think air travel is ridiculously ubiquitous and affordable (adjusted for inflation) these days by comparison, Wayne.

      • Wayne

        This is true. Airline travel was for the rich or famous in those days. My mother personally met General Pershing on one flight (who very nice) and had to deal with the Benny Goodman band who were mocking Frank Sinatra and smoking weed on the flight. Nothing was done about their problematic behavior of course.

  9. Chris

    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?

    I don’t understand why it was relevant to the story to point out that she was Hispanic, or to assume her remark had to do with race.

    • 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.”

    • However, given the heat and chaos of the situation, one COULD assume, the worker, stressed, COULD very well have been trying to let Jack know that “This is American” as in “American Airlines” and “that’s who you need to complain too because I totally get it, I totally get this craziness, but it isn’t my fault”.

      Which really isn’t much better of an excuse.

      But remember, She’s the one added that useless little bit of information that forced Jack to interpret things.

      • Chris

        My guess was that she said “This is American,” too. Her response doesn’t really make sense any way you slice it. I don’t see how she was making a racial comment, but it was so nonsensical, who knows.

    • Good question. I mentioned it because that is how I, a relatively effective practitioner of the skill and art of communication (this is what stage directors do, after all, and as a 40 year veteran with a well-deserved reputation of being pretty damned good, I am confident of my abilities in the realm, immediately interpreted her look, body language, tone and words in the context of the moment. And while I could be wrong, I don’t think so.

      And it was pretty clear, because my mind wouldn’t normally go there. I didn’t know or care what her ethnicity was: to me, she was just an oddly disengaged employee in the middle of a mess smiling and doing nothing to help the situation, as well as the only one of four involved who I could talk to without interpreting with their fumbling efforts to get everyone into the plane., What the women communicated to ME was that she either leaped to the assumption that I was condescending to her because she was Hispanic—meaning she has issues—or that she has learned that a very effective way to shut down any critic no matter how well-supported is to immediately play the bias card. The latter is my guess. I took her comment to mean, “This is America…I don’t have to account to you for my actions just because you’re white and I’m brown. I’m as good as you are!”

      Which was, literally, the farthest thing from my mind. As I left (I also thought she was threatening to block me from taking the flight), another passenger who was behind me said, “Well, THAT was strange.”

      If that’s not what she was communicating, then “This is America!” was a complete non sequitur…and that’s why I mention the accent. If it hadn’t occurred to me then by her speech and appearance that this had suddenly morphed into an ethnic bias incident (her’s against me!), I would have asked, “What does this being America have to do with the price f beans?” I didn’t, because her meaning, ridiculous as it was, had been communicated. (No, Tex, she didn’t say or mean “This is AMERICAN.”)

      If you think my call is unfair, what do you think she meant? A sudden burst of patriotic pride? (“This is America! I know we suck at our jobs, but isn’t it great that we’re free to be this way?”) A societal observation? (“This is America! Nobody cares about doing a good job any more!”) A mistaken assumption that I was disoriented? (“This is America, just in case you thought it was Pakistan!”)

      Again, good question. If I had been typing on my PC and not a tiny, balky netbook that was having problems, I would have gone into all this in the post,

      • Oh, I don’t think she meant “this is American”. I merely tried to demonstrate that an option that gives more charity from the race angle actually has an even lower believability than your initial interpretation.

        I think any other explanation actually shows the worker to be MORE incompetent. The best explanation is that she has a racial chip on her shoulder.

      • Chris

        I took her comment to mean, “This is America…I don’t have to account to you for my actions just because you’re white and I’m brown. I’m as good as you are!”

        I thought you believed Hispanic people were white.

  10. Opal

    The best boarding experience I’ve ever had was at LaGuardia on a Delta flight. The gate agent came out and said, “Do not push and shove. We will board everyone. All premium passengers line up here on the right.” She signaled where everyone was to line up along the concourse, not in the middle of it. “All zone 1 passengers line up here on the left. Everyone else remain seated.” She indicated where everyone was to line up along the concourse. It was the fastest boarding process ever! I was a pre-board with a special needs child and I didn’t have to push through everyone clogging up the gate.

    The next best was the pilot who came out and told everyone they were not to be talking or texting on their phones while boarding. “Blame it on me. If you receive a text message wait until you get to your seat to read it. If it’s a real emergency step to the side and read it.”

  11. 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.”

    • pennagain

      My take on the whole “Hispanic accent” bit was that in the absence of a name tag, and in the process of making out the letter of complaint, it was a better description detail than, say, “female, about five-six, black hair hair, brown eyes, 36, 42, etc.”

      Then you get the George Zimmerman/9-1-1 exchange: “And her race, sir?”

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