ER Ethics

I’m running back and forth to the Alexandria hospital’s Emergency Room today (don’t ask why). It’s been at least 6 months since the last unpleasant visit, and something new has been added in the check-in area. It is a large sign warning that “aggressive, threatening or inappropriate conduct or language” will not be tolerated, and may result in refusals to offer treatment.

It was immediately evident why the hospital felt such a threat was necessary. The place was a disaster. It was obviously understaffed, and the staff members that were there were rude, distracted, slow and harried. I watched a 90-year old woman stand at the check-in window as the woman behind it left without explanation abandoning the potential patient who was literally whimpering as the minutes ticked by. “At least there’s no emergency,” I said to the angry lady. She was not amused.

As with so many other places in which professional, timely service is expected and once, before the pandemic gave them an excuse to go with skeleton staffing, was delivered, the ER was lowering its standards and telling people that they could like it or lump it, but they had better not complain or express frustration.

And life in the USA gets just a little bit shittier.

A Tale Of Two Hotels: Same Problem, Different Responses

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed at Atlanta’s sumptuous Lowe’s hotel downtown. I like the hotel a great deal, but room service at breakfast is ridiculous: essentially you might as well order the deluxe pig-out, which could feed a family of three. The way the menu is set up, you pay the over $25 for any other choice and get half as much food. This is primarily because a pot of coffee costs more than ten dollars, and only the deluxe breakfast has coffee included.

Even though all expenses were being paid by the client, I hate this, so I decided to order a couple of muffins (still about $15 without coffee, not counting tax and the automatic service charge) and tolerate the free instant coffee that is  offered by the little single cup machines in the room. I was a good plan, but the damn thing wouldn’t work. The water didn’t heat. Annoyed (no coffee, 6 AM, brilliant money-saving scheme foiled), I called the front desk to complain. They sent up a young man—he arrived in about 15 minutes, after the continental breakfast—who fiddled with the coffee machine. It was obvious that he had never seen one before.  Eventually he gave up, apologized, and left to get another one. By the time he returned, I had finished most of the muffins, but I made a cup of (lousy) coffee anyway.

Last night, I had to stay in a hotel to make sure that D.C.’s $%^&$#@! Rock and Roll Marathon didn’t stop me from getting to my early morning presentation to new D.C. bar members. The streets around the venue were blocked off, and weird traffic was expected; hard experience dictated the expense was the better part of valor. There was breakfast provided at the bar event, so all I needed was some coffee in my room to wake me up sufficiently so that I didn’t wander onto 14th street and die.

This time, the hotel was the J.W Marriott, and again the little one cup coffee machine didn’t work. Just like in Atlanta, I called the front desk, sounding even more annoyed about the inconvenience than the before. (This was unfair, of course; there is no reason the Marriott should inherit my upset with Lowe’s.) The response from the desk was identical after I described my plight: she would send someone up to my room to check on the machine. Great.

When the knock came and I opened the door, I was greeted by the head of guest services, in a uniform. He had a new coffee machine with him, and also handed me a bag containing two large cups of Starbuck’s coffee, ten creamers, napkins, utensils, and two hot pastries. He replaced the machine after confirming that it was broken, apologized profusely, and took his leave.


Now that’s service.

Meltdown At Gate 43


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? Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Is Nice Necessarily Ethical?


If it seems like I always have ethics dilemmas to deal with on the road, your impression is correct. I’m at a hotel in Boston, and I have another one.

I arrived at the hotel after a late flight tired, with a headache. The door was locked, which is sometimes the case after 10 or so at small hotels; it was 11:30 PM. So I rang the bell. Nobody. I rang it again. And again. I knocked. Then I rang again. Finally, I went into the pub next door, which was also closed, but the door was ajar. “Does anyone know how I’m supposed to get checked into the hotel?” I asked>

Someone did know: the hotel night clerk, who had gone next door to watch TV.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Should I complain to the hotel management about this?

Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Ice Cream Sundae Dilemma


It just took me more than 10 hours of assorted travel hell to reach this Colorado resort where I’m giving a keynote speech at the Utah Bar’s annual convention. I arrived in my room close to midnight, and I was parched and annoyed. I decided to indulge myself by ordering a nice, cool treat from the late night menu—a vanilla fudge sundae, with roasted pecans, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

The young and earnest resort employee arrived 20 minutes after my call, and I signed for the dessert. It wasn’t until I had several spoonsful that I noticed something was missing: no pecans.

Your Ethics Quiz:

Should I have called up room service and demanded the promised nuts? Continue reading

Ungrateful Consumer of the Year

“Don’t smile at me, you inconsiderate fool! Do you know what time it is? Why should I accept your wares before they were scheduled to arrive? I need my sleep, not that blue-collar peasant like you could comprehend that! Mark my words, your employer will hear of this outrage; now get back into your pathetic truck and only return when it is convenient for me!”

We don’t see this kind of unethical conduct that often, so it is worthy of note.

A consumer named Richard wrote to Consumerist to complain that his order from Amazon, which he ordered on a Friday and was scheduled for three-day delivery, arrived in only one day, on Saturday morning.  Naturally, he was outraged:

“Imagine my surprise to be woken up out of a sound sleep at 8am by the incessant ringing of my door bell .. probably 10 times. I’m thinking something bad happened. I jump up go to answer the door and find out it’s just OnTrac delivering my $23 package from Amazon! As much as I might appreciate getting something 2 days early, I (and my neighbors) appreciate our sleep even more. I called Amazon and the CSR was sympathetic but could do nothing but leave “feedback” with OnTrac. So fair warning… unless you need an early morning wake up call, don’t order from Amazon… because just because the order says Monday, doesn’t mean you won’t get someone leaning on your door buzzer until you give in and answer it, no matter the time of day.”

Not to leave you in suspense, Richard is what an old poker-playing buddy used to call a “jerkola.” I wonder what other examples of efficient service aggravate him. Does he get angry when repair men arrive at the start of the day, rather than making you wait all day at home wondering if they’ll arrive at all? Does he complain when airplanes arrive at their destination early? When Verizon doesn’t make you wait forever to talk to a real person after negotiating your way through phone-tree hell? How about the Department of Motor vehicles—does Richard get ticked off when they call his number before he need another shave? Continue reading

Cranky Ethics Encounters In A Rotten Week

The unexpected death of my mom on Saturday tends to make everything else in my life the past week fade to insignificance, but the last seven days featured more than my usual quota of confrontations when thrust in the path of conduct that seemed just wrong to me:

  • Staying at a Fairfield Inn and Suites, a Marriott chain, in Greensboro, North Carolina, I found myself running behind schedule for a morning presentation. Rushing to take my shower, I was stopped cold by the shower controls, which made no sense at all. The long handle didn’t seem to do anything, and the round knob inside it had no effect either. Since I have the mechanical skills of a rodent, and am constantly embarrassed by my ineptitude, I fiddled with the knobs longer than I should have before giving up in a panic and calling the front desk.

“I can’t get the shower controls to work, and I’m late!” I blurted out to the woman manning the desk. “Send someone up right away!” Continue reading

The Arizona Statute Injunction Ethics Verdict: Judge—Right; Arizona—Right; Federal Government—Unethical

I was waiting at a long line in a local CVS, with no clerk in sight. It was late at night; a couple of my fellow customers actually shouted for assistance. We had been there with no service for more than ten minutes, and not a single employee was in evidence. Finally, I stepped out of line—past a police officer, who was also waiting, grabbed the microphone on the counter, turned it on, and announced in stentorian tones: “There is a long line at the check-out counter! Will a CVS employee please report to the front of the store? Thank you!”

The line of people applauded. The police officer smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The clerk, full of apologies, arrived and began taking our money.

Did I have a legal right to use the microphone? No, I did not. But I still did the right thing, and I would do it again.

This is, I believe, the proper way to think about the federal judge’s decision today to block the key provisions in the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law until further examination by the courts. Continue reading