Earlier this week I wrote about the worst behaved airline passengers of the past year. I would be remiss not to recap the plight of passengers abused at the hands of their airlines of choice in 2017.
On the whole it was a good year for airline service. Customer satisfaction scores for the industry as a whole continued to surpass 20-year highs set in 2015. A notable exception to this improvement trend is American Airlines.
But there were lingering ghosts of the recently dark days of air customer service and plenty of customer service snafus to boot. Some of the passenger abuse incidents of 2017 became so virulent that airlines altered their service policies in ways that will benefit travelers for years to come.
Peegate — United FA Tells Nurse To Pee In A Cup, Shames Her
When Kansas City emergency room nurse Nicole Harper suffered bladder problems on a United Connection flight this year, flight attendants handed her a cup to pee in, according to a post she made on Facebook.
Harper wrote that she suffers from a condition that limits her bladder control. When she told flight attendants on her April 10 flight that she was likely to have an accident on the aircraft if she couldn’t use the lavatory, one flight attendants handed her a cup.
“The flight attendants treated me like I had committed a crime, stating they would be filing a report, calling in the Hazmat team to clean the entire row (let me mention there was no mess involved) and told me I would need to talk with the pilot after the flight!”
April 10 was the same day a United passenger was infamously dragged off an oversold flight and bloodied by airport security.
American Airlines Hits Mom With Stroller
One American Airlines flight attendant just couldn’t handle it when a Spanish-speaking mom travelling home to Argentina was unsure what to do with her stroller. Rather than take care to help the overwhelmed mother, this trained professional responded by violently grabbing the stroller while hitting both mother and child in the process, according to accounts posted by other passengers on the flight.
As the mother cries, baby in hand, passengers sitting in the first class cabin can be seen on video confronting the pilot and another flight attendant and asking for the name of the male FA who “hit her with the stroller.”
The airline’s renowned (cough cough) customer service kicked in when another flight attendant offered the bawling mom a cup of water. Thank goodness.
Even that exceptional act of charity wasn’t enough to save the day, however. American Airlines kicked the mom off the flight, while letting the offending flight attendant back on. The airline itself performed a public relations coup de grace, suspending the offending employee days later.
United Threatens First Class Customer With Handcuffs
A passenger travelling on a paid first class ticket declined the airline’s attempt to remove him from his seat in favor of a higher-ranking frequent flier. The airline’s response: threaten the first class passenger with handcuffs.
Geoff Ferns described the incident to a Los Angeles Times columnist:
“I understand you might bump people because a flight is full,” Fearns said. “But they didn’t say anything at the gate. I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”
American Airlines Behavior Prompts NAACP Warning
American Airlines treatment of black passengers was so bad in 2017 that the NAACP, a civil rights organization representing African-Americans and other racial minorities, issued a public advisory against using the airline.
The airline has since agreed to enroll employees in implicit bias training courses designed to assuage subconscious mistreatment of minorities. That training apparently didn’t come in time to prevent flight attendants from unjustly kicking two professional basketball players off a flight this week. The players’ alleged offense: snuggling up with blankets normally reserved for first class passengers.
Dr. Dao is Re-Accomodated — With A Bloody Face
United made headlines for all the wrong reasons in April by breaking what was, by most measures, the biggest airline story of the year. It all began when the airline couldn’t find volunteers to give up their seat on United Flight 3411, from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Louisville (SDF) so members of another United flight crew could fly.
Dr. David Dao was one of the passengers selected for removal. His refusal to leave, and insistence that he had obligations to meet with patients the next day, led airport security to physically pluck him from the seat, his head hitting an armrest, and drag him bloodied down the aisle for the world to see.
The incident and publicity to follow had profound effects on the airline, which bid adieu to Public Relations Chief Jim Olsen, and the industry at large. As a result of the backlash, most major U.S. airlines improved their policies for compensating re-accomodated passengers in 2017.
Dr. Dao reached an undisclosed legal settlement with the airline.
Point Me To The Plane is recapping the biggest travel, points and aviation stories from 2017. Have thoughts on the biggest story or trends from the year? Share them in the comments section below.