United’s feeling a little bit less heat today as news broke about an altercation between an American Airlines crew member and a passenger who allegedly had her stroller wrestled from her, almost hitting her baby. The situation is not as appalling as the United situation we recently witnessed but it does raise some of the same concerns about how airlines should treat their customers in the event of confrontation.
We don’t have the full story
The first thing to consider is that we don’t have the full story here. In fact, unlike the United fiasco, we actually only have video footage of the aftermath here. So there’s probably only a dozen people (if that) who actually witnessed what happened.
Also, one of the passengers who posted the now viral video to Facebook stated:
They just in-voluntarily escorted the mother and her kids off the flight and let the flight attendant back on, who tried to fight a passenger
Who is to blame in this situation?
Based on what I’ve seen and read so far, here’s my take on the situation.
We don’t know the full facts here but it looks like the passenger/victim was trying to board the plane with her stroller and was probably told that she couldn’t bring it on as a carry on. My guess is that she initially refused to comply with the crew members and they decided to take matters into their own hands and remove the stroller. (Why else would they have to resort to “wrestling” it away?)
So potentially… the entire situation could’ve been avoided by simply complying. But even so that wouldn’t excuse the crew member’s actions, which seem to have been reckless and at the least negligent.
The flight attendant
I think the flight attendant has two potential shortcomings here.
Interaction with the woman
Let me start by saying that if he really did violently rip the stroller from the mother nearly hitting the baby(ies), that’s completely unacceptable. If that’s the case, he was rightly suspended, even if the passenger was in the wrong initially by not complying.
In his defense, at some point the stroller was going to have to leave the plane. So if he didn’t take it, who would? Again, it’s not an excuse for what happened, but at least they didn’t call security on the woman here.
Since we still don’t know exactly happened, I’m going to hold off on my judgment here.
Interaction with the second passenger
It looks like the flight attendant should’ve done a much better job at remaining calm when confronted by the angry passenger. I figured that a flight attendant would have experience with remaining calm and dealing with tense situations on an aircraft and that he should’ve handled this better.
I understand that he was “called out,” but this wasn’t taking place in the middle of a neighborhood pub — it was on an aircraft getting ready for departure and there are limits to how you should react as a flight attendant while on duty. Seeing the crew member wagging his finger and spout out “bring it on” really showed a lack of professionalism and looked like scene straight out of junior high.
The second passenger
I don’t fault the passenger for trying to get the flight attendant’s name to file a potential complaint or whatever he had planned. It’s truly nice to see other passengers concerned about the treatment of others.
However, I do take issue with him getting up a second time with his “hey, Bud, hey Bud” antics and threatening a crew member. It looks like the flight attendant was in the midst of explaining the situation to the captain and this guy just jumps up begging for a confrontation… and a physical one at that — “you do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.”
It just didn’t seem necessary to confront the flight attendant in that manner at that point and almost makes me question what his motive might have been (i.e, overeager to be the “hero,” having a viral moment, etc.).
I’m not that versed in what powers the captain possesses, but he seems to be noticeably absent in dealing with this altercation, despite the fact that it’s happening directly in front of him. I’m surprised that he let the flight attendant fly on that plane and even kind of surprised he didn’t kick off the passenger who challenged the crew member to a duel.
American Airlines wasted no time in responding to this situation and taking responsibility for the act. They suspended the flight attendant involved in grabbing the stroller and issued the following statement:
We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts. What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers. We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care. After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.
The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.
American’s response is a far cry from how United dealt with their situation. American immediately apologized to the victim and even bumped her to first class for an international trip. I kind of wonder if their response would have been the same if the United situation never happened, but nonetheless it’s a good indication that an airline is not acting indifferent to this passenger.
Overall, I want to know more about this situation before I arrive at a final judgment. But for now this is what I see:
- A passenger likely should have complied to take her stroller off the aircraft but refused to do so
- A flight attendant acted unreasonably and maybe even recklessly by forcefully removing the stroller. In addition, he failed to exhibit professional/calm behavior when the second passenger called him out
- A second passenger originally rightfully requested the name of the flight attendant to file a claim but later overreacted by confronting/threatening the flight attendant
- A captain seemed to lack any desire to react and deal with the situation
- American responded well to the situation, probably learning the lesson from United
- We need more training on how to diffuse situations on airplanes
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.