“You know, I can make this a really long flight for you!”

It seems to be about once a year that I have a dispute with a UA employee, be it a flight attendant, gate agent, Red Carpet Club agent, etc. 99% of the time I find UA employees to be incredible (in a good way), but on UA923 from Washington Dulles to Denver this past Saturday an FA threatened to kick me off the flight repeatedly for a reason I couldn’t believe. Please note that I wrote down the quotes below during the flight, so everything posted here was still fresh in my mind. I’m certain this post will get long, so buckle in!

At around noon I boarded UA923, a 757, and the first thing I noticed was the FA standing at the door with a huge (think donut sized) political pin promoting his presidential candidate of choice, with the guy not doing anything to greet passengers, but rather just standing there with a long face. The pin covered the UA logo on his sweater vest, and I found it pretty inappropriate to wear the pin (actually, I know for a fact that it’s against UA’s policy to wear them while working), regardless of political affiliation (and I honestly mean that).

I should start off by saying that I’m a pretty moderate guy politically, so wasn’t trying to “snipe” this guy for having different views than me. That simply wasn’t the case.

Anyway, back to the story. I settled into 6B, and decided I wouldn’t approach him about it unless he did something to prompt me to do so. Well, an older lady is settling in across from me, and she asks the same FA to help her with putting her carry-on into the overheard bin. The FA agrees, stands there looking at her, and then says “Do you want me to help you with the bag or do it for you? There’s a huge difference,” in a very confrontational tone. I thought it was rude to say that to an old lady, so with that I decided I’d approach him.

As soon as boarding slowed down I got up with a pen and my boarding pass in hand. My plan was to ask for either his name or employee file number, since there was nothing on his uniform identifying him. Here’s how the convo went:

Me: “Excuse me, could I please get your first name or employee ID number? I really don’t appreciate that you’re wearing that pin, and as you know it’s against UA policy to do so, not to mention the way you treated that lady, and I’d like to let management know about it.”

FA: First looks at me in total disgust, just glancing emptily at me for a few seconds, and then says “Who are you?”

Me: “Well, I’m one of your customers that flies 200,000 miles a year with your airline and helps pay your salary. ”

FA: “Uhhhm, I don’t have to give you my name, and it’s my constitutional right to wear this, it’s one of my freedoms as an American.”

Me: “While you have constitutional rights, you still have rules you have to follow at work which you agreed to in your contract. I could never get away with wearing a political pin at my place of work, because it’s simply not professional in front of customers, considering that around half of the plane feels differently than you do. While I have views which might be similar to your’s, I still find it to be unprofessional.”

FA: “How do you know what my contract says?”

Me: “I followed up on the policy just recently with some people at United.”

FA: “Well my contract says no such thing. Do you want to argue with me and be removed from the plane, or just write your letter and be quiet for the rest of this flight?”

Me: “Sorry, not trying to argue, I’ll just write a letter.”

The FA rips my boarding pass out of my hand and goes to the flight deck.

He comes back a minute later after talking to the captain and purser and says to me “I spoke to the captain, he backs me, so I’m going to remove you from this flight if you want to keep arguing about this.”

I just responded by saying “No problem, I’ll drop it and write a letter, my intent wasn’t to get in an argument with you, I just wanted your name.”

FA: “One more word and I’ll have you taken off this flight.”

I just looked back at him with a “zip it” symbol, meaning I wouldn’t say another word.

I see him walk to the front galley and talk to the other FA’s, and they keep glancing back at me. As they walk by me one by one I get the stare of death. Pretty sad how non-discreet he was about spreading “information” about me.

Anyway, I was in such shock that I was taking notes on my boarding pass of everything he had said, since I wanted to make sure I kept the quotes accurate for my letter. I was trying to be discreet about the way I recorded the notes, and glanced back once in a while since I could see that he was trying to look over my shoulder as I was writing them. My intent in taking these notes was to keep the facts straight, since frankly my memory sucks.

Once we complete pushback, I was totally surprised by him coming up to me (yet again), since we had both agreed to drop it and I’d just write a letter. Instead he comes up to me and says, “Do I need to remove you, because the captain has no problem doing so?” I simply replied, “No, I’m fine, like we said, let’s drop it.”

As if that’s not enough, he continues to say “You know what, I think it’s that you’re not allow to wear a pin at your workplace, so you’re jealous that I can. I see you’re writing and trying to be antagonistic and intimidate me and I can have you removed.”

Since I didn’t want to be kicked off the flight I simply said “Sir, I’m sorry you feel that way, I’m dropping it” (for the umpteenth time at this point).

He then said “Oh, and I think it was extremely rude of you to say that you pay my salary, that was very uncalled for.”

I uttered yet again, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and he simply responded with “you know, I can make this a really long flight for you.”

At this point I honestly didn’t feel particularly safe. I figured he’d either put something in my food and/or drinks or elbow me in the face as he walked by.

Interestingly enough, once the seatbelt sign came off and he was serving drinks, he was extremely friendly to me, probably because I was nice to him, constantly saying “thank you very much,” like I would to any other FA. He noticed I was reading without my reading light on, so he turned it on for me. He constantly refilled my drink and asked if I wanted anything else, and he actually took the pin off as well!

I hope this doesn’t make him think I’ll forget about the event and not write in about being threatened to be kicked off a flight repeatedly. It’s one thing if he would have apologized, but no such thing happened.

Suffice it to say that I’m disgusted, appalled, and disappointed. United will definitely be hearing about this, and I’m drafting an email as we speak.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t handle things ideally, but at the same time that’s typically the case in hindsight when dealing with such shocking comments by employees.

Well, there you have it. Let the thoughts, comments, criticisms, and questions flow freely….

Comments

  1. Given the attitude exhibited by the luggage story, I’d be surprised if this is the first time UA has heard feedback on this guy. 🙁

  2. That story just sent a chill up my spine. I am sticking to Continental. I would seriously not drink or eat anything that FA served me. I once got into it with an FA on a HK/SFO flight back in ’97 and had serious food poisoning that night. I still wonder how that happened…

  3. Lucky;

    Please post a copy of your e-mail to United. It sounds like this FA needs to be grounded.

  4. > … frankly my memory sucks.

    That’s what the voice recorder on my cellphone is for. Also makes for great evidence in case you do get kicked off the plane.

    What was the reaction of the other passengers? I can’t imagine that this entire episode wasn’t noticed by everyone else in F?

    What happened to that old lady’s suitcase?

  5. FortFun, that’s what I’m thinking. While I’m guessing this FA will just get some “coaching,” I’m hoping this isn’t the first time and that it results in a bit more than that.

    Basil, as it turned out he was working F aisle, so that made for an odd situation. I purposely ordered water without ice, which made it pretty easy to see if it was “tampered” with. I saw the other FA (who was very nice) prepare the meal, so he had no chance to do anything. Also, in all fairness, for every employee like the one described above, there are a hundred employees at UA that truly go above and beyond, which is why experiences like this don’t change my loyalty.

    MileageMaven, I’ll likely do that. I’ll keep everyone in the loop.

    Oliver, that’s a good point, but frankly I wasn’t expecting a huge battle when I asked for his name.

    As for the reaction of other passengers, I was actually really discreet about it. I think some people in row nine looked on in surprise, but the lady next to me in row six had her headphones on, and the couple in row six across from me were elderly and likely couldn’t hear very well, as they didn’t react. I don’t think anyone else heard anything.

    After he gave the lady some lip he quickly shoved the suitcase into the overhead and walked away.

  6. Never ask a person’s name while onboard. Just get it off their id tag, or jot down a physical description and flight number. That’s enough for the airline to find them. FA’s get paranoid when you ask their name.

  7. Supporter, the issue was that he didn’t have his ID tag, name badge, or any other item identifying his name visible. That’s against UA’s policy. While he would be easy to describe since he was the only male FA aboard, I would have still preferred to have his name, if for no other reason than to politely express that I found him to be unprofessional and to give him the opportunity to correct his actions. Had he been polite and removed it, I would have let it go and would not be contacting UA.

    Any employee that is paranoid about giving out their first name is just that, IMO — paranoid.

  8. I don’t like how FAs have this “almighty power” and some of them let it go to their heads. Once recently I challenged a FA that was spouting such absolute nonsense I could not accept it. They threatened to have me removed, and I said “If you want to, lets get it over with. I know you’re wrong, and I have no problem dealing with the concequences of you removing me from this flight. I will not accept you threatening me with an abuse of power because you feel you have that right.” I was not removed and ended up having a good flight.

  9. Lucky,

    This guy is a toal WANKER! He should not be employed in a field relating to customer service. I do hope you write a good letter showing that he is abusing the authority of his position to abuse his power and ingratiate his lack of ego.

    I would like to suggest an alternative for you the next time you encounter an employee like this. If the person is not wearing their name tag, ask what their name is and then call them by their name. I would get the person’s name first, and then speak with them about such the matter of concern. If the matter appears to be heading in a confrontational direction, try to ease it over, and then report the person later with a letter or call customer relations.

    I would try to avoid getting into any sort of conflict with these Schmucks, as they will always become either confrontational and retaliatory against you. I always try to remember that this is the only power that these type of people have and that they must be real losers to treat people in an abusive manner.

    Here is a summary the violations of customer service and company policies that this Schmuck did.

    1. He wore a big political pin.

    2. He did not wear a name tag.

    3. He was nasty to a passenger requesting help with her bag, when it is his job to assist her.

    4. He refused to give you his name when you requested it and told him he was acting improperly.

    5. He became abusive and vindictive towards you when he was properly told that he should not be wearing a political pin, and he was not politely assisting a passenger with her bag.

    6. This FA’s threat to remove you from the plane was completely unjustified and out of line as there was no cause or reason for it. Clearly hw wished to punish the messenger for his company policy violations and lack of customer service.

    Now go report this sorry Schmuck!

  10. Lucky:

    I’m sorry to take a contra view here but why did you intercede? The pin issue is for UA management to take care of, not you. Maybe if you were 60 years old and had been flying for 35 years as business passenger it would be different, but whether it’s right or not, you’re under 21 and it’s going to be tough for a FA to take you serious no matter how many miles you rack up every year flying coast to coast. The FA was out of line, but you had no business getting involved in this. If you wanted to file a complaint you could have done so by sending UA the flight number and description of the FA.

  11. I had a similar situation with a United agent at the ticket counter in ATL. That is, the employee (who turned out to be the supervisor on duty) was rude, unhelpful, and (relevant to your story) would not give me her name! The first time I asked, she ignored me. When I asked again, she gave me her first name only. I had to ask a third time to get her last name. Some people just amaze me (and not in a good way).

    That said, my general experience is professional, if not pleasant. No gripes about the very vast majority of airline employees.

  12. Dude;

    I don’t know how you managed to put up with this guy after he repeatedly threaten to kick you off, i would of just lost it on him, and if he kicked me off the flight, and the captian approved it, i would have them both fired. Since when did it become ok for a FA to argue with a passenger. I used to fly United two years ago until a GA screamed at me at ORD. Been with NW for about 200,000 miles now, and yet to have a bad experience.

    BTW, nice article about MR in Insider Flyer, that’s how i found this blog.

  13. I’m sorry to hear this and I know this must have ruined your trip. I saw your other post on FT. My recent experience with UA Employee has not been very pleasant either.

    That FA think he does own UA or in the union and think nobody could do anything with him. Glenn Tilton need to hear this personally,not customer relation or 1K voice (Glenn tilton) If I were you I would do my best to have him fire!

  14. Lucky — I think I would have done the same things you did. The political pin would bother me… but I wouldn’t have said anything. Being rude to an elderly lady – I’m not sure if I could sit by and watch that happen.

    I also admire how you kept your cool and not fell into the trap his threats were clearly geared for.

    What really bothers me is that you had to be uncomfortable the whole flight – who needs to worry whether or not their food has been poisoned? Ugh.

    I should add that there are a number of quotes from your previous message that have not been explained in this post … any other good stories from this trip?

  15. Well, I’m going to be a bit contrarian here — with the caveat that the FA’s behavior was utterly atrocious and cannot be in any way shape or form confoned.

    Lucky, if what you wanted to do was get the FA’s name for purposes of reporting him, this could have been done without raising his ire — you could have asked him nicely later in the flight. Rebuking him in front of other pax is simply a no-win proposition, and you of all people should know that. Again, to be clear, I’m NOT saying the guy didn’t deserve it — he clearly did — but let’s be honest: you waved a flag in front of a bull and didn’t like that he charged. By telling him you wanted his name for the purposes of reporting him, you virtually guaranteed a negative result; really, how did you expect him to react? Someone so rude (i.e., toward the elderly woman) was certainly not going to respond well to your “request,” so I guess I’m not sure what you hoped to accomplish by informing him why you wanted his name.

    I’ve seen some pretty bad FA behavior in my travels, and when I do, I write the strongly worded letter, knowing full well that any confrontation is likely to result in an ugly situation.

    To reiterate: The guy’s a loser and should be fired. But I wouldn’t have provoked him in the way you did…

    Just my two drink chits. ; )

  16. Thanks for all the feedback, folks, I really do appreciate it. First of all, a letter has already been sent out to the appropriate person, so for now I won’t post what I sent. I’ll probably do so once the issue is “resolved,” but until then I’ll let it be. I have a feeling that I’ll hear back shortly, though.

    Chitownflyer, all good points, and I included most of them in my letter. As for asking the FA for his name, I doubt he would have given it to me, even without the circumstances at hand. I think he knew he wasn’t receiving any type of praise, and that the only reason anyone would want his name is to complain.

    Sam Hopkins, I’m happy you took a contra view, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m all for constructive criticism. My goal in talking directly to the FA was to get his name and express to him directly that I felt he was acting unprofessionally, and even give him a chance to correct his mistakes. Had I simply gotten his name, I would definitely not have written a letter to a person in a position of power since I don’t feel the issue is grave, and I would think it might never be addressed. I always feel like it’s fine to address someone about an issue as long as it’s done in a calm manner, and I know I appreciate it when working in CS. Furthermore, he wasn’t wearing the pin when boarding the flight, but rather only once he was aboard, so for UA management to know, someone would have to report him. Just letting management deal with it likely wouldn’t solve any issues.

    I simply can’t rationalize the age argument. The fact that he can’t take me seriously (which I don’t think was the case, I think he would have done the same to anyone) is his problem. Should I just accept bullying because of my age? I don’t think so. For example, on a few occasions (when not dressed nicely), I’ve gotten comments like “wrong line, buddy,” when getting in the elite check-in line. Should I just accept that and move on with my life, trying to rationalize that it’s because of my age? I think not.

    ANY person that works in customer service (heck, any person in general) and chooses to discriminate (be it by age, sex, race, etc.), is a total toolbag, in my opinion. I refuse to act sheepishly just because of some perceived inferiority because of my age, which some might have.

    Sam, happy you found my blog through that article, thanks for letting me know! I certainly was tempted to request that we return to the gate after pushback; I honestly felt threatened, I thought he would do something irrational, or even worse continue to provoke me and possibly lead to a diversion. After all, when it’s one person’s word against another and one is an “official,” they can get away with basically anything. 🙁

    Uniter, let me see what else I can come up with, heh. There were a few fun moments on the other flights.

    as219, you raise several great points, and you’re right, I didn’t handle it perfectly. Rarely do I handle spur-of-the-moment conflicts perfectly, as I think is the case for most of us. That being said, this was not in front of other passengers. I was extremely discreet about it, and I would be very surprised if anyone else had the slightest idea about what was going on. I don’t think it could have been done any more discreetly at another point in the flight, and then I’d probably have been an in-flight risk, and I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be responsible for a diversion. 😀

    As for what I was expecting — well, I was hoping that by me expressing my thoughts he’d reconsider wearing the pin and apologize, or at least say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way.” In that case I wouldn’t have reported him. I was trying to give him a chance to correct it, although like I said I definitely didn’t handle the situation perfectly, no doubt about that.

    Still, point well taken, thanks. 🙂

  17. I’m going to have agree with as219 here. The way you approached the FA would have immediately put him on the defensive, and that’s not going to get any sort of desired result. I think most of us would have reacted with a similar defensive stance if you think about it. (Again, this doesn’t mean the FA was right.)

    Let’s look at how this exchange started:

    > Me: “Excuse me, could I please get your first name or employee ID number?
    > I really don’t appreciate that you’re wearing that pin, and as you know it’s
    > against UA policy to do so, not to mention the way you treated that lady, and
    > I’d like to let management know about it.”

    First of all, you’ve given him no way to redeem himself. You’ve started off by saying that you want his info so that you could report him to management. Let’s remember that he’s never had an interaction with you before so it clearly came out of left field in his eyes. So what could he possibly do at this point that could save things? Not much, so he went on the defensive.

    > Me: “Well, I’m one of your customers that flies 200,000 miles a year with
    > your airline and helps pay your salary. ”

    When you follow it up with this, it just makes him more angry. It’s like you’re belittling him by saying that you help pay his salary so he should be completely indebted to you. There are plenty of a**hole customers who also pay his salary, but that doesn’t mean he needs to bow down to them. (I’m not calling you an a**hole, just illustrating a point.)

    What I would have done in this case would be to step in and help the elderly woman myself. Then at some point later on, just ask the FA for his info. He doesn’t need to know that you’re going to write him up. The only reason he needs to know is if there’s some way he can redeem himself in your eyes. That clearly wasn’t going to happen.

    Like as219, I’m not saying this guy handled things well at all. He clearly didn’t and probably deserved to get written up, but it could have been approached better.

  18. I’ve noticed these gay FA’s typically have such attitude; I don’t know what it is. It’s like they need to prove something to everybody. I just expect it nowadays, so I am not disappointed.

  19. As a gay flight attendant for 13 years, I’m offended just by having someone stereotype me. I provide the BEST customer service I can give in an environment that’s usually pretty hostile. Being told I have attitude because I’m gay is just plain crazy. That’s like me telling someone that because he’s a heterosexual accountant, he’s a boring person with no personality.

    I have to agree with one of the other people. If you didn’t like his button, write a letter. Ok – he’s not supposed to have it, but do you really think confronting him on a BUTTON is going to make things better for you?

  20. Looks like it’s been over 10 days. Any word from UA about your encounter with the F/A? I’m curious to see what they say about your taking the F/A to task for violating UA rules.

  21. Hey Tom,

    This issue was actually resolved (at least from my end) on October 15, a day after I posted. I got in touch with the supervisor of onboard service in DEN via email. She returned my call within hours, and was shocked to hear about the story. She genuinely seemed concerned, and informed me that one of her supervisors (she supervises the supervisors) was already working on the case and was in the process of setting up an appointment with this FA, and also said that she was forwarding a copy to WHQ. She confirmed that employees weren’t allowed to wear political pins, and encouraged me to email her the next time I saw a similar situation, even if it’s an FA from a different domicile, as she’d forward it to that supervisor.

    She also told me to give her a call the next time I’m flying through DEN to meet up with her to discuss what could be improved at UA, which is an offer I might just take her up on. 😀

    Overall she was extremely professional and I was pleased, since there’s not much more she could have done (at least that I’d be allowed to know about).

    …. and that’s that. 🙂

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