Long story short (and yes, this is a very, very, very long, drawn out story), a disabled lady was on a United flight from Seattle to San Francisco last week and was less than pleased with the treatment she received. The main gripe is that the flight attendant refused to store her carry-on for her and was rude about it. To add insult to injury the supervisor she spoke to upon landing wasn’t exactly apologetic.
So first let me get this out of the way: I’m betting the flight attendant and most of the other customer service agents she dealt with were rude. That part of the story I totally believe, and that’s what she deserves an apology for. However, this isn’t something that the American Disabilities Association needs to get involved with, in my opinion.
First of all let’s talk a bit about United’s policy when it comes to flight attendant and carry-on bags, as there seem to be quite a bit of confusion over this. While I’m not looking at the flight attendant manual right now, I have seen the flight attendant manual as it addresses this, and I’ve also discussed this issue with more than one onboard supervisor. The United policy is that flight attendants are supposed to assist passengers with stowing bags. To most flight attendants that’s interpreted as directing passengers towards open overhead bin space, and if you’re really lucky, maybe the flight attendant will just give a bit of a push of your bag with one hand. Of course many flight attendants go above and beyond and are more than happy to assist anyone that looks like they might need help.
Nonetheless the policy is open to interpretation, and based on the conversation I had with an onboard supervisor a while back, a flight attendant isn’t breaking any rules by not giving a hand. The issue comes down to liability, and many flight attendants believe they would not be covered if they had an injury resulting from stowing a bag for someone. And I think by almost any interpretation of this, there’s a difference between assisting someone and doing something for them.
At the same it wouldn’t have killed the flight attendant to make a “one time exception” instead of using the “if I had to do that for everyone” excuse which is all too common in customer (dis)service.
All that being said, the passenger deserves a bit of blame here too. First I have to wonder how she transported the bag from the curb all the way to the gate. Was it on her lap? Was the person pushing her wheelchair pulling that as well? More importantly, if she’s really that disabled, it sounds to me like she should be checking her bags. I have a hard time feeling sorry for her if she had a 22″ carry-on stuffed to the brim.
Next, she mentioned how she was in extreme pain due to the bag constantly hitting her as passengers walked by. What the hell am I missing here? Why didn’t she ask one of those passengers to help her instead of sitting there and taking a beating? I’m assuming nobody realized she was disabled based on her just sitting there and they thought she was just crazy for keeping her bag in the aisle. Sounds like she almost wanted to get injured.
Anyway, this all seems a bit dramatic to me. United could have definitely handled the situation better, but I don’t think anyone’s rights were violated or the flight attendant should get any punishment for not stowing the bag for the lady. The fact that she was rude is a completely different story.
Hopefully United will learn from this by clarifying the term “assisting passengers.”
What do you folks think?