Broken WiFi And Broken People On American

Today was a travel day for me, as I’m on my way to an SPG event at the US Open (which I’m excited to share with y’all a bit later).

I tend to be a pretty easy passenger, and as long as I have water and space to work I’ll throw my headphones in and be happy for a flight of any length. Ideally, I like to have WiFi as well, and when booking domestically I’ll choose routes with Gogo on all segments over those with the highest upgrade potential.

That might seem counterintuitive to those who love the trappings of elite status, but ten times out of ten I would rather sit in economy with a stable internet connection than sit in domestic first without it.

You can likely guess where this is going.

Despite an early push from the gate, we held on the taxiway for about 25 minutes (not uncommon for early morning flights from San Diego), so it was over an hour after boarding before we were at altitude, and I was anxious to get online.

American-tail-morning

Sometimes it can take a few minutes for Gogo to connect, but after being at altitude for a good 15 minutes, there was still no signal.

In the meantime, the flight attendant working the first class cabin came through and started taking meal orders in the most dispassionate way possible (which I would have thought would be a good use of a 25 minute hold, but that’s just me). I’m familiar enough with the breakfast options on American to know I’m best off avoiding anything but the oatmeal, so I just asked for water, please, but listening to the ordering process throughout the cabin was cringe-inducing:

“Do you wanna blinz or quike?”
“Pardon?”
“Those words are hard to say. We have a cheese blintz or a breakfast quiche.”

“Blintz or quiche?”
“What’s a blintz?”
“I guess like a pancake? But with cheese, apparently.”

“Blintz or quiche?”
“Is either option vegetarian?”
“Probably.”

“Blintz or quiche?”
“Can I just have the fruit?”
::heavy sigh:: “I guess.”

So that was obviously going well, and was quite entertaining, but the WiFi still wasn’t working. As one of the other flight attendants passed through the cabin I mentioned that the GoGo connection seemed to be down, and asked if she could please take a look at the system when she had a chance.

The decidedly apathetic crew member responded with:

Someone else already asked. It’s just not working.

Alrighty then!

After the breakfast service, wherein most people eventually received what they’d ordered, I queried the lead flight attendant (who to her credit had made a few passes through the cabin to check on drinks, and was otherwise obviously not busy:

If you ladies have time at some point, would it be possible to try resetting the Gogo connection please? It’s still not working.

Which was met with a roll of the eyes and a brisk:

No. It’s either on or off, and I already checked, and it’s on.

Now, I am not an expert on the mechanics of in-flight WiFi, nor am I particularly tech-savvy, but I am very familiar with two approaches that would have, in my opinion, been a bit better:

  • Turn [______] off and on until it works
  • Smile and pretend to care

So I have no idea if resetting the in-flight WiFi system is possible or practical. The flight attendant may have been correct. She may also have been poorly trained, and unaware of troubleshooting options. And the same could be said for her colleagues.

But if that’s the case, is it really that hard to tilt your head a bit, look sympathetic, and respond with something along the lines of “Gosh, I’m sorry, and I wish we could get that fixed. I’ve tried everything I know how to do, and it’s still not working. I wrote up a support ticket just in case, but we’ll keep trying.” ?

Of course, that would take even more time away from blending three different lipsticks in the galley to get that perfect shade of nude than checking to see which of your two meal options is vegetarian, and thus was clearly an unreasonable request on my part.

A lack of WiFi on a flight when you’d planned on it is annoying — I’ll have to make up the four hours of connected time elsewhere in my day, but is it the end of the world? Of course not.

But watching people who so obviously dislike their jobs to the point where they can’t even muster the graciousness to pretend they are interested is difficult, and actively diminishes the flight experience.

Not like there’s a lot of “experience” to take away from on a domestic flight in the US, but at some level there’s little point investing in your hard product or marketing of your brand image if you can’t spend similar attention on your people.

And I realize this is my bias as a younger and relatively privileged person, but I don’t understand why people stay in flight attendant roles in the US if they actively hate the gig. It’s not like being a domestic flight attendant is a particularly lucrative or glamorous job, but it’s also not a highly skilled or specialized position, so there should be alternative employment options for folks who are this unhappy.

So I’m not complaining – other than the WiFi situation the flight was fine. But it does make for an interesting start to the morning when you’re interacting with miserable people.

And the morose crew made me feel a bit sad for them, that’s all.

And I’m curious:

Which, if either, would have bothered you more?

View Results

How do you feel when your flight attendants don’t seem engaged? And does anyone know if it is in fact possible to reset the Gogo connection on a 737?

Comments

  1. Tiffany – Nothing bothers me more than cabin crew members with their rude attitude! It makes the flight so miserable that I can’t even wait to get out of the aircraft! I’ve sent quite a handful of notes to AA about their cabin crew who clearly aren’t in the mood to be there, provide horrible on board service and their tones / treatment is so poor. I know they won’t do much about it aside from “addressing it to their manager” but at least I get that out of my chest to get this people squared up on their poor service. Saddens me to see this frequent lately on AA flights and tonight I am flying LAS to LAX. Let’s hope it’s a good journey after flying private yesterday morning.

  2. This drives me batty after working in customer facing roles for years. Yes, airplane passengers can be a complete pain in the ass. Just like customers in a restaurant can be. Difference being, if I acted like that in a restaurant I would have gotten fired or zero tips. And, it’s not that hard to give a big smile, act sympathetic, then when in the bathroom roll your eyes if you are really that unahppy. (Not saying you did anything wrong, just in general when customers are annoying you).

  3. I lived in China for 2 years from 2012-2014 and traveled domestically there every week. It is embarrassing to admit that I’d rather fly domestic flights in China (and deal with the slew of craziness that comes with that) than to fly on any US based airline any where. The attitude of the Chinese based airlines, although also not great, but they seem to at least pretend like they care more consistently than with my experiences home in the US. Another thing is that I like aisle seats. No other airline in the world do I have to deal with more flight attendants smacking me on the shoulder every time they walk by me than on US based airlines. I’m sorry, but if you are wider turning side ways than facing straight, it’s not fair for the rest of us to have to deal with the negative consequences too.

  4. Tiffany, you should write this post almost verbatim and send it through the mail to the appropriate person at American. Can’t hurt.

  5. There’s a reason why I choose Finnair over AA. The Finnish cabin crew are down to earth and warm in there welcoming. Although you have to put up with old onboard products which are (soon to be replaced) makes the trip worth it.

  6. There’s a reason the term “Sky Hag” has taken root. While I won’t have this comment thread devolve into a pro/anti-union discussion, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the FA Union has had a large role in ensuring the type of employee you encountered stays employed. And therein lies the heart of the issue you address, Tiffany: these FAs can be as downright surly, unaccommodating, rude, and utterly lacking in give-a-shit because they almost cannot be fired for cause (as there are few causes that would warrant a dismissal based on their contract) and why quit when they’d have to find another job. Adding to that is that they’re most likely only experienced in “customer service”, which they clearly dislike and/or are simply not good at.

    While I enjoy many things about America, domestic airlines save a very select few, are one of our worst exports – aside from Jersey Shore – and we should be wholly ashamed of how awful they are. I am so pro-ME3 it hurts, and I would love to see them able to operate 5th Freedom flights in the US. When flying internationally, I legitimately never fly US carriers – and will gladly pay a premium to avoid them – because both the soft and hard product are so subpar in nearly every aspect, that it’s a disservice to most foreign carriers to even refer to the US3 as “airlines” at all.

  7. They absolutely can re-boot the Gogo and have successfully done so for me (and others) on a number of occasions – it takes 10-15 minutes to get it up and running but it generally works. It’s just so disappointing when you encounter such disengaged crew.

  8. I formerly worked for an airline and am married to a former Flight Attendant. I may be able to offer some perspective regarding why many of the flight attendants stay, even though it is clear that they don’t like their jobs. None of this is meant to excuse the bad behavior of the FA’s on your flight.

    While it’s not a particularly high paying job, it’s pretty high paying when you consider the skills that most of the workforce has. If they wanted to transfer to a different job at the company, they would not be able to find jobs at the pay level that they are paid. Airport and reservation agents work longer hours for less pay. Management positions are also generally not available to them because they lack the skills and often may not even pay as well.

    Even leaving the company is hard. Replacing that level of income is difficult when you consider the benefits — medical, retirement, and the highly-valued employee travel privileges. Added on top of that, Flight Attendants do not work especially long hours and have flexibility regarding their schedule (they can add or drop trips, etc.).

    So when the negatives of the job (like months sitting reserve, family issues, etc., dealing with the public) start to wear them down, and they start to look at other options, sometimes they end up feeling trapped. They hate the job but feel like they can’t quit. This can make for a disgruntled, unhappy workforce that takes it out on the public.

    None of this is an excuse for that kind of behavior and it’s pretty hard for the airlines to manage the issue too. First, it’s a unionized workforce and that makes discipline hard to stick. Second, they don’t have a member of management along on flights. My wife would see her manager once or twice a year and the manager probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize her on sight.

    While some may say that Foreign airlines do it better, they don’t have US laws (or the same social contract) to deal with. The airlines try very hard to hire the right people for the job but what you’ve hired at 25 might not be the same person at 55. That’s not something that the airlines expected when they were hiring 30 years ago.

  9. Attitude of the flight attendants is completely unacceptable.

    “Customer service” is one of the reasons I gave to my corporate travel group about why I paid $150 more for a flight on Virgin America than the comparable option on American or United. Happy to say they understood and had no issues.

  10. sounds terrible.
    But I have to say I flew AA recently on a bunch of segments and in EVERY one of them, the crew was spectacular. The right mix of professional + friendly, and really wowed me over.

    Interestingly we had a bunch of issues on flights– on one flight the power ports didn’t work, on another, the wifi didn’t, and on a third, they forgot to load the nuts and bread! But none of that mattered because the crew was so outstanding.

    Also, has anyone else noticed that the domestic F seats seem to be much harder on the 737s and A320 series than on the 757?

  11. If you really, really need Wi-Fi, an indifferent crew can be tolerated. If you aren’t head-down working, crew is more of a factor.

    FWIW, on our recent LAX-IAH flight we had a delightful AA FA in “first” class (she was LA-based). She did an admirable job with what she had — which was a lack of oven/microwave to warm up food and having two pretty sad (and cold!) dinner choices.

    Does anyone think that if US airlines offered better soft/hard product, it’d make passengers more happy which would in turn make FAs’ job more pleasant which would make them more likely to offer better service in return?

  12. I get the same reaction on Alaska flights when I ask flight attendants to turn down the heat (unlike almost every other airline, Alaska keeps its cabins stifling intead of freezing). They will act as if its an impossible chore and rarely take action.

    By the way, I think you mean “eager,” not “anxious,” when talking about wanting to get online sooner rather than later.

  13. How many airlines compete for your business: maybe four, probably fewer. In contrast, how many hotels compete for your business? Many more. That’s why airline service is so poor (in the US).

    Let’s not blame the flight attendants.

  14. I’ve had flights on Delta where they get on the PA and say something along the lines of “unfortunately our wi-fi appears to be down today, we have tried to troubleshoot it and it still does not work. We apologize for the inconvenience”

    Easy, quick, helpful. Why is that so hard for AA? Say what you will about skymiles, but Delta is a far better airline.

  15. And don’t forget they now feel entitled to make your life miserable if they feel “threatened” in any way buy a comment, picture, look or anything you do. You may get a surprised when land and be welcomed by FBI agents at the gate just because you complained about no Wi-Fi. Nowadays, when I board a plane I stay quiet in my own world of my Bose Noise Cancelling headphones and try to snooze as much as I can.

  16. Hey Tiffany,

    I’m also SD based. SD has an airport Curfew, no take offs until after 6.30am, at that point the take off line up is about 6 – 8 deep most mornings.
    It makes me laugh as SW and other airlines offer 6.10am departures, which would have no chance of even being off the ground at that time.

    I always aim for the 7am departures in the Morning from SD , as they seem to leave on time.

  17. “It’s not like being a domestic flight attendant is a particularly lucrative or glamorous job, but it’s also not a highly skilled or specialized position, so there should be alternative employment options for folks who are this unhappy.”

    I think you’ve missed the point here. The fact that it’s not a highly-skilled position doesn’t mean it’s easy to find alternative employment options. It means that the alternatives are not very appealing, hence why they stay with the airline. Why leave just to take a poorly-paid entry-level job with no future somewhere else?

    As Call me John Doe for this One said above, where else can you get a job with the same pay and benefits as a flight attendant that only requires 6 weeks of training? And much of what they learn (FAA rules etc.) isn’t skills or knowledge that would be of benefit in the wider job market. I can totally appreciate the feeling of being trapped in a job that many of them must have.

    None of which is meant to excuse their poor customer service. I work in a health-care facility and I absolutely HATE it when I have to interact with patients (or even worse, their crazy families). But providing good customer service is part of the job, so I throw on a smile that doesn’t touch my eyes, do what needs to be done in public, and then bitch with my colleagues behind closed doors. And some of the stuff I’ve had to do is a lot worse than rebooting the wifi!

  18. This right here is why I fly Southwest for all of my domestic work travel. The flight attendants are always happy and helpful. Wifi usually works and they try to fix it if it doesn’t (or at least pretend to with a smile on their face). I’m based in Houston so my alternative is United and their flight crews have gotten so bad I refuse to deal with them. Besides, I earn A-List Preferred and Companion Pass every year just from flying so I get a lot of benefit from that. I can then use Southwest to connect to other cities and use credit card miles to fly international carriers overseas in business or first so having status on the alliance partner doesn’t really matter for me anyway. I have only flown maybe 2 segments on the big 3 domestic US carriers in the past year and only because it was a free domestic leg from an international flight and both of those flights reminded me why I avoid those carriers. Sad but true state of the US airline industry.

  19. You can compare flight attendants job security with the security of tenured faculty at a college… That is they can basically murder someone and they’ll still have their job (yes, an exaggeration, but you get the point). I usually chat with the FA on my flights and once they warm up to you, most are pleasant. I have dealt with some who are just plain rude, and even then, I kill them with kindness. Sometimes just saying “please” and “thank you” makes their day. I’ve been thanked numerous times by the FA for just being polite.

  20. “But watching people who so obviously dislike their jobs”. Is it that they dislike their jobs or us?

    These FAs sound like what you’d find on domestic Canadian routes with AC. Ugh.

    Why is it that most of us wouldn’t accept such shitty customer service on the ground from say, our cell phone provider, grocery stores, restaurants or coffee shops, etc., etc., etc.? I think it’s because we feel complaining to an FA about their complete and utter lack of customer service and confronting them for how poorly they treat us, we fear we’d have the captain up in our faces telling us we’re a security risk and saying the FA feels “threatened” by our behavior. And how pathetic is that, that we would even consider those consequences before confronting them, let a lone the sad fact that FAs DO have that much power, and we know it.

  21. Timely post Tiffany. I just flew Alaska last night SNA-PDX and Gogo became Nogo. It was down. When I queried the FA in F, he and another FA took a few minutes to attempt to get it running again, to no avail. Not only that, they put on a spectacular service and apologized to the passengers.

    While I was bummed at not being able to work, I did have other things I could do offline. The biggest difference however, was the FA’s attitude and sheer dedication to service. He personally approached each passenger in F and introduced himself by name, shook their hands, and asked what he could get for them – pre departure. In flight, his positive attitude was contagious and it influenced the other FAs who I could tell were in great moods as well. He thanked us all, individually, one at a time at the end of the flight. And, it was genuine – not canned, forced or otherwise contrived.

    The thing is, this is the norm, not the exception on AS, and Padraig Tipton’s experience is often the exception.

  22. @Emily: I’m confused by the logic, because we really have between 6 and 8 major airlines in the US (the big three + Alaska + Southwest + Virgin America, and then if you want to add Spirit + Frontier into the mix, you can…). I can’t think of any other place on earth with that level of competition. So I’m not sure competition drives the service here.

  23. I find it a sad comment on greed in the airline industry here, when last week I was on Nok air, free wifi, good service and low cost flight.

  24. Tiffany, you have a gift. You totally nailed it on this subject, as you seem to do whenever you post on here. I would love to make the FA’s on your flight sit and listen to this and hear what they have to say. If I were Doug Parker, I would also make this required reading – but I admit I’m probably dreaming to think it would matter to these types of FA’s. I think these bad apples tend to cluster and work with similar types who reinforce each others bad attitudes. And they are in a union, so what can you do? I think of a friend who loved flying but finally quit because of all the negativity amongst his coworkers, not the difficult passengers. He went into real estate and has done fabulously well because he knew how to provide great customer service. His gain, United’s loss. I also think of the time I had a crew that really went above and beyond on a trip. When I later told an FA friend of mine who worked for the union about the great crew, he told me – and he was dead serious – that the crew was ultimately creating problems because “that gives passengers unrealistic expectations”.

  25. Sad to see that AA remains at the bottom of the barrel – I gave up flying them years ago and this story reminds me exactly why.

  26. Its interesting to read about people constantly complaining about AA while they continue to choose AA. It reminds me of living in Detroit in the 90’s and my co-workers constantly complaining about Northwest, while continuing to give NWA business. When I asked why they didn’t switch to Southwest, they would mumble something about not being able to upgrade to first class. All righty then. If they aren’t happy to have your business, don’t give them your business.

    Having the wifi inoperative does remind me of one of my favorite Louis CK sketches about how quickly we get jaded about having things that 3 years ago were inconceivable.

  27. In my experience, Gogo internet is a paid service, is it not? (at least on Delta, you have to purchase a GoGo pass, possibly unless you are in first class). So the airline was already technically not providing something you paid for, either separately or as part of your ticket. I also think you should contact AA and see if you can’t at least get some extra miles as “compensation” for your trouble – then again, that’s my approach to any unpleasant flight experience: complain to customer service until they give me some miles.

  28. Broken People….I love that!

    Great piece Tiffany! I feel sorry for the fantastic crew who do the right thing, only to have their collective reputation sullied by the few. How is it that we’ve come to live in a society where lemons are protected?

  29. I am always amazed at how much better the service is on the international carriers esp the Asian based carriers. The crews working those flights really seem to care and it truly is a big deal in a lot of the Asian countries to work as a flight attendant.

  30. On a 737 or any aircraft, every system has a circuit breaker. Pulling said breaker, waiting a minute, then pushing it back in is the same as pulling the plug on your home router (or DVR, vcr, toaster, modem etc). In just about all cases this shoyluld force a reset of the device. Usually causes a clean boot restart which can take some time. I’d be careful suggestion such action to an attendant as the next visitor to your seat mah well be the sky Marshall.

  31. @ Josh,

    Yes, you are quite right. I hear that all the time. People I know fly Delta knowing that their FF program is weak, but at least they can run an airline, dammit!!

  32. I fly infrequently however all are of the Domestic kind on AA.
    Five of six flights in 2015 have had a poorly trained or highly indifferent flight crew.
    In one case, it was so bad, I wrote to AA customer service.
    No reply! Bad customer service x2.

  33. On a recent flight on AA between LGA and ORD, Gogo was not working during most of the flight, while the crew tried to restart it several times.
    Then, towards the end of the flight, it started working out of the blue.

  34. I don’t know how they train their staff but Virgin Australia’s people are almost unfailingly polite, happy and efficient.

  35. Given that this is a site for travel nerds, baffled that this merits a post. It is typical on a domestic flight and if it is United also on an international flight.

  36. Any customer service issue that is relevant should be brought to the attention of the supervisor at the time of the incident. The story is missing the response of the FA when you shared your concerns about service.
    There is no way to know if the FA was covering for an absent crew member, had some tragic experience recently, was dealing with multiple malfunctions in equipment and is not at liberty to discuss details per airline protocols.

  37. Maybe the FA’s are surly towards people on computers is because the world revolves around their computer. At meal time most people using computers are too tied to their computer to put it away 30 seconds early so that the FA can deliver their meal without standing their holding a meal tray waiting for the ignorant passenger to put their computer away. Certainly if you can work the computer, you can figure out when your meal is coming. In this case Tiffany seemed to be under the impression that the FA’s had nothing better to do than fix the Internet connection. There is more to life than the Internet he says as he types away. I don’t now or never have worked for an airline, but I fly a lot and see how annoying people can become with their computers.

  38. Typical, and while I have not been on an AA flight in 20 years I flew plenty until this year on UA. US was really bad too, wonder how much the merger has affected AA.

    Anyways, it was rare to get good service on UA. The service culture in general in the US is pretty abysmal, especially when it comes to airlines and hotels.

    Like others I have moved over to Asia, not just for my flights but for life in general…its great, pretty smiling polite women and good service everywhere. Feel sorry for the suckers left behind flying domestic in the states…universally awful experience…the pax can be pretty bad too!

  39. My vote would be “really?” You poor, and as you say, “relatively privileged” person, having to go hours without wifi. Whatever willl you do? Will you have to miss some of the US Open event? Oh, you poor thing! Perhaps flying private jet would better suite someone of your “privilege”.

  40. I think more than anything else, these bad apple FAs never leave because of the industry travel benefits (which increase with length of service) more than anything else. Pretty much all these bad apples only became FAs in the first place because of said benefits, and who have always begrudged the actual FA job itself – sure they’ll fake it to get the job, pass training, and secure certain positions, but once that’s done it’s pure disdain. The only time they’ll come alive is when they are partying at the hotel, or taking their staff travel to party somewhere else. Staff travel is a great benefit in the industry, but it also is highly attractive to the wrong sort of people, and frankly airline personnel systems just aren’t good enough to weed out these lot from those who are genuinely interested in service.

  41. It’s a running joke in Australia that flying from down under to NYC involves a pleasant 15 hours on QF or VA, followed by a grueling 5-hour nightmare on AA or DL. To foreigners who haven’t flown domestically in America, witnessing the level of slovenly passive-aggressiveness is just mind-blowing. On a 35-minute flight from Sydney to Canberra in economy class, you’ll get a cheerful smile, a tasty free meal and two beverage services. American carriers can’t provide that on a 6-hour transcon?

    And it’s got nothing to do with a lack of competition. There’s more competition here than anywhere. It’s about corporate culture, customer expectations, and hiring.

  42. Josh has it exactly. I’ve flown Quantas and Air New Zealand so often I’ve lost count. I also use Asia and Cathay. The experiential difference between them and ANY US airline is mind blowing. If I could fly those airlines for most US routes, US carriers would never see me again with the exception of SW.

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