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….