NEW YORK (AP/CBSLA.com) — Another day, another cellphone video of a conflict on an airplane.
American Airlines said it grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontation with a male passenger after taking a baby stroller away from a female passenger on a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth. The altercation, which took place before the plane took off, was caught on video.
In the video, the passenger gets up to confront the employee.
“Hey, bud? Hey, bud? You do that to me and I’ll knock you flat,” the passenger says.
The employee points his finger at the passenger and says, “you stay out of it,” as the passenger then gets out of his seat.
The two men come face to face with the employee saying, “try it, hit me… c’mon bring it on,” before they are pulled apart.
“You try that with a man and I’ll knock you out,” the passenger says as he returns to his seat.
“You don’t know what the story is,” the employee says before being shuttled out of the cabin by another employee.
Johnny Jet is a travel expert who says frustrations have been simmering since the airlines started cutting back, charging for food, for luggage, for legroom…and now passengers armed with cellphones are showing what happens when putting profits over people explodes:
“The flight attendants have been pushed back by the airlines, they’re under tremendous pressure to get the planes out on time, the passengers are being crammed in to the seats, it’s just not a great flying experience anymore,” Jet says.
The incident comes less than two weeks after video of a man being violently dragged off a United Express flight sparked widespread outrage.
“The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care,” the airline said in a statement to CBS News. “In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”
In an age of cellphone videos and social media, airlines are learning the hard way that it is essential to deescalate tense situations that occur during air travel, even as there are more passengers, less room and fewer flight attendants than ever before.
United initially blamed its passenger, Dr. David Dao, before finally apologizing days after the incident, fanning the public’s fury. American, by contrast, seems to have learned from United’s mistakes: it immediately said it was sorry, that it had grounded the flight attendant while it investigates the incident, and that it had upgraded the passenger involved and her family to first class.
“American doesn’t want to become the next United, but then, United didn’t want to become the next United,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “No airline wants to be seen as being anti-consumer or anti-passenger.”
Smartphone cameras and social media are shifting power to consumers who can share customer relations gaffes with the world. They’re increasingly making confrontations with customer-facing staff headline news, making it harder for companies to sweep complaints under the rug. The faster companies own up to mistakes, the quicker they can start to do damage control.
American’s fast reaction to the incident could be helpful, said brand consultant Allen Adamson, CEO of BrandSimple.
“The quick reaction will prevent it from escalating further, but it won’t mitigate the perception among flyers that flying is becoming a less enjoyable experience every day,” he said.
Overall, airlines must start to put more of an emphasis on customer service, he said.
“It’s another example of airlines struggling to treat their passengers with the traditional ‘customer is always right’ attitude,” he said. “Good customer service is finding a way to deescalate a situation and he (the flight attendant) was throwing gasoline on it.”
Days after Dao was dragged off the United Express flight from Chicago to Kentucky to make room for airline crew, his lawyer spent a good part of a news conference railing against what he said was the industry-wide shabby treatment of airline passengers. Dao lost teeth, suffered a broken nose and received a concussion in the incident, which also was captured on video.
Traveling is stressful under any circumstance, and conflict resolution training is an essential part of being a flight attendant, Harteveldt said.
“If airlines aren’t going to improve staffing or restore leg room for customers, they should at least provide flight attendants with better, more relevant training about how to handle these types of situations,” he said.
At the same time, passengers should also be respectful of flight attendants — who often work long hours on multiple flights — as well, he said.
“It’s just clear in this case things didn’t go the way anybody would have liked, but American Airlines acted responsibly in the aftermath,” he said.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)