I'm not talking about safety--although that's obviously most important.

I'm talking instead about small, avoidable miseries: things like non-working video screens, messed-up meals, screaming kids next to you on on a redeye flight, that kind of stuff.

(Let's assume the screaming kids in question are not your screaming kids.)

Passengers cheered recently when American Airlines revealed it would empower flight attendants to do something right away when these little unpleasantries pop up.

No, they can't fix a video screen at 30,000 feet.

But they'll now be able to offer AAdvantage frequent flier miles for the passengers' trouble.

So far about 70 of American's flight attendants have been using tablets equipped with the airline's iSolve system, doling out occasional free miles as a ready-made corporate apology to customers with complaints. The airline says it's about to scale the program up big time. 

Airlines like United and Delta have already been doing this kind of thing for quite a while. It sounds great.

And yet...

While most flight attendants presumably welcome this as an easy way to deescalate unpleasant encounters with passengers, some other American employees were quick to point out concerns.

  • What if passengers start to realize that their flight attendants are so empowered?
  • Won't they start abusing the system?
  • What if American accidentally creates a class of chronic complainers--people who speak up rather than suffer in silence, knowing they could possibly trade their troubles for reward miles? 

Let's pause to ponder these employees' points of view.

In short, why would they care if some passengers start to pay attention and rack up miles "too often" when things go wrong?

Why would they care about this, of all things? It's not as if the award miles come out of the flight attendants' personal accounts.

Fear not, flight attendants. American understands you, and is way ahead of you.

Because iSolve doesn't just empower flight attendants to give compensation.

It also gives them information that they can presumably use to withhold the payouts.

Jill Surdek, American's vice president for flight service, explained it all on a recent episode of Tell Me Why, an American Airlines podcast meant for airline employees. (The whole thing is syndicated on Soundcloud and iTunes if you'd like to listen, as View From the Wing discovered). As Surdek said:

"I've been getting some concerns from people that once our customers start to find out this is out there, they're going to be coming to the flight attendants saying, 'I want compensation. ... The great part about this system is it feeds into a central database that is what's used by reservations, by social media and by the customer relations team, so if we ultimately have a customer who seems to be taking advantage of this, we're going to know."

We're only talking about one percent of complaining passengers who might fall into the "taking advantage" category, Surdek said. In fairness, of course, the number might be even smaller. Lots of us sometimes say "one percent" when we really mean "a fraction of a percent."

And at the same time, I doubt it really surprises anyone to learn that American will notice if you seem to put in a compensation claim for frequent flier miles every time you board one of their planes.

Still, it leaves you wondering. 

American's management announced a new way to solve passengers' complaints, and some flight attendants' first reaction is to start complaining about the passengers "taking advantage" of it.

Isn't the point of a program to compensate passengers that passengers are actually supposed to take advantage of it?

And if you're worried passengers are being compensated too often for their problems, wouldn't the better thing simply be to help them avoid the problems to begin with?