At first no one paid much attention to the man across the aisle from me.

Sure, he had badly wanted the window seat and tried to browbeat his seat mate into switching, but just about every flight has at least one passenger who doesn't embrace the idea that it's better for everyone if we all just try to get along

But when he said, "You don't have to be such a bitch about it," several people immediately swiveled in their seats and aimed their phones in his direction. One even banged his head on the underside of the overhead bin in his haste to capture the moment.

And so they were just in time to record the flight attendant saying, "Sir, I do not appreciate being spoken to in that manner." 

Doesn't sound bad, right? 

The guy wanted a drink. He got mad when the flight attendant said she had another small issue to take care of and would be back in about five minutes. He told her to take care of him first. She smiled apologetically and said she would be back as soon as she could.

That didn't work for him. He wanted his drink "right [freaking] now."

And when she said, no longer smiling, "Sir, I promise I will be right back," he whipped out the b-word.

So yes, she acted appropriately...unless you only saw those five seconds of video.

Then, without context, you might think she overreacted--especially since the guy (probably because he saw the phones pointed his way) did a reasonably good impression of someone who seemed hurt to be spoken to in that way.

If all you saw were those five seconds of video, all you would hear is the edge in her voice. All you would hear is her frustration. All you would hear is that she sounded dismissive. Maybe even a little contemptuous.

None of those are words any service professional wants to see used to describe their behavior. Even though she was totally justified for responding the way she did.

Customers want and deserve to be treated like people--but so do the people who serve those customers.

After she walked away, the man asked people to give him their videos. He wanted to complain. He wanted to get her fired. He wanted the video to go viral. (Yes, he said that.)

Fortunately, everyone basically ignored him.

But what if they hadn't? What if someone gave him their five seconds of video and he complained?

And airline management valued his word over that of their employee. And decided she should have just smiled and taken it. And had disciplined her. Or even fired her.

While that outcome would be unfair, with all the public customer-service heat the airline industry could also see it happening.

The flight attendant was standing at the front saying goodbye as I got off the plane. She seemed tense and preoccupied. Maybe she was still justifiably upset. Or maybe she was concerned that the passenger would complain, and she worried about how it would all turn out.

One of the reasons police officers wear body cameras is to provide evidence when complaints are lodged against officers: Capturing an entire incident means specific actions cannot be taken out of context.

Since the technology is increasingly affordable...will flight attendants be next? Or health care professionals? Or anyone who provides a service, especially those who provide services in potentially stressful situations, or where customer emotions can at times run high?

I hope not.

But I could also see that happening.

Published on: Apr 16, 2018
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