When you look at the recent run of high profile airline incidents, it is easy for us to get lost in the drama of the drama of the he said she said and forget to ask ourselves why these incidents are happening all of a sudden and even better yet…what can be done about it? Our clients have been increasingly discussing how the polarization of the country has spilled over into the workplace and creating conflicts where once there were none. One client even went so far to send an email to their employees to remind them to not bring politics into the work place.
So one has to wonder if the conflict that we are seeing in our homes and work places is also spilling over into the airplane? It really is not hard to connect the dots between the two. People are more vocal and assertive than ever before…verbalizing how tired with everything they are and drawing lines in the sand. So how does that play into all of the recent conflict that we have seen on airplanes?
Well…people are angry at the airlines for price gouging and charging for everything while getting less seat room than every before. People are taking this out on airline staff and all courtesy has completely gone out the window. In addition to that, you have airline staff who has been taking the brunt of passenger abuse and they are getting sick of the disrespect and exercising their authority more than ever.
So you put people who are already angry at each other in a tight quarters, more vocal and assertive than ever before, and that is a recipe for what we are seeing on the airplanes. Take Dr. Dao who was the first news story to hit this news cycle He was so angry and fed up that he literally was like an obstinate 2 year-old child going no…I am not going anywhere. He drew a line in the sand and said that you are going to have to force me off this plane. Take this mindset and mix with a flight staff that was going no…we aren’t going to stand for this either and we are drawing a line in the sand and exercise the authority that we have. Look at the video of the mother with the baby carriage and it is the same thing…one person going no I am not going to take it anymore and a flight attendant and passenger doing the same thing. Even in the most recent incidents…it wasn’t the flight attendant but two passengers fighting over a $12 blanket saying the same thing and literally fighting with complete disregard for anybody or anything.
So what can we take from this and what can we do? Well first, airlines need to realize that they are on the front lines for what is going on in this country so they have to take the initiative and do their part to not escalate these situations any further they they have to go. If you watch the videos…multiple times during the videos airline staff could have communicated so much more effectively to de-escalate the situations but instead their tone of voice, aggressive mannerisms, and their own “not going to give in mentality” poured gas on the fire.
On top of that, the airlines are going to lose a ton of money through all of the bad PR so they must take a hard look at themselves and figure out if the problem is who they are hiring and how to assess during the interview process how they will handle these situations. Secondly, they need to take a step back and figure out if the problem with their airline staff behavior is an employee issue or whether this is a systemic cultural issue that needs to be addressed. They need to figure it out because the onus of change is on them and the costs will be too high. With several airlines announcing this week a further reduction of leg room in economy seating on their new aircraft, the problems could only be getting much worse.