Travesty on American Airlines Flight 1758
An Open Letter to American Airlines President Thomas W. Horton
My wife and I stood in the priority line to board American flight 1758 from Miami to Boston at 3 pm on January 14. We were returning from a week’s vacation in Puerto Rico and a speech that morning in Ft. Lauderdale.
I have flown about 3.5 million air miles, over a million of them on American alone, an indication that I like the carrier and think its employees do fine work on the ground and in the air. In fact, American provides me with recognition slips for employees, and I gave one to flight attendants on the flights to San Juan and back.
Let me also state that flight attendants have a tough job, they are not always treated well by the company or passengers, and 95 percent of them are terrific. But now I will take you on a sorry trip.
There were four people ahead of us in line. At the front were two women, apparently in their 70s, short, not very mobile, and moving with difficulty. One was both deaf and blind. The other—whom I took to be a partner, companion, or relative, because they had obviously traveled together before—guided her companion carefully, and I marveled at their mutual tough determination. Behind them was a man with a severe walking problem who relied on a cane, with his wife beside him.
Boarding commenced and we slowly walked to the plane, with the first class passengers behind us. At the door of the 757, coach is to the right, first class to the left. But the two women had stopped in the intersection, and seemed to be struggling. Three female flight attendants stood within five feet, unmoving. After two minutes, I excused myself and moved forward to find the two women struggling with their carry-on bags. The sighted woman was struggling to lift one, staggering under the weight of the bag, and the blind woman was afraid to sit down or move. The man with the cane obviously could not help.
“Why don’t you help them?” I said to the three immobile flight attendants. All three simply stared blankly.
“For goodness sake,” I said, and moved over to help the women lift their baggage into the overhead bins. Bear in mind that 200 people were waiting in line in the jetway and out into the concourse to board that plane. Once we were able to clear the aisle, I turned to go to first class and said to the still-motionless troika, “Why didn’t you help them?!”
“We’re not allowed,” said one. “If we hurt ourselves,” said another, “the company won’t pay our insurance claims.” “No wonder American is bankrupt,” I said, “given this kind of nonsense.” I was aghast at the callousness of these three, watching two poor women struggle in front of them. The third flight attendant, Mariellen, had a brief fit, said I didn’t understand and stomped to the galley, proclaiming loudly into the open cockpit door, “I’m not arguing in the aisles. You wouldn’t believe this!” Apparently the pilots didn’t believe it or had better things to do, since neither emerged.
Meanwhile, I watched a gate agent board the plane and lift luggage into an overhead, then go down to ground level and help baggage handlers with late checked luggage. Apparently, he wasn’t afraid of hurting himself, or had special insurance.
I’m assuming these three flight attendants met or exceeded American’s standards for health, fitness, and intelligence. Lifting a bag into an overhead bin on occasion certainly can’t be a threatening part of the job unless you have no inclination to help. I’d say American does not have a compassion test, because these three would have flunked it.
How do you stand there, watch disabled and disoriented elderly women struggle, and not have the heart to help, feeling that (I assume) union work rules take precedence? How effective will you be in an emergency, helping people when personal sacrifice might be required to assist others? Or would you be worried about cracking a nail?
I’ll repeat that my flying experiences have been enriched by the hard working people on the ground and in the air working for airlines around the globe. I do not mean to generalize.
But what I saw, sir, today, when I’m writing this, was egregiously poor judgment, a lack of decency, and a callousness that is hard to comprehend when most people I know are constantly reaching out to help others, especially those so clearly in need. They’re not worried about what their insurance will or won’t cover when they see people in extenuating circumstances.
I don’t know what you should do with these employees, but I wouldn’t board a flight they’re working with a bad back and a large bag.
Mr. Horton, I’m not asking you to lift a bag, but just lift the phone, personally, and tell me you’ll fix this.