Cruel and heartless customer service or merely protecting the integrity of the business class cabin and stopping a scammer from trying to upgrade? That’s one question surrounding another United Airlines story that will leave you feeling sad. But the greater issue is reflected in my title.
You can read the family’s side of the incident in the Facebook link below, but I’ll try to summarize–
- Family reunion in Los Angeles
- Two members of the family were in Australia, including an 94-year-old
- Family pooled together so that grandma could fly in business class
- But being an aged women, she required help eating and using the restroom
- Flight from Melbourne to LA went off without a hitch — granddaughter flew in economy but provided assistance to her grandmother during meal service and when grandma needed to use the lavaotry
- Flight back to Melbourne was a different story — crew refused to help
- Choice given: take grandma back to economy class or get off the plane
- Granddaughter chose to move grandma back to economy class
- Grandmother arrived in Australia with swollen legs and stiff neck and was prescribed Valium by doctor
- Upon complaining, United offered her an $860 refund and a $500 voucher, but stated crew had a “different recollection” of what happened
Here’s a more formal complaint.
The Greater Issue: Access
By law, carriers are required to provide basic accommodations (without advance notice) to the infirm and disabled. Here’s what United promises—
Individual safety briefings
Customers may receive an individual safety briefing to ensure they are properly advised of safety procedures. These individual briefings can include an explanation of where and when to exit and an inquiry to the most appropriate manner in which the customer may be assisted.
En route assistance
Flight attendants will offer assistance to semi-ambulatory customers in getting to/from the seat during boarding and/or disembarkation and to/from the onboard lavatory. They may assist with loading and retrieving carry-on items and other assistive devices stowed on board the aircraft. They will also assist with meal preparation such as opening packages and identifying items. They cannot assist with any medical services, assistance inside the lavatory, or in actual feeding.
According to the granddaughter, FAs refused to help. The granddaughter stated that grandma eats only bread and needs help buttering it. She also needs help walking to the lavatory, but can be alone inside. She requested to provide the assistance.
I think most reasonable people, like the FAs on the flight to LAX, would naturally allow that. But wouldn’t you think the FAs would at least say, “We are not permitted to allow you to go in and out of the cabin, but it our duty and privilege to help your grandmother to the bathroom and back to her seat. No food, including the butter and salt/pepper, will be sealed, but we will happy to provide assistance where needed.”
Boom. Situation diffused. Instead, if the family is being truthful, the FAs simply refused to help.
The Greatest Issue: Dignity
I travel with my 89-year-old uncle around the world and thankfully he is able to run circles around men decades younger than him. When he is no longer able to, I don’t know if we’ll still travel. But if we do, I will not tolerate him being guilted and made uncomfortable for being old, especially when federal law mandates certain reasonable accommodations. Although I plan to always be seated next to him, he recently flew Lufthansa First Class alone. I’m sure they would have treated him royally even if he did require assistance to the lavatory.
Many on FlyerTalk are siding with United, arguing that the dignity of the business class cabin must be preserved. What about the dignity of the person? Is your sense of entitlement so great that you would rather see a woman suffer than “endure” a bit of additional foot traffic in the business class cabin?
There is this amazing thing some humans have. It’s called common sense. No one is arguing that daddy flies business and his six kids take turns coming up from economy class to sit on his lap. No, this is an old woman who needs help. A little discretion goes a long way. Rules are merely points at which deviation is measured from.
Skeptics will argue the woman should have purchased a second business class ticket for her grandmother if she wanted to help her. That’s about as stupid as saying you should have purchased a larger home if you needed more room. You buy what you can afford. Here, the family did their best to honor their elder and provide at least some semblance of comfort for her.
As far as I can tell, the woman was treated poorly and FAs shows a profound lack of empathy by failing to find a reasonable accommodation as the outbound crew had done.
The point is not to focus on every single United customer service story that comes out, but to cover those events that must make “the Friendly Skies” aware that it must totally upturn its culture of service. A few bad apples spoil the entire crop.