180 readers tell off the airlines

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And Northwest Airlines got the worst of it, racking up the most complaints. Thank you to everyone who posted a comment here and here! We're passing the complaints along, and will let you know what we hear from the airlines.

Before we highlight passenger complaints, it's only fair for us to first highlight some comments from people who say they work--or have worked--for the airlines. These have been excerpted for space.

As a former airline employee I have some understanding of the industry. The general public is only concerned with one thing and that is their own needs. ... I don't condone in any respect being rude, but am willing to understand the nexus of such angst of employees. Try waging daily battle to keep your what little you have, get no appreciation for anything you do, work long hours and on a log-in to log-out number of hours worked are making very little wages (does the public know that many flight attendants are eligible for food stamps?) and then tell me you will be all smiles. At least be honest with yourself if you can't be honest with these questions. Walk a mile in their shoes then complain. After all you do GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. This is no different.--James

I am a flight attendant for a major airline. I try to treat customers the way I would want my family treated. I have experienced those rude airline employees as well. The only way to get rid of those people is for costumers to get the name of the employee (even just the first name will help), flight number, date of flight, departure and arrival cities and send a report of the incident to the airlines. The airline magazine should have the address listed inside.--J. Redierk

I am an American Airlines almost 20-year flight attendant and I want to express my deep sadness and shame to our customers. I have helped build this company over the years into the largest U.S. airline and when I see how it is being run by greedy management and treating their employees with disrespect it hurts to look back on all the sacrifices we have made for them. I see the employees take their frustrations out on the customers all the time. --Jill

As a former gate agent, who in general is very good-natured, it is hard not to get defensive when somebody (and sometimes a large group) is yelling at you. Everybody has a breaking point. There were a few bad apples in the bunch, but all in all, my co-workers and I were empathetic will stranded travellers and willing to help. I wish people would realize that you get more help with honey, rather than vinegar (to paraphrase!).--Karla

Please indulge me, as I would like to add a different perspective to this debate: I am a chef on Amtrak, and I travel to Oakland from Chicago on the California Zephyr, a trip that takes parts of three days to complete.... 'Rude' is a definite buzzword in our profession, but it has become a word that has shades of meaning. Let me say, here and now, that there is no acceptable excuse for either side of the aisle to be rude, disrespectful, or unprofessional to the other. Having said that, understand this: Rudeness consists solely of personal, unwarranted affronts to your person, property, or space. It is not: rule enforcement by the worker; cutting off someone who is over-served; a flight attendant telling you that she will have to check your bag because all the overhead bins are full; that same attendant telling you that your child is disturbing the other passengers by screaming (other than from earaches from air pressure) or kicking seats or running in the aisles, so please control the little darling; because you were late for your flight, missed it, and, yes, the next three flights are sold out, and you cannot comprehend how this is possible; and so on and so on.....--Sam

I'm one of the lucky few that work for a small airline that has been voted best in the country by just about every travel magazine for several years now ( I haven't seen our name in this blog yet, knock wood) and one thing I've realized over the years is that he reason we are known for our customer service is because the front-line employees are given the tools and authority to make things right.

For example, my family recently flew another airline. My husband and daughter almost missed our cruise in Hawaii, because the flight they were taking was first delayed, then canceled. When they asked if they could be placed in first class on a different, connecting flight they were told that they couldn't. Not because there was not space (there was) but because the gate agents would get in trouble for doing that. The flight went out with empty seats, and my husband and daughter were sent to a flea-bitten motel. In other words, upper management left the gate agent to deal with canceled flights and angry passengers while the tools to satisfy the passengers went unused, by executive order. Most airline employees are afraid of stepping out of line, and thus do not try to think of alternatives to assist the passenger.--Karen

And now, here are excerpts from some of the most memorable reader comments about a variety of airlines.

Northwest Airlines had very rude attendants when we were flying from Thailand to California. We had been away from home for over two years and received a gift of business class for this long journey. When we were settling in for a rest, the overhead asked for health personnel to help with two passengers. One passenger was having trouble breathing. After helping out for over three hours with no break, I went back to the business class area to rest. The attendant looked at me and said, "how could you afford business class if you are just a health worker?" No thank you for helping out, nothing. Just "How could you afford to be up here." I rolled my eyes at her and went to sleep. NWA must get nicer attendants with more manners--L. Mell

My wife felt much worse than expected during her treatment for cancer last spring. We had to cancel an important trip to visit her parents and could have gotten multiple letters from her doctors. American Airlines response? It doesn't matter the reason, it doesn't matter how sick she is, it doesn't matter if you give us letters from a Doctor. We will charge you $100 each to reschedule just like anyone else. I wrote to Customer Service expecting some sort of consideration....NOTHING.--Mike

I'm handicapped and can't stand for a long time. The airlines make no provision for a shorter handicapped line for people like us who can show they are suffering when having to stand in the regular lines. I sit on the floor when I can't stand it anymore. Not a very dignified position in addition to the other humiliations the airlines put us through. If they would just recognize our needs and treat us like human beings. --Stephanie Pincson

I wish I could say I would never fly a certain airline. But I feel trapped to fly hated airlines because of limited choice on some routes. Recently, on a UAL flight from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, a flight crew of mainly Americans were extremely rude to the passengers. One attendant, explained the emergency row instructions to a gentleman. When he gave her the international sign for "I don't understand," she said very loudly and slowly, "AGH. YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT I AM SAYING DO YOU????" I couldn't believe it! Why would she expect passengers flying from Argentina to Uruguay to speak english?!--Jennifer Lo Prete

I think that Disney should be training other big companies, such as airlines, how to treat people with respect and dignity, they have it down. It all boils down to attitude.--E. Alexander

I recently traveled on Continental Airlines while on a BP medication containing a diuretic which dictated "when ya gotta go, ya gotta go". I went to the rest room which was in use. I was standing next to a flight attendant who was seated reading a book. She was very aware that I was in pain and really really needed to go. She said nothing to me, actually acted if I wasn't there. I waited 20 min. by my watch and guess who was in the restroom!! The other flight attendant came out with her make up bag and a newly made up face--20 minutes. She simply walked around me as if I wasn't there. Never again will I be that polite in a situation as rude as that.--I McDonald

As I read most of these comments most people are blaming the employees of these airlines and not management. Most of these airlines are running at 80-90% load factors which give no airline room to rebook any passenger on later flights due to weather/maintenance delays. Instead of putting most of this money the airlines make back into the airline, management just gives themselves bonuses for a job well done.--Edward Yanock

I flew on a Delta flight from Shannon Ireland to Atlanta. I was horrified to see that the flight attendants blocked off an empty row of 3 seats with blankets hung from the overhead bins and took turns going in there and sleeping. What if there had been an emergency? Plus, were we not paying for at least the basic service from them? What right did they have to go to sleep on the job. I never could get a response from Delta on this complaint.--Denise

Iberia (Spain): Imagine the DMV in the air and that is what the service is like on most Iberia flights. The must have a very good union because none of them would last two minutes on an airline with good customer service (think Southwest). Once on a flight from New York (JFK) to Madrid I was boarding with a group of college-aged Americans. One of them, an African American kid, took a couple of steps up the stairs to get a better look at the second level of the plane. A middle aged, male Iberia flight attendant shooed him down and then turned to his co-worker and said in Spanish, “They’re all animals” very clearly commenting on this kid’s race. I was walking by just as he said it (and I speak Spanish) so I asked him if he would like me to repeat that comment to the same young man in English. He freaked out a little and I told him what I thought of him. That’s an extreme, clearly, but also gives you a pretty good idea of what you find when you fly Iberia.--J. Waldrep

I knew that I wouldn't be the only one who has sworn off of Northworst forever, but I swore off of them in 1969 and have maintained my boycott for almost 40 years now. At the time, I was in graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, which had only two and a half airlines - Ozark had only one flight per day. On the fatal day, NWA left a bunch of us on the ground on a flight to O'Hare, and departed with 37 empty seats, since they decided that they wanted to save those seats for people boarding in Chicago. Since then, I have flown roughly 2M miles on other airlines, some of which are execrable (Aeroflot, AirChina, United), but I haven't seen or heard anything that made me regret my youthful decision to avoid Northworst.--TonyW

You'll find other reader comments here and here!

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