AA 591: Are We at a Tipping Point for Air Travel?

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If you haven’t yet seen the online buzz about yesterday’s American Airlines flight 591 from San Francisco to Dallas, I’m sure you will shortly. I’m not even sure how I feel about sharing these videos anymore since I wonder if the people being filmed always really want them out there, or if they do, is that perhaps worse?


Anyway, you can find the video here if you want, but the gist of it seems to be that a woman traveling with two small children brought a stroller on-board the flight and didn’t want to turn it loose to the flight attendant. I can imagine why if she was wrangling very young children. This escalated and the male flight attendant reportedly forcibly took the stroller from the woman while she was holding a baby, which resulted in her getting (presumably accidentally) hit with the stroller, and the baby she was holding was narrowly missed.

That part isn’t shown on the video, but instead you see the aftermath with the female passenger crying and the male flight attendant and a male first class passenger yelling at each other about the incident.

Before you decide that bringing a stroller on-board damns her to the realm of “she must be wrong no matter what happens next”, note that some airlines actually do still permit you to bring small strollers on-board. Those are not largely your US based airlines, but airlines such as KLM, Singapore Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Air France do expressly permit some strollers in the cabin, so it isn’t totally bananas to think you can bring a stroller on-board.

As with most things in life, it isn’t so much what went wrong, but what happens next that matters the most. Stuff goes wrong all the time, and it is unreasonable to expect every passenger to know every rule on every airline (though of course it benefits you greatly to brush up on the airline specific rules before flying). While one would assume what should have happened if the mom got the stroller and her children all the way on board is that the process of gate checking the stroller is calmly explained to her, and her fears or concerns about checking the stroller were addressed and diffused as best as possible. What seems to have happened instead was the opposite of diffusing the situation.

This is just sad all the way around. Airline employees are under so much stress with getting flights out on time, managing 100+ passengers, and more that inevitably the stress comes out at times. This does not excuse the poor treatment of passengers, but rather it acknowledges that the situation is ripe for this sort of “stress explosion”. Airline passengers are also under stress from the moment they have to wait in lines at the airport, unpack their stuff for screening, collapse their strollers through security, and sit in a very small confined space for hours in-flight. This is not to mention all the stress that everyone can have going on in life outside of the airport at any given point in time that exacerbates everything. Traveling with small children absolutely increases the stress quotient by an order of magnitude.

Airline travel shouldn’t be this stressful for employees or passengers. As I sort of stated after the United incident a week ago, I would love to see and participate in a more cooperative traveling environment where there isn’t an “us against them” mentality between passengers and airline staff. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be where we are at the moment, and it feels like we are reaching a tipping point for air travel in this country. I don’t yet know whether we will tip to something better or worse, but the viral nature of these encounters seems to be pushing us towards a change of some sort. Maybe I should start up an airport-based social work service that can be called in instead of security…

Seriously though, please be patient and kind. Help each other. Diffuse situations where you can. Know the security and airline rules so you can avoid as many problems as possible. Flying should be at least a somewhat enjoyable part of life, and not something straight out of Jerry Springer.

Do you think we are at or near a tipping point of sorts for air travel in this country?

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  1. Not exactly what you were commenting on, but we were flying from Paris CDG to Munich MUC last year and they wouldn’t even let us take our stroller past security. We had to go check it with our almost 2 year old carried through security. He’s a bit of a handful outside of a stroller, so we were stressed to the max until we got on the flight.

  2. So much of the current tense environment in boarding the aircraft is a direct result of the airlines’ desire to increase profits through baggage fees–everyone is trying to cram everything in the overhead to avoid extra charges. I have been on flights where the attendants are yelling at the passengers because they are taking too long to get in their seats, and it is apparent that the reason is that passengers are still trying to find space in the cabin for their luggage.

  3. Yes we are at a tipping point and it’s about time. No other country in the world continually say FAs are their primarily for safety (it’s an assumed responsibility). This terrible culture that have developed in US airlines is an unfortunate byproduct of the necessary security measures after 9/11. But if you take public transit, don’t you expect the train conductor to have your safety in mind first and foremost as well? FAs are there as the front line customer service employee And that’s where they make the most impact. Until they understand that, we will continue to see these power trips.

  4. Maybe a good enough reason to let passengers with infants board first again? One reason I take United these days given the choice…

    • Boarding first or boarding last is irrelevant. There could be many reasons why she didn’t board first. Diaper emergency, having trouble carrying everything on her own plus her two kids, etc. She could be dead last to board for all I care, this does not justify this treatment. I’ve been on plenty of flights with a 2-year old where airline employees go out of their way to help. This FA should not be anywhere near a plane even if he’s going on vacation. This is disturbing to watch, but the silver lining is that there was a real man who stood up for her while the little man went on a power trip abusing a female passenger.

  5. Other bloggers have written that the gate agent told her she could take her stroller onto the plane. I know someone who would have acted like the 2nd row passenger. He would have thought it was the right thing to do to defend the woman. Rough situation for Sally involved! I hope I’m not in a situation to experience air rage. I’d want to exit the plane! Wondering if passengers have that right in this type of situation?

  6. “…..as thin as the sheet of paper is….no one can dispute the FACT there are always 2 sides to that piece of paper….” Let us NOT sit here and judge who was right…who was wrong. Those of us that read Summer’s blog regularly are “seasoned” travelers who have either seen customers and/or staff melt down or worse…been involved in a melt down.

    It’s easy to call the plays from the cheap seats.
    Summer is right – we need to understand each other and work together.
    Not vilify one or the other….
    Let all the facts come out first and then decide.

    • Sorry but the Golden Rule of business IS the CUSTOMER is ALWAY right and especially if they have a baby in their arms and NO excuse for an employee to say “bring it on”. I say bring on the lawsuit!

      • “Sir, I’m sorry but you’re not allowed to bring explosives on the plane.”
        “Sorry but the Golden Rule of business IS the CUSTOMER is ALWAY right”.
        “Oh, you’re right, I’m sorry Mr. Terrorist.”

  7. The GB Pockit is specifically designed to fit in overhead bins so I don’t know wtf this FA is on about. I just always get the sense when flying domestically that the FAs don’t realize that they’re essentially wait staff with nicer uniforms.

    • And that means they’re what, easily dismissed? They don’t really need to be listened to? Yeah, we need more ppl like you with an obvious disrespect for levels of employment you clearly feel are beneath you. Sad and pathetic.

  8. Some of these gate agents/flight attendants are just plain a-holes. I was once stripped of all my personal belonging because the gate agent didn’t approve of the carryon size even though it was the same bag I took on my trans atlantic flight and we carried 2 carryons for 3 people. My 3 year old had to freeze to get from terminal 3 to 5 in Heathrow as we had absolutely nothing on us, it’s about time some of these bad apples get shamed and fired.

  9. It’s gotten out of hand. I was lamenting recently that every time I go to the airport it feels like the whole system is just over subscribed. From the airport road to the ticket counter to security to gate space to cramped airplanes……the system is on the edge. This is just another symptom of the problem.

  10. Most of this should be handled at check in. Because of fees, everyone is trying to bring as much as they can on board. Most people bring bags that are Oviously oversized on board. Most of the time the fight attendants let them on. When they do get called on it, it becomes a problem. So consistency is a problem. It dose not excuse the flight attendant treating a passenger like that. All baggage should be examined at check in to make sure they meet the requirements. To let passengers know what can or can not be bought aboard. .This never should have gotten to this point. Should have been handled prior to boarding.

  11. You ask if we are at a tipping point but what exactly do you mean by that? Are you asking if things will get better or worse? Air travel is not going to stop. We may choose one airline over the other and the frequency of these egregious incidents are one in about 10,000 flights. Thanks to Social Media, now they are visible and no thanks to commercial propoganda of one airline over the other. United or Delta would be happy to crucify AA over this just as AA was happy to benefit from United’s PR nightmare and Delta’s delays.

    • JT, great question. I think what I mean is that we are to a point that change will come whether it is from the airlines in terms of new procedures or policies, lawmakers in the form of a passenger bill or rights or regulations, or from passengers who simply aren’t going to be as “complacent” as they were at one point. To be clear, I do not think that having a plane half full of passengers who don’t respect the airline employees is where we want this to head because of a few incidents that have blown up online. However, I don’t think we can sustain having a major airline social media meltdown every week or so for too long without substantive changes coming from at least some direction. Right now it feels like a powder keg with all cell phones ready to go off.

    • People who write blogs can post about anything they want and other people can chose whether or not to follow. Try being nice.

    • I’m with Jettyboy on this. I don’t find this blog to spend quite as much time as Lucky and team on things like this. But do we really need commentary examining these incidents from 30 different angles and asking what our future is? Where is the spirit of teaching the tips and tricks of points and miles among bloggers like “One MILE at a time” and “The POINTS Guy” and “Million MILE secrets” and “Mommy POINTS” in articles like these that I could just as easily find on cnn or fox?

      I didn’t fund my airfare and hotel rooms to/in Kauai and Maldives and others using tips and tricks to sue airlines so I could pay cash for it all. 😉

      • Joe, I hear ya and I don’t plan a dozen articles on this, but not covering it doesn’t feel right either. In fact, yesterday was the most read day on the blog, and this became (very surprisingly) my most read article ever the same day it was posted. So, I get that it won’t be for everyone, but it obviously is for some. More miles and points coming at you on Monday though. 😉

        • Does not covering it not feel right from an ethical or from a business standpoint? I’m not surprised that these types are the most read (along with “Should I tip my Uber driver” and any political commentary whatsoever)… and I worry, starting my own blog, that I’ll feel the need to try these kinds of articles to lure in the crowds. I hope not to, though.

          • I guess from both standpoints. As someone who writes about family travel this just seems to fall squarely in the “needs to be covered” category. Of course, I had absolutely no idea it would become my most read post ever by an order of magnitude, it just seemed like something that shouldn’t be skipped over.

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