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EDITORIAL: Rein in callous US airlines


EDITORIAL: Rein in callous US airlines

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IT WOULD HAVE been laughable if the episodes didn’t reaffirm what thousands of Barbadians and millions of other passengers already know.

The awful reminder: large commercial passenger airlines treat their paying passengers with disdain and callousness.

A case in point. On a recent Sunday afternoon in London, a British Airways flight bound for Barbados, with more than 200 passengers, was forced to spend five extra hours on the ground, waiting for an airline crew to make the Boeing 777 ready for the long flight to Bridgetown. How come? The airline didn’t have sufficient toilet paper and headphones on board.

“We are sorry customers were delayed after some of the items needed for the flight weren’t loaded onto the aircraft,” a BA spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The incident occurred a few weeks before a United Airlines domestic flight triggered global anger when a passenger was seen being dragged off a United States domestic flight, bloodied and mistreated after he declined to give up his seat so that United could fly an employee to the plane’s destination.

But United wasn’t alone.

A few days later, an American Airlines male flight attendant brought a mother to tears after the employee violently took a stroller from the woman who was carrying her baby on the flight, hitting her but missing the baby. And when a man on the plane rose to the mother’s defence, the crew member was overheard confronting the passenger, daring him to “come on hit me”.

They are but a handful of the distasteful episodes that mask a simple truth: mistreatment of customers by airlines is widespread, and much of it can be traced to airlines overbooking flights by selling the same seat to different people; and they are allowed to get away with it. In addition, the culture allows employees to behave as if they are doing us a favour by allowing us to board their flights.

BA, United, American and Delta were forced to apologise to passengers after global uproars blew up in their faces, underscoring the depth of the problem. What the carriers do is nickel and dime economy class passengers by charging extra for everything, packing passengers into crowded rows like sardines and reducing flight crews and leg room. They are making money hands over fist and don’t give a damn.

Whatever happened to the idea that the customer comes first?

The airlines aren’t the only ones to blame. The aviation regulators in North America allow these major carriers to do as they please just as long as they adhere to safety regulations designed to thwart terrorists.

It’s time for stiffer action and punishment on carriers for their transgressions.

That’s why JetBlue and its CEO, Robin Hayes, deserve kudos for the quality of their inflight service, having taken note that “for many years, the US carriers were notorious for giving poor service” and imposing high fares.

At least there is hope.