A customer service lesson from a JetBlue flight attendant

DSC_0820A JetBlue flight attendant made all the headlines yesterday when he freaked out on a passenger. It seems the passenger refused to remain seated while the plane was taxiing to the terminal. Sources revealed that the passenger stood to remove his baggage from the overhead compartment while the plane was still moving, and the flight attendant asked the passenger to return to his seat. The passenger refused and continued removing his baggage, when the luggage presumably hit the airline attendant. The attendant demanded an apology, but the passenger would not oblige; instead the passenger called the attendant a derogatory four letter word. The flight attendant retaliated by calling the passenger a four-letter word, and announced via the intercom that he was quitting. The attendant grabbed a beer, deployed the emergency chute, and slid away until the Port Authority police arrested him later that day. The attendant has been charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, and criminal trespassing.

So what is the customer service lesson to be learned here? Let’s start with no matter how angry a customer gets, every customer service agent must remain calm and never yell. Training is based on practice, practice, practice. The unique and effective skills needed for managing heated confrontations need to be reinforced with role-playing and again – practice, practice, practice. Training should concentrate on ways to stay calm when an angry customer lashes out, how to choose the response action that will best suit the situation, and innovative ways to bring those volatile interactions to a polite and positive close.

According to the recent news reports, the flight attendant had years of experience, and had been dealing with a personal stressful situation, but he let the customer make the problem personal, took the bait and from that point on, there was no winning. The focus should have been kept on the problem; not the person or the conversation. Immediately upon asking the passenger to be seated until the plane came to a complete stop, the passenger should have been warned it is a FAA regulation subject to criminal prosecution.

The “customer is always right” may have created some high maintenance people, but airline passengers know there are consequences for FAA violations. Customer service agents, and in this case the flight attendant escalated the problem, took it as a personal attack. His last resort and best choice in this situation should have been to let another attendant handle the situation.

Let’s hope that JetBlue treats this sad situation as a learning experience, and hopefully another flight attendant on the verge of a similar outburst can be shown how to best resolve issues in a polite and positive manner.

For more on this situation, see this article from ABC News.

photo credit: gordontarpley