On a summer afternoon in 2015, as William Heffernan was napping in an aisle seat on a US Airways flight between Seattle and Philadelphia, a beverage cart pushed by a flight attendant slammed into his knee, jolting him awake.
Heffernan says he told the crewmember that he had just injured him, but the employee didn’t seem to care. What happened next raises questions about civility on an aircraft and the rising tensions between passengers and airline employees.
The flight attendant told Heffernan that he didn’t see the knee in the aisle and he should keep it out of the aisle. He then continued what Heffernan referred to as “a rant,” saying that he had worked 10,000 flights and never hit anyone’s knees before. Then he contradicted himself by saying, “it happens all the time.” At the end of the rant, the flight attendant said, “I accept your apology.”
Heffernan had not apologized — and didn’t think he had anything to apologize for.
When another flight attendant came by, Heffernan’s wife, who is a physician, told him he needed to ask for an ice pack, which he did. The first flight attendant noticed Heffernan talking to the second flight attendant and interrupted the conversation. He told the second flight attendant that Heffernan had a problem with him, and told Heffernan to talk to him and not “go crying to” the other flight attendant.
The second flight attendant eventually brought Heffernan the ice bag he requested, but refused to offer her name, the name of the first flight attendant or the name of the lead flight attendant. None of the three flight attendants on the plane were wearing name tags. As the third flight attendant walked up the aisle, Heffernan asked him the name of the first flight attendant. Denied.
Heffernan was concerned that if he pressed the issue on board or asked for a doctor, the plane would have to make an unscheduled landing, and he didn’t want to be responsible.
The third flight attendant told Heffernan that he could file a report when the flight landed, but once the plane was on the ground, Heffernan was told to go to customer service. A helpful customer service representative tried calling inflight services several times, but the call was never answered. The only recourse for Heffernan was to report the incident, which he did.
Even though Heffernan was booked on a US Airways flight number, both US Airways and American Airlines were operating under a single operating certificate. After hearing no response to his complaint, Heffernan appealed to American Airlines, requesting that it acknowledge that its flight attendants do not have customers’ best interests at heart, and that the cramped seating configuration is “a rip off.”
American ignored him, too.
American Airlines has a customer service plan that states:
We are in business to provide safe, dependable, and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services, in the hopes that you will fly us again and again. We work very hard to make your entire experience with us, from making a reservation to deplaning at your final destination, a positive one.
Although we are successful in this effort most of the time, there are times when things do not go as smoothly as we, and you, would like. Operating a network of more than 3400 flights and servicing hundreds of thousands of passengers each day is challenging and complex. Inevitably, some of our flights are affected by adverse circumstances, some of which are within our control and some of which are not.
Allow me to translate: “If you don’t have a perfect experience on one of our flights, it’s because stuff happens.”
But later in the customer service plan, American Airlines promises that its customer relations department will respond to a customer’s written complaint within 60 days, and that every complaint will be personally read and a response will be sent to the customer.”
If you’re keeping track, American Airlines has broken two promises to Heffernan: to provide safe and friendly air transportation and to respond to his complaint within 60 days. It’s been more than a year and Heffernan has never had a response.
In most people’s minds, this is probably considered unacceptable. American has the ultimate excuse buried at the end of their customer service plan:
… we are not responsible for … instances in which we do not meet our service goals.
At any point, Heffernan could have appealed to our contacts for American Airlines. Instead, he reached out to us. We’re not sure what to do.
The case is quite old, it’s a case of “he said, they said,” and Heffernan is now asking for $10,000 compensation. On the other hand, American Airlines hasn’t lived up to its promises to a consumer, and we’re here to hold a company like that accountable.
What say you, readers?