A midair confrontation leaves a passenger speechless

Benjamin Levine is still trying to make sense of a confrontation with a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight from London to Dallas.

Adding to his confusion: a passive-aggressive response from the airline that stopped short of an apology. He turned to our advocates for help sorting it out.
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“You should all die”

Not the friendly skies. / Photo by wbav - Flickr
Bad flight stories are a dime a dozen, but every now and then, I get one that rises above the others. Like Michelle Vazul’s.
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XL passengers invade my economy class seat — and airlines let them

When Elisabeth Haas took her window seat on an American Airlines flight from Orlando to Dallas earlier this year, she discovered a problem – a very big problem.

“A morbidly obese seatmate encroached into my personal space,” she says. “He required a seat-belt extender and that the armrest divider be raised to accommodate his girth during the entire flight, including takeoff and landing. He also had to walk down the aisle oriented sideways and moved quite slowly.” (She sent me a photo of the offense, which I’ve published above.)
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Ridiculous or not? When flight attendants attack

Maybe I should take more road trips.

After last week’s column on flight attendants who hate their passengers, I’m pretty sure a “wanted” poster of me is displayed in every crewmember break room and galley.

I heard from passengers who shared their own horror stories of abusive crewmembers. I heard from airline employees who confirmed the sorry state of airline service and tried to help me understand it. And I heard from a small group of apoplectic flight attendants who thought the best way to counter the well-documented problems was to kill the messenger.
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What a great idea! Honor your crew — wear a tie when you fly

Yesterday’s rant about rude passengers in my MSNBC column drew a suggestion from a reader that I wanted to share with you. It came from James Phillippe, who, like many of us, is tired of air travelers who misbehave.

He writes,

I have experienced the inconsiderate traveler many times. I don’t have a forum to say or do anything about this bad behavior. So I have decided to tell others what I am going to do. I have decided to always wear a tie when I am flying to honor the hard-working flight crews and tell them why I am wearing it.

I have decided to make it a bright red one so others won’t miss it. Please forward this idea to other guys and help me spread the word. I don’t know what to ask the girls to wear, but maybe a red bow would be good.

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JetBlue flight attendant who bailed after passenger confrontation: “Your carry on drama ain’t worth that to me”

I‘ve been following the coverage of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who bailed out of a parked aircraft after a profanity-laced confrontation with a passenger about his luggage, with some interest.

It’s a curious story, and while reporters congratulated themselves for finding Slater’s MySpace and LinkedIn account, they may have overlooked the richest source of information: his apparent profile on Airliners.net, the industry discussion site where he goes by the handle Skyliner 747.

A review of his postings reveals that he’s a former TWA flight attendant with a history of commenting on luggage issues. At one point, he even seems to indicate that he’s considered exiting an aircraft in an unauthorized way. I’ll get to that in a moment.
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Rapping flight attendant: Why shouldn’t in-flight announcements be fun?

David Holmes probably needs no introduction. But just in case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the 40-year-old Southwest Airlines flight attendant whose in-flight safety announcement is making the rounds on YouTube. I asked him how he became the rapping flight attendant.

Q: Where did you come up with the idea of rapping an in-flight safety announcement?

Holmes: I did my first rap for our flight attendant graduation class. And I quickly realized, as I began flying, how many customers tune-out when we start demonstrating that very important information. I wanted a way to keep their attention. From there, it just took off.

Q: Whose idea was it to tape your in-flight announcement and put it online?

Holmes: The one that started all of this was recorded by a customer on her cell phone. We were having a great time and, at the end of the flight, she said “I’m going to put this on YouTube.”

Q: It sounded like you had a lot of practice with that particular song. Have you delivered that safety announcement before?

Holmes: It’s been an evolving performance. I have several versions to mix and match through any part of the flight.

Q: Did you expect the reaction?

Holmes: The reaction almost always surprises me because it’s just so much more than I expect. I read the room, you know. Some flights are all business. But most of the time, I know they’re going to like it and it’s going to make the flight more fun.

Q: I hear some Old School cadences in your rapping. Who are your musical influences?

Holmes: As you said, anything Old School — LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Lil Chris.

Q: When you have an idea for something like this, what’s the standard operating procedure at Southwest? Do you ask for approval from a supervisor? Do you have to run this by anyone before delivering it?

Holmes: The very first flight I rapped on happened to have a Southwest Airlines flight attendant supervisor on board. When she said ‘nice job,’ I knew it might be a hit.

Q: The Federal Aviation Administration has some pretty strict requirements about in-flight safety announcements. How did you ensure that you met those, while still maintaining your artistic integrity?

Holmes: Everything we have to say is carefully scripted for us — all the safety information. As you know, one challenge is getting people to listen — the other is making sure they have all the info. Why shouldn’t it be fun?

Q: How have your colleagues reacted to your YouTube stardom? How about other passengers?

Holmes: I know it’s catching on because on almost every flight I get a customer or a fellow Employee saying ‘Wow! I just saw you on YouTube or TV.

Q: What’s next for you? Has anyone offered you a contract?

Holmes: Still waiting.

Q: People will want to know where they can catch your next in-flight safety announcement live. What flights are you on these days?

Holmes: I’m based in Las Vegas but I’m all over the map — and I don’t know where I’ll be until a week-or-so out.

Q: Would it be asking too much for an encore performance?

Holmes: This is flight 372 on SWA
The flight attendants onboard serving you today
Theresa in the middle, David in the back
My name is David and I’m here to tell you that
Shortly after takeoff, first things first
There’s soft drinks and coffee to quench your thirst
But if you want another kind of drink then just holler
Alcoholic beverages will be four dollars
If a Monster energy drink is your plan
That’ll be three dollars and you get the whole can
We won’t take your cash, you gotta pay with plastic
If you have a coupon, then that’s fantastic
We know you’re ready to go new places
Open up the bins and put away your suitcases
Carry on items go under the seat
In front of you so none of you have things by your feet
If you have a seat on a row with an exit
We’re gonna talk to you so you might as well expect it
You gotta help evacuate in case we need you
If you don’t wanna then we’re gonna reseat you
Before we leave, our advice is
Put away your electronic devices
Fasten your seatbelt, then put your trays up
Press the button to make your seat back raise up
Sit back, relax, have a good time
It’s almost time to go, so I’m done with the rhyme
Thank you for the fact that I wasn’t ignored
This is Southwest Airlines, welcome aboard

Is American’s “amazing flight attendant” a time traveler?

After reading Robin Preston’s letter to American Airlines this weekend, I realized there was only one reasonable explanation for what happened: They’ve discovered time travel in Fort Worth.

Preston, a frequent flier on her way from Miami to Dallas in economy class, had such a positive experience — that’s right, positive — that she not only wrote a letter praising her flight attendant, but she also copied me on it.

I get so few letters of commendation (maybe because I’m the travel industry’s unofficial complaints department) that I just had to pass this along to you, dear readers. And I think there’s only one logical conclusion: Someone used a time machine to transport a pre-deregulation era, 1970s flight attendant to 2009.

“I have never been so impressed with a flight attendant as I was with Mary Beth,” Preston writes, calling her an “amazing flight attendant.”

When we got on the plane it was so incredibly hot. She smiled and offered water to me as well as other passengers.

Soon the pilots came and we were underway. When drink service began she was happily chatting with people. When she got to my seat, I asked her for two beers but I asked her to hold one for me on ice until I was finished with the first one. She said of course and told me where it was on the cart in case I stopped a different flight attendant.

After jokingly informing me of the $20 “handling charge” — we had a nice laugh about that among my seatmates) — she processed my transaction and moved on.

I sat for about another 30 minutes leisurely drinking my first drink and reading my book. I had just finished my beer and was putting up my tray table and stowing my book so I could get up and go to the back galley to ask for my other beer when here comes Mary Beth strolling down the aisle with my other beer.

She could definitely read the astonished look on my face when she informed me with a wink that she could read minds. I thanked her profusely and, for the first time in a long time, truly enjoyed the rest of my flight.

It’s unusual to find a flight attendant whose attention to detail and service are so exceptional, we want to tell the world about it. I’ve had only a handful of those experiences in the last decade. Like the Delta flight attendant who offered me a shot of tequila when he noticed I was not having a good day. Or the Southwest flight attendants who gave my kids little plastic wings and coloring books, and took the time to talk with them. And yes, the American airlines attendant who offered me a drink when she noticed that I had slept through the beverage service.

Mary Beth was that kind of attendant.

She was kind enough to make the honeymooners were seated together. She cooed to a baby that was getting fussy while we were waiting on the pilots. She even joked with her colleagues and just generally made everyone on the plane more comfortable.

In 2009, you’re far likelier to find flight attendants who are unhappy and bitter. Like the Air Canada flight attendant who barked at me because my carry-on luggage was too big to fit into the overhead bin of the regional jet (never mind that I’d asked the ticket agent if it would fit, and was told “yes.”) These crewmembers are no longer here to make our flight more enjoyable. Their motto is: “We’re here to save your butt, not kiss it.”

What a terrible perversion of a once-proud profession.

People like Mary Beth remind all of us of the way things used to be — and still can be.