… or airline employee standing behind your airline’s counter at the gate, or customer service desk, or checking in my luggage and issuing my boarding card(s), or talking to me on the phone:
(the situation described below is hypothetical. Reader wondering whether this post may have anything to do with, oh, I don’t know, United Airlines, or, who knows, Denver Airport [just throwing random names and locations here], please hold your horses. Any reference to events that may be unfolding as I write this very piece is — cough, cough — purely accidental. )
I know that your job is thankless, that your hours are brutal, and that your pay is low. I have been told all of that many times.
I can only imagine how stressful and tiring must be to put up with loud, obnoxious and arrogant customers (i.e., passengers) who think that having purchased a ticket (no matter how much of a bargain it was) entitles them to treat you like an underling.
I know that it is not your fault if flight has been overbooked, as a result of which you need to put me on a later one, thereby causing me to arrive home late, at the end of an exhausting week. Of course it won’t ruin my day, there are much worse things that can happen.
I know that there is nothing you can do if luggage was misplaced and may not arrive at destination as expected. I am sure that it will be delivered to me soon anyway, even if I do not see it on the carousel in the baggage claim area, at my final destination. It happens, there are a lot of passengers traveling every day, it is inconceivable that mishaps would not occur every once in a while — in fact, it is amazing how rarely they do happen, if you ask me.
I, like the vast majority of your customers, am well aware of all of the above; we also understand the general notion that flying airplanes carrying hundreds of people and tons of luggage remains a difficult proposition, even in 2011 — which is why most of us act toward you politely, respectfully and calmly, even when we feel that we are not receiving the service for which we paid.
There is only one thing I ask of you: when you break the bad news to me, and I express to you my irritation, in the most respectful and subdued manner that my mental state at the moment will allow, please be understanding if I seem slightly upset . Do not try to feed me phoney “explanations” which in my situation you would never buy yourself, do not shout at me (as if you are the one being inconvenienced — especially if I was not shouting at you to begin with), and please, please, please do not, I repeat, do not tell me such nonsense as:
“Hey it was not me who did that !… “Excuse me, Sir, but I was unaware of this, I was just told !…. “Sir, what do you expect me to do about that ?”… “You are gonna have to take it up with the airline”, and so on.
This kind of behavior on your part is insulting and unprofessional, and I am appalled at the thought that you are not told not to do this at training time.
Let me make this crystal clear: I am not attributing to you any responsibility over what happened. I am sure that you are a conscientious, efficient and competent worker, who strives to do the best job that she can, every day.
I bet you are embarrassed by your company’s inadequate performance (on this occasion), and I am sure that if there were anything that you could do to remedy, you would. I am sympathetic to the fact that you end up being the target of passengers’ anger and frustration, to no fault of your own.
But you see, the complaints that you are hearing are not directed at you, personally. When you tell me to “take it up with the airline”, as if the airline had nothing to do with you, you forget that you are the airline to me, at that time. It is that badge that you are wearing, prominently displaying your company’s name and logo, which squarely and indisputably puts on you the responsibility of representing your employer vis-a-vis a dissatisfied customer. That includes listening to thirty seconds of venting, possibly multiplied by fifty passengers. I know it is annoying and tiring, but it does not seem too big a sacrifice to make. In fact, between me and you, I think it is part of your job — much like it is part of mine to listen to students complain to me about things over which I have no control, such as the textbook or computerized homework.
No, I do not expect you to assemble in a few minutes another aircraft to accommodate the extra passengers, to teleport my luggage from the airport where it was left to my final destination, to change the weather or to travel backward in time.
When I make you aware of the fact that, as a result of your company’s failure to act timely and/or appropriately, I shall miss a connecting flight, unduly extend stressful traveling time, lose a day of work or vacation, find myself at destination without my belongings for some time (albeit limited), i.e., generally endure pain and suffering, or when I point out to you that your company’s supposed “compensation” is itself ridiculous and insulting to passengers, your job is to listen quietly, nod, and say at the end “On behalf of my airline I am terribly sorry about this inconvenience, Sir. It will not happen again.”
Yes, that’s it. I do not expect you to do anything else, beyond your regular duty. I, like any other unhappy passenger, am not asking you to break any rule, or risk your job or commit a felony just to make me happy.
All I want is for you to let me vent, listen to what I have to say and, if you see it fit, report to the appropriate person, in case my complaint should seem to have merit, possibly pointing to a structural problem with your company’s operations that may have to be addressed (especially if you hear the same thing from many of us).
Thank you your effort, patience, and hard work.
 I commit to keeping my complaining civil, to avoiding shouting and not to disrespect you or use foul language for any reason. The unfortunate day I should slip, I commit to seeking you out, after I have calmed down, to admit my mistake and offer my apology.