Unfriendly skies: The airlines' war on passengers is reaching breaking point - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Unfriendly skies: The airlines’ war on passengers is reaching breaking point

Even during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, I traveled on commercial airlines extensively. With family stretched from Alaska to Mexico and Florida, and looking after aging parents and my own appointments, I’m on planes at least once a month.

The commercial flight experience has become pretty rough this year.

There were times last year when I could have used the C concourse of SeaTac International Airport for a bowling alley, it was so empty. Same in Atlanta. At this time last year, I flew on a Boeing 737-800 that had just 10 passengers.

In April of 2020, masks were not mandatory, but a few passengers were wearing them, or pulling up gaiters or scarves over their faces. I was among the early mask-wearers, starting in March of 2020, because there was a lot we all did not know about the Covid-19 virus. I also brought hand sanitizer on board and wiped down my tray and armrests with disinfectant.

By summer, airlines were mandating masks, and when Joe Biden became president, they became law through his executive order. That’s when things started to deteriorate.

Months later, flight attendants are militant, but not only about enforcing federal law concerning face coverings. They have become generally surly with passengers. Whatever sense of hospitality they may have had has disappeared. For their Gold members, Alaska Airlines flight attendants all but throw chocolate bar awards at them with nary a “thank you,” these days.

Recently on a red-eye, I was fortunate enough to be upgraded to first class on Alaska Airlines out of Seattle. There is no service expected on a red-eye, as everyone wants to sleep. Upon initial descent, the flight attendant shook me harshly on my shoulder and ordered me to raise my seat back. It was nearly a punch. Rough handling was unnecessary since I never lowered it in the first place. Awakened rudely with a jolt, I felt a bit manhandled.

That’s when I realized why some people have reacted so poorly to flight attendants: Some travelers are stressed about flying or about wearing masks for hours on end, without food or water. Some are experiencing terrible hardships in their lives and are heading toward difficult situations, such as death, divorce, or other family tragedy. Not everyone flying is feeling like the Chiquita Banana woman when they fly hither and yon.

Mind you, I’d kept my mask on, as I always do onboard, and had been sleeping since before the wheels left the runway. There was no cause for physically rough treatment.

This is not a solitary experience. On nearly every flight in recent months, I’ve witnessed other passenger being treated like inmates, rather than paying customers. Although I have not seen unruly passengers, I read about them or hear of them in the media, and the instances of disputes between flight attendants and passengers are apparently on the rise.

These days, the onboard announcements make it very clear that there is federal law involved and the attendants are there primarily to enforce the law, that masks must be replaced between bites and sips, or else. The announcements are more like warnings, and they set passengers on edge.

Travelers with two-year-olds who are tired, cranky, refusing their masks are being removed from flights and are left stranded in airports by airlines. Others who are simply trying to get some air into their lungs are banned from airlines for leaving their mask off at the wrong time. Over 4,000 passengers have now been banned from commercial airlines for not complying with the mask mandate.

Under the new Biden law, it has become a war on passengers. People feel they are walking on eggshells from the moment they step into the plane.

Rather than addressing the reason passengers are disgruntled over airlines’ poor treatment of them, airlines are now going to the federal government for even more powers of enforcement.

Evidently it’s not enough to have the Transportation Security Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration involved with mask enforcement and removal of disruptive passengers. It’s not enough that there are approximately 3,000 U.S. Marshals flying around the country incognito on various routes to keep us safe from terrorists.

Now, the airlines have asked the U.S. Justice Department to also take action against misbehaving passengers through criminal charges. This will no doubt lead to even more ominous warnings over the jet’s address system: “You may be criminally charged by the Department of Justice for not wearing your mask.”

Read: Airlines ask Justice Department to criminally charge passengers without masks

The airlines already have thin credibility when it comes to passenger safety and comfort. Until recently, the airlines were allowing dogs, cats, and other pets of every size and habit to fly with their handlers as “comfort animals.” This, despite the fact that many passengers are allergic or phobic about certain animals.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says allergies to dogs and cats affect 10%–20% of the population, and yet airlines were exposing an average of 15% of their passengers to known health risks on every single flight. To object to sitting next to a pet meant being relocated to an aft seat or being asked to take another flight. The comfort of pets were more important than the health of passengers.

Today, airline employees behave as though they are in the prison business, treating every customer like a criminal. And the passengers have clearly started to fray at the edges.

I’ve held off writing about this topic for some time, hoping things would improve. As a pro-business writer, it’s not my way to take private businesses to task unless something is truly egregious.

But the standoff between airline employees and passengers is increasing the sense that both sides now view each other as the enemy, and this cannot end well.

Airlines need to own their lapse in training and address the behavior of their workforce as it interacts with customers. They should do it now, because it will be a long summer for passengers and crew if they don’t.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Agreed. That was one of your best pieces based on observations, reports, and facts. Props to you for attempting to induce some notion of equity and civility into what might be termed a utility (as air travel uses public property and resources)

  • I agree, it’s getting bad. It’s like the airlines have declared war on us.

  • Yes Blank the airlines.
    It’s not a law, in the United State, our legislators in Washington DC, have not passed a federal law, saying you Must wear a mask. It’s all about controlling us. Like you said it’s going to be hell, if something does not change soon.
    Thank you for writing about this madness.
    Hope your next flight is wonderful and your family is doing Well

  • Alaska Airlines has for some time pretty accurately reflected the attitudes of the authoritarian communist city where it is headquartered.

  • Could it be that this business, subsidized by C-funding, is complying by dictate rather than common sense? Or, is this to avoid having to change up the air filters for everyone?

  • Either the CEO’s are completely separated from their customer service division heads and have no idea this is going on, or there is a much bigger, longer-range plan in the works in the corporate-business world and it has nothing to do with business as we know it at all.

  • I am an Alaska Gold flyer. I do receive and enjoy the chocolate bar. And I have always received a sincere thank you every time. Based on four trips since November, I just am not seeing the depth of problems that are described in this article. When the snacks and drinks arrive, masks come off and not once has anyone been harassed to put it on between bites. I don’t even think that is a real thing except for a time in California. I don’t think it is a war on passengers but it may be a war on flight attendants from the Biden administration. Does anyone really think the attendants like being instructed to follow this “not law” from our Biden administration? Are there problems in the sky. Sure. How many people fly on a given day, times the number of days in a month and there will always be a percentage of grumpy passengers who do not like being told what to do. They should get over it. If problems are getting worse, blame it on the passengers, not on the attendants. Something has to get the attention of this small percentage of passengers. In summary, in no flights in the past 18 months have I seen passengers treated like inmates, a word chosen to make things sound out of control and very bad. Lets not work ourselves up into a tizzy, but calm down a bit and be happy that we can fly to see our loved ones.

  • How right you are. However, it’s not just the cabin crews once you are onboard the aircraft. It’s everyone once you enter the terminal; it’s the gate agents, the TSA, even the cleaners who come on the airplane as you deplane at the destination. They all have a bad attitude. Hey airlines, news flash; passengers are CUSTOMERS; we BUY our ticket. Alaskans don’t have the travel choices that folks in the lower 48 have; with Canada closed up like the Iron Curtain, Alaskans can’t even drive home. Hopefully some airline PR people will read your article. The pilots who were laid off had to go for recurrent training before coming back to work; perhaps there should be something similar for the flight attendants and gate agents, call it attitude adjustment school.

  • Ten passengers on a 737-800 flight is the root cause of the problem. All the major airlines are surviving on subsidies just to stay afloat. They can’t cut back on routes because they will lose them and have to compete for them later when traffic builds back up.
    Pressure is on the employees to save money anywhere and everywhere, while federal subsidy money is filling the gap left by massive pay and benefits for top management. It causes a pervasive air of discontent, often in the form of malcontent. Poo roles downhill, and the flight crews are just passing it on.
    JIM LARSON may have just been lucky, getting on the “Goldilocks” flights. Never fear Jim. You may get your chance in the barrel yet.

  • I just returned from a trip down south. I did not experience any of the issues described in this article. The flight attendants were courteous and accommodating. One of the few times I flew first class. Even the captain addressed the customers apologizing for boarding the aircraft with no air conditioning while we waited for a flight crew to arrive.

  • I, also, continued to fly for business and am already Gold for the current cycle. I’ve commented on the same subject to Alaska Airlines about their declining service. On one red eye I slept, only to be rudely shaken awake and threatened with banishment because my (useless) mask had slipped below my nose. Unlike Suzanne’s experience, however, my experience has been mostly on full planes-people going to and from work. And I have seen more rude behavior by passengers as well. The pressure cooker is bubbling as people grow tired of useless oppressive mandates from on high, both by the government and corporate overlords and it is time to step back and reassess what everyone can do to return civility to the system. One big factor, I believe, is that the masks deny us smiles, losing a big part of visual communication. The US in below 40 cases per million people with 0.34 deaths per million, a little more than the risk of dying in the bathtub. It’s time to end the panic.

  • I totally agree with the article. Some not all airline personnel, have gone too far. I did a trip in April of this year. I had 7 different flights on this trip. On my last flight with Alaska Airlines, I was singled out because of my mask and denied boarding as I refused to change my mask. It said ” This mask is as useless as Biden”. I had worn this mask on all previous flights and then an hour later wore it on another Alaska flight. Basically 1 flight attendant can determine Alaska policy. I have flown with Alaska for over 30 years, but they are not my first choice any more, and if possible I hope to never fly them again.

  • I like the casbah masks like Mata Hari. You know all gausey and shimmering and sparkling in the night.

  • Last time I checked you need a federal commission to enforce federal laws…flight attendants do not meet this requirement.
    With the being said the terrible service on Alaska Airlines goes far beyond the mask issue.
    On a flight from Chicago to Seattle the only snack available was sugar biscotti cookies.
    I ask the flight attendant if there were any non – sugar based snacks for my child…they said NO.
    Shortly after I could see the attendants handing out bags of popcorn in first class a few rows in front of me? I thought what about diabetic passengers ? Do they feed them biscotti cookies for a 4 hr flight?
    The days of the consumer having influence were tossed out the door with PPP subsidizing of these industries…now big brother owns corporate America & they will do whatever the new dictator wants. Expect things to get worse as the “China Model” of fascist mandates continues to take hold in the “New Normal” across the country.

  • Jim Larson- My cousin who has continued to fly the past year (and lives in CA where she wear a mask often) and a half was accosted by an airline employee while eating nuts and reading. (This was AUG 2020) She was told she had to pull up the mask between bits… Customer No Service is the norm, just like in communist countries.

  • My family and I have found that it depends on the personnel on a flight. Some are very lenient and understanding and will look the other way, while others seem to be harkening back to their childhood days of bullying. We’ve noticed the same type of behavior with other businesses and the rest of society as well. Tyrant personalities of the world are emboldened to enforce every detail of every mandate or mere suggestion.

  • You know, if the airlines want control, they’ve got it. I don’t have to fly ANYWHERE. For one year, if Alaskans have the same attitude(control), the airlines will either, give in or go broke, not woke!!!

  • The airlines welcomed Biden’s executive order. They had begged Trump for one to no avail. They WANT the mask mandate, which they put in place themselves more than a year ago. They want to remove as much as possible any chance of an outbreak being traced to air travel. The federal rule helps them enforce what they already want to do. If flight attendants are surly it is because they are dealing with idiots who throw a tantrum over wearing a mask or even physically assault them. This is due in part to mask hysteria and in part to an influx of passengers who have not traveled recently and don’t know the drill.

  • I used admire Alaska Air’s way to hire smiling and kind-hearted hospitable front counter, stewards and stewardesses. Now! Those characteristics would be a bonus to the Airline if they hired someone already exhibiting those characteristics. Employers can’t train customer service. The employee has it or they don’t. Companies are just wasting money on customer service type training sessions.

    I think Alaska Air stopped hiring good new employees since 1985. Policy or not a true hostess makes the accommodations within reason using their discernment, because that extra kindness is what encourages the guest to return. Eventually people will just stop flying all together. Maybe that’s what the government wants, to limit our travel so they can eventually put us all on us needing to get travel papers before traveling like other countries do their poor citizens.

  • Yes, there are always a percentage of flight attendants and passengers who make things difficult or less pleasant. Having said that, I do wish that folks would think of all the positives and focus on that. I see no point in accentuating the negatives all the time which are a teensy part of the whole. It is kinda of like seeing a dart coming towards one and then when it arrives imagining that it is a spear. Add up all the nice things that happen on a flight. Now add up the small (or zero) numbers of darts and it becomes easy to see life is not as bad as one thinks. This is sort of like the news media. Negative stuff sells. Positive stuff does not. I would encourage everyone to find out how to send situational reports to the person at Alaska Airlines who would or should be concerned and also has the power to do something. Listing every event on here at Must Read Alaska will change nothing. Perhaps our editor here can find that person for us and share it That way we can enter the circle of influence and leave behind the circle of concern (the circle from which no change occurs).

  • Once a viable alternative to air travel exists, the airline industry will die a quick, painful, deserved death.

    We never should have bailed them out after 9-11

  • I am old enough to remember late night comedians making fun of Soviet era flight attendants as overweight, gruff, unattractive, post menopausal women who had all the social grace of a belly dump truck driver. Who knew that in 2021 Alaska Airlines would embrace that business model!

  • It’s fixable. Airlines want us to pay to use their services. Mishandle and mistreat those customers and they will quit using airlines. I’ve not flown since the SCAMdemic started. I had trips lined up in 2020 to fly out of state, but canceled them. When the face diaper mandate went into effect, I simply refuse to fly. Airlines wants my money, I don’t want to wear a face diaper. I respect their tyrannical rule, no profits from me until they revoke the silly face diaper rule. Wanna be airlines Gestapo, get treated like the enemy you are.

  • Suzanne is correct. Many of the flight attendants have become bitchy and have lost their sense of customer-oriented friendliness. On one trip to Anchorage from Seattle I was told sternly by a younger attendant to pull my mask high over my nose. I had a harder time breathing. She came back in 10 minutes to re-check if my mask was pulled-up and she said it had to come up even higher. Alaska Air has become locked-in to the Lefty, woke culture. I ripped up my mileage card. No more Alaska Air for me.

  • I agree with all of this. It depends on the particular employee on how much they like that power. I wore a gator from California and in Seattle, was stopped and told, not good enough. You must wear a mask under that gator. Are you kidding me. I have severe clostraphobia and have a hard time wearing these. All other legs I took that day, were fine with my gator. Just an employee on a power trip and to become a part of the cult they feel a sense of belonging. Follow the science. I am cancelling my travel in August unless they have stopped this stupid mandate.

  • My wife and I recently flew Alaska Air to Hawaii via Portland going to Kona and Seattle returning. It was the most miserable flights I have ever been on. I will never again leave Alaska if this mask wearing crap continues. We did not experience any of what has been described here in the way of rude flight attendants. Everyone was very nice but it was obvious that the flight attendants do not enjoy the masks either. When I got up to use the restroom in the front of the airplane, the flight attendants had a curtain pulled across the galley but I was able to see in there and what should I see but 2 flight attendants with masks off sucking in fresh air!! I didn’t say anything but they saw me and just smiled I gave them a thumbs up. I have written to Alaska Air and told them that they have lost a customer as long as they keep up this stupid mask rule. I have absolutely no reason to leave Alaska any more. If people are fed up with the rule then hit them where it hurts the most and that is the pocket book.

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