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Do you think your job is tough? Try to be the human punching bag for airline passengers

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What is the most stressful job at an airline? Pilot? Flight attendant? Problem solver for lost luggage? Chief Executive?

If you chose one of those functions, I would respectfully disagree. As a stewardess who has been with an old airline for more than 30 years, I have had a seat on the ring side where customer service employees are dealing. From where I stand, they are saddled with the most stressful action by an airline.

Under pressure to get flights on time, an agent working at the departure desk is confronted with a barrage of questions on which they are often forced to say no.

Will you give me a first-class upgrade? Can I replace my middle seat with a window seat? The containers above are full; can I still take my luggage with me? Does the flight leave on time? Shall I make my connecting flight in Chicago?

No. No. No. Sorry, madam. Sorry sir. Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Dissatisfied with such responses, some passengers lose it so completely that police officers are called.

In a recent report from the US Government Accountability Office, a watchdog organization that provides congress and federal agencies with objective, reliable information, 46 of the 104 customer service employees interviewed said that passengers had threatened them orally. Twelve said they were physically attacked, and almost all said they were verbally harassed.

I have heard passengers scream because the agent could not provide an upgrade to business class. One day I saw a man sprint to the departure gate, gasping for breath, and when the officer told him the flight had departed, he threw his hand luggage on the floor and pointed an anger-filled expletive at her.

I have seen passengers burst into tears, slamming their fists at the departure desk, swearing, swearing, and threatening to sue agents for issues beyond their control.

I have even seen police officers defend. Such a delivery recently took place at Miami International Airport.

On October 31, I prepared for a night flight from Miami to São Paulo, Brazil. The planned equipment for that flight, a Boeing 777-300, can accommodate 304 passengers: eight first-class people, 52 in business and 244 in the main cabin.

When my crew reached the departure gate, agents informed us of a change of equipment. Instead of using the 777-300, we would fly to São Paulo on 777-200.

The change created challenges for our agents because the 777-200 has a completely different seating configuration. This aircraft seats 273 passengers, which means 31 fewer seats. There is no first-class cabin. Business class consists of 37 seats.

Through the loudspeaker, an agent announced that passengers had to check in at the departure desk to receive new seat assignments.

The indignation began.

Three first-class passengers were reduced to business class. Eighteen business class passengers were relegated to coach. (Each degraded traveler received a $ 600 travel check and a refund for the difference in plane ticket.) Dozens of passengers in the main cabin received new seat assignments that in many cases were far removed from their traveling companions or at locations (for example, central seats). uncomfortable.

Although a few passengers volunteered for a later flight, others had no choice but to do this.

At the departure counter anger turned into hostility. Passengers have directed obscenities in English and Portuguese to the agents. Then a phalanx of passengers joined the desk.

When a frustrated passenger grabbed a cop by the arm, colleagues & # 39; s called airport police.

Moments later, when the police turned up, even the noisiest demonstrators settled. The passenger who grabbed the cop was not arrested. However, she was banned from the flight.

Finally, about 1 hour & # 39; in the morning – more than an hour after our scheduled departure – the boarding process began. Passengers boarded the plane and unhappily shook their tired heads.

Bags were stored away. Everyone sat down. My crew waited anxiously for the catering car, which was partly delayed by the change of plane.

By the time the truck turned up and the caterers had finished filling the galleys, our first officer had timed out due to rest restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The flight has been canceled.

When the purser made the announcement, a collective moan echoed through the plane. All 273 passengers were instructed to remove their bags, leave the plane and stand in a long line. At the front stood a harassed agent who provided hotel vouchers and apologies, while police officers remained vigilant.

The Government Accountability Office report reveals: "There is no comprehensive data available to determine the nature and frequency of passenger attacks – including verbal threats, attempted physical acts or actual physical acts – against airline airport customer service."

Although physical attacks by passengers are rare, agents are verbally abused almost daily. It is a thankless task that requires patience and thick skin. The same can be said about flight attendants with one notable exception: we are not responsible for explaining to passengers why their travel plans have been flushed down the toilet.

Instead, when that São Paulo trip was canceled, all 16 crew members of the flight were taken out of service. While the agents processed hotel vouchers for 300 unfortunate passengers, we stewardesses dragged our roll aboards along the seemingly endless line and headed home.

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