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17 August 2010

How can a simple request for food turn into a security situation?

The following article is from a copy of a customer service email that was sent to our partner site It is about an American Airlines Flight on August 4th where things got a bit out of hand between a flight attendant and two passeners. Some of the contact information was removed, but all of the emotion remains.

Date: 4 August 2010
Airline: American Airlines
Flight: 1212
Location: Orlando, FL to Chicago, IL

Dear American Airlines,

On Wednesday August 4th 2010 my fiancé and I flew from Orlando airport to Chicago O’Hare airport on AA Flight #1212. The customer service during this flight was horrendous and needs to be dealt with in an immediate manner. We were treated like criminals by a flight attendant just for asking for cheese and crackers. Due to this incident we will never fly American Airlines again unless the situation is handled properly.

The flight left the gate on time however a minute after leaving the gate they announced that the flight was going to be delayed for over an hour due to weather in Chicago. When we called our family in Chicago they said that the weather indeed had been horrible. Our question is why in the world would we leave the gate if the weather was that bad and wouldn’t they have checked this prior to leaving the gate? How could they have not known the weather was bad just two minutes before? This inconvenience was not comfortable to deal with but I would never write a letter like this just because of this problem. The major issue, which is why we are writing this letter, is the service that was provided by one of your flight attendants named Darlene and the resulting events.

With both of us being in customer service fields we see and deal with many patients and guests every day. One of us is a nurse practitioner and the other is a hotel manager. We both know the level of service that is expected and needed in customer service fields. On Wednesday August 4th that level of customer service was not met and was breached beyond belief. It is the worst customer service that I have ever seen or experienced in my life by an airline attendant.

When the plane took off it was a quiet ride until it was time for drink service. We were seated in an exit row about half way down the plane. We did not buy snacks at the airport because we thought we would be arriving before lunch in Chicago. However, since we were delayed I decided to purchase the cheese and crackers snack since I was very hungry at this point. I then proceeded to ask Darlene if I could purchase the cheese and crackers, Darlene then rather rudely responded we are out of cheese and crackers. When I asked what else she had she took a bag and threw it on the cart and said “these”. I then asked what “these” were and she answered I don’t know some kind of nut mix. I responded do you have anything else available because I am allergic to some nuts. Remember we are only halfway through the plane and nuts were the only thing you had left. I understand that the airlines are feeling the economic pressures and that items are no longer given away for free but you should have the proper amount of product to be bought if offering this to customers. She responded no and so I asked how can you run out of all snacks when you aren’t even half way through the plane. Darlene responded well I don’t stock the plane and if you don’t like it you can write a letter to corporate. This comment was given in a very sarcastic loud tone.

Seeing that this was going nowhere and Darlene was not being very nice and becoming very animated, I very politely asked her to be quiet and not talk to us anymore because she isn’t helping the situation and if she could please serve us our drinks and drop the snack issue. She continued to badger us and kept talking about how she did not pack the cart and we should write a letter. We then asked her to please stop talking to us and leave us alone again. At this time she replied did you just tell me to shut up. My fiancé replied that this was horrible customer service. She then said if you continue to talk I will have security meet you at the gate when we arrive.

We then asked her again to leave us alone which she replied you’re harassing me and I don’t need this and turned and stormed towards the front of the plane. We were unable to walk away from the situation like I normally would because we were trapped in our seats by the two flight attendants and the service cart. We both sat there in shock of what just happened. She then went to the front of the plane and came back and said security would be waiting for both of us. Darlene then said to the other flight attendant standing there that she would not serve us and asked him to do it. At that time we asked the other flight attendant if he heard what was taking place and want we did wrong which he replied that he wasn’t paying attention and he only heard us ask her to leave us alone.

About 15 minutes later she came down the aisle and gave us paper work that stated that we were interfering with airline business, being verbally abusive and intimidating an airline employee. First of all during the whole encounter the only thing that my fiancé said was this was horrible customer service and he was also given this paperwork. Secondly neither of us should have received this letter as the Darlene the flight attendant was the only one in the wrong in this situation. Neither of us at any time interfered with any airline business and at no point did we ever threaten her or verbally abused her. We never even stood up in our seats, cursed at her or made any demeaning or threatening comments. How is asking someone to leave you alone threatening? If anyone was becoming aggressive or threatening, it was Darlene not either one of us. After we received the paperwork we called over the other flight attendant again who was present during the whole situation and asked him why are we receiving this and what does it mean. He said well I wasn’t paying attention so I don’t know why you are getting the notice and he did not know what it meant or what would happen but he would send Darlene back to answer this. Are you telling me, that you as an airline employee seeing a confrontation occur with a passenger that you are not trained to watch the situation to see what occurs especially when you are three inches away from the situation? If the situation was so severe that it is going to involve security why would another flight attendant not get involved? Wouldn’t you step in and try to diffuse the situation or at least assist your colleague?

Also, are your flight attendants not aware of what these notices mean and how to properly use them since he could not explain this to us? We then had to sit there for over an hour wondering what was going to happen and if we were going to be arrested. Being so upset and bothered by the situation I cried for over 20 minutes and was tortured by the fact that we didn’t know what was going to happen.

When we got off the plane Darlene was standing with 10 American Airline Corporate security agents. Darlene pointed at us and said “that’s them”. Everyone on plane then looked at us as they were walking by like we were terrorists or criminals when we never did anything wrong. When the head security agent, Joe, saw us he told the other agents that he would take care of the situation and to go about their business elsewhere. Joe was extremely respectful and told us to continue on to the end of the jet way and wait for him. He then explained that he already spoke to the flight attendant but that he needed to hear our side of the story because they still needed to make a report. We proceeded to tell him the details of the incident while the whole terminal was staring at us. He then apologized that this happened and stated that we were not in trouble and there would be no further repercussions for us.

We then told him that we wanted to make a complaint against Darlene. I explained that this was such a silly thing to be calling security over and what a huge waste of our time and I wanted the airline to be aware of how their flight attendant is acting due to the fact that her instability could affect her ability to perform necessary flight actions. The security agent agreed with us and thought that Darlene was the one that was wrong. We proceeded to retrieve our luggage where I asked the customer service representatives if I could please speak to the flight attendant supervisor. They replied that they had no idea how to get a hold of them and to send an email.

I then proceeded to the ticket counter where I again asked to speak to a flight attendant supervisor. The first representative said that she had no idea how to get a hold of one and then called over her supervisor who then proceeded to call flight services. Flight services wanted to speak to me over the phone who it turned out to be the security agent, Joe. Joe explained to me that the flight attendant supervisor was not in today. I asked if I could call her tomorrow then and he replied that there is no number to reach her at. So then I asked if he could leave her a message so she could call me back as I wanted to make her aware of the situation, he said this was possible and that Jennifer would be calling me the next day. Over ten days later and I have still not received a phone call.

The customer service that was provided by Darlene we are sure is not what you expect from your employees. Working in the medical field and the hotel industry we know that we would want to know if this extremely poor level of customer service was being shown to our guests. We expect that something should be done with this letter as it was the worst travel experience that we have ever had, and further more the worst example that I have ever heard of. We also expect to be compensated in some way for the inconvenience and suffering this has caused. With many choices of airlines to fly on we will be very skeptical to ever fly on American again unless you truly show that this is not the level of service that should be provided by American Airlines. We will be happy to discuss this issue further at anytime.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this horrendous matter,

[names withheld on request]


  1. Im supprised Darleen didnt grab a beer and hop down the emergency slide. American is the worst and can only affort to hire the lowest level employees in the job pool.

  2. I wonder how many hours of training these flight attendants receive, and whether they are screened for attitude, courtesy, ability to handle stress, etc.

  3. This is why as a Canadian, I never fly a U.S. based airline on domestic U.S. routes. The level of service is the worst in the world, and the problem is that everyone wants the lowest price possible. Well, the reality is that when you get the lowest price, you get the lowest service, oldest airplanes, most inexperienced crews. Fly overseas on a U.S. airline and you'll see its way better.

  4. I experienced something similar. I was traveling alone with my dog and Lola started to bark during the flight. I think she felt pain in her ears. It wasn't the first time she travel and she is trained. In those conditions is worst because there are two flight attedance to backup themselves and you are only one.

  5. I used to work for American Airlines sister company and yes, flight attendants are trained to be courteous, but unfortunately some ppl have ugly personalities and u cant control what they do in the air. I think I would have taken her picture or turned on the audio to a hidden camera to record her nasty behind!

  6. How frustrating for these passengers! American Airlines just lost another I enjoyed flying with them because I met the most interesting passengers but I did notice a lack in customer service a lot. I went to Hawaii this year on United and had something happen on my journey..with travel and during the trip. I was so impressed with their customer service and how they went above and beyond duty to help me that they now, for sure after reading this, have a new customer.

  7. I would certainly like to know the outcome of this email. If the passenger and her fiance are telling the whole truth then the flight attendant Darlene should be fired. Since Joe the security agent apologized, it appears to me that he knows something about Darlene.

  8. I don't care how stressful your job is. If you lose your cool at a customer, even once, you should be fired. You are in the wrong line of work if you cannot be respectful to your customers at all times, even when they are not respectful to you.

    1. Hey I work in customer service and WILL not be treated like that whilst doing my job! Period! Everyone including CS employees are entitled to basic respect, interfere with that and you deserve to get ur ass busted!! But reading this I whole heartedly agree that Darlene should be fired. Had the passenger acted in a way that warranted that behaviour then sorry they would deserve everything they got!!

  9. wow, that's amazing. one reason why i prefer to fly with asian airlines,... the service is much much better!

  10. and "she through" it on the table..? how about "threw" it on the table?

  11. I would like to hear Darlene's version of this before voicing a comment.

  12. My worst experience was on NWA flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco when the flight attendent put on a XXX rated movie. There were families on the plane, and even though I took my earphones off the behavior of the two men was pretty shocking for an in-flight movie. When I wrote to NWA I received a polite generic letter.

  13. Wow a whole article of someone's bad experience and your being a prick just because of her spelling. If you don't have any constructive inputs why even make a comment.

  14. spelling nazi! nothing better to do...

  15. Attack, attack, attack. Where is Darlene'e side of the story? I have traveled often and have been witness to pompous asses many times. Those that demand and will not take no for an answer. Give our hardworking flight attendents a break

  16. Gosh it would take a brave soul indeed to tackle a flight attendant, as I find they are quite determined to ensure they have the best of everything and the passenger seems often just to be a nuisance. The trolley spends most of the time in the aisle so getting to the loo is a major feat and not for the fatty.

  17. Hey "Attack, attack, attack"... Darlene gave her side of the story to the security agents and their chief apologized for Darlene's behavior. If Darlene had been correct in her assertions, the person writing the complaint would've been writing about getting arrested. The fact that the security agent did nothing is the proof that Darlene was abusing her power.

    FYI: a complaint against one stewardess does not translate into an attack against all the flight attendents that are hardworking. With your arrogant and ignorant comment, you don't realize that you are actually the one insulting the ones who do a good job. You're behaving as if "hardworking" attendants are entitled to abuse customers. Work as hard as you like, but courtesy to the paying customer is still the #1 priority in the service field.

  18. I hope you & your fiance' are compensated for her poor behavior! Flight attendants like that don't deserve to be in customer service. Being nice goes a long way!

  19. Mr. Gerard ConwayNovember 15, 2010 4:09 PM

    The entire story seems to be a bit dodgy. When I came upon this line "The security agent agreed with us and thought that Darlene was the one that was wrong." and "When we got off the plane Darlene was standing with 10 American Airline Corporate security agents." I began to have doubts about the veracity of your story Dr. Curtis.

  20. Something just like this happened to me!
    I appreciate your skepticism and might have it as well. There are two sides to every story, right? Well maybe not when you are trapped, framed and surrounded by strangers. I know its extreme sounding, but I am up at 5am online searching this topic for this very reson.

    I just arrived from a JetBlue Plane where I had a very similar experience, was harrassed, reported and detained for asking to move to a seat with a functioning TV on JetBlue. As a result I was shouted at, skipped over for beverage service, and treated very rudely. I am not exaggerating. I know it sounds unbelievable and ridiculous. It was. My interaction seems no where near as intense as Dr. Curtis'.

    When I asked for her name dicretely of another F/A, and mentioned what whe had said to and about other passengers, Ex:"what the hell is with 24A, pain in the ass" I was written up for interference and a violent story was fabricated out of thin air that I assaulted the woman, harrassed passengers, called her names. Honestly! I only asked to switch to an operating TV! When I asked the flight attendants what was happening and why..they explained, "there really is nothing, there is no disturbance, it just says that" "whenever someone is unhappy with something we fill one of these out" and "you asked for her name, and when passengers ask for a name to make a report about us, this is what we have to do to protect ourselves."

    I know I know You will say that this is not the whole story. As bizarre as it its true. I was never angry or at all violent, just making what I thought was a reasonable request. If anything, I was frustrated, embarrassed and a bit sheepish and fearful of the F/As hostility. I was with my young children. Thank goodness there were willing and concerned witnesses around me, because the other F/As seemed ready to go along.
    I was met at the gate by ground security, blocked and coralled from the other passengers and my family against my will and forbidden from further talking to witnesses and detained until I mentioned a need for an attorney.

    When our country is concerned for safety and investing so much in our FAA, some misguided F/As seem to have made it policy to utilize government resources to harrass and intimidate passengers when they are most vulnerable.

    Note another ploy- on several occassions I was offered alcohol as an apology for her rude treatment and comments toward others on the plane. Dont take it! I'm glad I didn't. It's not a gift, just fodor for their report that they file with the FAA which our taxes then pay to investigate and sidetrack our safety resources to keep a suburban professional soccerMom from her civil liberties.
    Dr Curtis, how can I reach you for advice before seeing my attorney?