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Friday 04 January 2002

Witnesses say Secret Service Agent was not abusive to AA staff

According to this article at CNN, Secret Service agent Walied Shater was not angry or disruptive as he was thrown off an American Airline flight last week. This contradicts the statements of the American Airlines pilot (here and the operations manager here. I would not be surprised if in the next few days, we hear of more independent witnesses who dispute the airline’s version of the story. Certainly my almost unalloyed experience of the last few years has been that the airlines see customers as their enemy, and treat them as such.

The real issue here, as I see it, is not one of possible discrimination against people of Middle-Eastern descent (as was the Secret Service agent). The issue is that the airlines seem to not see themselves as bound by the ordinary constraints of the market. Let’s assume, just for a moment, that American Airlines’ version of the story is 100% true. Here’s what happened:

  1. The agent filled out the paperwork for carrying a weapon on the flight.

  2. The agent was bumped from one flight to another, and changed the flight number on the form.

  3. The AA pilot asked the agent for his credentials five separate times — despite telling the AA operations manager that he didn’t trust the credentials anyway, since, in his own words to the operations manager now, mind you, “you work for the airline, you know how easy it would be to get fake I.D.”

  4. The operations manager suggested that the pilot, local agents, etc. get the police at BWI to verify that the passenger was, indeed, a Secret Service agent.

  5. Before this was done, apparently, the operations manager got a call from the pilot, who said that the passenger had been “verbally abusive” when asked for his ID for the umpteenth time. The publically available information does not specify what, precisely, this means.

  6. The operations manager says that “Based on this, I then decided to end boarding to this passenger on future AA flights.”

So. Because, during an American Airlines customer-service clusterfuck, a customer deigned to point out that the American Airlines personnel might be incompetent, AA decides to never take his money again.

Does this sound like a company (or industry, because AA isn’t alone in this kind of behavior) that deserves government subsidies? I don’t think so.

If it eventually turns out that the agent’s “verbal abuse” consisted of something like “You know, the reason that you guys are losing money isn’t because of terrorism, it’s because you all appear to be incompetent,” it’ll be all the more damning. If it turns out that he wasn’t anything that can reasonably be called “abusive” at all, all the AA people involved in the incident should be fired and not allowed to work in aviation again. The airlines are given enormous powers to impose their will on the traveling public because of “safety” and “security” concerns. If a passenger who gets frustrated at bad customer service is so dangerous that he cannot ever be allowed on a company plane again, then it seems very reasonable to conclude that airline employees who tell lies in the course of business are too untrustworthy to fly.

Posted by tino at 13:17 4.01.02
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