Common Sense (or Lack of It) in the Airline Industry


You may wonder why this blog contains another issue about the airline industry. Because, in individual situations, this industry is a microcosm of business.

There is management, satisfied and disgruntled employees, unions, very detailed rules and regulations, and, of course, customers.


Every Business Has …

Every business, no matter what industry, has some or all of these constituents. And how each company deals with them often determines the success of the business. Some companies have continuing union battles, just like some airlines.

How do employees behave when there is a battle between their representatives and management?  Other companies have very strict rules that they expect their employees to follow. 

Others hire the very best people they can find and expect them to use their own judgment.


Is Individual Judgment Allowed?

Beside the airlines, another industry that is in the news has been the fast food industry.  We have seen news stories regarding employees that follow the rules exactly and other stories where using good judgment has made a difference to both the business and individuals. 

Almost every business makes the basic decision as to how their employees behave and how much judgment they are allowed and/or expected to use.

Over the past few blogs we’ve written about United Airlines and social media flack they received due to not letting two young girls wearing leggings on a United flight.

Then, of course, there is the situation in which a doctor was dragged off an airplane resulting in injuries.

And to finish up with United, about a week after the episode with the doctor, they managed to kill a very large pet rabbit that was flying internationally.  According to the ramp agent, the rabbit was fine when seen on the tarmac changing planes, but dead when it got to the destination. 

Maybe, just maybe, having a sensitive rabbit on the tarmac, in the weather, breathing jet exhaust, may have had something to do with its death.

On one hand, a baggage handler probably should not be expected to know how sensitive the respiratory system of a rabbit is. But maybe a little common sense, from somebody, would have helped.


A Special Kind Of Stupid … 

And now we come to the latest event, which I’m sure that United is grateful it didn’t happen to them.  Delta is the airline that has moved to Seattle to challenge Alaska Airlines.  And this event takes lack of common sense to a new level.

A passenger was removed from a Delta flight in Atlanta for going to the bathroom. Yep! That’s correct. The plane was delayed leaving the gate and supposedly was third in line for takeoff when the passenger felt the urgent need to urinate. 

However, when he reached the lavatory, a flight attendant told him that the plane would lose its place in line if he used the bathroom, so he returned to his seat.

After an extended delay, the plane had not moved and the passenger’s need became urgent. Given the level of desperation, the passenger used the bathroom.  And returned to his seat before the plane moved again.

When it did, as a result of using the bathroom and defying a crew member’s order, the plane returned to the gate, all passengers were deplaned and re-planed except for the passenger who used the bathroom.

He was met at the gate by law enforcement who declined to arrest him because he was so cooperative. Several hundred dollars in costs later, he took another airline home.


Common Sense Welcome …

Let’s look at some common sense here.  What was the passenger to do? If any of you have ever had desperately to go, what are the alternatives?  Go in his clothes and all over the seat? 

Share the experience with the unsuspecting passengers in his row?  Have the next flight delayed or cancelled because at least one seat had to be cleaned?

Delta said: “Our flight crews are extensively trained to ensure the safety and security of all customers. It is imperative that passengers comply with crew instructions during all phases of flight, especially at the critical points of takeoff and landing.”


Federal Regulations State …

Federal regulations state that the fasten seat belt sign must be turned on while the aircraft is in motion on the ground, during landing and takeoff, or when the pilot in command sees fit; all passengers must remain seated with their seat belts fastened when the sign is on; and all passengers must comply with seating orders given to them by the crew.

However, it’s completely unclear how much latitude employees at Delta and other airlines have to make judgment calls when necessary.


How About Your Business?

How about your business?  Have you or your employees ever made a mistake and tried to blame it on another employee or maybe even a customer. 

Are there policies in your company that force a customer to prove that an error is not their fault?

Do you have a union shop and insist your employees “follow the rules”?  Or do you rely on them to use their good judgment and common sense?

Even when union or other negotiations become difficult? Have you or your employees ever told someone that the restrooms are “for employees only” even when a “customer” has a difficult situation?

If these issues sound like your organization, as with the situation on Delta, the rules may be overcoming common sense. And hopefully the only person to hear the statement about restrooms, in the future, is that Delta flight attendant!



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