Unloading on the airline industry

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Friendly skies, eh?

Wonder what unfriendly might look like.

Oh, right: We’re getting a bird’s-eye view from the proverbial 30,000 feet.

And we’re not just talking about United Airlines, whose belligerent, inexcusable treatment of a passenger a few days back has done more than given the airline a big black eye and burned a hole in its bank account. If you were to talk to passengers these days about their airline experience, you might hear that many of them are flying the whatever skies with Airline X only because there are few or no other options.

Excessive baggage fees. No leg room. More charges. Fewer amenities. Increasingly frequent changes to flight schedules already booked. And — ouch! — the painful reality of enduring flights intentionally overbooked.

For an industry known for poor service and low customer satisfaction, you might think that in the immediate aftermath of United’s gut-wrenching, arm-yanking disaster, customer service would at least temporarily improve.

And you’d probably be wrong.

The Press heard from an incensed Coeur d’Alene passenger who flew a non-United flight Tuesday from JFK in New York to Spokane. He said he was expecting “some of the best service I’ve ever experienced on a flight,” but that’s not what he got.

Having arrived at JFK early, he witnessed the ill-treatment of a passenger for the flight just before his moments after the door leading to the aircraft had been closed. The man pleaded to be let on — even after the door was briefly reopened — but was repeatedly told that was against the airline’s policy. Fair enough. But then:

“YOU NEED TO STEP BACK,” the employee shouted at the man before directing him to another gate where he should wait to fly standby. Other passengers stood stunned.

According to the Coeur d’Alene passenger, “The man left, but the attendant wasn’t done. Right in front of other paying customers, she began to loudly lambast the man and the day she was having.”

“‘I AM NOT PUTTING UP WITH ANY MORE OF THAT SH** TODAY,” the employee reportedly shrieked, then added “a couple more expletives,” according to the witness.

“When it was my turn to board my flight to Seattle, I experienced more of the same,” the Coeur d’Alene man said. “Individuals who clearly didn’t know English were yelled at and berated by staff (one employee used his body to force them back) for accidentally getting in line before their group was called.” The mess only escalated but, mostly because he was too tired to argue, the Coeur d’Alene man eventually got home. The carry-on bag he’d taken to New York also made it back, but not before an aggressive employee told him it had to be checked and might end up in Seattle.

Maybe airline jobs are horrible. Maybe they’re mostly good jobs that simply attract many people who might do better in other lines of work. But our wishes today are two-fold.

One, that in an industry with so little competition, customers figure out a way to demand better treatment. If you were handled at the grocery store like you are with many airlines, you’d almost certainly find somewhere else to shop.

The other is for local businesses to learn from the mistakes United and other airlines are making. If we can’t do better — way better — maybe we should be permanently grounded.

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