American Airlines issues an apology of its own, and shows what it learned from United

Learning from a competitor.
Learning from a competitor.
Image: Reuters/Jim Young
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American Airlines has suspended a crew member and apologized for the lack of “empathy” shown by its employee to an upset passenger on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas, after a video surfaced showing yet another airline public-relations disaster in the making.

Footage posted to Facebook by user Surain Adyanthaya shows a woman sobbing at the front of the plane while a flight attendant looks on. ”OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her. AA591 from SFO to DFW,” read the caption to the video, which has already been viewed 2.6 million times since it was posted yesterday (April 21). The video shows another passenger standing up and threatening to fight the male flight attendant, who responds “hit me.”

The footage did not show a flight attendant taking the stroller away, but American Airlines was nonetheless quick to address the incident, trying hard to avoid a public-relations tailspin like the one its competitor United Airlines experienced when customer David Dao was filmed by fellow passengers as he was violently dragged off a United flight to make room for commuting airplane crew.

United’s first attempt to stem the public’s outrage at the incident nearly two weeks ago only added fuel to the public-relations disaster. Instead of being immediately contrite, United CEO Oscar Munoz appeared to blame the passenger. He apologized for the airline having to “re-accomodate” ticketed customers whose seats were needed for traveling crew members, but failed to acknowledge the physical nature of the removal of a customer who ended up bloodied as a result of the incident.

American Airlines appears to have taken the lessons of Munoz’s failures to heart.

Whereas Munoz said this week ”there was never a consideration for firing an employee” regarding the incident, American said it had removed the crew member from duty.

“We have seen the video and have already started an investigation to obtain the facts,” American Airlines said on its website. “We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any customers affected by the incident.” American said the woman and her family would be flown first class on another flight to finish their international trip. ”The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care,” the airline said.

American Airlines did not specify the outcome for the passenger who tried to fight with the flight attendant. (If he wasn’t kicked off the plane as the incident played out, it’s somewhat remarkable considering the bar to get kicked off a plane is extremely low.)

In any case, few customers would suddenly believe that a US airline is ready to be a paragon of customer service. But they should take some solace that the carriers are finally, demonstrably worried about how they look in the public eye. Here is the full text of American’s comment on the incident aboard its flight:

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