On My Way to the Customer Experience Conference I Had the Most Surreal “Customer Experience”


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This story is so unbelievable I have brought in third party unedited material that I will commentate on.

As you may know by now, I travel quite a bit developing global learning and recognition systems. In fact, I have flown millions of miles on American Airlines.

I only mention that because I am loyal. That doesn’t mean I’m happy. On this particular flight it doesn’t even mean I am satisfied.

Even though I am a loyal customer of American Airlines, this particular flight #2839 from Buffalo to Chicago with flight attendant Al, turned me from a loyal Net Promoter to a Net Detractor.

This is one of the only times I have ever gotten off the plane with the captain and called the head of flight operations at one of the busiest airports in the world.

Back to the “experience” on flight #2839.

I’m the first person on the jet bridge after family boarding.

I am leaning against the jet bridge waiting to step on the plane as I hear the flight attendant, Al, scold the family in front of me of which English is their second language, for switching seats.

The father said, “Sir, we are all family traveling together. I would like our son to sit with me.”

Flight attendant Al got on his knees so he was eye level with the father and said, “You don’t understand. This is my cabin. No one switches seats unless I am aware of it. We have flight safety weights and balances to be aware of.”

I was a little shocked, but no big deal. I wait for the family to clear the isle and I board the plane.

Here is where I am going to include an email from the passenger in seat 6B on flight #2839.

“The flight attendant aggressively asked the passenger in 6A, Tiffany W, to move her bag that was underneath the seat in front of her up to the overhead cabin. She asked Al if she could keep it under the seat in front of her as she travels on American Airlines twice a week and it has always been allowed as long the isle was clear.

Then, in an even louder and aggressive voice while wagging his finger at her as if he were talking to a disobedient dog, the flight attendant crouched down with hands in her face and started yelling at her about safety and that he controlled the cabin. ?She said, “OK” and moved the bag to the overhead compartment, sat back down and bucked her seat belt.”

Keep in mind, there are still passengers boarding the plane, the jet bridge is still connected to the airplane and the door is still open.

Now I am even more curious about what is going to happen next with flight attendant Al on flight #2839 Buffalo to Chicago.

No sooner than I wonder what’s going to happen next, Al goes beyond anything I have seen on an airplane, in the air, on the ground, anywhere.

Tiffany W. put a beverage in the seat pocket in front of her as she sat reading a magazine waiting to depart. Al told her she must take the beverage out of the seat back pocket while yelling in her face. Tiffany said, “We aren’t moving. We haven’t even left the gate yet.”

Al again started yelling at her saying the beverage was a safety hazard and she must comply with his safety rules on his plane.

After about 10-15 seconds of yelling at her she took the beverage out of the seat back pocket. But that didn’t matter. He stayed squatting in front of her yelling at her about safety.

Then, the passenger next to her in 6B, Larry B. said to the flight attendant, “Sir, she is compliant”.

Big mistake! Al started yelling at Larry about how he takes safety seriously. Again, he stated to Larry that this was his cabin and he can only take care of his workspace and can’t control how other flight attendants manage other flights.

Al yelled at both of them stating, “Now you are interfering with my commands. I have to ask both of you to get off of this flight.”

At this point, I went from a highly interested observer to a participant. I was sensitive to the fact that my fellow passengers and I all shared one goal, which was to safely get to Chicago, however I still could not resist getting involved.

I also thought interrupting what was happening may diffuse the situation and stop the abuse of my fellow passengers. I pretty much miscalculated that one!

Here is what I did.

I hit the flight attendant button. Ding Ding Ding.

You must understand I am in seat 8C.

A mere one row separates me the passenger in seat 6B who was coming to the defense of our fellow passenger in seat 6A.

Al comes to me and I ask him, “Is it possible that safety and respect are not mutually exclusive?”

After my question, Al informed me that I too was interrupting his control of the cabin and safety. Now I was also being removed from the flight.

I said, “Al, I have always been compliant and safe, however if you remove all the passengers from the flight you won’t have any customers to serve.”

At this point about 15 other passengers started to ring their flight attendant call buttons.




Al says, “That’s it!” Points to Tiffany, Larry and I and says, “I am going to get the marshals to have you removed from this flight.”

At this point the passenger in seat 4C says, “That’s not right!”

Flight attendant Al said he too had to be removed as well.

Now the whole plane is going…




Here we are. Still sitting at the gate, with the door open, four of us asking to be removed for “safety” reasons, and 15 other passengers with tight connections to make in Chicago.

Dings everywhere and people saying, “Lets just go Al!”

The fun actually is just starting.

Check in tomorrow. You won’t believe what happens next.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Peter Psichogios
Peter Psichogios is the President of CSI International Performance Group whose mission is to help companies create engaging employee and customer experiences. Prior to joining CSI International Peter served as an executive member of one of the largest Instructional System Association companies in the world. In this capacity, he led all the front-end analysis and worked directly with Dr. Ken Blanchard. Peter has been fortunate to work with the who's who of the Fortune 500, helping them deliver innovative learning, engagement and recognition solutions.


  1. ….flight attendant Al has ‘gone postal’ and is clearly psychotic. Can’t wait to read the rest of the tale.

  2. I too can’t wait to read as Paul Harvey would say, ‘the rest of the story’…
    As a million miler on American it is sad to me that one employee can so damage the reputation of a great company. As a customer service author and presenter I am of the belief that you are only as strong as your ‘weakest link’ so I hope AA reads your story and removes Al from the air before I have to experience his service!
    Teresa Allen
    Author, Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines


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