Flight Attendant Boots Emotionally Distressed Passengers From Plane. What Should HR Do Next?
I read an article this morning that involved a pair of sister’s who were booted from an Allegiant Air flight on January 2, 2017 because of disruptive behavior according to the sisters. Debbie Hartman and Trisha Baker were traveling to North Carolina to be with their father during his last moments. The sister’s father was in hospice care. Prior to their flight’s departure they had received a text message that their father would not survive the night. Understandably, the sisters became distraught at the news.
According to the Washington Post, one of the woman said she walked to her sister’s seat to tell her of the news.
Ms. Baker said, a flight attendant ordered her to return to her own seat.
“She said, ‘You need to sit down’ — to which Baker responded, ‘Well, can I just sit here? I just want to console my sister. We just got word that my dad’s dying,’ ”
Her sister, Hartman, started “crying and crying, had a bad panic attack, couldn’t breath[e],” according to Baker. Then, Baker got into an argument with the flight attendant.
“Our father is dying — you’re being rude and you need to show some compassion,” Baker told the attendant, according to her sister.
Baker reported that the attendant responded by saying, “You need to leave your personal problems off the plane.”
According to the sisters, Hartman then chimed in, telling the attendant: “You might consider getting a different kind of job if you can’t be more compassionate.”
That’s when the flight attendant called the pilot and reported the women. Authorities then boarded the plane and escorted the women from it, the sisters said.
A passenger who was on the same flight posted a video to YouTube regarding the incident. According to the passenger, one of the sisters had reached across the aisle to comfort her sister, which conflicts with the account of the incident from the sister’s given in interviews with news organizations.
Allegiant Air said in a statement sent to The Washington Post that “we rely on our crew members to provide and oversee a safe environment for every passenger, on every flight.”
“We expect that authority to be exercised both judiciously and consistently, with empathy and with good judgment. We take this customer feedback seriously and are in the process of conducting an investigation into what occurred.”
Allegiant Air has also made repeated responses to to the criticism from the public with variations on the same response: “We are taking the situation very seriously and conducting a thorough investigation to take the appropriate next step.”
So what should Allegiant’s HR do next?
Although the public has been calling for the employee’s termination, a knee jerk reaction would be inappropriate in this situation. For starters, the company is right in doing their due diligence by initiating an investigation into the matter.
Allegiant Air flight attendants are unionized employees represented by TWU Local 577 (the bargaining unit is currently operating without a contract after a tentative agreement failed ratification this past fall). Even though the alleged behavior by the flight attendant is disturbing, the employee is still entitled to some form of due process.
Disciplinary actions for members of a bargaining unit means there are labor implications (i.e. possible arbitration) that need to be taken into consideration when deciding what if any disciplinary action is appropriate in the aftermath of this incident. It’s going to be important for Allegiant management to ensure that the punishment “fits the crime” (if they determine misconduct on the part of the attendant). Some of the factors that will be considered during this process include the impact of the misconduct on the organization, the employee’s past disciplinary history, and whether or not the employee be “rehabilitated” (i.e. through remedial training).Although airline patrons will expect some tradeoffs (i.e. baggage fees, cramped cabins) with a bargain airline company, poor customer service may be a bridge too far for most consumers. Whatever the outcome, Allegiant needs to work to ensure that this type of incident doesn’t occur again.