American Airlines grounds flight attendant following confrontation
American Airlines has grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontation after taking a baby stroller away from a passenger.
The incident, captured on mobile phone footage, took place on a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth.
The airline is looking into whether the male flight attendant violently removed the stroller from the female passenger just before she boarded the plane.
A video taken by a passenger and posted on Facebook shows the sobbing woman holding a small child and saying: "You can't use violence with baby."
Later, an unidentified male passenger confronts the flight attendant, telling him: "You do that to me and I'll knock you flat."
The flight attendant responds with: "Hit me. Bring it on."
The incident comes less than two weeks after video of a man being violently dragged off a United Express flight sparked widespread outrage .
In an age of mobile phone videos and social media, airlines are learning the hard way that it is essential to de-escalate tense situations which occur during air travel, even as there are more passengers, less room and fewer flight attendants than ever before.
United initially blamed its passenger, Dr David Dao, before finally apologising days after the incident, intensifying the public's fury.
American, by contrast, seems to have learned from United's mistakes. The airline immediately said it was sorry, grounded the flight attendant while it investigates the incident, and upgraded the passenger involved and her family to first class.
Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, said: "American doesn't want to become the next United, but then, United didn't want to become the next United.
"No airline wants to be seen as being anti-consumer or anti-passenger."
Smartphone cameras and social media are shifting power to consumers who can share customer relations gaffes with the world.
They are increasingly making confrontations with staff headline news, making it harder for companies to sweep complaints under the carpet.
The faster companies own up to mistakes, the quicker they can engage in damage control.
American's swift reaction to the incident could be helpful, said brand consultant Allen Adamson, CEO of BrandSimple.
He said: "The quick reaction will prevent it from escalating further, but it won't mitigate the perception among flyers that flying is becoming a less enjoyable experience every day."
Overall, airlines must start to put more of an emphasis on customer service, he said.
"It's another example of airlines struggling to treat their passengers with the traditional 'customer is always right' attitude.
"Good customer service is finding a way to de-escalate a situation and he (the flight attendant) was throwing gasoline on it."
Days after Dr Dao was dragged off the United Express flight from Chicago to Kentucky to make room for airline crew, his lawyer spent a good part of a news conference railing against what he said was the industry-wide shabby treatment of airline passengers.
Dr Dao lost teeth, suffered a broken nose and received a concussion in the incident, which was also captured on video.
Mr Harteveldt said travelling is stressful under any circumstance, and conflict resolution training is an essential part of being a flight attendant.
He said: "If airlines aren't going to improve staffing or restore leg room for customers, they should at least provide flight attendants with better, more relevant training about how to handle these types of situations."
At the same time, passengers should also be respectful of flight attendants, who often work long hours on multiple flights, he said.
"It's just clear in this case things didn't go the way anybody would have liked, but American Airlines acted responsibly in the aftermath."