“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes but never lose your authority,” says one aviation industry insider on difficult passengers.
As flight crewmembers, you have to be prepared for all types of scenarios when dealing with passengers from the preflight briefing to medical emergencies. But what do you do when you have to tell a passenger no, and they keep insisting? Where is the training course or manual for that? Below are tips for addressing rude passengers and unreasonable requests.
“Does my child have to stay in her seat? Why can’t she run around the cabin?”
This is mostly applicable to larger aircraft, but it is an absolute safety hazard. What seems harmless, can unfortunately turn south quickly. If there were to be any unexpected turbulence, the child could fall or run into things and get hurt. If there is a loss of cabin pressure, there are only a certain number of oxygen masks in select regions on the aircraft. If the child has wandered where there aren’t enough oxygen masks for her, she could be in danger as she only has about 15-20 seconds before hypoxia hits. Telling the customer no or that their child must stay in her seat is not you being mean, but is you trying to ensure the safety of the passengers. Explaining to the customer why these rules are in place often times will ease the tension and they will understand the reasoning behind it.
“I know I showed up late to the flight, but I’m upset that we are late to our destination. I demand a refund.”
One way to address this situation is to just let the disgruntled customer do the majority of the talking. Give them your attention, nod along, make a comment here and there, but still let them hold the conversation until they stop. Most of the time, people just want to feel heard. Plus, the more they hear their own voice, the more critical they will be of themselves rather than you. Remember to stay calm, listen, and don’t take anything that’s said personally. Try to offer alternate compensation such as another drink or snack, depending on circumstances, of course. There are certainly many situations in which you don’t have time to continue the conversation with the customer in that moment, so if they aren’t satisfied, offer them a phone number or email address of someone that can later address the situation and offer appropriate compensation, if necessary.
“I need another whiskey sour.”
Ah yes, alcohol... this is where it really can get tricky. Sure, to take the edge off some passengers may need a drink or two, but when you see they’ve reached their limit, you do hold the right to cut them off. It’s unsafe for you and for them if they are unable to care for themselves or are endangering/bothering others. At that point, it becomes a real safety hazard for everyone aboard the aircraft. If the passenger starts putting up a fight, try to calmly (and discretely) explain that they have reached their limit. If the customer keeps going and gets angrier and angrier, remember you do have on-ground security to warn them about. Threatening the ‘cuffs should always be a last resort, but sometimes it is a necessary card to pull. Remember to not lose your cool, but stand your ground.
You can't please everyone, but you can try to make the situation the best it can be. By not acting out or showing a difficult customer the same attitude back, you eliminate the possibility for the scene to escalate. Remaining calm and trying to explain the reasoning behind your decisions will help the customer better understand and not overreact. The vast majority of passengers are easy-going and pleasant to work with, but it’s the more difficult cases that stick in our minds. Stay positive and use some of the tools you learned today to establish better relationships with the more difficult passengers out there.