Aeroflot Is Right: When Elite Passengers Misbehave Inflight

Mar 17, 2018

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Earlier this week, TPG reported on Aeroflot’s newest policy, which calls for the removal of status and barring from the frequent flyer program for members who misbehave inflight. Bravo, Aeroflot! Frankly, I am stunned it took a carrier this long to make the move. In my nearly 20 years of flying, I have seen quite a few instances of passengers misbehaving in the air (and on the ground), and all too often, they are our most frequent flyers.

Often, the misbehavior of a status-holding frequent flyer is not so awful as to warrant being removed from the program all together. What we most often see is mildly obnoxious, entitled behavior — a coat shoved in my face at the door along with “I’m in Economy but I’m a Gold / SuperStar / Diamond / Glitterbomb, so you can hang it for me.” Or “I’m a Supercalifragilistic frequent flyer, and I don’t like the wine here in Economy. Can you go get me some from First Class?” It’s them wanting us to bend the rules, which they know all too well because they fly so often. There are a select few who simply feel that one of the perks of status is that the rules no longer apply.

As I’ve said previously, most of our frequent flyers with SuperStatus are our favorite passengers. They know the rules, they know the service, sometimes they even know the crew, and they are often the easiest passengers onboard. But a select few among them do act up and make life difficult for everyone around them.

Example A: A SuperStatus passenger boarded the plane and demanded that his bag be placed in the overhead bin by the crew. A tricky question in the United States, where none of the three major carriers have weight restrictions for carry-on luggage. When asked if the bag was heavy, he replied “well of course it is, otherwise I’d do it myself.” It took two crew members to get the bag into the bin. Of course, on arrival, he again wanted help but couldn’t be bothered waiting for a crew member to get to him. He pulled the bag out of the bin and let it fall to the ground, except that it fell partially on the leg of the woman standing in front of him. “You should have moved!” he yelled at her, and he stormed off. We then spent 30 minutes filling out an injury report for the woman, as well as additional crew incident reports. Our ground staff colleagues told us that his records showed that this was far from the first time he has caused a scene. Injuring other passengers is definitely grounds for dismissal from a frequent-flyer program in my book.

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Example B: People like to drink on planes. That’s fine. When I travel as a passenger, I love to have a few gin tonics, and a glass or two of champagne. But another symptom of SuperStatus that we see all too often is overindulging. Overindulging, that is, to the point of being abusive to crew and or other passengers. That, to me, is another removable offense. Maybe not the first time around, but second strike and you’re out! Perhaps the most famous case of this was when investment banking executive Gerard Finneran was refused more drinks on a United flight from Buenos Aires to New York in 1995. He proceeded to help himself to more, push a flight attendant when they attempted to stop him, and then defecated on a cart in First Class in front of the then-president of Portugal. Well done, Gerry. He was fined, sentenced to community service, and made to refund the other First Class passengers tickets.

Aeroflot’s statement specifically details that this new policy applies to passengers who abuse staff members. While I have been very lucky never to have been physically abused myself by a passenger, I have certainly witnessed my share of verbal assaults on crew members by passengers, elite and otherwise — and they have been vicious. Sometimes it’s a venting of anger and the crew member in question was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes they have had a genuine disagreement. But whatever the case, resorting to verbal, let alone physical, abuse is never acceptable.

Personally, I’d say that 70% of the cases I’ve seen that involved a major confrontation between a passenger and a crew member occurred in a premium cabin. And of those, I’d guess that over half were SuperStatus flyers. I’ve been told to go f— myself because I had run out of a meal choice, heard a colleague called a horrendous homophobic slur for asking a passenger to get off her phone while we taxied to the runway, and had another colleague spit at for tripping over a passenger’s leg (that was dangling out in the aisle) and waking him up. I’ve even seen a mother throw a dirty diaper at a crew member because the crew member wouldn’t collect it from her without gloves. This behavior is simply not acceptable.

All in all, hats off to Aeroflot. I can only hope that other major carriers will follow suit soon. It will send an important message that bad behavior on an airplane simply will not be tolerated. It puts a tangible price on misbehaving that will hopefully encourage those few who don’t feel the need to be civil to others to think twice.

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